What is Drifting?
Drifting is a funny word as for me it conjurs up a gentle, pleasant, 'drifty' experience. In actuality, anyone who's ever lost control of the rear end of their car in a skid has drifted - and it's not normally a pleasant experience unless you happen to be Stirling Moss.
Drifting is a term that's been coined for the motorsport world where the driver intentionally loses traction of the rear wheels whilst still managing to control the car around bends and so on. These days drifting is a fully fledged sport in about the same way that dressage is to equine sports, in my opinion.
In drifting competitions it's not how fast you go around the track or about finishing first; instead points are awarded for the amount of smoke coming from the wheels, the angle of the front wheels compared to the back wheels during a slide and synchronising drifts with other cars. It's all quite showy, (see third video below) and rightly so as it's much more entertaining to watch a car hurtling around sideways with smoke bellowing from the wheels than in a straight line. It's also quite 'balletic' when you watch some of the synchronisations come together.
Drifting to that standard is pie in the sky for me - for now at least; as it was for most of the punters who were with me and my friend on Sunday. On the menu for us was instruction in performing Handbrake Turns, J-Turns, Donuts, Linking Turns and there were hot-laps around the track afterwards for those that wanted them.
Here are the photos taken by the resident photographer on the day. In the end there were too many photos to load onto Flickr so I decided to make a showreel instead and took the liberty of borrowing some music from the Kings of Leon to make it a bit more interesting. :-)
Drifting Instruction at Bovingdon
I personally feel it would've been better to have had video footage as you don't really get any real feel for the (superb ha-ha) driving from these stills. Apart from the odd puff of smoke from the wheels you wouldn't really know I was drifting. The hosts said they were working on getting the video sorted out.
The Day's Drifting Itinerary
First of all there was an introduction and we filled out our disclaimers then we were split into two groups and my group went off to do Handbrake Turns.
Most of us are already familiar with what these look like from movies like the Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood do a neat handbrake turn to park their police car outside their old bandmates restaurant, (brilliant scene!). We did them around a cone. First we drove up to the cone at 25mph in first gear and when we reached it we would simultaneously apply handbrake, drop the cluch and lock the steering wheel at 180 degrees and end up facing the other direction on the other side of the cone. It sounds really easy but it was probably the hardest part of the day for me.
J-Turns are when you start off by reversing quickly and whip the car round 180 degrees and take off on the same trajectory but facing it head on. They were done by building up speed to 6000 revs in reverse (this is bloody quick) and when 6000 revs has been reached, dip the clutch and lock the steering wheel at 180 degrees which makes the car spin around. When you've mastered that you learn to apply the footbrake at the last moment to stop the drift and take off in first gear, all preferably in one smooth movement. These were the best part of the day for me as I got the hang of them straight away and they also look great.
These were done around a small group of cones and the idea was to drive around them with the car as sideways as possible, (there's a lovely Doughnut in the promo video below). The idea is to put a 'hole' in your Doughnut, i.e. not just keep the front wheels still while the back of the car draws circles, that's easy. Instead you apply just enough throttle to lose traction in the rear wheels, start a slide and correct as you go around - quite tricky.
This is when you're navigating turns at different angles, sideways - and doing it all as smoothly as possible using just the throttle and oversteer. That's the theory anyway, the reality is there's a lot of steering correction to be done but I managed to get the car satisfyingly sideways. :-)
The cars we were driving were Mazda MX-5s - like all drifting cars they're rear wheel drive and have a nicely balanced weight ratio from the front to the back of the car to make drifting easier.
Learning how to control a car in a slide isn't a necessary skill to pass your driving test in the UK but it's par for the course in the more northerly countries where they have to deal with icy road conditions routinely. This probably goes some way to explaining why there are so many of these Nationals acting as instructors at the different drifting firms that've sprung up around the UK. If you're subscribed to Groupon or any of the other voucher sites you've probably seen these firms advertising 'drifting experiences'; which is initially how I came to hear about this firm 'Drift Limits' of http://www.driftlimits.co.uk.
Here is their short promotional video which gives you a much better idea of what drifting really looks like in action.
Drift Limits Promo Video
And this is what a drifting competition looks like, (with some nice footage from inside the car too). I found this video on Vimeo - I would love to be able to drive to this standard.
Drifting Competition Footage
Drift Limits Review
Like the other firms in their niche Drift Limits offer beginners drifting events and appear to be comprised of a group of good natured young lads who're trying to make a living from their hobby.
Bovingdon Airfield is used for a number of ventures these days, (since it ceased operating as a proper airfield): apart from the occasional light aircraft there's a market each Saturday, (a bit naff apparently) and there was an under 16's driving day going on elsewhere on the site while we were there.
The Drift Limits facility is run from a couple of Portakabins which may or may not be used for other things on other days, I don't know. I do know however that there's not a female amongst them as there is no electricity to boil a kettle, "too expensive", the refreshments, (a source of much amusement to my friend Liz) were a packet of Digestive biscuits, a family bag of Hula-Hoops, some Ribena and a big bottle of water. Budgets didn't run to a kettle but with stereo-typical male logic in force, a whole room of one Portakabin was devoted to housing a full sized pool table and nothing else. I say all this in a friendly way however as these little quirks were more charming than anything; I politely suggest they might like to pay a bit more attention to these things as they grow their business - and the loo facilities!
For most of us these experiences are a fun day out with the advantage that we might learn to control a sliding car a bit better in future; for me it's that plus I've decided to pursue it as a bit of hobby, as such I've tested out the drifting facilities at Brands Hatch (currently run by Allstars) and I'm off to Santa Pod in a few weeks to sample theirs. In my opinion Bovingdon scores over Brands driving-wise as there's more space to do more manoeuvres, (the Brands Hatch drifting school operates out of a couple of converted parking lots, albeit large ones).
To sum up my experience with Drift Limits: the instruction was good, the driving time in the cars was good too with not too much waiting around and the staff were friendly. All in all, an amazingly fun day, lovely staff, great value and I'll definitely go again.