Learn more about drifting and the Drift Masters European Championship
© Christian Stadler/Red Bull Content Pool
The 2019 Drift Masters European Championship is live on Red Bull TV. But what is drifting, how do drivers win and why does no one overtake? If you need drifting explained, read on.
It is, however, one of the most exciting (and fastest growing) disciplines in motorsport, demanding the perfect balance of speed, style and fearlessness from its drivers. As Joe says, competitors go “man against man, machine against machine, mano a mano, head to head.”
The birth of drifting
The sport was developed on the twisting mountain roads of Japan in the late '70s and early ’80s when circuit racers like Kuniaki Takahashi and Keiichi Tsuchiya – better known as the Drift King – began accelerating out of corners earlier and earlier by turning the car sideways. This, explains Jo, are the “the origins of drifting as a motorsport.”
Tsuchiya’s mesmerising 1987 film, Pluspy, made with support from car magazines and garages to show off the possibilities of drifting, really put the scene on the map in those early days. But the biggest plug the sport has ever received was the film Tokyo Drift, the third instalment of The Fast and the Furious series.
Thanks to modern-day drifting stars like Mad Mike Whiddett and series like Formula Drift in the US and Japan, the sport's popularity has grown exponentially. Says Joe’s fellow Red Bull Drift Brother Elias Hountondji: “Europe is exploding at the moment.”
How to drift
Drifting is, essentially, the art of getting cars to travel forwards, but sideways, as fast as possible through turns, so that once drivers are out of a corner they can quickly accelerate away. But attempting to control a car when its tyres aren't gripping the road means “battling the laws of physics to the fullest extent,” says Elias.
As any petrolhead will know, you can make cars go sideways by either locking up the rear wheels, speeding them up or playing with weight transfer. For beginners, the simplest way of drifting is, says Elias, “to go for a turn and pull the brake; the rear wheels will lock up, and then you just slowly put on angle as much as you like, then slowly release the brake, step on the throttle and hold the grip.”
The pros have a multitude of different drifting styles and techniques involving clutches and brakes, and will drift through successive turns without their wheels gripping the road.
Deciding to drift
Drifting cars get thrown about tracks with abandon, sometimes around corners that are perilously close to concrete walls, so no one wants to spend a fortune on irreplaceable machines. And yet drifting cars are more than just beaten-up secondhand motors.
These are properly engineered race cars that, in the cockpit, closely resemble rally car setups. They need to be lightweight and rear-wheel drive, but, agree Joe and Elias, “power is the main thing.” That means 1,000-plus bhp.
“We use that power to not only create smoke but to be able to have the grip on the car driving sideways,” explains Elias. “The car I’m driving now, the BMW E30, is my dream car. With lots of power, lots of grip.”
Joe drives a Nissan 240SX S13. “It has a lot of power, it has the grunt, but it also has the looks.” Other top cars in the sport include the Nissan 370Z, Nissan Silvia S14, Nissan Silvia S15, Toyota GT86, BMW E46, Ford Mustang and Mazda MX-5.
Scoring points in the Drift Masters European Championship
The Drift Masters European Championship is, in some ways, more like ice skating than motorsport racing – and not just because its cars look like they’re sliding all over the place. The sport is actually all about scoring points. In the DMEC, three judges are on hand to score every run by four criteria, these being…
Speed: The faster a driver takes a corner, the better. However, the challenge is keeping that speed up while also performing the best angle.
Angle: This means swinging the car’s back end out as far as possible (ie, going sideways), for as long as possible. “But the more angle you put on,” explains Joe, “at some point you’re going to slow the car down.” Basically, drivers want to go as fast as possible while also travelling sideways.
Line: This means travelling as close to the judges’ predefined racing line as possible. This line is marked by clipping points and clipping zones – clipping points are mostly on the inside of turns, while clipping zones are on the outside. The aim is to keep the car’s nose as close to the clipping points as possible, while also keeping the rear as tight as possible to the clipping zone.
Style: As if there’s not already enough for drivers to think about, they must also achieve all of the above with as much style, aggression and showmanship as possible. Burning rubber is very much encouraged.
Judges can award a maximum of 100 points for each run.
Watch 'Mad' Mike Whiddett drifting the Crown Range
The format of the DMEC
Every round of DMEC starts with qualifying, which means every driver takes two solo runs. The above scoring system applies, but drivers need to find the right balance between points-scoring and keeping themselves in the game.
“You get two tries and that either takes you through to the battles, or it’s the end of your weekend,” explains Joe. “You can either go all-out on your first lap and if you mess it up, you have one to go. Or you can go easy on the first lap, then all-out in the second. Then you have a sort of safe one in the books.”
Drivers who don’t score enough points are sent packing. Those that do proceed into the tandem runs – battles between a lead car and chase car. For most drifting drivers, these are what define the sport.
There is no overtaking in drifting
“Battles are the element that really define drifting, setting it apart from every other motorsport," says Joe.
In tandem drifting battles, two drivers take turns in being the lead car and the chase car. The lead car needs to do what it did in qualifying, only more so. That means driving faster, with higher angles, while keeping tighter to the line and with even more style.
But the lead car is not alone: the chase car is right behind the leader, trying to put the driver off. The aim of the chase car is to stay as tight as possible to the lead car, while mimicking what the leader does. Both need to execute the ideal drift in this pressure-cooker situation.
With cars burning rubber, it's not always easy for the chasing driver to see the leader's moves. "It’s about anticipating the moves your lead driver will make," says Joe. "You have to go by muscle memory, you have to trust a lot. This is my favourite personal part of the sport, chasing cars down, hunting doors."
The driver who dominates the battle, scores the points.
Final – Riga, Latvia
The 2019 Drift Masters European Championship schedule
This year’s Drift Masters European Championship feature 45 of the best drift drivers from Europe and beyond doing battle at six unique events. It all kicks off with Round One at Austria’s PS Racing Center circuit in Greinbach on May 18-19, before Round Two in France at the Circuit de Croix-en-Ternois on June 15-16.
Round Three, on June 28-29, switches things up by moving into the Polish football stadium used by Wisła Płock, where a drift-specific (and rather dangerous) circuit is laid around the perimeter of the stadium. Latvia’s Biķernieki Circuit – the king of Riga – is one of the most extreme layouts in the sport and hosts Round Four, August 2-3.
Germany’s decommissioned Ferropolis steel mine, aka 'the city of iron' and the spectacular post-industrial venue for the Melt Festival, hosts Round Five on August 16-17. The series concludes with Round Six on September 21-22 at Mondello Park in Ireland, a country that has dominated professional drifting in Europe for over a decade.
Battle for third place at Mondello Park
Watch Drift Masters European Championship live on Red Bull TV.