How to Set your Car Up for Drifting
A proper mechanical limited slip differential (LSD) is almost considered essential for drifting. Attempting to drift with an open or viscous differential in a sustained slide generally yields relatively less impressive results. All other modifications are secondary to the LSD. Two popular LSD brands amongst drifters are OS Giken & Cusco.
The most preferred form of LSD for drifting is the clutch type, in “2-way” form, for its consistent and aggressive lockup behavior under all conditions (acceleration and deceleration). Some drift cars use a spool “differential”, which actually has no differential action at all – the wheels are locked to each other. Budget-minded drifters may use a welded differential, where the side gears are welded to give the same effect as a spool. This makes it easier to break rear traction because it reduces maximum traction in all situations except traveling in a straight line. Welded differentials have an inherent risk involved, due to the tremendous amounts of internal stress the welds may fail and the differential completely locks up leaving the rear wheels immobilized. Helical torque sensing types such as the Torsen or Quaife (available on cars in certain stock trims such as S15, FD3S, MX-5, JZA8x, UZZ3x) differentials are also adequate.
The clutches on drift cars tend to be very tough ceramic brass button or multiple-plate varieties, for durability, as well as to allow rapid “clutch kick” techniques to upset the balance of the car. Gearbox and engine mounts are often replaced with urethane mounts, and dampers added, to control the violent motion of the engine/gearbox under these conditions.
Gear sets may be replaced with closer ratios to keep the engine in the power band. (Japanese drifters confuse the “L” and call these “cross-mission”.) These may be coarser dog engagement straight cut gears instead of synchronized helical gears, for durability and faster shifting at the expense of noise and refinement. Wealthier drifters may use sequential gearboxes to make gear selection easier/faster, while sequential shift lever adapters can be used to make shifts easier without increasing shift time.
The suspension in a drift car tends to have very high spring and damper rates. Sway bars are upgraded, particularly on the rear. Caster is often increased to improve the car’s controllability during a slide. Most cars use an integrated coil-over/shock (Macpherson strut) combination. This type of suspension allows the ride height to be adjusted independently of the suspension travel. There is no perfect height setting or spring/shock combo for any car, but each driver will have their own personal preference. Many suspension manufacturers offer suspension tuned specifically for drifting, allowing many people to enter the sport competitively.
Bushings can be upgraded with urethane parts. Most Nissan vehicles have a floating rear sub-frame which is usually fixed in position with billet aluminum or urethane “drift pineapples”, to prevent the frame moving during drift.
Positive camber is never desired. There is such a thing as too much negative camber. By making the wheel/tire go into static negative camber on a vehicle with a Macpherson strut front suspension, you are going to be counteracting the positive camber change. However, there is a level at which you over-counteract and thus the tire is always in a negative-camber situation. This is not wanted because it will both wear the tires prematurely and decrease contact patch and thus decreasing overall grip. In the rear, less negative camber (if any) is often used and, if it is used, it is usually to tweak the balance of the car. The old-school Japanese drifters used to run oni-kyan (“demon camber”) so they could get their tires to spin easily even though they had very little power. It has thus fallen out of favor as a serious performance-minded suspension setup. However, many cars built for show (such as those driven by bōsōzoku) still use this style of suspension setup for its aggressive look. A few degrees of toe-out on the rear wheels (leading edges angled outward) can reduce rear stability, and make setting up a drift a little easier.
Because of the large centripetal force encountered during drifting, drivers find it preferable to be retained firmly by a bucket seat, and harness. This allows the hands to merely turn the wheel, as opposed to bracing oneself against the wheel. The steering wheel should be relatively small, dished, and perfectly round, so that it can be released and allowed to spin through the hands as the caster returns the front wheels to center. The locking knob on the hand brake is usually replaced with a spin turn knob; this stops the hand brake locking on when pulled. Some drivers move the hand brake location or add an extra hydraulic hand brake actuator for greater braking force. Many drivers make use of additional gauges to monitor such things as boost levels, oil, intake and coolant temperatures.
Engine power does not need to be high, and in fact if a car has too much power, it can be very hard to handle during a drift. Each driver has their own preference, and drift cars can be found with anything from 100 bhp (74 kW) to 1000 bhp (745 kW). Typically, engine tuning is oriented towards achieving linear response rather than maximum power output. Engines also must be equipped with upgraded cooling systems. Not only are the engines pushed very hard, creating lots of heat, but being driven at an angle reduces the airflow through the radiator. For turbocharged engines, intercooler efficiency is similarly reduced. Oil coolers are almost essential. V-mounting the intercooler and radiator improves flow through these components, and keeps the expensive intercooler out of harm’s way in the case of a minor accident.
With increased steering angle it is possible to achieve greater angle with the vehicle, also aiding in spin recovery. This is often done with spacers on the steering rack, custom steering racks, custom tie rod ends, or machining the spindles. In extreme cases increasing the steering angle may come to a point where the tire or wheel comes into contact with other suspension pieces or the inner/outer fenders; in which case additional modifications are required if such contacts are to be avoided.
Chassis preparation is similar to a road racing car. Roll cages are sometimes employed for safety, and to improve the tensional rigidity of the car’s frame, but are compulsory in events that involves the 2+ cars’ tsuiso runs in the event of a side collision. Front and rear strut tower braces, B-pillar braces, lower arm braces, and master cylinder braces are all used to stiffen the chassis. The interior is stripped of extraneous seating, trim, carpet, sound deadening; anything that is not essential is removed to reduce weight.
Body kits are often attached with cable ties. When the body kit meets the wall or curb, the cable ties snap, releasing the part, as opposed to breaking it. Aero also helps for cooling while the car is sideways.
As drift cars are pushed faster, aerodynamic tuning becomes more important as well. Rear spoilers and wings usually are useful only in large, open tracks where the cars develop enough speed to create a need for more down force. Wheel arches are often rolled or flared to allow the fitment of larger tires. Airflow to the engine is critical, so the hood is often vented.
Due to the nature of the hobby, drift cars are typically involved in many minor accidents. Thus, those involved with the sport tend to avoid expensive or easily damaged body kits and custom paintwork.
The cars quite often have different tires on the front and back, and the owner may have quite a few sets. This is because a single afternoon of drifting can destroy several new sets of tires. As a rule, good tires go on the front for good steering. On the back, hard-compound tires are used, quite often second-hand ones tend to end up in a cloud of smoke. 15″ wheels are common on the rear, as 15″ tires are cheap. As a driver gets better, they will most likely want to upgrade the tires used in the rear for a higher grip compound. Although cheap/hard tires are fun purely for their slipperiness and ease of drifting, they quickly become a hazard for high-speed drifts. More advanced drivers require the most grip possible from all 4 tires, so as to retain control adequately during high speed drifts. Competitive drifters often run DOT-approved tires closer to racing tires, which is permitted, with the exception of some major championships including D1GP which only permits commercially available tires that are approved by them. The grip is required for control, speed, and a fast snap on the initial entry. Generally drifting consumes tires rapidly and multiple sets may be necessary for a single professional event.
Some companies, such as Kumho Tires, created tires with special effects for drifting. These tires produce colored smoke instead of regular grey smoke when drifted. Lavender-scented tires have also been developed. They are not permitted in many competitions, as they are seen as giving an unfair advantage to teams with the funding to use them