Toronto Motorsports Park boasts an exciting, full throttle layout, an awesome wall corner and great track atmosphere. Uli, the guy that owns this track used to race Porsches and BMWs (and was pretty damn good too). Most time attack and racing enthusiasts look at drifting as childish and destructive, but Uli saw our vision and was down to work with us.

The most drifting that’s ever happened at TMP was as a sideshow to a time attack day – it has never been a main event, and we were stoked to break the ice.

We knew we had to make these rounds count. Giving purpose to our rounds, we decided we would use this venue to research and rip into traditional competition format. Competition drifting is a lot like football – tons of waiting for 30 seconds of action at a time. We wanted to change that by experimenting with different driving styles, fields, tech regulations and formats.

The purpose of every round at TMP was to get closer to figuring out out the new formula for competition Drifting (while having as much fun as possible).

Below is a video of the layout in the slowest most disadvantaged car we could find. What better way to get an idea of the challenges of the course than front seat in an 86 wheel horsepower corolla? Enjoy.

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The search for a new competition formula.

Competition is always a great time. Whether you’re watching or a part of the action, seeing the best drivers take the best cars around fast and challenging courses is always a rush. From a spectator standpoint, if you had never seen Drifting its an amazing spectacle. I definitely remember the first time I saw Drifting in person, and I was tripping.

Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between most Drift competitions and basically any grassroots Drift event. If you are to compare the two types of events side by side, and the cars that would traditionally participate at the events side by side, there is such a drastic difference in driving, style and seat time that it would almost be bizarre to call the events both “Drifting”.

As someone that loves drifting, is the current widely accepted competition format a version of Drifting that we identify with?

Personally, the answer was always a complicated-sorta. Yes the events had a ton of similarities at face value, but there was just something about the driver’s attitude, approach and outlook that made the event feel different than a small, grassroots drift day.

We thought more about this phenomenon, and to us broke it down to this: There is too much pressure, too many regulations and not enough emphasis on seat time, respect, style, sportsmanship and mindfulness.

Photo Courtesy of Abyssal Media

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be any pressure or rules, but there is a middle ground between the current style of competition  and a casual Drift What You Brung Style drift event. What’s important is that drivers don’t half step, show up and leave with a positive attitude.

So, on the hunt for the new competition formula the first thing we started picking apart was the traditional top 16 format. To us, this was the heart of all of the problems surrounding competition.

Traditional top 16 is a very slow, clunky, anti-social and overall the lamest way to decide who the winner is out of a pool of drivers. Think about it, you have 16 of some of the most weirdly talented drivers in the world, participating in a new motorsport, all in wildly different cars that look just as loud as they perform.

Why the f*ck would you only run them for 15 minutes? Traditional top 16 gives one to two drivers the stage – which is great – but what about the other 14-15 drivers sitting out?

This is a format that will guarantee 15 drivers (out of a 16 driver pool) leaving feeling sour.

let's talk about qualifying.

The first part of the competition we started re-thinking was qualifying. Instead of having a single judged qualifying run, we have a full qualifying session in our day part. On any competition day the whole morning will be ran like a grassroots Drift day, sending a car at a time (or sending drivers in tandem if they want it) all morning until it’s time to announce who’s driving was good enough to be selected for competition.

To a judge, it’s a lot more data to go through, but it gives the driver a whole morning to get comfortable, work out kinks in the car, and truly learn the course. This also gives us REAL qualifying numbers and data to fall back on, as they will be based on more than just 1 to 3 runs (where drivers often choke, suffer random mechanical issues, or succumb to the pressure).

The Leaderboard.

The next thing we started picking apart was the traditional top 16 leaderboard. Think of qualifying as the great filter. All of the qualified drivers passed the great filter with a score. You have proven to us, the crowd and yourselves that you have what it takes to drive with the best of the best (at this event, anyway). So – If all of the drivers had qualifying scores that categorized them 1st to 16th, how can we “scramble” the competition while still keeping it fair? We had a lot of ideas, and settled on three:

  • callouts
  • Tokens
  • Most battles Won

Callouts: Once we announced our top 16, we allowed the first heat to be chosen by callout. Drivers got to call out who they battle with, with the driver with the highest qualifying points getting first pick. You can technically have drivers call each other out each heat, but for the sake of time we chose to only have the callouts arrange the first heat of competition.

Winner Tokens: We basically combined chuck-e-cheese, WWE and heads-up drag racing to come up with this: we gave each driver 3 equal stacks of tokens. After the qualifying session, the drivers must bet their stacks on each run. The driver at the end of the day with the most stacks wins. (For the record this seemed suuuuper simple in concept but ended up being a rubik’s cube of a competition to keep track of)

Most Battles Won: We ran every single run as a battle. Lead and follow was settled by a flip of a coin, and the driver at the end of the day with the most tandem battles won won the round.

safety, not tech.

Why put restrictions around vehicle design and setup when you can create even competition through course design and communication?

Drifting is about going with the flow in style. Both the drivers and crowd want to experience fierce battles, and heated driving. We crave determination and challenge, and there is none of that if the vehicles are too evenly matched. Harmony is important, but too much make decision making slow, and progress ambiguous.

We’ve seen motorsports favour the team with the biggest budget, most advanced technology and best computer assists for too long, and we’ve had enough. The winner of the competition should be the best driver. What is important is that the driver is comfortable in their machine, and that his or her ability to communicate and work in harmony with the machine is clear and on point. You can tell when that connection is where it needs to be, and asking a driver to change a setup that dialled in is just wrong.

One of the better battles we saw this year came from a Pro-Spec JZ-swapped S15 and an F20 swapped AE86. The S15 ran 265s, the AE86 ran 205s. The S15 has over 500 WHP, the Honda-swapped AE86 makes less power than the motor did factory due to the ITB kit. So why was that the battle of the year – The AE86 won. Kevin Morin couldn’t handle the constant pressure that Pat was putting on. How were these two cars even able to put down a judgeable run together?

Ultimately it comes down to course design, sportsmanship, mind-games and solid driving. It’s easy for a fast car to lead against a slow car, but the story changes when the situation reverses. All of the power and grip that give the fast car an advantage on a lead run work against it on the chase – That’s why fast cars only drive with fast cars: because driving tandem is often more work than it’s worth when driving against a slower, less grippy car.

At first glance the outcome seemed obvious, but as the battles played out it started to become unclear who the advantage lied with.

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Photo Courtesy of Abyssal Media

So what?

What we appreciate most about these formats is how much it gets the drivers both in their cars and talking. Our format emphasizes the connection between a driver and his or her car, and encourages it through a ton of seat time.

Drifting is full of awesome displays of sportsmanship and genuine people. The change in seat time completely changes the atmosphere of the event. With the positive change in seat time, people seem to enter the competition for a wild variety of reasons – not always to win.