Drifting takes guts, skill and a car that sings. Speeding headlong at massive k-rails, timing is everything, and reflexes of car and driver are put to the test as the tail swings out with inches, separating success and catastrophic body damage. Hitting the high notes in the drift game takes a car with a properly modified and set-up suspension. With amateur drifting weekends, grassroots events and regional pro-am competitions cropping up on a nationwide basis, more enthusiasts are drifting than ever before. When it comes to suspensions there are some drift essential mods that really open the door to fun and rewarding drift sessions.
The above-listed mods will get most weekend warriors to the state of nirvana that is drifting. From this point, there are additional stiffening processes that can be employed on the chassis, body or suspension. The path separates here for Corolla and 240 owners. With their independent rear ends, 240 owners need to address their geometry out back. Adjustable control arms are needed to combat nasty toe and camber issues that come with a lowered suspension. The AE86 camp is free to go with more suspension or additional chassis stiffening in the form of a simple strut tower bar, anti-sway bars, chassis bracing and stitch welding (which will also benefit 240s).
Psychedelic one-liners aside, a limited-slip differential (LSD) is the most critical ingredient to a satisfying drift experience. The LSD keeps both drive tires hookin' and cookin' as the car struggles for grip. When it comes to the venerable AE86 Corolla (shameless plug: pick up the current Project Car to see a very cool SR5-to-GT-S conversion and more detailed explanations about why you should be looking to invest in some of the parts mentioned here) or any older standard-LSD-equipped car, Drift-Office's Nathan Robinson says "be wary of that stock LSD". Drift-Office is a tuning shop in Auburn, Washington that naturally has a soft spot for the AE86, and is quick to point out that Hachi Rokus have 25 years on the clock and their unsuspecting LSDs will quickly become shrapnel when put under the rigors of serious drifting. The LSD has to be up to the task. A 1.5-way LSD is good, especially if the car is going to be doing some grip along with the slip. If you plan to do some road circuit runs, time attacks of the like the 1.5 is the way to go because it won't lock-up during off-throttle situations. A 2.0-way unit is the best solution for strictly drifting as it keeps the drive wheels locked all the time.
Along with the usual lower center of gravity, coilovers provide stiffness in the suspension. Body roll is the archenemy of drifters and the ability to swap springs on a coilover suspension ensures the chassis can be stiffened to drift levels. Tuning the set-up is also important. You need to dial in as much stiffness as possible without going too far; at which point the car will understeer, and understeer is body roll's evil cohort. Think about it: if the front end of the car is plowing, how can you get the tail to swing out?
No matter which arena of motorsports you look at, the magic happens where the rubber meets the road. As mentioned above, the contact patch is important for drifting but there is another tire factor: the sidewall. You don't want your tires to fold under or roll over on the sidewall at a critical juncture. This results in understeer, which sours the punch. Drift-Office says the maximum sidewall is 50-series on a Hachi Roku and 40- to 45-series on a 240SX.
Aftermarket Tie Rods
Tie rods are made up of an inner section and an outer section, and they connect the steering system to the spindles to turn the car. Below the complete tie rod assembly is a raw inner rod and spacer. Aftermarket adjustable tie rods open the door to more steering angle which is critical to initiating a drift, getting the tail way out wide and also having the ability to pull it all in when transitioning to the next maneuver.
Aftermarket tie rods are longer than stock, which adds to the amount of movement or angle that the wheels can be turned lock-to-lock. They're also considerably stronger than the stockers, have more adjustability and feature a built-in spacer where the unit threads into the steering rack. There are also more threads on an aftermarket tie rod to accommodate additional spacers to get even more angle. The outer tie rod adds to the adjustability factor, providing fine-tuning of toe angle while also incorporating heim joints, which are significantly stronger than the stock, threaded attachment point. Drift-Office cautions to be wary, as some manufacturers use proprietary threads that do not allow the use of stock outers, only an aftermarket unit.
Adjustable Tension Rods
Like most aftermarket suspension parts, this piece is stronger than stock and in this case features heim joints. The tension rod's mission is to center the wheel and tire in relationship to chassis and also tune the caster of the front suspension. Aggressive caster allows the wheels to return to neutral from full lock quickly. It's a reflex mod.
Part of the coilover package, camber plates are also critical to the drifting experience as they afford fine control over camber, which translates into maximizing the contact patch. As lateral Gs increase, the suspension contorts and tends to pull the edge of the tire away from the road surface. Less tire on the ground equals less grip, or in drifting terms, less control of the slide. Drifters set the camber to maintain the contact patch at high Gs, not during normal driving situations.
For use in solid axle applications like the AE86, this set-up centers the rear end and optimizes the pinion angle inside the pumpkin by reducing the lateral load seen by the diff. Another prime focus of an adjustable four-link is wheel hop. Wheel hop, usually recognized by a chattering of the rear tires, is a devilish condition to experience during mid-drift or when setting up for a drift. It interrupts the constant contact patch and more often than not leads to a spinout... or worse.
The basic foundation for a stout drift suspension includes, a solid LSD, coilover shocks, low-profile tires and adjustable tie rods. Note that coilovers should include adjustable camber plates.
Negative Roll Center Adjusters
Negative Roll Center Adjusters (NCRA) add track width and camber while combating bumpsteer that can result from an aggressively lowered suspension. NCRAs have two mounting locations, each providing a different amount of track width increase. Bumpsteer hurts drifters by taking the predictability that proper suspension travels represents out of the picture, replacing it with an abrupt bottoming of the suspension.
By the time you outgrow the suspension mods outlined here you'll probably need more attention under the hood. The suspension system is the clutch player; it makes the thrill of drifting possible. Paying attention to the details and calling the right player from the bullpen will make learning to initiate, control and transition a drift much easier.
Anatomy Of A Front Suspension
Here is a quick 'what goes where' look at the front suspension. The car in question is an AE86 Corolla that is enthusiast-drifted on a regular basis.