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Drifting: Mini-Z AWD Style Guide

Posted 02-15-2009 at 08:41 PM by color0
Updated 03-08-2011 at 10:37 AM by color0
For those of you who've seen RC drifting, you know that good drivers and well-sorted drift cars equals a really beautiful show on the track, sometimes more exciting than races. I've done a good bit of work in the last 4 years to nail down the setup and driving technique, so this week I'll share what I know about drifting the Mini-Z MA010 and hopefully I can get some video for you guys during the week with my newest drift car.

So, onto the tutorial.

Minimum specs:

Hard rubber or drift tires (how hard depends on how slippery your floor is)
Plastic drift tires for learning process

Environment required:

If you can race on it, you can drift on it.

Effective optional parts:

Ball differentials/front one-ways
Suspension option parts (springs, damping fluid, camber & toe parts, etc.)
Stock-FET motor

Not-so-effective optional parts:

Lithium-ion/poly batteries
FET upgrades
Motors that require stacked FETs

Tips for the car:

1. Install drift tires. These do not necessarily have to be the plastic drift tires made by Atomic or Kyosho; for the longest time I used nothing but Scotch tape wrapped around stock tires. Hard rubber tires are also fine if your surface is very slippery.

2. Experiment with differentials. I currently use a one-way up front and a modified gear diff in the back, it's cheap and provides lots of steering. Other people may use ball diffs front and rear to fine-tune the car -- looser front/tighter rear = more steering, and vice versa.

2a. Gear diffs can be modified to be adjustable, just put about 0.5mm worth of shims inside the diff to put pressure on the gears. Increases the diffs durability while giving you adjustability.

2b. A front one-way makes the car extremely responsive off-power. If you are a heavy-handed driver don't use it; if you like sensitive controls you'll appreciate the excellent response.

3. Pick your springs carefully. Drifting is about smoothness, so I start with soft to medium springs all around and work from there, adding stiffness to the end which you want to grip less. Excessively stiff springs make the car jittery and not smooth -- not pretty drifting.

4. I don't believe damping is necessary for AWD drifting, but you can use some damper/diff grease on the knuckles to stabilize the car through the corners.

5. Other suspension options -- camber, toe -- you can often leave stock. Camber makes very little difference unless your tires are catching on the driving surface, then you can add a bit. Some people add a lot (4.5 degrees!) to fit wide-offset rims under the body; though this is fine it does put a bit more stress on your bearings and knuckles. Toe works just like racing, toe-out gives more steering and toe-in gives more stability. I leave the stock toe settings (0 front and +0.5deg rear) as they provide a good balance already.

6. You don't want too much motor. In fact, you want the least power possible that will get you the right "feel" through the corners. A Kyosho stock motor is plenty for small tracks; PN Stock or Atomic Standard for large tracks; anything more is usually excessive.

Driving pointers:

1/28 drifting is mainly centered around three techniques: power over, feint, and throttle lift/braking.

Power over: 1) Approach corner, 2) turn, and stab throttle if necessary, 3) adjust steering and throttle to match cornering line, 4) exit.

Feint: 1) Approach corner, 2) veer away from corner, 3) turn in, 4) adjust steering and throttle to match cornering line, 5) exit.

Brake: 1) Approach corner, 2) brake, 3) turn in, 4) adjust steering and throttle to match cornering line, 5) exit.

All three techniques are commonly used, and all require you to practice a lot to figure out your turn-in and adjustment points. If you're just starting out, just keep the throttle steady and turn, donít mess with the throttle during corner entry till you're used to turning in.

When I say 'adjust steering and throttle', it may involve countersteer or it may not, but you will have increase or decrease the steering and throttle inputs to guide your car into the cornering line you want to follow. Generally:

While sliding:
Turning farther in = tighter radius
Turning farther out/countersteering = wider radius
More throttle = car heads more towards direction you steer
Less throttle = car follows its inertial path more (generally, to the outside of the corner)

Notice I didnít mention "angle" at all. Angle is mainly a function of your corner speed vs. your cornering line and the amount of grip you have. Although the goal of most drifting styles is maximum angle, I donít believe that you should aim directly for more angle; it comes automatically when you optimize entry speed, steering angle and throttle amount. If you approach faster and turn harder, chances are you can follow the same line at a greater angle.

Generally, an efficient drift involves less angle exiting the corner than entering it; increasing your angle slows you down before the apex and decreasing it allows you to speed up more afterwards. To do this, all the rotation of the car must already be done by the apex, such that after the apex you straighten the car and accelerate out of the corner. Thus, when you enter the corner you throw the rear end out more, such that your angle is greatest during entry and is decreased by the time you reach the corner exit. Make sense? Then here are some pointers, to give you an idea of what to look for:

Approach: at this point, manipulate the throttle and steering to break rear traction.

1. If speed is high enough, a feint or brake approach is usually most effective. Turning should follow within a few hundredths of a second after braking. It's important not to brake too hard either: if you lock the wheels you may lose speed, all the more so if you use rubber rear tires. You simply want the weight to shift forward, turn to bring the rear end out and then start following the cornering line.
2. If speed is low, use the power over approach. Turn and stab the throttle simultaneously, and then relax the throttle.

In most AWD cases, you turn-in, straighten out the steering and let the car's inertia do the work. To make that effective, you should find a rhythm of sorts: when to turn-in, how much later to straighten out or countersteer, and how to match those up to throttle movements. Stickier front tires will necessitate a faster rhythm.

Mid-corner: once rear traction has been broken and the weight shifted, the car needs to carry speed through the corner.

Do not floor the trigger after letting off the throttle-stab, or the brakes. Smooth power delivery is key. Blipping works well, but slowly and gently moving the throttle is also good.

With the exception of adjustments, there isn't much steering to do here. Just make sure your car is still following the line.

Exit: from the apex, get the car out of the corner as fast as possible.

You can just start pulling the throttle from the moment you clip the apex of the corner; the AWD will carry you right through the exit.

Whether countersteering or not, ideally (and especially if a straight follows the corner) you should be straightening the car out. If you haven't begun to straighten out by the apex, just flick the wheel a bit more to the outside of the corner to get rid of excess angle, and appropriately add throttle as outlined above. To exit onto a straight, your car should be more or less facing it from the time of the apex onward.

Linking drifts:
When linking drifts, ignore the straight rule; you can allow the rear to stay loose a bit further. Just before you reach the turn-in point to the next corner, let off the throttle or tap the brakes to slow the rear wheels down and give you a moment more traction. Use this with moderate to full countersteer to swing the car the other way. It will swing more quickly than your initial turn-in, so be prepared to countersteer earlier and faster.

Extra Tips:

1. Keep a lookout on your trigger finger. Throttle control is a necessary skill only taught by observing your own practice and habits. Also, don't keep the throttle full-on all the time; I highly encourage using throttle lifts or throttle stabs to break the rear end loose. If you find that you need the throttle on all the time, you may need to gear the motor higher, or find a faster motor.

2. Unless your hands are very small, try to keep your knuckle on the trigger finger instead of the tip of the finger. One less joint and muscle means one more degree of consistency.

3. Keep a lookout on the steering hand too. The way most human wrists are built, they can turn outwards (clockwise if right-handed) faster and more precisely than inwards. As a result, you might be nailing great drifts in one direction, but missing corners in the other. Watch your wrist and try to find a position on the steering wheel where you can turn the wheel at the same speed and same accuracy in both directions.

4. Practice practice practice. When you can accurately time and adjust the throttle and steering mid-drift to your likes, you will be able to control the car's trajectory through a slide -- meaning you can drift along a track, not just randomly on the floor. Then that's good drifting right there.

As mentioned before, I'l try to get some video going during the week. My car's pretty dialed and it's about time I made some proper instructional clips. Hope you enjoyed the read and will improve your drifting experience on the track!
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