26 Nov 2013

Drifting - Round and round in circles in a sideways car…

Graham King continues his quest to become a racing driver by learning to drift

Mazda MX5
In the last episode I took the first steps on the road to becoming a racing driver. Only an amateur of course, but I’m a competitive so-and-so, so I want to good. And though I consider myself a good driver, there are still some big holes in my skill-set. As such, I am addressing my deficiencies before I actually take the ARDS test that will hopefully earn me a racing license.

Last time, I took to the track for the very first time at Thruxton. Though I didn’t get enough seat time to get the best out of either the cars or myself, I still left with my confidence and pride intact.

The next stage in the process would be learning how to drift. My experience of oversteer is minimal, as is the time I’ve spent driving rear-wheel-drive cars. So it was with no real idea of what to expect that I went to Drift Limits at Bovingdon airfield in Hertfordshire where I would be slithering around in a Mazda MX-5.

As at Thruxton, I didn’t do too badly. The course started with some doughnuts - no, not from Krispy Kreme - and in fairly short order I could do three-quarters of a doughnut just fine. Why only three quarters? There was a slight upward gradient on the last part of the circle and I couldn’t quite find enough throttle to maintain the slide through it. I know, I know, racing driver excuses.

Next were the ‘Linkers’, a sequence of four corners to string together. By the end of the day I had turn one - a 90-left - more-or-less sussed, particularly when I started pulling the handbrake. Turns two and three were a slack left-right ‘S’-bend. In theory they should have been easy, but T2 had a right-angle entry that proved very difficult to transition into from T1. Which is another way of saying I didn’t manage to get it right all day. I almost had it a couple of times, but ended up spinning out.

Having messed up T2, there wasn’t enough room to do anything with T3, so it was on to T4, a 180-degree hairpin right. That was simple enough: slowish in, stamp on the throttle at the apex and hold the slide as long as possible. I did get a bit over-keek a couple of times and span the car round. But I did manage to turn one spin into a rather neat little pirouette.

After 20 or so runs through the Linkers, I could do something with each corner individually, but just couldn’t string them together. And none of it was even remotely elegant. Though my instructor did tell me I was the best he’d had in the car all day. Which was… pleasing.

The day finished with some runs around the full circuit. I went last, so I’d had the chance to watch the five other guys on the course have a go with varying degrees of success. The circuit starts with a high speed 90-right, that you could drift around, but the only run-off was the pits and I didn’t fancy crashing into all the other cars. Still, I was carrying significantly more speed through it than anyone else.

The next corner was a very long, very fast right-hander where you were supposed to get a bit of lift-off oversteer. I just could not get to grips with it. More often than not, I didn’t even manage to provoke a slide, as I simply wasn’t coming off the power sharply enough. The three or four times the car did let go, it went so quickly I didn’t have a hope of catching it. In my defense though, it was a different car with quite a lot more grip than I’d been used to thus far. Again, excuses.

The Linkers sequence was as before - T1 and T4 were fine, everything in between was a bit of a mess.

With less than an hour in the car, I was never going to become an ace drifter. But then that wasn’t what I wanted to get out of the day. I didn’t embarrass myself, which is always a good start, and got some encouraging feedback from the instructors.

But more importantly, I now feel more confident that I would be able to deal with a car sliding around a wet race track. And I’d be happy to sling something with 500bhp round a hairpin with the traction control turned off. Which is the most important thing...

After my day at Thruxton, I felt like the potential was there, but I need more seat time to get the best out of myself. That was case again as I made my way home from Drift Limits.

Now I’m scouring the classifieds for cheap BMW’s.

Article by Graham King