You. Yes you, reading this article. Who invented drifting?
Okay, here’s an easy one, where was it invented?
Japan? Behave yourself.
Drifting as a sport is famously Japanese, and indeed, it is the Japanese who invented the sport as we know it today, and developed it to capture young minds the world over, possibly as some kind of elaborate scrappage scheme for their 80s and 90s cars.
Nobody can deny that the sport is the most closely associated with Japan, but drifting has its true roots in a far different setting.
1960s England’s back lanes echoed to the sound of a cross-flow as a Ford sporting the number-plate 2 ANR containing Roger Clark hammered down them. Gentleman racer Roger (no relation to contemporary F1 champ Jim) was a club rally driver from Leicestershire, who would, in time, become the first Brit to win a World Rally Championship event. However, Clark is perhaps most fondly remembered for his distinctive driving style. One which, in time, would immortalise itself by taking on a life of its own.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, there were no grip-monster 4WD cars. Audi’s revolutionary Quattro was still a decade away, and Japan hadn’t really made an impact in rallying yet. The only 4WD vehicles in Clark’s era were agricultural Land Rovers.
So, to beat the Scandinavians who were dominating at his home event, the RAC Rally, Clark employed a style of cornering, which in the low-grip conditions of England’s dirt tracks and muddy lanes, involved “steering with the throttle”. Using the wheel to get the car into the corner, then powering on into a controlled slide, maintained by the loud pedal. This allowed him to keep up the wheel speed and meant he had faster corner exits. Using this technique, Clark was the man who reclaimed the RAC Rally for the Brits, sending the likes of Stig Blomqvist and his SAAB home empty handed.
Clark’s driving style during these rallies was witnessed by a young motorcycle racer named Kunimitsu Takahashi. Takahashi, the first Japanese rider to win a motorcycle Grand Prix, had suffered a career-ending accident in 1962 at the Isle Of Man TT. This meant the young rider was looking for a new sport, and he would take heed of Roger’s driving style and return it to his native Japan. Takahashi switched to club racing and began to use Roger’s technique on the tarmac instead of the dirt, by sliding his Hakosuka Skyline out of a corner after hitting the apex.
Takahashi would eventually pass on his influence to a young Keiichi Tsuchiya, who is perhaps the most famous person in drifting and the first man to bear the title of “Drift King”. Tsuchiya also recorded the video “Pluspy” in 1987, which, despite a decidedly odd name choice, became what many would consider to be the epicentre of drifting culture.
Roger Clark passed away in 1998 of a stroke at the age of just 58. Drifting, whilst popular in Japan, was still in its infancy in the wider world. Drivers like Tsuchiya, Ken Nomura, Yazayuki Kazama, Chunky Bai, Robbie Nishida and the late Atsushi Kuroi would continue to popularise the sport internationally, and publications such as Daijiro Inada’s Option magazine, which later also published Drift Tengoku, would eventually lead to the formation of D1GP in 2001. The year after saw the implementation of the Top 16 format, which became competitive drifting as we know it today.
So that’s a very brief history of how the phenomenon evolved into the sport as we know it today. And for all the action from the UK’s top level series, make sure you tune into BDC Insider!