Buckle your seatbelts folks; we’re firing up the wayback machine. Last week I had the privilege of attending the Yas Island Drift School with none other than Justin “Wheels” Crenshaw. I have actually known Justin for a few years now, back when he was juggling press loaners and writing for TTAC, while I had no idea this site existed. He helped me with this story, as well as editing it, so hopefully he saved Baruth some stress and the B&B some frustration with my tenuous language skills.
Classes are run with two instructors and three students. Ours were from Belgium and Germany. Neither was young, nor did they wear a flat billed ballcap canted to one side. The German; Mark, was a factory BMW instructor and actually “knew the facility in Greenville quite well.”
We had a quick PowerPoint presentation while the sprinklers started watering the paved course. We learned the methods of inducing a slide; add throttle, downshift, the e-brake, the famous Scandinavian flick, and the one we weren’t privy to at our price point, the “bump” drift; which utilizes pavement irregularities to upset the car’s rear.
The 30 slide presentation went by in a flash; our instructors seemed to have as much interest as we did in classroom time. To the Toyotas! Mark demo’d how to turn off the traction control completely (come on! get to something us gearheads don’t know) However, his following point about the primary slide sensor being your spine intrigued us. According to Mark it gets input from the seat, which gets input from the rear axle, and so forth. His point being a lot of information is lost in that transition, so you’d better be sensitive to what the car is doing.
The other rules of track driving still apply. Your eyes should look where you want to car to go, slow in fast out, and throttle inputs should be gradual. With that, we hopped into the cars and drove to the site’s skid pad; a plastic coated block of smooth concrete surrounded by sprinklers. Our task was simple; slide to the left of the first cone, then to the right of the second and exit.
Crenshaw executes a surprisingly (and annoyingly) graceful arc around the first cone, catches it and almost does the same with the second before going full 360. I drive the course with the rear wheels slipping but the car remaining somewhat straight, I wanted to catch the slide. Our handheld radios barked instructions; “Let eet slide…more trottel, more trottel…”
I met Crenshaw at BMWCCAs OKC area autocrosses, and we have shared several track days. I noticed the road course dynamics we practiced were betraying us and we needed to accept the car going sideways rather than trying to correct it.
My biggest handicap was the habitual nine and three hands on the wheel. Mark would bark into my car “You arh naht turnink, da front wheelz are not moving.” After one failed attempt, he made me move the steering the full range of motion, which forced me to hand over hand the wheel, rather than the normal crossover. My next attempt I used a “flailing” method at the wheel and it kinda worked. Until then I wasn’t moving the wheel and was using slow hands with my slow throttle inputs. This is not how you get a rear end to step out. Finally I caught up to the others’ progression. Learning is fun!
Next was the cone circle exercise. (Yep, it involved drifting around a circle of cones.) There were two; one clockwise, one counter. I started on the counter-clockwise side, and if I say so, mastered it quite easily. After a respite I started on the clockwise side and sucked. What the hell?!
The front tires of any car will go about 37 degrees before a spin, so of course you steer with the throttle, but never use all of it. If you start at full throttle, you have nothing left to modulate. The concept is intuitive, the action is not. Stay ahead of the car, give the throttle inputs before the car needs them, and make them slight. Again the radio barked; “Puhmp eet! puhmp eet!”
The next trick was to connect the two circles into a full figure eight. My road racing background still betrayed me. The Belgian instructor chastised me for not using the brakes before entering the corner; “Drifting has nothing to do with speed.”
The muscle memory was starting to form and the learning was happening very quickly. Or so we thought. The final exercise was a full autocross course. A short acceleration to a sweeping left, into a quick right followed by a left. We get a few feet to straighten the car, then a left slide into a box. Our tank of dollars was running low, so we had limited attempts.
My first shot I tried a handbrake induced slide for the entry. Epic freaking fail. The car just stopped. The next two I couldn’t get more than 2 connected slides before a spin, and the last was full up banzai mode, with predictable results. So I replaced all the cones I knocked over and returned the Toyobaru to the starting line.
I was covered in sweat, partially because it was 109 with absurd humidity, and partially because it was hard work. I left with some new skills and the same satisfaction you get after a hard day at the autocross.
Now, if I can just get this damm Toyota Fortuner to stop understeering…
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He only owns one ballcap, the brim is NOT flat and he when he wears it, it rest square on his head. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and a gift for making Derek and Jack wonder if English is actually his first language.