A heavy right foot, the ability to grab an armful of lock and an addiction to the smell of burning rubber – sounds like the traits of an evo road tester, right? Well, though our most esteemed testers do posses those qualities in abundance, despite what the pages of evo magazine suggest, a very small percentage of their working day is spent going sideways. A drift driver, on the other hand, spends almost all of his or her time in competition peering ahead through a side window.
Professional drifting isn’t something evo has paid much attention to, but it’s certainly gaining traction. So as the British Drift Championship closes in on its ninth year of existence, we thought it right to explore this fast growing sport to better understand what it’s about.
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You join me strapped deep into the passenger bucket seat of Paul Cheshire’s Team Falken Nissan Skyline 350GT. I’m staring over the dash at the tail of Matt Carter’s R32 Skyline, which is parked on a slip road of the Coventry Ring Road. We’re about to head out onto the dual carriageway, which is closed for the Coventry Motofest, to entertain thousands of excited onlookers. Even I’m nervous, and all I have to do is hold on.
I’m well aware of the fact the heavily turbocharged straight-six of Cheshire’s 350GT produces 710bhp, but it’s still surprising to witness just how easily it sends the rear wheels into a spinning frenzy. It all happens so fast: Cheshire dumps the clutch – throttle pinned – and in the blink of an eye the car squats violently onto its tail before lurching forward, tail aggressively vibrating as the tyres desperately try to find some purchase. I look in the mirrors – they’re already filled with white smoke.
The next few minutes are a blur, not just because of the sheer speed of our ring-road demonstration, but also because of just how frenetic the whole experience is. Cheshire’s hands don’t stop feeding and fighting the wheel, and his throttle inputs are both swift and heavy. Occasional grabs of the raised handbrake lever rotate my line of sight from side to side and the whole car feels like it’s on trolley wheels, such is the level of lateral adjustability.
Then there’s the noise – it just never stops. The high-revving engine’s six-cylinder bark is familiar, but the speed at which it sends the rev-counter needle flying around the clock is not. Such is the engine’s free-revving nature that I have no doubt it would shame even the hyper-responsive V10 of the Lexus LFA. And when the tyres do occasionally find traction – though Cheshire rarely lets them – the car accelerates forward in the manner of a red-blooded supercar.
Once I’ve absorbed just how fast and violent this thing is, I peer through the tyre smoke to notice the crowd. It’s filled with energy; every single onlooker is waving or cheering as the Team Falken cars drift by. People are leaning over bridges and adorn the walls that line the road. It’s a sight not too dissimilar to what you’d expect to see at a proper international motorsport event… but this is Coventry. And that’s what sets drifting apart from what we might call ‘purer’ motorsport – everyone gets it. Unlike paying spectators at a motorsport event, the Coventry crowd isn’t a specialist, motorsport enthusiast crowd, but rather a crowd of people who are just out to be entertained. Drifting appeals to the masses because it’s visually and aurally spectacular, even to those who have no idea what’s really going on.