My race-widowed Fiancee bought me a voucher for some drift training as a Christmas present from Groupon.
I think it cost about £60 for a 3 hour experience, so I thought I’d go along for a bit of fun sliding a car around.
I was expecting a couple of downbeat ‘instructors’ and a slippery car park, much like you’re average skid-pan training facility. I soon discovered that the Prodrift Academy was far from that!
When my confused sat-nav finally got me to the venue at Birmingham Wheels Raceway not far from the City Centre, I parked up and followed the email instructions to sign on in the, err, signing on hut, where they took a few details and the £8 weekend surcharge. I’d already paid the £15 damage waiver, because £15 is better than the bill for the car you’ve managed to put through the tyre wall upside-down!
From there it was a short walk to the skid-pan, where there was another porta-cabin which sold snacks and drinks, and a horde of instructors were hanging around chatting and watching some live drift championship racing.
I soon realised that this wasn’t some back-street set-up, and their instructors had a wealth of proper drifting experience at high level, and this could be a serious stepping-stone on the way to doing it in a championship.
The staff were all very friendly and upbeat and you could tell they were enjoying it as much as the customers!
We sat down for a briefing and Yo took us through the basics and what we could expect to get from the day, and then names were called out to jump in the cars with an instructor.
I should also note here that the tools of the day were Mazda MX5 NB’s with welded diffs – even better for me as it’s my daily road car!
They break down the art of drifting into a manageable way – the first step was simply to get us used to breaking traction at the rear using the handbrake on corner entry, and then catch it. First you get a demo as the instructor does it and talks, then you swap seats and go for it.
Setting off I was instantly slewing sideways thanks to the diff and rainy track. How people ever drive them on the roads with a welded diff I will never know!
We only ever kept the car in first gear, but you still had plenty to think about. On queue, I pulled the hydraulic handbrake and the rear started to swing around. I instinctively caught it by counter steering and giving it a bit of throttle – which was wrong! What you have to do is pull the handbrake, then as the rear swings out pull the clutch in and let go of the steering wheel and let the car sort out the first part for you.
After a good few attempts to master that, the next thing was to then get control of the steering and get the power on to maintain the slide around the whole curve.
For this level we were only using one curve, so you had a better chance of mastering the technique without too much to think about. I found it relatively easy, but there was still a lot of polishing off to do. The instructors recognised I had some sort of skills already from my racing, and so were happy to teach to my level rather than as if I was a total novice.
After all, remember this beast of a drift I did during a race at Silverstone?
The rain finally eased off, but left the track wet, which I’m sure made things easier for everyone. I don’t know if they’d normally use a dry track or would wet it anyway to get the cars to move around more?
The final turn in the car was a quick competition, with all of us getting another few runs, but this time we had to drift the rear of the car out to touch a cone on the outside of the turn. Like a true drift event, bonus points were awarded for style, so a lairy angle and bouncing it off the rev limiter rewarded your fun if you weren’t quite up to clipping the cone! (I got 3rd, just in case you were wondering!)
Most people there were total novices and picked up enough to be enjoying themselves out there and I don’t think anyone was disappointed.
Of course, it was fun for me but also business. Any driving skill is good to help with racing, so naturally I was inspired to see the extra training Prodrift Academy offer with one to one training, and essentially training you up to fly free on your own drift career.
Yo took me out for a quick demo of what the next stage would teach me, using left foot braking to change lines and how to transition the car through corners. I will, of course, be having a crack at some more in-depth training where he said they could tailor the skills more to something I could use on track to improve my lap times and car confidence.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the day – It’s a great present to get someone that’s fun and a little different, and they have a brilliant team there to help you enjoy it.
I’ll look forward to going back there soon!