How to drift or slide a FWD car
In part 2 of the Thrill of Driving tutorial series with the Mahindra XUV300 Turbosport we run through the techniques, tips and tricks to slide a front-wheel-drive car or SUV using the handbrake
Keyboard warriors will tell you that front-wheel-drive cars do not drift and… they’re right. Drifting is the preserve of RWD and AWD cars – the continuous and precise metering of power to the oversteering rear axle, maintaining and carrying the slide, translating into beautiful (and if there’s an abundance of power), smoky drifts. With FWD cars obviously only the front axle is driven and there’s no way of carrying a slide on the power. But that doesn’t mean you cannot have fun in a FWD car! That’s what we are going to dive into in this, the second part in our Season 2 of The Thrill of Driving tutorials – how to slide a FWD car, how to hold the slide, how to correct the slide and how to deal with the common mistakes one will make while practising these techniques.
Let’s start with understeer
Understanding understeer and oversteer is at the very core of plugging into the dynamic behaviour of a car. In very simplistic terms understeer is when you go into a corner too hot, the front tyres run out of grip, you add more steering lock in the (desperately hopeless) quest to make it round the corner and the car runs wide – either into oncoming traffic or into the cliff side.
When a car is understeering you are a mere passenger; there isn’t much you can do except try to gently slow it down so that the tyres regain traction and you are back in control of the car. Slamming the brakes is a sure-fire way to worsen the problem because hitting the brakes will cause sudden weight transfer to the front-end further complicating things at the axle that already doesn’t have grip. The weight transfer will also lead to even more imbalance in the car’s dynamic attitude, further complicating your life, invariably leading to it spinning and barrelling even more quickly into the danger zone. Lifting suddenly and completely off the gas will cause similar, if not as severe, weight transfer problems.
So what you need to do is scrub off speed as quickly but as smoothly as possible. Get off the throttle smoothly and similarly get on the brakes smoothly. In race and rally cars, drivers use the left foot on the brake to slow down the car while still being slightly on the gas so that speed is scrubbed without the associated messy weight transfer. Also try reducing the steering angle as much as possible. The straighter the tyres are the more traction it can generate, and that’s what you need – once the tyres have regained grip you will be back in control and be able to steer the car where you want it to go.
Next you move to oversteer
Although there is very little you can do when a car is understeering it is still safer and that’s why all cars are set up to understeer at the limit. Controlling oversteer requires serious wheelsmanship but for a skilled driver, this is preferable because you are in control of the car.
Oversteer is when the back-end of the car, the rear axle, loses traction and starts to swing out. This is when the rear-end of the car tries to overtake the front and it can happen due to a variety of reasons. In a RWD car that could be because you’ve applied too much power in a corner thus overwhelming the grip on the rear tyres. With the tyres now spinning and with limited traction the momentum of the car causes the back-end to slide and swing out – if you have done this deliberately, well done, you’ve now experienced power oversteer. If it has happened inadvertently, you will have wet your pants.
Using the handbrake
Oversteer can also happen when you lift off the throttle suddenly mid-corner. This is called lift-off oversteer and that happens due to the sudden weight transfer to the front axle. Of course this will only happen when you’re carrying a lot of corner speed – at or very close to the dynamic limit of the car; at eight-tenths the car will just slow down when you lift off the throttle. Catching lift-off oversteer calls for a lot of speed, lot of commitment, and very quick reactions and that’s why we prefer to use the handbrake to deliberately initiate a slide.
The handbrake only works on the rear axle; yank the handbrake aggressively enough and the rear tyres will lock up, and because locked tyres don’t offer much grip you can then make the rear axle slide.
The handbrake turn
Before learning how to slide, you need to learn how to use the handbrake and more importantly understand what happens when the handbrake is pulled. And the best way to do this is by practising the 180-degree handbrake turn.
In a right-hand-drive car it’s best to start practising with a right hand corner. First the hand position – left hand obviously on the handbrake with the thumb pressing the button so the lever doesn’t lock when you pull it, and right hand at 8 o’clock on the steering. You’re driving down a straight road, speed around 40kmph. Get off the accelerator and swing the steering to the right, fast and aggressively. With your hand at 8 o’clock you will be able to apply nearly a full turn of lock in one smooth action.
Now the critical part. When to pull the handbrake.
Yanking the handbrake in a straight line is pointless. The tyres will lock but your car is going in a straight line so you are only going to drag the locked rear tyres in a straight line, flat-spotting it uselessly.
Only once you yank the steering and the car begins to turn you pull the handbrake. And you pull the handbrake aggressively and all the way up to lock the rear tyre. The momentum of the car coupled with the locked (and hence no traction) rear tyres means the back-end has no grip to follow the same trajectory as the front and it will swing wide. Well done, you’ve now done the handbrake turn. But, in all likelihood it's only a 90-degree turn.
Practise. First things first, you probably need more speed for that momentum to carry the back-end through a half circle. Then time your handbrake pull – after you’ve yanked the handbrake and just before full steering lock is applied. Here’s a tip, tapping the brake will also help to properly lock the rear tyres and kill traction to enable it to slide. Here’s another tip, if there’s gravel on the edge of the road try and hit that with your outside tyres just before you initiate the turn. The gravel ensures the rear tyres will lock easier and quicker when you pull the handbrake, and also the low-traction gravel surface will let the tail slide out easier. But careful, you don’t want your front tyres on the gravel because that’s your pivot point and the front needs grip to anchor the car.
And finally the steering. You’ve turned into the corner. Keep the steering lock applied all through the process when the tail is swinging out. And only straighten it when you’ve completed the 180-degree (semi-circle) turn. Needless to say the handbrake too is only released when you complete the 180-degree turn.
You’re now comfortable doing the 180-degree turns and no longer need to do three-point turns, one yank of the handbrake and the car swings round to point in the direction where you came from. Jackie Chan driving! You now know what happens when the handbrake is pulled, now let’s do that while carrying momentum through a corner to pull FWD slides.
It starts with speed. Speed is your friend, remember. If your car can carry 80kmph at the absolute limit of cornering speed, you need to be doing at least 60kmph. Again start with a right corner, left hand on the handbrake, right at 8 o’clock. Aim for the apex and just before you kiss the apex, you yank the handbrake with all your might. The locked rear tyre means the back-end will swing out and now comes the opposite-lock technique.
You turn the steering into the slide – which is the opposite direction to the flow of the corner. Your hand position is again critical. Left hand again on the handbrake, right hand now at 2 o’clock. Unlike in the handbrake turn, here you are turning normally into the corner so you apply half a turn of lock, pull the handbrake, and then swing the steering from 6 o’clock all the way anti-clockwise to 8 o’clock. Using one hand you’ve now applied half a turn of opposite lock, and all being well, you’ve caught the slide.
Well done. But of course you want more speed, more noise, more drama so you invite back your best friend. Speed. You’re now nearly at 80kmph, the limit of cornering speed through the corner. Turn into the corner, pull the handbrake, feel the back-end sliding and then release the handbrake after you’ve got enough of an oversteer angle. All this happens in the fraction of a second so you’ve got to be quick with your inputs and you need to develop some sensitivity in your backside to feel how much the back-end is sliding. Now before you release the handbrake completely you then apply opposite steering lock to catch the slide and slam the throttle.
The handbrake is, after all, a brake and pulling it will slow you down which kills momentum. Also with your wheels now turned into the slide they need a centrifugal force to counter the effect of the swinging tail and straighten out the car. For that you need to give gas. Lots of gas. The power that you feed into the front wheels first of all gives it traction. Traction then enables the car to build speed so you don’t stop in the middle of the corner. And the power going to the front tyres then pulls you out of the slide. Hooray!
Look where you want to go
That’s the most important thing. Your eyes are always peeled for the exit of the corner. Look where the car is sliding to and you will hit the tyre barrier or wall or whatever obstacle is out there. Always look where you want to go and without you even realising, the brain will feed appropriate inputs to your hands and feet to get you there. Also, the further ahead you look the better because that slows things down in your head, makes things less scary, and gives you brain more time to react. That’s because everything happens very fast and if you aren’t quick enough you won’t catch the slide and will just spin.
Carrying a slide
You’ve now got the technique of sliding the car sorted but your photographer friends aren’t getting the pictures you see on these pages. First you scream at them. And then you swallow some brave pills, find a faster corner and increase your speeds.
What you need is lots of speed to counter the slowing down effect of pulling the handbrake and thus carry the slide. And here the one-handed business will not work.
I suggest you first learn how to turn the steering wheel from lock-to-lock in less than a second using both hands. It’s not easy but it’s very important.
To spice things up you’re now going through a left-hand corner. Right hand at 5 o’clock. Turn into the left-hander, your hand is now at 12 o’clock. Aim for the apex. Just before hitting it pull the handbrake. The back end immediately comes out. Simultaneously you now go flat-out on the throttle, release the handbrake, your right hand yanks the steering clockwise and just before it hits 6 o’clock, your left hand has grabbed it and continues applying clockwise steering and while that’s happening your right hand goes to and hovers around 10 o’clock just to make sure more steering lock can be applied without a pause if needed.
You are looking through the corner at the exit. You’re still full-flat on the gas. You’ve now caught the slide but there’s a possibility of a tank-slapper, the back end snapping out in the other direction. Preventing that needs you to be very quick and very precise with releasing steering lock. As soon as you feel the slide has been caught release steering lock and get the front wheels pointing straight so that it can generate maximum grip and the momentum pulls the car out.
Congratulations. You’ve now drifted a front-wheel-drive car! Pat yourself on the back and wait for the keyboard warriors to tell you it’s not a drift.