toyota ae86

To be honest, I haven’t had much interest in drifting as a form of motorsports. Sure, cars going sideways and doing burnouts and donuts are all cool and fun, but I just somehow didn’t really connect with the sport.

That all changed last month, when I attended my first ever drift event on a Goodyear invite to Bangkok, where Goodyear Formula Drift Thailand took place. I was surprised that it didn’t take long for a newbie like me to understand what the judges wanted, the format of the competition and even to guess the winner of the side-by-side duels.

It was also more fun than I would have thought – by the end of the day (the final showdown took place under floodlights and in the rain) I was cheering so hard I woke up with a hoarse voice.

Continue reading the full story after the jump!

Attending Formula Drift also saw me having newfound respect for drifters – these are the masters of maintaining full control while the car is out of control, manipulating the car’s responses like no other form of motorsports. The top ones slide in tandem centimetres away from each other (and the concrete wall), and change directions together as if both cars are connected to the same switch. Mesmerising stuff!

In Goodyear’s sustained effort to spread the Religion of Drifting, they invited us to a Drift Clinic for the media, with Team Goodyear Malaysia drifters Ariff Johanis Ahmad and Azrina Jane Abdullah as instructors. It was a small group, made even smaller with absentees and some who had to leave halfway. Even better for us: more drive time, more attention from teachers and less pressure from spectators!

toyota ke70

The day started with an introduction to the cars available for the day – a KE70 Corolla and AE86 Trueno, both with 4A-GE engines powering their rear wheels. We had to choose one as “our car for the day” and I plumped for the plain foor-door over the legend – it proved to be a wise move as the AE86 was less beginner friendly, and had less drift mods on it.

Ariff explained that the seat, and seating position, is one of the most important things in drifting. The upright seatback (shoulders touching the seat) with wrists able to bend over the steering wheel top is also promoted in advanced driving courses from BMW and Mercedes, but here it’s not only for safety, but to get optimum feel and sensation of what the car is doing. We were also told not to wrap our thumbs around the steering when holding it, to prevent injury when the wheel spins violently. Of course, one must sit near enough to depress the clutch fully while not compromising the earlier mentioned seating position.

toyota ae86_2

That done, we jumped into the cars like excited schoolkids. First on the agenda was to initiate a drift. One way is to yank the handbrake and power out as the tail comes around and the other was to dump the clutch after holding high revs. We practised these moves in first gear with cones as a U-turn marker. It all sounds simple enough – clutch in – maintain high rev – turn in – dump clutch – counter steer and power out – but to coordinate all that and get the “feel” is the challenge. I’m sure there are some among our readers who are experienced in this, but putting a car through this much “abuse” was alien to me.

Toyota 4A-GE
Toyota’s 4A-GE engine is popular for its performance and durability

But a smooth, mechanical friendly approch does not work here, and our coach chided some for being “terlalu sayang kereta” (translated directly as love the car too much). After lunch, we had donuts for dessert! We drove around in a constant radius circle before popping the clutch to break rear traction, then it was all about counter steering and modulating the throttle to make a full circle. I wasn’t too successful in this exercise, only managing a sustained donut a couple of times. Next up was guiding the car in a figure 8.

The day ended in a mini course to combine all that we’ve learned. We were to be judged and given points based on speed, line, drift angles and overall impression, just like what the pros go through in Formula Drift. And just like the great show in Thailand, it started to rain just when we were ready to face off in the “finals”!

Needless to say, with all my practise done in the dry, I didn’t have enough experience and finesse to do the same on the super slippery surface. Ending up second out of three students remaining in the evening wasn’t the big prize; the real reward was to be able to learn more about RWD dynamics and car control beyond the grip limits. And although I’m typing now with sore arms and blistered fingers, I would gladly do it all again should another session come along.

ke70 damage

The KE70 suffered much more injuries – the passenger seat came off, the gear lever broke at its base and the starter was wonky, but it amazingly lasted the sweltering heat of the entire day driven in first gear at high revs. The Goodyear Duraplus tyres it wore also finished the day in surprising condition, especially the rear tyres, which weren’t bald after so much smoking and abuse. Ariff praised the same tyres fitted to the front, saying that he was at first skeptical but surprised at their grip levels considering that the Duraplus was made for mileage, not performance (a drift car needs grippy front tyres, but can make do with slightly worn or cheaper rubber for the rear).

Goodyear Formula Drift Malaysia will be held next weekend (19-20 December) at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS). The event will see top drifters from across the region competing, and the likes of FD Thailand winner Mike Whiddet, ex D1GP champ Ryuji Miki and Malaysia’s Tengku Djan will get a chance to renew rivalries.

Goodyear ASEAN will be fielding a big contingent as usual, with Ariff and Jane joining Johan Norman and Michael Gan as representatives of Team Goodyear Malaysia. I will be there to cheer on my “teachers” and hope to see you there as well.

For more information or directions to the venue, go to www.formuladrift.com.my.