FWD Drifting 101

So let’s say you have a front wheel drive vehicle because that made sense at some point. Actually, there are a lot of reasons FWD vehicles make sense.

  • Lighter
  • Cheaper to manufacture
  • Better fuel economy
  • More compact
  • More interior space
  • You got one as hand-me-down

RWD vehicles have several advantages too, but let’s be honest, the only one that really matters is power-on oversteer. Burnouts are good, dumb fun and drifting is a visceral mixture of beauty and savagery that is so instantly compelling that even non-car-enthusiasts find it engaging.

Oversteer

Sadly, you’ve got a FWD econobox and you can’t join the fun. Or can you? One of the common misconceptions about FWD vehicles is that they are a bucket full of understeer. With 65-70% of the weight of the vehicle on the front tires, FWD vehicles actually want to oversteer. They just need a little encouragement sometimes. Here are some of the ways you can do that.

  • Lift – Lifting off the throttle shifts weight forward. Ideally, all you need to get a FWD car to rotate is to snap your foot off the throttle in the middle of a corner.
  • Brake – Braking is an even more aggressive form of weight transfer than lifting. Brake too much and you’ll get understeer as the tires are using all their traction for deceleration instead of cornering.
  • Hand brake – Not only does the handbrake transfer weight forward, it also changes the brake bias so that the rears do more work. Even if the rear tires aren’t locked, they will have less lateral grip because they are using longitudinal grip for deceleration.
  • Flick – The Scandinanvian Flick is a dynamic way of swinging weight around. Not only are you decelerating as you turn, you’re also throwing weight to the outside.

Things that work in RWD but not FWD.

  • Throttle – Adding throttle will not overspin the rear tires. Instead, it pulls you out of a drift! No, no, no. Don’t do it.
  • Clutch kick – Spinning up the engine and then engaging the transmission is one way to reduce  traction as the wheels suddenly get power. In a FWD vehicle, that just makes you look like a chump.

2 Keys to FWD Drifting

The best way to create imbalance is to start with imbalance. Yes, FWD vehicles have more traction in front, but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing. The first key to FWD drifting is to put sticky tires in front and slippery tires in the rear. This is such an effective oversteer formula that it would be dangerous to drive on the street. It’s not quite skid plate racing, but it’s on that spectrum. If you drive around in a circle, progressively gaining speed, your rear tires will reach their adhesion limit before the fronts and the back end will start chasing you around. Alternatively, try braking as you enter a corner. Get ready to countersteer because you’re about to swap ends.

Getting the rear out isn’t hard, but keeping it there is. In a RWD car, you use a mixture of throttle and steering to hold a slide. In a FWD car, it’s steering plus brake. The second key to FWD drifting is managing your finite supply of momentum. The critical word here is finite. You can’t build momentum. All you can do is spend it. If you’re wasteful and spend that momentum all at once, you may pivot or spin, but you won’t drift. If you want a long drift, you need to bank a lot of momentum so you can spend it gradually throughout the drift.

  1. Enter the corner at high speed. No, even higher speed. This is your momentum bank.
  2. Use a mixture of light steering and light braking to create oversteer. You shouldn’t need the hand brake.
  3. Make steering corrections to prevent spinning. The corrections need to be fast, and possibly large.
  4. Go back to step 2 a few times.
  5. Finish the drift by yanking the car out with throttle. Bonus points for getting all 4 tires smoking.

If you can drift a FWD car, you can also drift a RWD car. The reverse isn’t true.

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