The history of drifting

The History of Drifting and the Future of Formula Drift
By Justin "Fat Rat" Banner

"Where it all began"

To many here on MotoIQ, the thought of drifting probably brings images of the Fast and The Furious. The "I need one, no, two bottles of NOS" mentality that still brings nightmares to those who love import cars and how many uninformed reporters lead into anything related to import and sport compact racing of any type. This misinformation was heightened when the F-n-F series released Tokyo Drift, and suddenly those same reporters equated drifting with something illegal, stupid, and neon. Lots of neon. This lead those reporters to also think drifting was something new and Tokyo Drift was responsible for the rise of drifting as a motorsport. That, my friends, is not true and drifting as a technique has been around since possibly the 1960s.

Kunimitsu Takahashi
Kunimitsu Takahashi, who is credited with the first use of drifting - Photo from F1Rejects.com

The exact start date of when drifting began to be used is shaky, but it did start as a way to combat hard, bias-ply tires of the time, low to zero aerodynamics for grip, or a combination of the two.  This is especially true of the high horsepower cars of Grand Prix racing and Rally racing. The man who is credited with creating the first techniques of drifting was Kunimitsu Takahashi, a Motorcycle Grand Prix rider and Formula Car driver of the 1960s and 1970s. He was a successful rider with 4 GP wins in his short Motorcycle Grand Prix career.  He switched to racing four wheels after a serious crash on a motorcycle in the 1961 Isle of Man TT.

The history of drifting
Kunimitsu Takahashi, in his motorcycle racing days.

In 1965, he began to race cars from the non-works Tyrrell GP car in 1977 to the Honda NSX at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a GT2 class win in 1995.  Without a doubt, the man could drive a race car, but what caught the attention of the street racers in the '70s was the style in which he drove. Approaching a corner at near full speed, he would hit the apex and create a very large slip angle. Using throttle techniques he would keep the car in this slip angle until the straight and continue on. Upon seeing this and their rally heroes using a similar technique, the street racers of Japan then began to use them on the touge, or literally mountain road.  Illegal touge racing had a new technique and the seed of drifting was planted.

the history of drifting
Takahashi also raced one F1 race where he came in 8th.


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Thursday, May 19, 2011 11:05 PM
Love that picture of the truck on the last page. I've actually seen it drifting and I know the team owner who runs the truck here.

One of my friends did the engine remapping for the diesel... but not much was needed. These new direct injection diesels make a lot of low-down torque, so even with just three liters of displacement, it's relatively easy to get the back end to step out... even on the stock vehicle (it's a global Ford Ranger platform, rebadged as a Mazda for some markets).

And this is a relatively crude engine by modern diesel standards. Single turbo, 160 bhp (about 200-240 bhp with the modifications on it) from 3 liters. Some of the newer BMW diesels would be interesting to see in a Formula Drift car... though the high-strung BMW 3 liter doesn't quite have the instant kick of lower-powered engines... despite variable geometry turbos, tuning an engine for high horsepower means some sacrifices in low-end grunt... but BMW units are powerful, revvy and (relatively) light, thanks to the new aluminum blocks.

Still... can't see anythign usurping the V8s anytime soon. Even drifters over here are taking advantage of the Chevrolet LS crate engine program and are starting to swap their aging RBs and SRs for these torquey mothers.
Friday, May 20, 2011 7:39 AM
Mike - in regards to the diesel comments, have you tried a Mercedes Bluetec? The first one I rode in, I was pretty impressed. Got up nicely.

Allowing American V8 swaps will be the death of Formula Drift. If every car takes a V8 to work, every car will be eventually the same. If its only about cost, I see no reason not to make it a spec series.
Friday, May 20, 2011 7:49 AM
This is 1980's tandem drifting. http://www.motorsportretro.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/1977_Patrick_Depailler_Ronnie_Peterson_Tyrrell_P34_Cosworth_Interlagos_GP_BRA.jpg
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Friday, May 20, 2011 9:31 AM
Now, did Matt start the swap over to the LS 1st or did Dai? I thought Dai started the transition last year? I thought that picture of Matt was something out of The Lost Boys!

I would agree with most of Mike's points on the diesel, but I think VDub's latest TDI is an all aluminum block which could give it "weight savings" potential, much of the turbo lag can be tuned out like a gas motor and although there is certainly not the same RPM range, I think one could be built with 4-5k rpm of usable hp and/or torque.
Umai Kakudo
Umai Kakudolink
Friday, May 20, 2011 10:52 AM
Engine and car configurations will come and go and are secondary to the future of the sport.

I find it funny that in a sport that at its core is about individual expression and no rules unrestricted vehicle specifications gets so up in arms when things are not done the traditional Japanese way.

I do get that soul and core values of the sport are being challenged but this will always evolve and expand as a category matures and progresses.

The bigger issue is how all of the players in the drifting enterprise work together to develop and progress the sport across the globe.

It is necessary for drifting to see a continued growth in the regional organizations and ProAm ranks. For drifting to grow and become more commercially successful the sport needs to mature at the entry and mid tier levels to continue to feed the top Professional level with fresh talent and expand the market size to bring in additional involvement.

The biggest chance for growth is at the regional and local levels.

The traditionalists need to realize that FD is not the only deal around. Much like when skating and similar sports that started from hobbies began to go mainstream and get 'corporate' the hardcore contingent bitched and moaned about how this person sold out and how the corporations were killing the sport. Last I checked skating has become better with a plethora of skate parks across the world and increased participation since the X Games and Dew Tour.

What the non-business savvy people don't realize is you need the flashy corporate TV branch of the sport to help bring in new participants and reap greater opportunity at the local level for getting access to venues and having more than 1 event a month to choose from. It also give you a better chance at becoming gainfully employed in an industry that you are passionate about.

limiting the sport to only the 'hardcore' just limits the potential for local event frequency.

Instead of getting all twisted up about how FD and the poseurs are killing the sport they should put effort into building their own niche branches of the drifting family tree by organizing events the way they think it should be done.

Then there will be something for everyone and the sport of Drifting as a whole can progress and expand.

The worse thing to do is fragment and in-fight. The sport is still too small to afford schisms and civil war. Keep the big picture in mind and work to progress all facets of the sport in partnership with fellow drifters to realize the full potential of the drift community.

Also, I'm waiting for the day (I project within the next 5 to 10 years) when there will be an international traveling drift championship on multiple contents that will bring the best venues and drivers together from North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East in a true world championship. FD has the biggest head start on this and the best chance at pulling it off first.

Keep Drifting Fun, no matter how you choose to do it!

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, May 20, 2011 1:56 PM
Dai has been driving and LS powered car since about 2007 when he drove for RMR. Matt was known for his street style approach to drifting until this year.
Friday, May 20, 2011 2:39 PM
I dont understand why people fear a spec style series with v8 engines being standard. Competitive sports progress. Someone will bring something new to the table someday and beat everyone, and change the game once again. Right now its about v8 engines. Tomorrow, who knows....
Friday, May 20, 2011 3:13 PM
Spec is boring. The same reason that MotoIQ has their own series with some fairly liberal rules. Think about it.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Friday, May 20, 2011 3:21 PM
I meant start the swap over to the LS S-chasis. Justin made it sound like Matt was the first to the LS swap in an S-chassis. I wonder how Dai would compare the feel of his LS in the GTO compared to his S13? I bet it's like going from muscle car to supercar!
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, May 20, 2011 4:46 PM
LS tuning is just as diverse or maybe even more diverse as tuning SR20's for instance. You can have a 410 supercharged LS like the Retaks car that Yoshioka drives, a 427 medium port L98 head motor like ours or a 427 high port head like Matt Powers or variations of cathedral port 350 cid engines like Odi and Charles Ng. I want to build a long rod tall deck 440 cid engine, maybe next year. Almost all of the LS powered FD cars are running different variations of the LS.

Its not exactly like NASCAR. NASCAR has pretty tight engine rules and pretty tight chassis rules so you cannot make that comparison. FD changed the chassis rules to prevent cars from becoming tube framed silhouette cars for 2011.

At one time over 50% of the field probably had SR20DET's.

FD is very far from being a spec class.
Friday, May 20, 2011 5:23 PM
VQ > LS, end of story.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Friday, May 20, 2011 5:44 PM
Mike - ever since you mentioned an LS in an AE86, I can't get the thought of how scary, wicked and awesome that would be. Searched for one on the web for the last week and haven't found a feature worthy one yet.

M-Workz - how much would it cost to get 50, 75, okay let's say 25 whp out of the VQ? And how much would it cost to get that out of an LS? Let the story begin!
Friday, May 20, 2011 9:13 PM
if hp/$ is your argument, LS wins hands down. From an engineering perspective, VQ is one of the best of all time. I'll take my twin turbo VQ over an LS any day and kick it's ass.
Friday, May 20, 2011 11:28 PM
I love how every "history of drifting" lecture starts in japan. And the 60's? Please... People have been out sliding since the dawn of horse-drawn buggies.

If anything, automotive drifting peaked during the era of prohibition (based on the percentage of the motoring population that drifted). Flipping a 180 on a narrow pass when facing a roadblock, then running from authorities in a souped-up jalopy with primitive suspension over treacherous roads with hundreds of pounds of ballast in the trunk -- at night -- with headlamps making ~1/4 of the light found in a modern Halogen...

Those guys had balls. Makes today's drivers -- with their safety-caged cocoons, impact barriers, EMTs on standby, mechanical entourages, and corporate logos -- look like prima donnas.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Saturday, May 21, 2011 8:10 AM
The LS is currently one of the best packages for drifting due to it's weight, size, simplicity, power delivery characteristics and total amount of power. Drifting has sort of unique demands which are actually pretty close to offroad racing. In fact our engines are built by an offroad racing engine builder. Our engine is nearly identical in spec to one of Robbie Gordan's pre runners.

For other forms of racing, turbocharging always wins. It one of the reasons why turbocharging is so regulated in motorpsorts.

I am also sure if our team had a large budget we could be very competitive with a turbo VQ but it would be expensive and take some development. Our el cheapo VQ build has 50 more hp than Dai's LS.


With some work we could easily make more power and more bottom end with quicker throttle response. Note, this was probably one of the cheapest builds ever with an off the shelf JWT turbo kit. This is nothing comapred to what a VQ can do with money.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Saturday, May 21, 2011 8:23 AM
People have been sliding cars probably ever since there has been cars but drifting as an organized sport started in Japan.

If you don't think that modern pro drifting takes balls consider this. Strap yourself into a car that can run a high 10-11 second quarter mile, (our data logs show that our car can do this) accelerate as hard as it can go through 4 gears, then throw it at a concrete wall and slide within inches of it.

Then do it with another guy right next to you thats trying to get as close to you as possible.

That sort of takes balls too.
Saturday, May 21, 2011 10:07 AM
Dirt track racing. They are as sideways as they can be, for most of the whole competition.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Saturday, May 21, 2011 7:44 PM
A lot of our steering geometry tricks come straight out of dirt tracking.
Sunday, May 22, 2011 4:27 PM
there is some place called adams motorsports park i think. they have 20 dollar drifting nights or something like that. its not the largest place and i think it doubles as a karting track. its almost perfect for some small township that has pretty lax DB rules to build something like this and make it work. i look forward to the day when tracks like that are as prevalent as drag strips were. i dont see the reason to hate on the v8 and i wonder what the grassroots guys are running. i dont want to plug but if you go to www.willscarcast.podomatic.com, i posted a call in show i did with vaughn gittin jr and jarod deanda and the question of v8's popped up and you may find your answer there. @mike k, if i over stepped on that plug please delete or edit my comment. see you at NJ hopefully.
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