Does "drifting" really work?

I watched The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift last night at the cheap theatre, and afterwards, my friend asked me if the racing move highlighted in the movie, drifting, was actually a vaild car racing move. I guessed that it can be done by professional drivers, but I wasn’t sure if there was any realistic benefit to using it in a real life race. From what I can tell, drifiting involves simulaneously braking strongly, while jerking the wheel to cause the car to skid. This changes the angle in which the car is pointed without yet changing the direction that the car is moving. Then, the idea is to regain traction while the car is pointed sideways, and thus change direction without the usual neccessary turning radius. Is drifitng a valid racing move, or it is just a fancy looking stunt, only useful in Hollywood or car commercials?

IANADrifter or racecar driver, but from what I understand, the modern sport of drifitng as popularized in Japan is based on the ability to drift in and out of turns in an aesthetically pleasing manner, and is judged in much the same way figureskating is, with the aid of GPS sensors in the cars. It is not based on going from one point to another quickly.

Based on my extensive experience with car racing video games, yes, you can clear corners faster. :slight_smile:

I have no more expertise in this area than kawaiitentaclebeast but I thought I would add that from my experience playing computer games, some of which have very realistic handling and physics, drifting around corners isn’t the quickest way, I always find it is faster to keep traction at all times, it helps you accelerate out of corners better.

On another anecdotal note I recall seeing on Fifth Gear (U.K. motoring T.V. show) that when Tiff Needell was demonstrating some high performance supercar on a race track he started off sliding around corners to show off the power but when it came to recording a lap time for the purposes of comparison he stated that he would have to sliding because whilst it is fun and looks very cool it would slow his lap down considerably.

There is a drifting competition show on G4 (The old ZDTV/TechTV) channel. I can’t remember the name, but competitors get it on on a closed course. It’s a one-way pass slalom with drivers alternating lanes.

Here ya go, Formula D.

Like many questions, I think the answer is “it depends.”

Do you ever watch rally racing? You should, it’s a really exciting sport. They drift turn all the time, it’s obviously the best way for them to get around the turn. It’s pretty slippery terrain - in order to not drift, they would have to go really really slow.

When racing on pavement however, you won’t see anybody drift in the turn. There’s enough traction that it’s faster just to stick to it.

It just depends on what you’re racing.

Yes its nothing new… Rallying (tanking round unpaving courses in gypped up compacts) depends on it. In fact in Rallying the ice circuits (where the course in question in somewhere in artic circle) actually have better times than the dry ones, because there is lower traction going round the corners.

I saw that episode, and it only makes sense that if the powered wheels are spinning, they’re not doing much to propel the car. You’ll notice that F1 cars are built to never slide. They can take corners at 2+ times the speed your passenger car can and barely even lean. Top Gear had a passenger car race a real rally car and a real F1 car on the track, and the F1 won after giving the passenger car nearly half a lap lead.

OTOH, why are the WRC cars built to slide? Is it because most of the roads they’re using aren’t paved? It seems that the rally racers consider it faster to slide the tail out around the hairpin and get the car turned around that way, whereas the Indy cars basically don’t slide at all on purpose.

Ah, I see I should have read a bit more, above.

As to the OP, you’ll notice that the drifting contests are not races, but judged contests like figure skating or surfing. The point isn’t the speed, but the style and skill.

For what it’s worth, motorcycle road racers sometimes use drift as a way to control the bike in a corner. If the front wheel begins to slide, then a little more throttle can cause the rear wheel to slip as well, keeping the bike pointed in the right direction through the curve.

Back in the day when on track race cars had skinny tires, and engines in the front a four wheel drift was in fact the fastest way around a track. If you can find pictures of race cars from the very early tiems to the mid 60’s in a corner you can see them set up to drift.
Here is Enzo Ferrari talking about drifting.
Then came wings and wide tires. No more drifts. Although I do recall Jody Schecter (sideways Schecter) drifting a Can-Am car in the early 70’s.

Things are even less simple than they appear.

Every tire must develop a slip angle with respect to its direction of travel in order to generate a lateral force. It’s just that under normal driving conditions these slip angles are very small (so as to be unnoticeable). However, during high-g lateral maneuvers, such as racing or accident avoidance, these slip angles can be quite large. In fact, an important design consideration for tires, not just racing tires but passenger car tires as well, is the lateral force vs. slip angle relationship. A smoother curve, with a larger breakaway region (where lateral force is nearly constant over a wide range of slip angles), makes a tire that is easier to drive - but you often give up absolute grip. In fact, this is one consequence of modern radial tire construction - higher grip is possible, but at smaller slip angles and over a smaller range of slip angles.

These are among the reasons that modern Formula 1 cars show so little apparent drift - because that breakaway region is very small, and the traction drops off quickly if they get the tire slipping more than desirable. And the reason that a 4-wheel drift (or 2-wheel drift for a motorcycle) is considered the fastest way around a corner (steady-state) is that all 4 tires are working to near their maximum lateral force (it can be a good way to overheat the tires, though) - in this case, you are neither understeering nor oversteering around the corner, but on the limit of traction for all 4 wheels. Taking a slalom quickly with a decently balanced car is the easiest way I know to experience a 4-wheel drift.

As to why rally cars drift around turns - on dirt, larger slip angles are permitted, and in fact required, in order to generate maximum lateral force. And ice racing can generate larger lateral forces than dirt because they use spiked tires (not studs, but large metal spikes).

As far as “drifting” - I think this answer has been beaten to death, but it should be apparent now why it’s not the fastest way around a track. It does require driver skill to hold the maximum possible slip angles, because you are operating on the back side of the traction curve - for an increase in slip angle there is a reduction in lateral grip. Hope this helps.

As others have mentioned, using drifting as a method to race (go faster on a course) depends on the racing surface. Rally racing or dirt track ovals pretty much rely on drifting since keeping continuous traction on the tracks would require slow speeds.
Racing on concrete or asphalt you’ll rarely see drifting (Nascar, Cart, Formula1) since you can keep a high speed and continuous traction on the track.

So I guess the answer to the question is no, the type of racing they showcased in FTF3 was not representative of Drifting competitions. They were showcasing drifting as a way to win a race on a paved surface, which our experts here have told us is not the right way to do it.

How can I put this?

Rally cars don’t use drifting because they don’t have good traction around course, and therefore have no choice. They use drifting in order to OBTAIN good traction around course. The sliding around scrubs off the loose surface to get at the better traction underneath. Grip driving is always faster than drift driving, despite what TFATF or Initial D tells you. If you look at a tire, you will see wide, deep grooves that sweep away debris, but the compound is very soft, like a race tire, for gripping the undersurface.

Rally drivers would definitely rather grip than drift (except the drifting is way more fun), but that’s the way dirt goes. Watch rally cars on tarmac sometimes. They are sticking, not drifting.

“I drift not because it is a quicker way around a corner, but it is the most exciting way” --Keiichi Tsuchiya

This may be true for formula 1 cars, but it it also true for more conventional cars? I imagine the type of tire must have something to do with it, but presumably the types of tires used on regular cars is different than those used on formula one cars.

What are you asking? If drifting is a more effective way of going around corners in a conventional car even if it isn’t for a racecar?

No, it’s not. Think of it this way, as some have already discussed. Even though you may have adjusted the direction the car is facing by sliding sideways, the car is still moving in the same direction it was before the slide. It is the momentum in that direction that you need to change. It is significantly easier to change that direction if you have full use of the contact patch of your tires, and the time you spent sliding around would be better spent braking, turning, etc. You are not really doing anything in a car if your tires are not attached to the road.

That’s interesting in light of the Ferrari quote linked to above. Even if Tazio came out of the turn pointing in exactly the right direction, he would still not have much friction to accelerate with.

I guess I’m wondering about the time it takes to brake and turn at a rate the car can handle. Tazio entered the turn early and cut his wheels loose from the pavement, pointed his car in the direction of the turn’s exit and took a greater distance to change from one direction to another. Presumably, all things equal, this would mean that at any point along the turn, the force pulling his car to the side is less, since the same change in velocity (direction #1) is spread over a longer distance. If he were to turn without slipping, when he cornered, his car would be under more stress & centrifugal force, right?

Would it be reasonable, then, that drifting may be beneficial or harmful, depending on the cars involved? I imagine that a formula 1 car can can probably brake proportionally faster, accelerate proportionally faster, and corner proportionally faster than a suped-up Honda Civic. Could it be that for a Civic, the time to slow down, the required speed to turn without slipping (or rolling or breaking a ball joint), and the time to get back up to speed conspire to make drifting quicker in spite of its inefficiency? Rather than moderating centrifugal force by decelerating, the Civic might moderate cetrifugal force by spreading out the time of turning? Man, does that question even make sense?

I’m not entirely sure I understand the question. It sounds to me like you might be conflating two separate concerns, but if I’m wrong, please let me know.

It seems like there are two issues: Which way is the fastest around a given track, and which way is the least taxing on the car and driver? The forces at work during a trun can definitely be detrimental to both the chassis and the driver. If you black out in a turn, then you’re not going to be very fast. :slight_smile: Same thing if you lose your front suspension.

But the fast remains that you are not really doing anything productive in a car unless your tires are in contact with the road. When you exceed your available grip, your effectiveness is zero.

Let’s take a simple example, and I hope I’m not being pedantic. You are going down a long straight, and suddenly a refrigerator falls off the truck in front of you. You stomp on your brakes. Now, your brakes are more powerful than the grip on your tires, and so your tires brake free and start sliding down the road. Is this a more effective way to stop, or is applying pressure to the brakes in such a way that you use 100 percent of the available friction for stopping more effective?

It’s the same thing for turning. You only have so much tire and so much grip. You can use if for turning, stopping, accellerating or some combination of the three. If your tires do not have grip on the road, you are not affecting your momentum, and therefore that work has to be done later.

“An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force” says Newton. With no tire contact with the road, you don’t have any other force to act on the momentum in one direction you have. It’s only through gaining ther traction (which the rally cars do by sweeping the loose debris from the road) that they are able to apply themselves to turning.

A perfect example: Watch a rally sometime. As the day goes on and the course gets “swept” of loose debris, the cars go through the course faster, and slide less.

Let’s look at another example.
Loose dirt track, extreme oval (hair-pin turns on opposite ends).

While you want to cover ground as fast as you can on the two straight-a-ways your goal basically is to reverse your momentum and direction your car faces at opposite ends of the track.

Keeping constant tire contact would mean braking at the end of your straight-a-way without losing grip. Once a controllable, non slipping, turning speed was reached make your 180degree corner and then accelerate as quickly as possible.

With drifting there is no need to brake. Near the end of the straight-a-way you jog the car a bit so the back end starts to slide turning the car around 180 degrees. In the meantime your powered tires go from pulling you down the straight-a-way,to guiding you through the corner, to facing the opposite direction trying to again get traction to pull you down the straight-a-way.

Ask your sprint/midget/modified oval dirt track racer which way is faster.