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Opinion: Drifting deserves more respect from motorsport fans

By Scott Newman, 17 Jan 2021 Features

Nissan S13 drift car competition

It’s everything that people want from motorsport, so why is it so looked down upon?

I love going sideways. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. I’ve even seen non-enthusiasts giggle at their first application of opposite lock and quickly get hooked on the sensation.

It’s difficult to explain why it’s so addictive. Is it the idea of being on the edge of control or the unique and unusual forces?

You don’t even need to be in a car; how many times have you swung the shopping trolley into a Scandinavian flick and changed aisles with the rear wheels gracefully tracing a wider arc than the fronts? Something about going sideways pleases a primal instinct.

Why, then, is the sport of drifting looked down upon? I was reminded of this recently by a tweet from Alexi Smith, aka Noriyaro, an Aussie ex-pat who has been deeply embedded in the Japanese drifting community for many years.

His tweet read: “A long time ago, I was at the TRD workshop in Canberra for a magazine article and the wife/co-driver of some rally driver scoffed and said ‘Drifting isn’t a motorsport’.”

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It’s a familiar trope. I was involved in the early days of drifting in Tasmania and basically the entire motorsport community hated it.

Circuit racers didn’t see the point, rally drivers all thought they could do it and circuit owners went apoplectic when they saw drivers dropping wheels off the edge of the track.

To be fair, those early drifters didn’t cover themselves in glory. Qualifying saw as many spins as scores and the cars were often thrown together while running the skinniest rear tyres possible in order to break traction. Cue much guffawing from the peanut gallery.

The situation quickly improved. Skills grew exponentially, the hardware became more professional and the chuckling stopped as cars were suddenly skimming pit walls in fourth gear with the tyres on fire.

Fast forward to 2020 and the base skill level in state-level competition is unrecognisable from those early days.

Nevertheless, there still remains a level of snobbery towards drifting and I don’t really understand why, for in many ways it’s everything you want from motorsport.

The greatest criticism of modern motorsport is that the cars don’t move around and aren’t very spectacular. Given the whole point of drifting is to get the car out of shape, there’s no such thing as a boring run.

Likewise, whether it be Formula 1, NASCAR or Supercars, a common complaint is that all the cars look and/or sound the same.

One of drifting’s greatest attributes is the variety of machinery.

Here are just a few examples of cars from around the world: Samuel Hubinette’s twin-turbo Dodge Viper, Joe Hountondji’s Red Bull-sponsored Nissan S13 200SX ute with a Mitsubishi Eclipse front end and a 7.4-litre LS7 V8, Pontus Hartman’s Barra-powered BMW E46 3 Series Coupe and Katsuhiro Ueo’s Nissan S15 Silvia with 850kW of VR38 from an R35 GT-R.

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Drifting is also one of the very few motorsports left where driver talent is more important than the car being driven.

Technical evolution has spelled the end of the giant-killing antics of 145kW AE86s, but the fact remains that it doesn’t matter what you’re driving or where you qualify, you can still win.

Some don’t like the fact that success in drifting is determined by judges rather than the stopwatch.

Are Simone Biles’ 27 Olympic and World Championship gymnastic gold medals less impressive because they were determined by scorecards?

Japan’s D1 Grand Prix, the original drifting competition, has attempted to overcome this by using a VBox-based data measurement system to generate scores, but to be honest it creates as many problems as it solves.

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If you like watching cars making awesome noises and doing spectacular things then hop on YouTube and watch some international drifting, I suspect you’ll be impressed. But even if you have no interest in such things, open your mind and give drifting the respect it deserves.