After 15 seasons operating as arguably the biggest professional drifting series on the planet, Formula DRIFT (FD) continues to win over new fans year in and out. Indeed, it seems like there is a constant stream of people discovering drifting for the first time. While that's great for the sport, an initiation to the nuances of drifting—especially the way FD does it—can be tricky to the new fan, even if that fan is already familiar with more traditional motorsports.
One of the hardest things for some new fans to wrap their heads around is the fact there are objective goals in drifting, but they are achieved through subjective means. The objective goal in qualifying is to get a higher score than everyone else. In two-car tandem drifting, the goal is to beat an opponent. However, it is subjective feedback from the judges that will help or hurt the chances of a driver achieving those goals. It can be a bit confusing, but we're here to help!
By the time you're done reading this article, you should have a pretty clear view of how Formula D judging works. To make sure we're giving you legit info, we actually went straight to Formula DRIFT judges Ryan Lanteigne, Andy Yen, and Brian Eggert to help put this guide together. Let's start with one of the staples of drifting competition.
LESSON 1 - "Clipping Points" vs. "Clipping Zones": What's the difference?
"Clipping points" and "clipping zones" are two terms you're going to hear a lot when watching FD. They are a key part of drifting competition and a crucial part of the judging process. But what are they? And how is one different from the other?
A clipping point is a specific spot on the track marked by a cone and is generally placed on the innermost point of a turn, also known as the "apex." Because clipping points are always on the inside of a turn, they are sometimes referred to as "inside" or "inner" clipping points.
A clipping zone is an area of varying size that has two markers, one at the beginning of the zone and one at the end. Clipping zones always follow the outermost edge of a turn or corner. Since clipping zones are always on the outside of a turn, they are sometimes called "outside" or "outer" clipping zones.
LESSON 2 - Qualifying: How 3 Judges Score the Same Run Differently
Now that we know the difference between a clipping point and a clipping zone, let's learn about the role they play and other factors that separate a good qualifying run from a bad one—great car control from good/less-great car control.
The first thing to note is there are three judges: a line judge, an angle judge, and a style judge. Each judge is independently observing a different aspect of each qualifying run and is not influenced by the other judges.
The line judge measures each driver's line performance by observing a driver's proximity to clipping points and zones. They want the drivers to get as close as possible without contact to the clipping points with the front of their cars, and as close as possible without contact to the clipping zones with the rear of their car.
An inside clipping point can be worth 5 or 10 points. Clipping points are judged using a painted scale—usually three yellow lines—on the track that allows the line judge and fans to see how close a driver is getting to a clipping point.
According to the judges, "if the nose of the car just grazes the inside clip, the driver will receive maximum points for that clip. If the nose is at the first yellow line, the driver may be deducted 1-2 points, and so on, down to 0 points if the driver is too far away. The points allocation is pre-determined and explained to the drivers in the driver's briefings."
The angle judge is looking exclusively at the slip angle of each car relative to its "direction of travel in outside clipping zones, inside clipping points, and 'touch and go' areas." Getting a high angle score means maintaining as high of an angle as possible while not losing too much momentum or spinning.
The style judge is looking at how each driver handles the areas between the inside clipping points and the outside clipping zones. The style judge closely observes the initiation of drift, transitions, and rotations. The style judge wants each driver to move between each section of a course fluidly with as few corrections as possible. The style judge also wants each driver to be aggressive and have a high commitment to their run. Commitment can be determined by how aggressively a driver will use their throttle in certain areas of the course.
LESSON 3 - Tandem Battles: How to Pick a Winner
Many drifting fans will agree paired-off tandem battles are the most exciting part of any Formula D round. Two cars running sideways simultaneously within inches of each other at high speeds? Yes, please!
It begs the question: how are two cars judged at the same time? How does one car "beat" the other? Let's get into it.
In tandem runs there is a "lead car" and a "chase car." According to FD judges, the lead car's goal is to "perform a 100-point qualifying run" (that's the most points possible in a qualifying lap). The chase car's goal is to "mimic the lead driver's line, angle, and style while maintaining close proximity from start to finish"
There are two runs in a tandem battle. Run 1 is "Driver A" leading with "Driver B" chasing, and Run 2 positions are switched and "Driver B" leads with "Driver A" chasing.
Judges watch both runs and determine who did a better job in the lead position (comparing both runs) and who did a better job in the chase position (again, comparing both runs). If one driver dominates both lead and chase positions, the judges will award them the win.
If the judges think both drivers performed equally they will call for a "One More Time" or "OMT," which means the two drivers will redo their tandem battle. Though, it should be noted that a OMT will only happen if at least two out of three judges call for it or if one judge calls for it and the other two judges are split.
If a driver makes a major mistake during their lead or chase run such as spinning out, then the judges will give the advantage to the driver that didn't make a mistake.
What happens if the two cars make contact with each other during a tandem battle? Well, it depends.
Technically it's okay for the two cars to make contact with each other as long as that contact doesn't "disrupt" one car or the other. The judges will always look to see who is at fault for contact even if that contact does not disrupt a tandem run. The driver at fault may not necessarily have that contact counted against them unless the contact is so severe that it ends the run. In that case the driver at fault will be scored with an "incomplete" for that run.
Let's see, we've covered clipping points, clipping zones, qualifying runs, and tandem battles. I think by now you should be well equipped to watch a Formula D event from beginning to end and have a good grasp on how competition works. You're now totally ready for the 2018 FD season, which kicks off in Long Beach, California, in April! We want to thank Formula DRIFT judges Ryan Lanteigne, Andy Yen, and Brian Eggert for helping us out with this article. If you have more questions about drifting, try reaching out to Formula DRIFT on Twitter at @FormulaDrift, and let them know Super Street sent you!