Almost every racing book explains that the most important part of a car are the tires. These four little patches of rubber, or big ones if you’re driving a Formula DRIFT car like 2013 champion Michael Essa, connect your vehicle to the ground and can have the biggest impact on how your car behaves in drift. This is especially crucial when considering how you manage and adjust them in terms of suspension, alignment, and tire pressure settings.
Most of the vehicles at Drift Central resemble the Animal Style S13 of my buddy Ryan Kado in build and power to weight ratio so they will most likely run mid tire pressures and whatever springs came with their coilover setups. A car like the 700 HP E46 M3 beast of Essa runs low tire pressures and very soft suspension in order to keep up with the Chris Forsbergs and Frederick Aasbos of the world.
This past week Drift Central staff visited SEMA for the unveiling of the 2016 Ford Mustang to be piloted by Vaughn Gittin Jr. in Formula DRIFT. His tire setup consists of very wide tires which have to be changed about every 4-5 laps. Contrary to popular belief a properly set up drift car needs to be making plenty of grip in order to function properly.
If your car is closer to the 95 HP AE86 in which I learned to drift then you can usually get by an entire day of drifting on one set of tires. A good setup for an underpowered car is to run a wider stance with grippier tires up front and a narrow track with all seasons in the rear. This, along with a lot of rear tire pressure, will help take some of the understeer off cars like stock AE86s, Miatas, FRSs and 240SXs (basically any car with less than 200 lbs of torque). Staying on one tire is a great idea for a beginner because it will maximize your track time and allow for consistency when you are making suspension and alignment settings.
In order for your car to perform at it’s best you will need a proper alignment like the ones I get at Calderon Tire out on E. Market in Salinas. A good baseline for any drift car is to run negative camber, neutral toe (slight toe out if you have a big heavy engine up front), and low caster if you want your wheel self-centering slower (as with some non-power steering setups) and mid to high caster for a faster self-center (cars with power steering). Keep the rear neutral and remember that excessive rear camber is not necessary on the track.
words Carlos Cano Estrella @canoasada photos Debbie Meda @tacomonst3r