To explain drifting simply, it is to motorsport as diving is to swimming.
In other words, it's done in a similar-looking place, wearing similar attire, and takes considerable skill to do correctly, but its performances are judged rather than timed.
Also like the comparison between diving and swimming, you can be very good at one without being all that great at the other (a very basic ability at the other is sufficient).
Drifting kind of looks like a cross between rally driving and burnouts at first, and there are a few basic skills that overlap with rally driving, but just like it is with diving the judges in drifting are looking for very specific details from start to finish.
In competitive drifting, qualification runs are done individually, but when it comes time for the eliminations to find the winner it's done by way of a battle - which is what they call it - between two drivers, one instructed to lead at the start of the first run through the course, and the other follows. For their second run the other driver leads, so all is as fair as it can be. The scores are combined (or averaged) and if the judges can't determine who was better they'll send those two out again. Once the judges are able to separate them, the winner of that battle goes on to the next stage of eliminations and the other packs up and becomes a spectator.
Even though the run isn't timed, the lead car (or any car in qualifying) needs to use the highest speeds possible to score well. During the battles, the speeds may even be measured with points allocated for being above (or deducted for being below) the average of all runs in qualifying.
Cars are also judged on using the predetermined line (or at least getting as close as possible to a series of markers around the course), and their angle (how sideways they are at all times). The bigger challenge in the battle stage is for the car following, because they are meant to remain as close as possible to the lead driver during the run, but very definitely without making any contact with them because if it's deemed to be their fault they're probably going to be out.
Adding to that challenge is each car behaves a little differently, based on its dimensions, its design, and its individual setup.
What drifters generally want is something that has easy-to-control and easy-to-maintain oversteer under all circumstances, whether they're slowing (lift-off oversteer), coasting and just turning (chassis oversteer) or accelerating (power oversteer, or at least using the power to maintain the oversteer).
It shouldn't need the handbrake much, or at all some will very convincingly argue because simply using the load transfer effect should be sufficient. And it shouldn't need brute force from the engine to overcome the grip of the rear tyres either.
In fact, one of the most popular drift cars for a long time was the seemingly underpowered Toyota AE86 hatch (also known as the hachi-roku which is the Japanese way to say eighty six) from the 1980s.
Sure, the hatchi-roku required modifications and some noteworthy setup changes to prepare it for drifting, but adding more than a bit of extra horsepower to its aspirated 4-cylinder engine was not among them.
Rear-wheel drive is a must, and a live rear axle is potentially an advantage (it's certainly not a disadvantage). Shorter wheelbases are a little trickier to get used to because they feel twitchier and therefore give you less room for error when controlling the oversteer, but longer wheelbases are slower at direction changes.
One thing they need lots of is positive castor angle which helps with front-end bite (by leaning the tyres over when you turn them to counteract the sidewall flex) and this also exaggerates the natural countersteer you get when oversteering, making it much easier to turn the wheel from lock-to-lock. In fact, if you watch on-board footage you'll see drifting drivers simply fling the wheel and allow the castor to take over, then grab the wheel again, because it's just not humanly possible to turn the wheel that far, that fast, yourself.
Another thing they need plenty more of is additional steering lock if you want to get really sideways and still be able to control it and turn back the other way (rather than spin out because you ran out of turning angle).
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