There are some questions which man has hunted the answer to for thousands of years…
“Are we alone in the universe?”
“What’s the meaning of life?”
And the biggest one of them all: “why is drifting not racing?”
The first two questions will be a struggle to answer, but the third, we can probably shed some light on.
Most of us have, at some point, heard someone, usually an older relative, refer to the sport as “drift racing”, which is similar to calling gymnastics “swinging about racing”.
“RACING” as a concept, refers to the idea of pitting any two entities against each other in a competitive manner. By that logic then, it makes sense that drifting is racing. But a deeper dive into this reveals some hard truths.
Firstly, the goal of drifting is not – unlike most other forms of motorsport – to get to the finish line first. Rather, it is about the manner in which you get to that point. Somebody finishing the course 20 seconds faster than their competitor is pointless if they straight-lined it the whole way through rather than drifted it.
Don’t be fooled by The Fast and The Furious. No drifting competition’s winner is determined by who finishes first. Because, inherently, sliding your car at a massive angle around a corner is NOT the fastest way to negotiate said corner. A saying that racers are particularly fond of is “spinnin’ ain’t winnin’.” You are wasting precious energy attempting to force the car sideways when you could’ve been quicker gripping around the bend. Therefore, the idea of declaring a winner based solely on the speed at which they traverse the course is just wrong.
Additionally, the correct conduct in a drift event which has two drivers “battling” (fighting to advance to the next round) is that you do NOT overtake the car in front of you. Each driver gets a lead and a chase run in the battle against their opponent. At the end of the first run they stop, switch places and line back up. Could you imagine Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc driving a lap of Spa, during which neither one of them is allowed to overtake? And then at the end of that lap, they had to stop, switch places and do it again? No, it doesn’t work like that in F1.
Moreover, drifting is a judged sport, much like freestyle motocross. Therefore, it is once again completely distinct from racing. At the BTCC, they do not have three blokes in a tower with scorecards, and the announcement will not descend from on high to state that even though Gordon Shedden finished first, they’re going to give Jason Plato the win because he drove the racing line better.
Then you move onto the subject of the driven line. Racing drivers have an ability to judge for themselves their own line, and work out what is the best method for them to negotiate a particular part of the circuit based on parameters such as tyre wear, suspension setup, current grip levels, and so on. Watching older F1 videos will clearly display that a lot of drivers find their own line as races progress and they become more at home.
Drifting could not be further from that. Whenever a competitive drifting event is held, a “line” is drawn out for how the judges want to see the drivers run the course. Deviation from this line will see the drivers penalised. There are areas – known as clipping points – where drivers have to place the car during the run to avoid being docked points, also. What “race” enforces a line so rigidly that they will penalise drivers for it? Giving Valtteri Bottas a stop-go penalty because he took a wider line through Maggotts and Becketts doesn’t sound logical, does it?
Hopefully this has gone some way to explaining why drifting is a very distinct entity from racing. And if you are someone who has previously referred to this wonderful, smokey sport as “racing”, it has also explained why the way this statement drew so many heavy facepalms.
Trying to compare drifting to any other form of motorsport is futile. It is it’s uniqueness that draws people to it, again and again. The idea that it is not simply who turns up with the fastest car (a la Mercedes F1), but rather the idea that the driver who practises and hones his craft the best will be the driver emerging victorious. The idea that it doesn’t have to be all about matching the cars your opponents have, but by figuring out how to play them to your advantage. It is a skilled sport, and by looking at it as that, people can begin to appreciate why drifting has captured the minds of millions.