July 21, 2024

From Stalls to Slides: How Caterham Transformed My Drifting Skills in Just One Day of School

So far, the bulk of my time behind the wheel has been on streets or highways, primarily in a forward-facing direction. Track driving has been minimal for me, and attempting to drift was completely new — until today. Caterham is confident that with some effort and guidance from its experts, they can teach me how to drift with style. Wish me luck.

For this experience, I find myself at the renowned Brand’s Hatch race track, a venue that has seen prestigious events like the British Grand Prix. Caterham has taken over one of the parking lots to host its Drift Experience. Priced at around $450, anyone interested in learning how to donut and drift in a day can book this experience. Expert instructors provide guidance through briefings, demonstrations, practice runs, and evaluated drift contests among participants.

Full Disclosure: Caterham graciously invited me to Brands Hatch for the day. I was well-fed, enjoyed numerous cups of tea, and was able to participate in the Drift Experience. They even gave me a lift back to the train station with a smile on my face.

Safety is a top priority.
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

The Caterham Drift Experience begins with a safety briefing that also serves as a pep talk. The team of instructors includes professional racers and drifters who have coached some of the best young talents in the sport. Now, they are tasked with teaching me the art of drifting.

Following the briefing, we are provided with helmets, a boost of confidence, and head out to the makeshift track in the parking lot. Here, we are introduced to a fleet of Caterham Seven 360 Rs, boasting 180 horsepower, a manual gearbox, and a top speed of 130 mph. These cars are equipped with slick rear tires and a modified rear end to facilitate easier drifting, the only modification from the stock version.

Caterham Drift Experience

Caterham Drift Experience

Our first challenge in these powerful machines is a slalom course to familiarize ourselves with the cars and begin executing drifts. Before taking the wheel, the instructors demonstrate the course and explain the steps to initiate a slide. It involves pointing the wheels in the desired direction, releasing the clutch, stepping on the gas, and using the spinning wheels’ momentum to slide around corners. With some practice, drifting around the course should become achievable. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, I encounter difficulties right from the start, stalling before even leaving the starting line and navigating the track incorrectly. Clearly, there’s room for improvement. Thankfully, the instructors provide feedback after each attempt, offering tips like “increase aggression” and “maintain momentum” to make drifting a bit easier.

A photo of an individual drifting between two Caterham flags.

The objective for the day is to drift like this.
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

After a few attempts, progress is made as the rear of the car starts to slide, tires squealing and the scent of burning rubber fills the air. The instructors prompt for more aggression, confidence in the car, and increased speed. Essentially, they emphasize pushing harder in every aspect.

However, before there’s a chance to implement these suggestions, the focus shifts to another skill: figure eights. This proves to be quite challenging. It turns out to be the most difficult task of the day. My attempts are riddled with spins, stalls, knocked over cones, and overall embarrassment. Striking a balance between turning sharply enough to slide the rear end out but not too sharply to miss the course is a struggle.

A photo of the back of a Caterham sports car.

The rear of a Caterham, ready for some intense drifting.
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

Throttle control proves to be the key to success in this maneuver, with too little throttle resulting in missed turns and too much causing spins. Precise adjustments are crucial, although mastering this finesse proves to be challenging.

To add to the challenge, the rain begins as we move on to the third and final skill of the day: donuts. Returning to the initial course, we are tasked with refining our slalom skills, but this time with a cone at the end that we must attempt to spin around. The instructors explain that this involves aligning next to the cone, initiating a drift as practiced earlier in the day, and maintaining it through throttle modulation and locked steering. Sounds simple enough.

With the cone on my right and the car prepped for sliding, I step on the gas. The aggression the instructors encouraged finally surfaces — a bit too much, causing me to spin excessively, overdoing it, and stalling. Adjusting my approach on the next attempt, I reduce the aggression and focus on subtle throttle adjustments, following the instructors’ advice on making minor corrections with a

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