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‘I can envisage a time where the best drivers are squabbling over the worst cars’

Drifting could be Jethro’s favourite motorsport – with a little fine-tuning

Jethro opinion header

How do you feel about the humble powerslide? I only ask as it seems such a controversial subject and opinions differ wildly. For example, the art of the ‘cornering shot’ in the pages of a magazine has long caused debate. ‘Irrelevant!’ cry many. ‘Absurd!’ they say, as ‘nobody drives like this’. It’s something I’ve heard many, many times. Often on launches from journalists who are clearly doing a stand-up job of being consumer champions and telling the hard truth. And also can’t operate a car sufficiently well to understand the unending joy it can bring. 

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Me? Oh yes. I love it. Is it irrelevant? Perhaps. Does seeking out that place beyond the limit of grip tell you a lot about a car’s balance, composure and the tools it gives the driver to control everything when things get critical? Almost certainly. For this magazine in particular that magical zone remains an important one, even as cars get faster, grippier and almost absurdly superpowered in terms of cross-country pace. Plus, it’s fun. Driving should be fun. 

> Sideways in a McLaren F1 – evo Archive

Anyway, the point of this is that the killjoys who hate seeing a picture of a car dramatically dancing on the edge of disaster (instead of a shot of a wheel, badge or gearstick) very often soil themselves when they see an AC Cobra at the Goodwood Revival with quarter of a turn of opposite lock. Or retweet a clip of an F1 car slipping sideways over a kerb in super slow-mo in awe and wonder. Sideways is good. But only sometimes, it seems. 

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As somebody who is generally of the opinion that it’s always good – a ray of sunshine and joy in a world of ever more draconian safety and restrictions – you’d think drifting should be the sport for me. Monster cars making smoke and noise; drivers who don’t take themselves too seriously (have you seen their caps?); sheer exuberance on wheels. 

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Let’s look at just one of the machines developed just for this, um, ‘sport’. Papadakis Racing led the 2021 championship competing with a Toyota Supra driven by Norwegian Fredric Aasbø. It retains the Supra’s B58 straight-six in a highly modified form: 2000cc fuel injectors for each cylinder, new intake manifold with air-to-air intercooler, a much bigger Borg Warner turbocharger in a 3D-printed Inconel manifold, 11:1 compression ratio, forged pistons, Carrillo rods and lots and lots of other goodness. It makes over 1000bhp and is hooked up to a dog ’box and a drift-optimised limited-slip differential. The chassis is also almost unrecognisable and capable of huge steering angle. Oh, they have hydraulic handbrakes, too.

Ferrari SF90 Assetto Fiorano – slide

The Supra and its competitors (including Mustang, Nissan 370Z, BMW M3 and, strangely, a Toyota Corolla) sound outrageous and look fearsome. I’d love to have a go in one. I’m sure the drivers are awesome, too. But… something isn’t quite right. For a start the courses for this top-tier motorsport extravaganza appear to mostly consist of three corners. Three. All that development to go sideways for, what, 30 seconds? In cars that are so tailor-made for the discipline that it’s impossible to drive them straight. Can you even spin a car with steering lock to make a London taxi driver jealous? So, each smoke-billowing run basically looks exactly the same as the next and the judging comes down to fractions of an inch here or there and personal opinion.

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I don’t want to sound like a killjoy, though. It’s fantastic that drifting has captured the imagination of so many and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I just think it needs to go to back to basics. No more super-wide and short courses that necessitate the invention of obstacles to clip just to add a bit of drama, no more cars so fit for purpose that a six year old could hold them in a perfect powerslide after ten minutes of practice. We need mountain roads, near rally-stage-length courses and showroom-spec cars with just a few modifications allowed. And as drifting isn’t scored on data alone, your choice of car dictates a level of ‘difficulty’, which ultimately defines your potential high score. Just like in gymnastics. The less suitable the car, the bigger the number you can hit. 

The beauty of this system is that you’d continue to get really varied shapes and sizes, and risk-takers and the supremely talented would naturally gravitate towards trickier and trickier cars as competition intensified. Unlike all other forms of motorsport, I can envisage a time where the best drivers are squabbling over the worst cars in order to up the difficulty and potentially increase their score. Plus, the fans could genuinely go and buy the cars they’re seeing compete. Think of it as a melting pot of Group A rallying, those grainy old drift videos from Japan in the ’90s and the shiny, energy-drink-sponsored nonsense we have today.

The only downside to this plan is that the prices of Clio V6s and 996 GT2s would really get out of hand. And then some billionaire is bound to turn up in a Lancia Stratos and ruin it for everyone.

This story was first featured in evo issue 291.

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