A Beginners Guide to Drifting in Western Australia
The Drifters Handbook
It’s not easy to get started in drifting if you don’t already know someone who is involved. You might not even know that drifting is something that happens in Perth! Perhaps you have heard of these redneck hipsters who throw their cars at each other, but maybe you thought it’s too expensive, too dangerous, or maybe you can’t drive like that and don’t want to embarrass yourself. The reality is that drifting can be expensive, and drifting skills are not something (…unfortunately) that we are born with. Assuming that you don’t have a bag of dicks for a brain and don’t consider drifting the streets an option, this drifters handbook hopes to show you how to make getting started in drifting as affordable, safe and realistic as possible, and break down a few of those other barriers that have been keeping you off the track.
Who even is this guy?
I’ve been drifting for about three years. I started out in a $1,200 registered 1996 5.0L V8 VR Commodore Ute, which was awesome because other than an exhaust and some lowered springs it was completely stock! And because it was a ute it meant I could just load the back up with tools and tyres and drive straight to the track. Unfortunately the ute only lasted one night before it blew up, and I bought a registered 1996 180sx which had worn out coilovers, a sloppy viscous LSD, after market intercooler and an exhaust, making a whopping 200hp from the SR20 powerhouse.
I was in training for 6 months before my driving was at a level that I could drift the main track at Barbagallo. I was not one of those guys that picked this up quickly, and despite having awesome trainers I still struggled to grasp some of the basics. My 180sx is quite a competitive car now with just over 300hp. It’s heaps lighter with much more grip and angle, but I am by no means a pro and am always working on finessing my technique.
When people ask me how to get started I break it down into 4 steps; Buy a Car, Prep Your Car, Learn the Basics and Keep It Simple. The advice is a combination of my experience and what I would do differently in hindsight, but there are a lot of ways to skin a cat.
Step 1 – Buy a car
Pretty obvious step, right? A lot of people think that your drift car needs to have 1,200hp, wisefab, full cage, tube front and rear and perfect panel and paint. Some people choose to spend years building a big dollar build before getting started, which is freakin’ cool, but also unnecessary if you’re just starting out. This step assumes that you have a Prius for a daily and that you need to buy a car to start drifting. If of course you already own a drift capable street car then that is enough to get started!
What to look for
It goes without saying that the car you buy will need a couple of basic features; rear wheel drive, manual transmission and a locked diff. While you can sometimes drift with an open diff, it is a recipe for ending up in a wall when your car decides to randomly grip up and makes your car very unpredictable. Likewise with an automatic transmission. While you can technically drift in an auto, you’re limited with initiation and entry techniques.
There are a number of things in your car that will make getting started a lot easier, such as buying a registered car so you don’t need to buy/hire a trailer and tow vehicle. Buying a common car with lots of available spares and that has a strong community in Perth will also make your drifting life far easier, particularly a car that is regularly drifted. There are tonnes of Facebook pages that can offer plenty of support with getting parts and advice such ‘D1WA Community’ and ‘D1WA Buy and Sell’, however JDM, commodore, Euro pages and forums specific to your car will be crucial if, like me, you’re not very mechanically minded.
Obviously your early model Nissan S and R chassis are a good place to start, unless you have an aversion to ‘rice burners’… They’re a great platform to build on and there are so many used parts floating around Perth. Because these cars have been around for so long in drifting there is basically no more R&D left to do, and you can build a competition ready car with off the shelf parts. These cars in their stock form are just straight up easy to drive, and they don’t take much work to drift well. Keep your eyes out on ‘D1WA Buy and Sell’, ‘Japanese Car Parts WA’ and Gumtree to pick up one of these. You shouldn’t pay more than about $6k for a rego’d S13, 180sx, R32, R33 or S14. S14’s do seem a bit light on for parts in Perth though so it might be wise to steer clear from them. Don’t even bother with an R34 or S15 as your first drift car. Just, don’t.
BMW’s are starting to make more sense as drift cars too. The earlier E30 models have been in drifting for a while and there are quite a few in Perth. They’re especially good for getting a manual transmission versus the later E36 and E46 models, which are getting cheap but it can be hard to snag a manual. You probably wouldn’t want to spend much more than $4-5k on a BMW.
Hands down though, the cars with that are the most budget friendly, reliable and have the most readily available parts are Commodores and Falcons. You can pick up a running and registered manual V6 commodore for like $500. Weld the diff and you’re set to start blazing tyres. Even better, spend up to $5k get an XR6 Turbo or SS and link Barbs no worries. These are great cars to learn in and are dirt cheap. Where you will come unstuck though (if you don’t want to spend $$$ on engineering your own solutions) is if you want to develop the capability of the car. They have no off the shelf drift parts and there are few resources for tech support on suspension setup or steering angle. Their size and weight can also be a bit of an inhibiter for competitive drifting.
Step 2 – Prep your car
For safety reasons, and to save a heap of hassle at the track, it pays to take care of a few odds and ends once you’ve bought your new drift car.
Give It a Once Over
Because you’re going to be throwing this car around in ways it wasn’t designed to; potentially drawing oil away from the pickup, make sure there is a good amount of oil on the dipstick. High g-force and high revs typically aren’t good for maintaining oil pressure.
While you’re at it, check that your temp gauge and cooling system are working well. Your car is likely to get a bit warm without any cooling mods but that’s OK provided your temp gauge is working and you can keep an eye on the temps. It might pay to give the coolant a flush and a good bleed to get rid of any air pockets.
Make sure your diff is actually locked. This caught me out when I bought my 180. If you bought a car with an LSD you might want to do a cheeky shed skid to make sure it’s solid before heading to the track. If you don’t have a welder to weld your open diff then put a post on the D1WA Community page. Someone will be able to help you out.
Lastly, just give it a good spanner check. Work your way around the suspension components to make sure everything is nice and tight, including your wheel nuts. Make sure your handbrake and foot brake are good and you’re ready to go!
D1WA and DriftWest both have their own scrutineering requirements for drift events. The basics are summarised below, but follow the links to the full scrutineering requirements to make sure you cover all your bases.
- Enclosed shoes, long pants, long sleeves
- Helmet that meets AS1698
- 1kg Fire extinguisher that meets AS1841 (Not AS1841.2)
- Tow point and battery stickers
- Neat and tidy appearance (i.e. must have all body panels attached)
- Minimum of one working headlight and one working tail light
- Car free of leaks and loose objects
Drift West: Requirements
Step 3 – Learn the Basics
You might have gathered from my experience above that there is some kind of training structure available, and you’re not just let loose on the track with the other drivers to figure it out for yourself. Fortunately there are a number of options for learning to drift in Perth, with two independent drift clubs and a dedicated drift school.
Both of Perth’s drift clubs (D1WA and Drift West) offer training for new drivers at no additional cost by putting experienced drivers in your passenger seat to coach you through the skills. The two clubs hold the training on the infield at Barbagallo Raceway, which is essentially a massive car park where they lay out cones for you to practice drifting around. The third option for learning to drift in Perth is Ken Leongs Drift School, which offers private one-on-one training for a fee. You can opt to take your own car and have one of Kens trainers take you through the motions on the infield, or you can use on of Kens cars for a bit of extra $$$.
To paint a better picture of the drift situation in Perth, here’s a quick overview of each of the options to help you with choosing a path to take. Do keep an eye on the clubs social media pages as there can be changes to schedules, dates and times of the events. Contact the clubs directly if you have any queries.
D1WA host the flagship party drift events called ‘Matsuri‘ out of Collie Motorplex. Hands down the best drift events in the state and are unrivalled in terms of seat time and getting loose with your homies. D1WA operates under QLD Racers License, as opposed to CAMS, and are not affiliated with WASCC, which frees them from certain obligations when it comes to how they run their events and makes for a better driving experience.
The D1WA training days and competition rounds are held on the infield at Barbagallo. Hurt feelings and bureaucracy have prevented D1WA from gaining access to the main track at a price that wouldn’t cripple the club, which unfortunately means all of the competition rounds are limited to the infield also.
The training experience is not too dissimilar with DriftWest, although D1WA events do seem to attract more new starters. The recent Give It A Go (GIAG) day had 3 figure eights running at the same time for new starters, with a larger kidney bean layout for you to progress onto. Three consecutive figure-eights means you’re not waiting long for your turn to practice.
D1WA Membership $150
QLD Racers Clubman Licence $65 (Annual Payment) or $20 Single Event (Can be used multiple times)
GIAG Entry Fee $120
Practice Entry Fee $150 Members or $200 Non Members or $100 for GIAG entrants
Competition Entry Fee – TBA
2018 D1WA Event Dates
3rd March – GIAG Day 9am – 5pm
12th/13th May – Matsuri #1
23rd June – GIAG Day 9am – 5pm
4th August – GIAG Day 9am – 5pm
1st September – Round 1
29th September – Round 4
27th October – Round 3
17th/18th November – Matsuri #2
8th December – TBA
Formally known as WADrift, DriftWest is a WASCC club that is licenced by CAMS. The main benefit of DriftWest is that they currently have exclusive access to the main track at Barbagallo. Not only that, but they can also use the infield and the retired go-cart track ‘Jacks Hill’ at their discretion. DriftWest do have a low tolerance for poor/reckless behaviour and due to licencing requirements are less flexible with how their events are run.
When learning to drift on the infield you will start out doing donuts, then move on to a figure-eight to work on transitions, then onto a larger, faster slalom. From there you can practice faster entry speeds, scrubbing speed, different initiation techniques etc etc. The advantage of doing the training with DriftWest is that once you’ve demonstrated the required competencies, you’re are able to drift the main track at Barbagallo at no additional cost.
WASCC Membership $330 (Annual payment) plus a once off $50 Nomination Fee. Membership includes one free Drift Practice
CAMS Licence $130 (Annual payment) or $65 1 Day licence (Only valid for use once)
Entry Fee for Practice Night $75 Members or $125 Non Members
Competition Fee $175 Members or $225 Non Members
2018 Drift West Event Dates
1st February – Drift Practice
18th February – Outlaw Series Round 1
18th March – Drift Practice
24th March – Jacks Hill Drift Bash
7th April – Drift Practice
14th April – Outlaw Series Round 2
11th May – Drift Practice
27th May – Outlaw Series Round 3
9th June – Drift Practice
30th June – Drift Practice
21st July – Drift Practice
22nd July – Outlaw Series Round 4
18th August – Drift Practice
8th September – Drift Practice
13th October – Drift Practice
24th/25th November – TBA
I haven’t done this training myself but I’ve heard good reviews from people who have. These are basically private hire days on the infield at Barbagallo where the Drift School lays out a course and teaches you how to drift. Depending on what you pay for there could be a group learning with you, or you could have the track to yourself.
There are some skilled drivers that coach for the drift school and for about $200 you can have one of these guys ride along in your car for 30 laps on the infield. For about $1,100 you can have a trainer with you all day ($2,000 if you want to use one of the supplied cars). This would be the highest quality training you can get in Perth but it does come with a large price tag, and I suspect you could probably get most of the way there with the trainers at one of the D1WA give it a go days or Drift West practice nights.
Check out the drift school website at http://kldriftschool.com/
Whichever method you choose to learn, you are training with heaps of new starters who are at the same point in their drift journey as yourself, so it is a safe environment to make mistakes and learn. Don’t let your pride stop you from asking questions. There is nothing to hit when you’re drifting at low speeds on the infield other than cones so you don’t have to worry about damaging your street car (if that’s what you plan to use).
It is important to network and meet other drivers when you are starting out. Your learning curve will be far smoother if you have others you can ‘compare notes with’. This is especially helpful if you’re not super strong on the mechanical side of things. Knowing others with the same or similar car will make troubleshooting far less of a headache.
Another thing to be aware if is to not be so quick to blame the car for poor driving. The beauty of the training sessions is that the trainers are happy to drive your car to help determine if there is a mechanical/setup issue, or if you just need to keep working on your technique.
What to Bring
You won’t go through many tyres when you’re starting out on the infield. It’s all 1st and 2nd gear stuff, so one or two extra sets of tyres will be plenty. You will need to change those tyres thought so a cross brace and a trolley jack are also needed. Other than that its really just basic tools in case something goes wrong with your car.
Step 4 – Keep it Simple
I reckon at any one point in time, only 10% of Perth’s drifters have their cars running and driveable. A lot of people get the basics down, link a few laps, then think they need to build a pro level drift car. I’m guilty of this to some degree, and there are plenty of other drivers with drift builds that have stretched out over one, two, three years and haven’t had any seat time since.
Ask any drifter, even those with the seemingly endless long term builds, and they will tell you that the key is getting seat time and to do that you need a reliable car. There will be things you need to improve along the way like cooling, suspension and steering lock, but the guys you see at the track every single event are the guys that have barely touched their cars outside of maintenance and repairs. Ten events in a 200hp car is always better than 2 events in a 500hp car.
From here you can work on your skills until you feel comfortable entering a competition. I would definitely recommend getting down to a Matsuri at Collie Motorplex for a different driving experience and to meet the other drivers.
I hope that has laid out a pretty clear path for those who have considered getting involved in drifting. I wish there was a resource like this when I was starting out to help me know what I was getting into.