Drifting is a hugely popular motorsport unlike any other, focusing on style and getting sideways rather than the pursuit of the fastest time between two points. It’s a challenge that places great demands on car and driver, and proper attention to setup to truly succeed. Here’s a guide to get your first drift build coming together.
Getting Sideways (And Back Again)
Drift cars are specialised beasts, and like any motorsport discipline, the demands of the sport shape the vehicle to suit. If you’re looking to drift, you’ll want to choose a project car with a front-engined, rear-wheel drive layout. While it’s somewhat possible to drift with other layouts, the act of kicking out the tail and holding a slide at speed is best achieved with the handling characteristics of such a vehicle. It all comes down to weight transfer and breaking traction at will. Of course, over the years, certain cars have become expensive on the second-hand market due to their drift prowess, so you may have to get creative if your first choice isn’t available at your budget. It pays to talk to the drifters down at your local track to get an idea of which cars in your area are the best bet for a drift build. Once you’ve got yourself a car, you can get down to installing mods!
While some love to carve up mountain roads, and others relish the challenge of perfectly apexing every corner at the track, many crave a different challenge. Drag racing is a sport all about timing, finesse, and brute power. Like any other discipline in motorsport, to compete you’ll need a vehicle finely honed for the task at hand. Here’s how you go about getting started on your first quarter-mile monster.
It’s All About Power, Right?
It’s true that if you want to go faster, having more power on tap is a great way to do it. If that’s what you’re looking for, we’ve covered that topic in detail – for both the naturally aspirated and forced induction fans. However, anyone that’s been to the drag strip before will tell you that’s only part of the story. All of the power in the world isn’t worth jack if you can’t get it down to the ground. Even if you can, you’ve still got to keep your steering wheels planted if you intend to keep your nose out of the wall. So, if you want more power, consider the articles linked above. For everything else that’s important in drag racing, read on below.
While plenty of automotive enthusiasts are all about carving corners at the local track days, it’s a special breed that leaves tarmac behind for the dusty trail ahead. If your chosen ride is of the four-wheelin’ variety, here’s how you can modify it to dominate the dirt and mud.
Handling The Terrain
Building a good offroad rig requires a very different focus than building a car for street performance. A screaming high-performance engine is of no use when your tires are spinning in the air because you’re stuck in deep sand or on top of a pointy rock. Instead, four wheelers are concerned with a whole different set of parameters. Ground clearance is key to getting over obstacles without getting stuck, and good articulation is key to keeping your wheels on the ground and pushing you forward in deep ruts and on crazy angles. You’ll also want plenty of low-down torque, and tyres that can grip up in all conditions without snagging a puncture. It’s a whole different ballgame, so read on!
While we’re currently in an era of comparatively low gas prices, the last few decades have seen much volatility in the oil market. This can hit the hip pocket hard, particularly for those driving thirstier vehicles. Thankfully, modifications can help squeeze a few extra miles out of each gallon of dinosaur juice if you know what you’re doing.
The art of striving for the best fuel economy is known as hypermiling, and involves a broad spectrum of tricks and techniques to get the most out of a drop of fuel. Let’s dive in to how you can build a more efficient cruiser for getting around town.
Step 1: Know Thine Enemy
If you want to improve your fuel economy, the first step is to measure it. Without accurate measurement, it’s impossible to quantify any gains made or optimise for the best performance. For those with modern cars, it’s likely that there’s already a trip computer built into the dash. Using this to track your fuel economy is the easiest solution. Instantaneous modes are useful to help improve driving habits, while average modes are great for determining the car’s economy over time.
However, many older vehicles don’t have such features installed as stock. Thankfully, there’s a few ways to work around this. For those driving post-1996 vehicles outfitted with an OBD-II port, tools like Kiwi or Scangauge can often track fuel economy. Failing this, most fuel injected cars can be fitted with a device like the MPGuino that monitors fuel injection to calculate consumption. Fundamentally, all of these tools involve tracking the amount of fuel used per distance travelled. Factory tools and OBD-II gauges do it by using the car’s standard hardware, while the MPGuino splices in to speedometer signals and injector triggers to do the same thing with an Arduino. If you do decide to install a custom device, make sure you calibrate it properly, else your figures won’t bear much resemblance to what’s going on in reality.
Of course, as long as your car has a working odometer and a fuel tank that doesn’t leak, there’s always the pen-and-paper method. Simply reset the trip odometer to zero after filling the tank to the brim. Then, when refilling the tank, fill all the way to the top, and divide the miles driven by the gallons of fuel added back to the tank. This isn’t the most accurate method, as the nature of gas station pumps and automotive fuel tanks mean that tanks aren’t always accurately filled to the brim, due to air pockets and devices used to prevent overfilling. Despite this, it’s a handy way of getting some ballpark figures of your car’s performance over time.
In 1960, Enzo Ferrari said “Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines”. It’s a quote that’s been proven laughably wrong in decades since. Aerodynamics are a key consideration for anyone serious about performance in almost any branch of motorsport. Today, we’ll take a look at how aero influences the performance of your car, and what modifications you might undertake to improve things.
Gains To Be Had
Improving the aerodynamics of your vehicle can mean wildly different things, depending on what your end goal is. Aerodynamics affects everything from top speed, to fuel economy, to grip, and optimizing for these different attributes can take wildly different routes. Often, it’s necessary to find a balance between several competing factors, as improvements in one area can often be detrimental in another.
To understand aerodynamics with regards to cars, we need to know about the forces of lift (or downforce), and drag. Drag is the force that acts against the direction of motion, slowing a vehicle down. Lift is the force generated perpendicular to the direction of motion. In the context of flight, the lift force is generated upwards with respect to gravity, lofting planes into the air. In an automotive context, we very much prefer to stay on the ground. Wings and aerodynamic surfaces on cars are created to create lift in the opposite direction, pushing the vehicle downwards and creating more grip. We refer to this “downwards lift” as downforce.
While the car world is obsessed with everything boosted these days, many still yearn for the smooth power delivery and sonorous tone of a naturally aspirated engine. Of course, everyone still wants to go fast, so here’s how you go about getting more power out of your car without bolting on a big turbo or whining supercharger.
Intakes: This Can Get Pretty Invovled
The intake is one of the first modifications made by many budding car enthusiasts. Throwing on a chromed intake pipe with a big pod filter was the mod to have back in the Fast and Furious era. Power gains can be had, though typically these are minor – on the order of 5-10 horsepower at most. It all depends on the car in question. A BMW M5 V10 was designed for high performance, with a highly advanced intake with individual throttle bodies from the factory. It’s unlikely any eBay parts are going to unlock horsepower that BMW’s engineers didn’t already find. Conversely, early Mazda Miatas are known to have a restrictive intake, largely due to the flap-type air flow meter. Replacing this with a freer-flowing setup has merit.
For those addicted to automotive thrills, there’s always an underlying lust for more power. For those chasing a bigger number, forced induction is one of the most effective ways to achieve it. In addition to more grunt, you get a whole bunch of fun new noises, too. For those with a naturally aspirated car, here’s how you go about converting to forced induction.
Superchargers and Turbos
When we talk about forced induction, we’re talking about forcing more air into the engine under pressure. With more air available, it’s possible to fully combust more fuel, creating more power. The two most common ways of doing this are supercharging and turbocharging. We’ll be using the common automotive vernacular here, so those eager to bicker about terminology from the early 20th century aircraft industry best do it in the comments. Continue reading “How To Get Into Cars: Forced Induction”→