Revenge of the Nerd: End of the FD Season and a lesson in drift car dynamics


Some racers I know dismiss drifters as unskilled drivers.  Look at this in car video of Dai doing his thing in practice at Formula D’s seventh round at Irwindale.  Even though I am a racer myself, I am amazed at how Dai can move the steering wheel in many directions sometimes exceeding an angular velocity of over 720 degrees per second. Look what he does when initiating the drift onto Irwindale’s high speed banked oval.  He violently moves the steering wheel to the left, then immediately flicks it quickly to the right in one seemingly deft flick, the wheel moving so fast, it’s a blur. As he operates the brake, clutch, turning brake, steering wheel and throttle all at once with precision through a large sweep of operating range, each limb performing a different operation simultaneously you can appreciate the amount of coordination it takes to do what he does.  

Traqmate data friction circle
This is a friction circle where G Force data is represented as dots laid over a 1.5 G circle.  The dark purple big dots represent areas where the vehicle has a lot of dwell time. Note that some of these are outside 1.5 G’s.  Although you have to consider that some of this is on banking, it is still pretty impressive that these G’s are being generated by Falken 615K street tires operating way past their point of peak traction.  A lot of dynamic weight transfer is helping here. How we do that is, SECRET!

As an engineer I now have a much better perspective and appreciation of why he needs the car to have certain characteristics and why he sometimes complains about things like steering wheel return speed and self aligning torque.  Although his actions seem violent and herky jerkey, when you see the car in motion it looks so easy, smooth, fluid and effortless.

traqmate lateral g's
Lateral G’s over time shows slight side slip as the car accelerates on the banked straight away with a blip indicating a Scandinavian flick entry.  The car then very quickly transitions into a drift of over 1 g.  Note the lack of overshoot which is a pretty good testament to Dai’s driving ability.  A very fast transition to nearly one G coming to the first clipping zone off of the bank, then a flatter just under one G inner bank.  The last two turns are flat and surprisingly the last turn offers the highest peak lateral G’s.  A good grip driver can generate traces like this and it;s amazing that Dai does this during one long continuous drift.

The season itself had a lot of highs and lows.  The Falken/Discount Tire S13 is probably the lowest powered car of all the cars that consistently make the final 8 cars standing.  The SPD Metalworks team has worked hard all season to perfect the chassis to make up for the lower power and Dai has used every trick in his drivng arsenal to drive the car to the max.  On tighter more technical courses like Long Beach, Atlanta, New Jersey,  Las Vegas and Sonoma we are a force to be reckoned with but on high speed and banked courses like Seattle and Irwindale we have a definite disadvantage as we have to loosen the chassis up to make up for a lack of power, not being able to generate sufficient wheelspeed.  This makes the car slower and harder to control on the tighter twisty sections of the courses.

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