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Drift Racers: The New Gladiators

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Modified cars in the UK have often carried bad press. Whether as an artistic statement, a desire to be different from everyone else or striving to achieve perfection and remove tolerances where the manufacturers built in those mundane things like a comfortable ride or a stereo which doesn’t deafen you/your neighbour/someone 20 miles away, those who didn’t understand lumped everyone together under the somewhat derogatory category ‘boy racer’.

And it’s a large category, suffering its fair share of fools, although there are a greater majority for whom this is a real passion. Achieving the loudest stereo, or the lowest ride, or 700bhp from a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine does take some dedication, determination, and a fairly accommodating bank manager.

But what was the end goal? Those with performance-enhanced cars could generally do one of two things; go to an open trackday or a ‘Run What Ya Brung’ day at the local dragstrip (and yes there are drag strips in the UK), or parade endlessly up and down Southend (pronounced ‘saaaaarfend’) seafront on the hunt for chicks with low tops and even lower standards. You got the feeling that the thousands (and it it really can stretch to thousands or even tens of thousands) of pounds spent were wasted on people who really didn’t appreciate it. Sure there were ‘cruises’ and ‘meets’ where like-minded souls could gather, compare suspension setups and airfilters, maybe attempt a few half arsed burnouts whilst some idiot in a knackered Ford Sierra would try doing a couple of donuts and attract the attention of the old bill. The local tabloid reporters would pick up on this and sweepingly label the whole thing something along the lines of “deathly dangerous boy racers menace local supermarket car park”. It was quite unfair, but at the same time deeply pointless and a little bit pathetic.

But now there’s a new show in town. Finally all those lowered cars with performance tweaks and, crucially, rear wheel drive can now be used to drift.

A quick Drifting 101 for the uninitiated. Wikipedia describes drifting as “…a driving technique and a motor sport involving the use of the technique of turning your car sideways. A car is said to be drifting when the rear slip angle is greater than the front slip angle, and the front wheels are pointing in the opposite direction to the turn (e.g. car is turning left, wheels are pointed right or vice versa), and the driver is controlling these factors.”

Drift racing competitions determine how well you drift, sometimes whilst solo on a race circuit, other times with other drivers – both those you are competing against, and those you are competing with (for example in team events). Points are awarded for style and speed; someone tearing around the circuit setting a blistering track time with a couple of ‘tail out’ moments will lose to a slightly slower competitor who slides gracefully around the whole track.

Drifting is surprisingly easy and cheap to get into. Trampdrift is a community dedicated to budget drifting, whereas larger and more diverse community sites such as Driftworks cater for all tastes and budgets. Fully marshalled and tutored practice days and beginners days are run every couple of weeks at locations around the country, and at several you can apply for a BDC (British Drift Championship) novice licence and start competing. Instruction is often given for free by keen amateurs and seasoned competitors alike, there is a huge community spirit and camaraderie evident at these events.

Alongside the BDC is the slightly higher standard European Drift Championship, focused mainly around events in the UK and one in Poland for 2008, but more countries are expected to participate in 2009. As well as the BDC and EDC pair, there also exist other series: JDM and ProDrift amongst others.

Drifting is a great spectacle for the crowd, and where 1-on-1 battles between the top two can’t be resolved on a single circuit, the crowd’s shouts of “one more time” get repeated over and over until one of the judges declares a winner or a car component breaks disqualifying the competitor.

Make no mistake, this accessible and exciting motorsport is going to grow exponentially. It has all the grand spectacle and bloodthirsty spectator involvement of the brutal gladiator shows of ancient rome, and the chance for people to have a go themselves and get involved at entry level for a very low outlay.

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