The Subaru BRZ is the black sheep of the Subaru family. For a brand built on the virtues of symmetrical all-wheel drive a rear-wheel drive sports car is like having a hamburger on the menu of a Chinese restaurant. This unusual scenario is the result of Subaru’s tie-up with Toyota to develop and build the 86, a car built in 10 times the numbers.
Toyota’s AE86 Sprinter, the car that inspired the Toybaru twins, became a cult classic thanks to its affinity to drifting. Car makers aren’t usually too keen to associate their products with such underground activities but Toyota Australia didn’t hesitate to leverage the appeal of the ‘Hachi Roku’ (eight-six in Japanese), creating an ad with the ‘Godfather of Drift’ Keiichi Tsuchiya.
As such, it seemed only appropriate that the final instalment in our grass-roots motorsport series should examine this often-misunderstood sport. Getting involved in drifting isn’t easy. Skid pans are sadly extremely scarce (in Victoria at least) and even starting at a practice day level is difficult as it requires a decent investment in a suitable car and a reasonable level of proficiency to avoid embarrassment or accidents. Events like the motorkhanas or autocrosses we’ve tackled previously are a step in the right direction but still very different disciplines.
Thankfully, Victorian company Drift Cadet operates a drifting school on the Winton Raceway skid pan, offering curious punters the opportunity to learn the basics of car control in a risk-free environment.
Even better, it provides the machinery, a standard Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ for Level 1 and a pair of supercharged beasts for the more advanced Level 2, giving the long-term BRZ tS some respite.
Completion of Level 1 is required before moving on to Level 2, so I find myself at Winton on a beautiful sunny day. The groups are small, just six drivers who each receive eight one-on-one instruction sessions of four minutes. The Level 1 setup couldn’t be simpler, just a pair of cones set about 10 metres apart on a sprinkler-soaked section of the skid pan.
It’s difficult to know where to set expectations. Without sounding like an idiot, I have some experience with sliding cars, so I was unsure whether such a basic course would deliver value for money. After all, $599 is not cheap, though nor is it exorbitant when you consider the cars are provided and a 12-month CAMS licence is included.
My instructor for the day is John Dreyer, a 12-year drifting veteran who has competed in Australia and Japan. In our first session we start with a simple clutch-kick donut, which thankfully is mastered with little fuss. A satisfied John immediately starts throwing new exercises at me, including a moving clutch-kick entry, handbrake entry, a loop around both cones and the tricky figure-eight, which involves transitioning from a right-hand slide to a left-hand slide and managing the weight transfer accordingly.
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From there John starts chucking random combinations at me: tight donuts around one cone, then two figure eights, then a handbrake entry into a loop, followed by another figure eight and so on. Although the speed is low – first gear is all that’s used – the concentration required to keep the car in a constant state of oversteer while not knowing what’s required next quickly works up a sweat.
It’s hard work, yet slowly comes together, the movements becoming smoother and less frantic along with a feeling of being slightly ahead of the car rather than constantly reacting to it.
I said earlier the Level 1 cars are standard, which isn’t quite true. Under the bonnet it’s all factory, with the 147kW/205Nm of these series one models being deemed sufficient, but Drift Cadet installs steering rack spacers for extra lock, mechanical two-way LSDs, coilovers and the all-important duct tape over the handbrake button.
A quick run in the BRZ tS shows the value of the modifications. The fundamentals are similar, but my long-termer isn’t as keen to lose traction – which feels as much due to the grippier Michelin tyres as the chassis setup – and isn’t as predictable once the wheels are spinning due to the lack of a mechanical LSD.
But while a couple of choice mods enhance the Toybaru’s sliding capability, the base vehicle is capable as long as you’re on a slippery surface. Power isn’t everything in drifting, but a certain amount helps to avoid torching clutches trying to overcome the grip of dry tarmac. When it comes to oversteering fun, this black sheep provides three bags full.
No fast blasts here on MOTOR long-term car reviews
2019 Subaru BRZ tS Pros & Cons
1 - Feel like a hero
2 - Valuable lessons
3 - Looks
1 - Tough on the car
2 - Expensive
3 - Few locations