“If you leave today without being able to drift, we haven’t done our job.” That’s what Peter Pham, founder of Drift Cadet, tells us on Winton Motor Raceway’s skidpan.
It’s a bold claim. Bold because drifting’s hard. It’s wildly irresponsible to practice on public roads, it’s banned at some track days and it requires a rear-wheel drive car and a big tyre budget.
Drift Cadet solves these problems. It’s two-stage drifting course supplies car, venue and, most importantly, expert tuition.
“We have championship drivers that coach,” he adds, “we have chosen guys that communicate well, know underpowered cars, and have competed.”
His fleet Toyota 86s are stock except for some changes to their tyre, track and differentials. With a piddling 147KW and 205Nm, they’re hardly the tyre shredding chariots you might expect.
However, this is part of his plan for the half-day beginner's course. This forces you to focus less on power and on more important things, like weight transfer. After today, you can graduate to a more purpose-built supercharged 86 drift car.
Drivers are split into two groups, each allocated to an instructor and car of their own. The groups are small, comprising three drivers each, and you go out when the other group swaps drivers.
Since we’re starting at level one, the schedule starts with a wet figure eight exercise, then moves to a handbrake-turn exercise before trying to marry the two together. Easy enough, right?
Well, let’s just say we have a lot more respect for the guys and girls who drift for a living. Our first test, that involved dropping the clutch at the start of a figure eight, was okay.
It introduces you to the fundamentals. Looking where you want to go is super important, just like circuit driving, and throttle inputs have to be incredibly precise. But it’s what to do with the steering wheel when we step to the figure eight that’s hardest to judge.
Chasing the steering when the car flips from one side of the drift to the other, all the while balancing the throttle so it keeps sliding, is like taking on the boss in a video game. You come so close, but repeatedly stumble at the opportunity to seze the win.
The handbrake test is easier. It involves barreling into a corner, yanking the handbrake as hard as possible, though only briefly while the clutch is engaged, then picking up big revs as the car starts to slide.
Not every journalist knows how to drift, even if magazine photography tells a different story. We just couldn’t complete the transition in the given time, and trust us, we wanted to.
Maybe it was the car. Ours had a different LSD to the other group’s. That could explain why no one in our group completed a full figure eight, whereas in the other group a 16-year-old L-Plater did.
Not to take away from the kid’s achievement, he might be the next Ken Block, but this inconsistency reveals drifting takes a lot of practice, and there’s just not enough of that in any event that runs a half-day format. Especially in under-powered cars.
At $599 this course is one of the more expensive beginner days you could book through the internet, although as a 'course' it offers far superior seat time than half-baked experiences. It’s certainly run well with a good focus on learning. There’s even free coffee.
And for something that gives you access to one of the most enjoyable parts of performance driver days with manufacturers, and with an expert drifter next to you, it’s comparatively good value. They’ll even refund your money if you don’t agree.
Perhaps the most important lesson of all is to manage expectations. Is the donut we achieved considered a drift? Try telling Keichii Tsuchiya that.
Company: Drift Cadet
Course: Drift Basic – Level 1
How long: Four hours
Where: Winton Motor Raceway