What makes winter drifting so appealing?

In Russia, predominantly a snowy country, it is now winter – a season cherished by romantic couples, representatives of heat energy companies, and sellers of car batteries. Besides them, snow is also welcomed by rally drivers, representatives of cross-country and other automotive disciplines that involve mixed wheel coverage. But what about drifters in the winter?

Drifters had to “invent” winter drifting, which has gained the most popularity in Russia for a reason. Even in the central part of the country, winters were snowy and prolonged enough to allow car enthusiasts with rear-wheel-drive vehicles to have fun in parking lots, skidding their cars. This didn’t require a lot of power like in the summer, and it didn’t require good tires like it does now. It all started strictly as a pastime, but since winter was long, the entertainment also turned out to be quite drawn-out and increasingly resembled a sport.

The drift movement marched across the country, gaining more and more popularity and reaching a wider audience. Gradually, not only athletes began to build “summer” cars, but also those who either wanted to get into the sport or liked the “street drift” movement – that is, drifting on public roads. Either way, both athletes and those who were planning to become them were experiencing problems with the lack of season duration, as for 6 months a year they were forced to arrange an off-season with the building of another powerful engine, instead of training to drive on it. That’s why they decided to make good use of the winter season: to build cars “on the cheap”, to drive them on snow-covered tracks, gaining experience and not testing the cars for durability.

Winter drifting follows the same rules as summer drifting.

The first part of the race is the qualification. It’s not enough to just drive around the track in a constant skid, but also to accomplish a specific task set by the judges. The task specifies which corners the pilots should aim to hit the apex – the center of the corner on its inside – and get as close to it as possible, and in which, on the contrary, they should stick to the outside of the corner, pressing the rear as close as possible to the so-called clipping points. Clipping points (clippers) are specific points that symbolize the place where the pilot should strive to reach. For the qualification run, of which there can be several, the pilot gets a varying number of points from the judges – the system is somewhat similar to figure skating, only with gasoline, fun, and splashes of snow from “unsuccessful” hits into the clippers.

The task is not just invented out of thin air, it’s all preparation for the second part of the race – tandem runs. A certain top of pilots (usually TOP-32), who scored the maximum number of points in the qualification, make it to the tandems. TOP-32 is a grid of 16 pairs, formed based on the results of the qualification. In tandem runs, the pilots drive sideways together, with the leader following the qualification task, and the chaser trying to get as close as possible. Also drifting!

The concept of winter drifting also received a significant boost because we always had cheap rear-wheel-drive cars that allowed for gaining quite good experience with minimal investments (or even without them). Of course, we’re talking about “Lada” – the classic cars. By the way, I hope you don’t think that they’re classic because they were the first to be assembled at the factory in Tolyatti? No, in fact, it’s because of their “classic” layout: the engine and transmission are at the front, driving the rear axle.

Indeed, the classic car is the most popular platform for winter drifting. To make the car drift, you need to do very little: ensure that the car is working and moving. But to make the car drift at the necessary pace, and also give you the ability to choose the direction of movement – here you need to work a little harder.

Winter drifting, of course, isn’t limited to classic cars only. Almost all rear-wheel-drive cars from the end of the last century turned out to be excellent platforms for it. For example, the BMW 3-series e30/36, Ford Sierra, and various Volvo, Mercedes, and others. One of the main criteria for choosing a foreign car is the price and availability of spare parts, especially in the case of winter drifting, this often concerns body elements. Contacts are frequent in winter, and it seems odd to buy a car for which it is impossible to buy a fender.

The specifics of preparing both classic and foreign cars are as close as possible to the real Japanese tenets: suspension, lock, bucket. The suspension should be lowered, as the lower the center of gravity, the more stable the car behaves. However, the suspension should not be excessively stiff: the winter surface is not as smooth as summer asphalt, so the car should not “jump” at every bump, like a basketball in middle school. If your suspension will be busy bouncing, it simply will not be able to keep the wheel near the road surface and ensure grip, the car may start understeering (front axle sliding) or oversteering (rear axle skidding).

The differential lock is also a necessity, as without it, the car will not be able to accelerate efficiently in a straight line, let alone try to do it “in the corner”. You will simply be constantly spinning out, or you will be prematurely exiting the skid. The popular “welding” of the differential is better than nothing, of course, but with it, the car may start to be less willing to exit the drift angle, thereby not accelerating and falling behind the opponent.

A “bucket”, or sports seat, is also something you should consider installing. The matter here isn’t about style or achieving the right pilot’s seat position. In drifting, as in any other motorsport, it’s crucial to be fixed in your seat, sit comfortably, and not worry about falling out. If you don’t achieve this state, you will hold onto the steering wheel instead of steering it, which is fundamentally incorrect. Perhaps someday we will talk more about the proper organization, but for now, just try to install a comfortable seat for yourself. And please, always pair a good seat with a 4-point seatbelt. It can be with an expired homologation, but not a knock-off!

Japanese drift pioneers didn’t worry about tires, but in winter, the right tire choice can make a big difference. Yes, there was a time when things were simple, and people just used what was available, but things change, and now it’s important to follow trends in winter tires. Besides the choice itself, it’s also necessary to adjust tire pressure correctly. It affects the working surface of the tire, its flex, or on the contrary, excessive rigidity. Always consider the weather and road conditions.

Naturally, there are no limits to vehicle customization. The next thing to focus on is the wheel alignment. Standard drift alignment isn’t ideal for almost any car, so you’ll have to install ready-made control arms and tie rod ends, or weld the standard control arms yourself. There are plenty of opportunities and guides for adding alignment to any car now, but it’s not a cheap undertaking. The same applies to more thoughtful suspension tuning, like moving shock mountings, for example. Engine tuning, transmission modification, or body lightening are more akin to a summer car than a winter one that “you don’t mind damaging.”

What once started “for fun” has grown into full-scale winter drift championships across the country. Nowadays, winter drifting is the most affordable way to try and understand whether you need this drift in summer, or it’s not worth spending millions on something you’re not interested in. On the other hand, you can practice winter drifting at a pretty high level, arranging regular training and practicing the same moves as in summer, just at a lower speed and, consequently, with a lower chance of seriously damaging the car in case of a mistake. Many summer championship pilots hone their skills in winter, competing with less titled but fast guys.

We hope that winter drifting will continue to develop in our country, and do so legally and openly. Any motorsport is primarily about building the driver’s experience and preparation, allowing them to confidently navigate the roads, avoiding mistakes and various incidents.