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You getting my drift?


A car slides wildly sideways, belching white smoke from the rear tyres as the driver battles to keep it from spinning into the scenery. It's the sort of scene playing out on far too many nightly news bulletins as another hoon goes for an anti-social Saturday speed.

There are far too many of them on Australia's roads today, risking their lives and threatening others.

But there is a time and a place for the sideways skills in the sport of drifting.

“People who try drifting on the road, it always comes back to bite them on the bum. They damage their car or they get busted by the cops. Or worse,” says Beau Yates, the 2006 Australian Drift champion.

Assemble a field of top-class cars and champion drivers, put them head-to-head on a closed race circuit and they work magic.

They run side-by-side and head-to-head in a sport judged on the car's speed, commitment and how well and how long they can hold a sideways slide.

Which, more often than not, is until the rear tyres give out.

“We're out of control, but still under control,” says Yates.

He started in the sport by thrashing his road car, a 25-year-old Toyota Corolla.

He would drive to the track with some spare tyres, have a fling to get the speed out of his system, then potter off home.

It's the same for thousands of Gen-X car fans who have been hooked by a sport that began in Japan and was exported along with the cheap, second-hand performance cars they often use for their off-street fun.

“How hard is it? It's something that doesn't come naturally to a driver, to upset a car in such a manner,” says Yates. “Once I got over the fear factor it got a lot better.”

Yates and his partner Rebecca put everything into their drift work, like many other committed young couples.

The difference is they spend their days planning to compete, working on the car and even towing the hot-rodded Corolla across the country. His success — Yates even stars as himself in a computer game with a drift twist — earned them some backing from Toyota Australia through the TRD performance network. But he is just as passionate about the sport and how it can help to tame the tearaways on the road.

“You can express your driving talent on a track in a safe way,” he says.

FIRST DRIVE

Driving the speedy, smoky Corolla Drift car is fast and furious. Yates is fast, I am furious. He is wickedly quick and spectacular and totally in control and I am furious because I can't control his sideways slider. Beau throws the wheel, pitches the car sideways, then steers on the throttle and works hard to keep the back tyres spinning. He does it easily at 140km/h on dry bitumen.

It's the total reverse of the usual motorsport rule — slow in, fast out. When I try, a tame pet Corolla becomes a rampaging monster. I can get it sideways, but can't keep the slides under control. I spin into a gravel trap, drop the nose off the Corolla and decide to park, beaten.

“I don't know how Beau does it,” says Australian rally champion Neal Bates.

“I eventually got a handle on it, but spun a few times and ripped the side skirts off.”

 

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