Drifting in Australia: Its History and Latest Events


Mar 17th, 2020

Drifting in Australia: Its History and Latest Events

Mention the word 'drifting,' and most people will automatically think about the feeling of floating away. To car enthusiasts and racing lovers, however, drifting has an entirely different connotation.

Drifting, in the latter regard, refers to one-of-a-kind driving experience on four inversely-angled wheels. If you have watched the third iteration of the Fast and Furious Franchise "Tokyo Drift," you are probably familiar with drifting. Take a ride with us through memory lane as we explore drifting in Australia.

What Is Drifting

Drifting is a driving technique that involves intentional oversteer and loss of traction. The challenging part of this technique is maintaining control at high speeds when negotiating bends and corners.

You'll notice that when drifting, the rear slip angle is almost always higher than the front slip angle. As a result, the drifting car's front wheels face the opposite direction to the drifting turn. Say the car was taking a right corner, the wheels point to the left direction. The inverse is also true. This is known as counter-steering.

Sure this may sound confusing, but once you see it in action, you most definitely will get the hang of it. To get a car to drift, most drivers do a clutch kick and then deliberately counter-steer depending on the direction intended.

The Origin of Drifting

The first drifting races are traced back to Japan in the '60s. Ergo, Japan is considered the cradle of drifting. Kunimitsu Takahashi, who was a motorcyclist before then, is credited for introducing the technique.

Fascinated by Takahashi's work, Keiichi Tsuchiya took an interest in drifting. He took drifting practices to the mountain roads stamping his name in the racing books. Keiichi's exploits made him widely recognized as the 'drift king.'

Drifting in Australia and around the World

It was only a matter of time before drifting spread to other parts of the world. Drifting soon became a competitive sport that involved drivers competing to earn points according to how their cars drifted. Today, the competition is majorly reserved for rear-wheel-drive cars. 

Some of the popular drifting events include Drift Games Extreme (Ireland), Formula D, WDS (China), Drift All-Stars, King of Europe, Drift Masters, British Drift Championship, RDS (Russia), Formula Drift Asia, NZ Drift Series, the Greek Drift Championship, and Australian Drifting Grand Prix.

Judges award points to the drivers according to how they drift. Several factors are considered by the judges when awarding points. The spread of drifting, however, didn't come without changes in some aspects. In Australia, the performance of the chase car is determined by how precisely it emulates the drift of the lead car. It is somewhat different from other regions where the performance of each is determined by individual merit.

As drifting is growing in popularity locally, it forms a potential market for technicians and mechanics as well. 

How Drift Racing Became Popular in Australia

Danny Vahoumis is the man credited for starting Australia's drifting campaign. He is regarded as the godfather of Australian drifting. He co-founded the Japanese Motorsport that was based in Adelaide. Being a businessman, Vahoumis was a frequent visitor to Japan. During one of his occasional visits to Japan in the '90s, he came across drifting. 

Drifting had already taken hold and was well established in Japan at the time. After his return, he organized a drift competition in 1998 at Mallala Motorsport Park. It took a few more races, and soon enough skilled drivers surfaced and got countrywide recognition. This was quickly followed by beyond-the-border recognition by dint of media coverage. 

At the beginning of 2004, another drifting competition took place. It was still held in South Australia, but this time in Port Gawler. The race was different from the others as interstate competitors were in attendance. This included representation from Victoria by Full Lock.

It was Full Lock Motorsport that pushed for the professionalisation of drifting. The team spread awareness to track owners and came up with a national series. The team's effort was fruitful as the first round of national drifting series kicked off on 20th March that year.

Various media forms were used for advertising the Drift Nationals. 120 competitors from different states made it to the event. Full Lock didn't back down after this success. The team arranged other events in New South Wales and Queensland. Some D1 drivers from Japan often participated in these events. Around this time, judging criteria and rules were created.

The following year, Toyo Tyres became the Drift Nationals' sponsor and took over the naming rights. The drifting series took place on different tracks in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. During this period, the Full Lock team didn't get any proceeds, albeit it invested a lot of effort, time, and capital. Unfortunately, the team couldn't keep up and closed doors at the end of 2005.

Drift Australia picked up the mantle and championed Drift Nationals. The company was spearheaded by Australian motorsport enthusiasts Wayne Boatwright and Scott Anderson. Boatwright was a team manager, whereas his associate Wayne was a driver. 

The two came up with the first CAMS-sanctioned Australian Drift Championship. The competition kicked off in 2006. Other similar events were held between then up to 2008 in different venues, including Oran Park Raceway, Symmons Plains, Winton Raceway, Queensland Raceway, Eastern Creek Raceway, Wakefield Park Raceway, Mallala Motor Sport Park, and Barbagallo Raceway.

The series even grew to become a TV show that was featured on Channel 9, Fox Sports, and Speedweek. Sadly, the good times didn't last. The Global Financial Crisis brought most sponsorships down to their knees. 

Drift Australia, in particular, was primarily affected. With no choice left, the company was sold to Ninety Degree Entertainment. The farewell event, which would be the last ever held, was staged in Oran Park in 2009. 

Three years later, two series that ran in different parts of the nation came up. The Stadium Drift covered Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia. The Australian Drifting Grand Prix, on the other hand, included Perth, Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia too. Both events were well-endorsed and supported.

The Drifting Car

As opposed to normal driving, drifting requires some modifications. For instance, when making a turn, the car has to generate friction exceeding the average level. This friction acts centripetally, pulling the car in a circular path.

As you can tell, it requires a lot of technical adjustments. Specifically-tuned tools (e.g., drift suspension kits and drift-specific auto parts and tools, which you can search through the Carpart.com.au platform) are used to achieve this modification. The adjustments include modifications to the suspension system to give the vehicle the right height. Other boons of the suspension adjustment include better comfort and performance.

The cars used in drifting come with either the open variety or limited-slip differential. There are other LSD types to mete out the drive between right and left wheels. Most drifting racers prefer the plate-type mechanical clutch for drifting needs.

Wrap Up

Although it's sometimes overshadowed by other racing events such as Formula 1, drifting is no doubt an exciting sport. You even can choose to get the drifting experience after taking lessons and practices from a certified drifting instructor. The sport spikes adrenaline levels giving an unparalleled magical experience in a tyre-smoking action. 

By Sam O.