Making this even more technical, drivers strive to achieve this while adhering to a standard racing line (or designated "clipping points" if drifting in competition) and maintaining extreme slip angles. You might be thinking "this is not the fastest way around a track," and you would be right.
The art of drifting is the ONLY form of motorsport that is scored by a panel of judges.
The idea behind drifting is a combination of racing, the art of driving and handling to a car's limits with points given for style, and with an incredible amount of tire smoke generated.
There is something inherently exciting about watching drivers negotiating a track with the car completely sideways, quickly countersteering in the direction of the slide, while at the same time delicately modulating pressure on the throttle to balance the car.
Not enough throttle and the car will lose momentum and straighten up — too much throttle and the car will spin out.
For the grassroots or amateur drifter, getting started is modestly affordable. To start at the basic equipment level, you need a rear-wheel-drive car, preferably with a limited-slip differential or a welded differential. Many drifters starting out will prefer an older Nissan 240SX, Mustang or BMW E36/E46. All tend to be highly modifiable and affordable to acquire used.
There are many local or regional groups and series engaged in the grassroots level of competition of drifting, and racers can eye to top tier of organized drifting, which in the U.S. is Formula Drift (FD).
In the early 2000s, drifting took hold in the U.S., starting in Southern California and spreading eastward. In 2003, the D1GP held its first event in the U.S. The following year, Ryan Sage and Jim Liaw launched the series known as Formula Drift.
FD is a judged sport. It's not the first to use judges but has made a name for itself by adopting a stringent rule book that lists technical requirements for drivers, cars, safety and communication, and the rules the drivers must follow to determine the winner of an event.
The idea of using judges is unique and makes for great entertainment to see the cars side-by-side in action on a run. Three judges determine a driver's score based on the line, angle, style and speed used by the drivers.
Drivers compete two at a time and go through multiple rounds. The first round is all about scoring as many points as possible. After the first round, those with the 32 highest scores are placed into a single-elimination tournament.
Individual battles work like this: For the first run, the first car out (Car A) will do its best to follow the perfect course line. At the same time, Car B attempts to mimic the other driver as precisely as possible while also being as close to Car A as possible.
Contact between the two cars is not uncommon at all. Then, the drivers switch roles for a second run.
I spoke with Mr. Liaw, one of the co-founders of FD recently, and he reminded me that FD is the fastest-growing form of motorsport among millennials. Presumably the car culture, relative affordability and grassroots form of involvement play a huge part in this.
Mr. Diaw pointed out that fans of FD are series loyal, and that by FD's research, 82% of drifting fans do not attend NHRA, NASCAR or Indycar races, and 97% of fans are very brand and sponsor loyal to series partners.
At the top-tier level, FD held nine North American racing events in 2019, with attendance ranging from 15,000 to 22,000 fans per event.
FD recently passed a social media milestone — 1 million fans on Instagram.
I attended my first FD event in 2016, and seeing is believing. The races are extremely tight, the fan base is very much in tune with the events, and the car culture and displays of shows such as FD or the Gridlife weekend festivals now are being held as well.
Back to tires: Drift racers compete with off-the-shelf DOT-certified UHP/max performance tires, typically in the 140 to 300 UTQG range.
Over the years a dozen or more tire brands have competed in Formula Drift and other drifting series in North America. In 2019 the brands active were Achilles, Falken, Nexen and Nitto.
Mega-retailer Discount Tire, which sponsors a team/driver in Formula Drift, has a page on its website dedicated to drifting, with recommendations as to which tires are suitable for the sport.
Affordability is key alongside performance, and the measure of grip, plus cost-per-lap is the breakdown. Most Tier 2 and Tier 3 brands are sought after, and several of these brands act as sponsor partners or factory support to teams in FD.
I know many retailers and wholesale distributors may not understand where these types of UHP tires "fit" into their screen because of the limited demand; however, the demand — and loyalty — of brand offerings is as strong as the demand for an affordable and capable off-the-shelf tire can be.
You might not be in tune with the drifting scene, but more of your millennial customers might be than you realize — especially in an area where Formula Drift showcases its series with an annual race held near you.
Edward Koczan, a sales manager at Kenda Tires, is a tire industry veteran and founder of Tire Authority, a consulting firm focusing on tire and automotive-service industry businesses.