What Is RC Drifting?
Words & Images Matt Ellis Yokomuki RC
I was first introduced to RC drifting back in 2008 and have been hooked ever since, I simply cannot stress just how much fun it is whatever your skill level or age. RC drifting is a great part of the radio controlled hobby with a great community of people involved. It continues to grow each year with people taking it up and embracing the culture that comes with it. RC drifting has a massive worldwide following and has bought people together from all walks of life.
RC drifting is a scaled down version of one of the fastest growing motorsports on the planet, for those not familiar with its full-size counterpart the aim is to negotiate a specially designed track using pin-point throttle control to keep the car sideways for as much of the track as possible. Where most motorsports are based on fastest laps drifting is very much based on style, someone once told me it’s like skateboarding with a car. Drifting has come a long way over the last 5 or 6 years, with manufacturers designing drift-specific chassis’ and pushing the technical boundaries of RC to the limits.
Chassis now boast some amazing feats of engineering normally reserved for the high-end real-world cars. The higher price chassis’ are draped in carbon fibre and lightweight aluminium. If you have spotted RC drifting online or read about it and fancy having a bash, getting started can be as simple as throwing some drift tyres on an old touring car and popping to your local car park to have some fun. If you don’t have an old touring car knocking around then you have some choices to make and hopefully this little drift 101 will help you make those choices.
A Few Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Drift
If you are totally new to the hobby you can get drifting on a small budget and your local model shop will no doubt stock the latest offerings from HPI who produce some great ready-to-run (RTR) options to get you started for under £200. There is also the trusty Tamiya and their touring cars models, this has been the way to go for many beginners for years.
However, there is now a huge amount of choice when you are starting out, so let’s try and cut through some of the waffle.
AWD (All Wheel Drive) or RWD (Rear Wheel Drive?)
When I started drifting this question didn’t exist but it sure does now, with the development of RC drift chassis’ over the last few years you now have a choice between AWD (All wheel drive) & RWD (Rear wheel drive).
AWD offers two options to choose from, the traditional 50/50 style offers equal drive to the front and rear wheels and is very forgiving for beginners. The popular choice for the more advanced driver is CS (Counter Steer), by altering the gearing you can overdrive the rear wheels or underdrive the front, this will essentially mean your rear wheels will rotate at a higher rate than the front making the chassis a little more tail happy and allowing for better car control through subtle throttle control.
RWD is exactly that, a rear wheel drive chassis, in most cases a gyro is used to help prevent the chassis spinning out and it also makes the handling more realistic, although the goal of any driver would be to master the settings of the chassis to prevent relying on the gyro. There are some very good entry level rear wheel drive chassis’ available although it is not for the feint hearted.
Belt Drive or Shaft Drive?
Almost all chassis’ will be belt of shaft driven. Basically, a belt driven chassis will be smoother and a little more forgiving while a shaft driven chassis will give you a more instant response and be more aggressive. So the choice comes down to you and how you like to drive, belt drive can be a little easier for beginners but you can tame some of the aggression out of the shaft driven models.
What To Buy…
Right then, you’ve made your choice between RWD and AWD, you have thought about belts and prop shafts, now it is time to count those pennies and work yourself out a budget. Thankfully, due to the increasing popularity of drifting the entry level price range has come down a lot, while you still have the staple offerings from the major brands other brands are bringing new affordable models to the table all the time.
Some great budget options are now available in both rear wheel drive and all-wheel drive options. You can pick up a rolling chassis with endless potential for just over £100, granted you will have to add electrics, radio gear and a bodyshell which will see your spend creep over the cost of a RTR but you will have a chassis’ that can grow with you as you progress.
Spending a little extra on your first model is worth considering, all too often people end up needing a new chassis in a very short space of time, so it is worth looking at what upgrades are available for your first RC drifter before taking the plunge.
If you are one of those lucky people who doesn’t have a budget to worry about then man are you going to have some fun, if there is one thing the RC drift world offers it is bling! And while most parts offer some extra function or performance some are just purely to make your chassis pretty, but hey we all love some shiny bits on our chassis don’t we?
There really is no ceiling when it comes to what you can spend on your drifter, higher end models start from £400 to £500 for a rolling chassis, couple this with a few choice upgrades, some high-end electrics and top of the range radio gear and you will notice a couple of grand missing from your bank account. Of course most people will work their way up to this level but there is always that one person who has all the gear and no idea, their pit bag is usually the envy of everybody.
However don’t be put off by the crazy prices of the high-end stuff, you can still have just as much fun with the entry-level stuff, if you take to drifting (and most people do) you will soon find yourself thinking two grand is a worthwhile spend. If you are still struggling with what to buy the internet is your best friend, there are thousands of drift groups and social media groups with people who are always happy to talk about drifting. If you prefer to see the stuff in the flesh, some model shops now carry a good range of drift related products and of course, you can always pop along to a track and see them in action for yourself.
Where Can You Drift?
Once you have made your decisions on chassis set-up it’s all about where you can drift. The truth is you can get sideways anywhere with a smooth enough surface, local car parks are almost always the stomping ground of budding drifters, they provide nice, open spaces for you to get used to going sideways. A word of warning here, watch out for concrete pillars, they don’t mix well with RC cars.
As RC drifting has got more popular in the UK permanent tracks have popped up in model shops and complete stand-alone tracks. Drifting on track is a totally different animal to being out in a car park but is much more enjoyable and rewarding in my opinion. Drifting on track is the best place to work on your technique and improve your drifting.
One of the most stunning tracks in the UK is N.R.D (Northern Race & Drift) in Wakefield, the level of detail there is incredible, just looking around can take a couple of hours of your time. As a club it is the benchmark for all drift venues, its family friendly and home to some very talented drifters who are always happy to give advice and guidance where it is needed.
If you are not lucky to have a permanent track nearby, a quick search on Facebook should point you in the direction of your local team or group. Some of these teams/groups are even hosting their own events, on a monthly basis in most cases. These little events are popping up in town halls and community centres all over the country.
From groups of friends in car parks to indoor tracks you will definitely find somewhere to get your slide on, wherever you are from.
Getting sideways is pretty simple, keeping it there and controlling it is another story, it is all about chassis set-up and throttle control.
Find yourself a nice open space, a wide figure of eight is always a good place to start as this will help you get to grips with your throttle control and learning to transition the car from one direction to the other while staying sideways. Once you have mastered the wide figure of eight reduce speed and go for a tighter eight. If you are lucky enough to have a track on your doorstep don’t be afraid to go and hit the track straight away, just be respectful of the fact some folk at the track will have a lot of money invested in their chassis and a little etiquette goes a long way.
Another thing that will greatly benefit you as you learn to drift is understanding your chassis, sit down and learn the basics of car set-up from suspension geometry to camber, castor and toe. Understanding these will allow you to tailor your chassis’ handling to suit your style. A simple search of the internet or social media will give you a wealth of reading material on all of these subjects. Set-up guides are also readily available for most models and are always a good starting point, giving you a solid base to build on.
If all this sounds scary, don’t worry, the great thing about drifting is the community it has created. Help is always on hand, sharing tips and advice is not a crime, noobs are most definitely always welcome. People are always happy to share their experience with you and will happily sit and explain the various aspects of chassis set-up with you. Getting people up to a good standard seems to be the goal of most drifters as it ramps up the fun factor when everyone is driving at an equal standard, I am sure this attitude is the same wherever you go in the drift world.
Now You’ve Mastered The Slide… Let’s Talk Bodyshells…
Once you are confident enough that you are not going to smash into everything, you might want to consider making a killer bodyshell. With drifting being about style it should come as no surprise that people put just as much effort into the look of their bodyshells as they do the functionality of their chassis. Some people are even making a pretty penny custom painting bodyshells for people who don’t have the skills or time to create these works of art.
Seeing what people come up with is one of the coolest things about drifting, you will see beautifully shiny shells and beaten up rust buckets with broken windows and parts missing and you will be equally impressed by both. The level of detail people go to is insane, from simple touches like adding a light kit to scratch building interiors and body kits.
Bodyshells are your chance to get your personality across, and like anything RC you don’t have to spend much to get started. You can pick up a shell for just over £20, throw in a couple of tins of polycarbonate paint and for about £30 you can put your own stamp on your car. Trust me, it won’t stop at just the shell, soon you’ll be looking at accessories like intercoolers, engine bays, over fender kits and beautifully made wing mounts to make your shell look as realistic as possible.
The possibilities are endless, with almost every type of car ever made from Japanese drift icons to classic American muscle cars available in a 1/10 scale, there is something to suit everyone’s taste.
Taking Drifting To The Next Level
RC drifting now offers drivers the opportunity to showcase their skills to a wider audience through national and international competitions. If you find yourself wanting to pit your skills against other drivers from around the UK the national championship offers competitions in both RWD and CS classes and is backed by some big sponsorships from some of drifting’s top brands.
You could always take things that step further and pit your talent against the best drifters in the world over in Holland at the world championships. The world championships are held annually and attract the best drivers from across Europe as well as drivers from Japan and the USA. This year’s world championship which has just come to a conclusion was also streamed live on YouTube and attracted a lot of attention on the internet. These championships are a perfect example of just how much RC drifting is growing on a worldwide scale, the fact that it is now popular enough that teams of people will travel all over the world to slide is a testament to the people involved with the hobby from the top right down to the newcomers.
You don’t need to be a drift legend to enter these competitions and although they are taken very seriously by the guys and girls competing in them, they are a great place to go and have fun and make new friends who share the same interests as you.
Summing Things Up…
RC drifting, much like the scale/rock crawler scene, is a shot in the arm for the RC industry, bringing in new faces and reinvigorating those who have been involved for years. It has brought a host of new manufacturers to the industry and opened up RC to a larger audience.
It is a great way to spend your time, you are never too young or old to get your slide on. It doesn’t matter if it’s a group of friends skidding around the local multi-story car park or a band of brothers travelling across Europe to drift against the best in the world, the feeling you will get from both is the same, and that feeling is fun. Let’s face it that is what RC is all about, whatever aspect of the hobby you spend your time doing.
So get down to your local track see what it’s all about, get on the internet and absorb all the sideways goodness you can find there, but most of all, don’t be afraid to ask questions or get involved, you will meet some truly awesome people and make some great friends. Now go and have fun…sideways!