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10 Keys to Building a Competitive Drift Car

Sliding your RWD can be fun and pretty simple, but taking it to the next level will require more

Dec 10, 2014
Photographer: Staff Writer: Bryan Rogers

Let us be clear from the start: these pointers are not, in any way, meant to be taken as a checklist of bare minimums - of stuff that everyone needs in order to prep their car for drifting. You don't need any of this stuff, really, as Bryan Rogers points out, Rogers himself an on-again, off-again pro-am slider (most notably for Megan Racing a few years back) and principal behind Serious Badass Fabrication and DriftKnuckles.com.

Apart from the desire, he says all one really needs to begin drifting is a RWD vehicle, a locked/locking differential, and a space big enough to slide a car in without ruining yours or anyone else's day. That's it.

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Some RWD platforms are more conducive to drifting than others, and we always recommend turning to experts to learn the finer points of technique - but with the bar so low almost anyone serious enough can make a go of it. We'd argue the real commitment begins when you start to feel confident you have your car control down, and start to look for even greater challenges.

It's at that point competition may enter the picture, and if it does, generally speaking your equipment is going to need upgrades to meet the challenge. Rogers outlines 10 tips for raising your car's game in the brutal world of competitive drifting.


POWER

Power plant blown V8.JPG Photo 11/47   |   You need it to break traction and get those rears spinning. It's why at the highest levels of pro drift it is not uncommon to see competitors opt for torquey, high-horsepower motors, and indeed in series like Formula Drift that has translated into an all-out power war. Rogers says to learn/just go out for fun, you only need between 100-150hp, but that number goes up significantly in the pro-am ranks to roughly 300 to 500hp, and the pro cars range from 600 to 1,200 at the rear wheels.


LOCKED DIFF

LSD exploded Photo 15/47   |   In drifting, the rear wheels ideally should be spinning at the same rate under load for the sake of predictability, which you typically can't do with an unaltered open differential. If you can afford a limited-slip diff (LSD) Rogers says to go for a clutch- or viscous-type; a solid spool (like what's used in drag racing) is a slightly cheaper way to go, but the total budget method to locking a diff is welding its spider gears, which Rogers recommends leaving to the experts.


CLUTCH

Clutch exedy Photo 19/47   |   As one could reasonably expect, once you start taxing parts of the power train you'll need to make sure everything linked to them can handle the increased work. Here Rogers says the upgrades depend on your car's power level and grip level and the driver's aggressiveness of driving style; at the top levels, everything from the gearbox to the axles are designed for extreme stress. At a minimum, a heavy-duty clutch is probably in order to break the back end loose a little easier during clutch kicking, a common method of drift initiation.


ADJUSTABLE SUSPENSION

Suspension arms links Bridges SC.JPG Photo 23/47   |   Part of this upgrade involves coil-overs, but Rogers also lumps in adjustable arms and links, too. The reasons you'd want these parts are to lower the car's center of gravity as well as give the driver some additional body control, namely to get the vehicle to squat and rotate.


TIRES & ALIGNMENT

Tires S15.JPG Photo 27/47   |   Alignment goes hand in hand with an adjustable suspension, and Rogers says that basically drift cars are setup to road race in front but drag race in the rear. Forward grip is critical because in essence drift cars pivot around their front end, so you'll generally find a lot of negative camber up front (for when the suspension loads up around turns) and much less in back. It's also useful to have quality sticky rubber with a good, wide footprint up front.


STEERING ANGLE

Steering angle.JPG Photo 31/47   |   Simply, the more angle one can extract from their steering rack, the better off they'll be in getting the car as sideways as possible - but there are limits, usually related to clearance in the wheel well and getting the suspension arms/links to not bind. Rogers advises noobs to get more angle by installing tie rod end spacers, but the more advanced set have come to rely on custom drifting-specific front knuckles or extended lower control arms.


WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION

Weight Megan Racing.JPG Photo 35/47   |   Here we're looking for a way to exploit the pendulum effect easier, but rather than loading up the extreme ass end of the car with ballast Rogers says most pros tend to front bias that weight (as in, move most of it ahead of the firewall). It is for reasons of weight distribution that most drivers prefer conventional front engine, rear-wheel-drive (FR) platforms for drifting, instead of mid or rear engine machines.


BASH BARS

Bash bar oil cooler tow hook.JPG Photo 39/47   |   The tube structures at the front and rear of a drift car, usually under the skin, are for convenience more than anything else. For one, they're tougher than most uni-body elements, making them ideal for protecting vital components like coolers/heat exchangers and the like. At the pro level, bash bars are also easier to repair on location, as well as provide mounting solutions for not only coolers and radiators but also body panels.


SAFETY (& CHASSIS RIGIDITY)

Roll cage BMW Z4.JPG Photo 43/47   |   Like other types of race cars, making your drift car's chassis stiff with braces and such keeps the car predictable; Rogers puts it smartly that chassis deformation doesn't allow the suspension to do its job. But your biggest source of rigidity will likely be one of the main safety features of most racers: the roll cage. In general, you can never spend enough on safety, so don't cheap out (and that includes your seat, harness, fire suit, helmet, fire suppression, et al).


EXTENDED HAND BRAKE HANDLE

Hand brake 2013 scion FR S shift knob Photo 47/47   |   What we first noticed on rally cars has made its way onto drifters, and it serves an important purpose. With a longer, more vertical handle in the range of other hand controlled elements, like the steering wheel and gear shifter, it makes it easy to reach for, in this case to stop the rear wheels and initiate a slide (particularly useful around tight corners). There's a perception that a hydraulic hand brake setup is necessary, but Rogers says it's not; most can get away with a cable hand brake and better brake pads. At the pro level, though, cars are required to have a dual rear caliper system (one each for the foot and hand brakes) for the sake of safety through redundancy.
Bob Hernandez
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