Ping Cars Vol.8: The Fast and the Furious World of RC Drifting

From the street racing manga Initial D to the Hollywood movie “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”, drifting is an integral part of Japanese car culture. While taking corners at high speeds and oversteering creates exciting stunts to look at, we certainly wouldn’t want readers to start imitating the people who race at the D1 Grand Prix and the many other drifting events currently popular around Japan. As well as competing with your fellow drivers to get the best lap time, surely one of the reasons for drifting’s success not only in Japan but around the world is how it gives drivers a taste for expressing themselves through their cars by eccentric customization.

Drifting has also entered the world of radio-controlled cars. In Japanese, RC cars are called rajikon, so RC drifting — which started in Japan — is known as “rajidori“.

We wanted to find out more about this sub-genre and so went along to speak to Hiroshi Suzuki, who runs the Yatabe Arena, the world’s largest RC drifting circuit.

Suzuki is a bit of a celebrity in this scene, having won the Japan RC Car Championship three times. His father had run a model shop so Suzuki grew up honing his skills with RC cars alongside his brother from dawn till dusk.

radio-controlled_drifting01Suzuki’s trademark colors are blue and yellow, which he paints his vehicles in. It enhances visibility for Suzuki when he’s driving his cars from the racing platform.

Suzuki had an interesting training method in his youth. He would spray the floor with lubricant and then race over and over again on the surface. At first, it would be like the car was driving over ice, with absolutely no grip at all, but after some time, the surface would dry and the grip would start to come into its own. By remembering the sense of this difference in the grip, he was able to cultivate an outstanding sense of control.

Now, our idea of playing with radio-controlled cars is probably something a bit like flying a kite on your day off in the park or by the river. But actually these days many parks don’t allow you to play with RC cars and it’s no longer something you can just do anywhere you like. RC cars themselves have now reached the point where they are too fast for taking for a drive around a public park.

An Off-Road Buggy that Dances in the Air

Before he had a proper circuit for RC cars, Suzuki used to race around on uneven roads. In this sense, RC cars started off-road. The cars racing along the dirt tracks and taking flying jumps off the hills are like the Nintendo car Excitebike in 3D!

radio-controlled_drifting02 At first glance, it’s the cars doing the biggest jumps that seem to be the most skillfull but actually the higher you jump, the bigger the curve. The best “drivers” actually jump off from the lower slopes so as to land in a way that they are already turning into the next bend.

To do the ideal jump you should decrease acceleration ever so slightly right before the jump, and then accelerate again at the same time as the vehicle lands. This ensures a smooth landing. The car can grip the surface better and then go forwards. Watch the jumps in the middle of the screen.

A 700km/h On-Road RC Car!

If you’re really after speed, then you need to get on a proper track. If a car can travel at 60km/h, then when it’s a twelfth of the size, the speed is the equivalent of around 720km/h! And to drive this you need vision and steering skills well above an average person’s.

radio-controlled_drifting03 When this was shot we could feel how fast the cars are going, since despite the size and bright color of this car the camera just couldn’t get it into focus. We finally got a decent shot when the car was slowing down to take a bend.

In a race with full-size cars you can only see the cars during the split seconds that they zip past you, but with RC cars the vehicles are going around and around a smaller circuit, so you can enjoy the spectacle from start to finish. This heightens your understanding of the details, plus how life-and-death an accident can seem. We hope the car was okay after the crash at the end of the video…

Slow-Motion Drifting

RC drifting dramatically changed the RC car world when Yokomo released the Drift Package in 2004.

Some real hardcore aficionados had previously added adhesive to RC car tires and managed to get an experience similar to drifting, but with the arrival of the Drift Package, the numbers of RC drifting fans rapidly swelled thanks to the convenience of its specially developed sliding drift tires and other parts.

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You’ll see this if you watch the video but what’s unusual about RC drifting is that it’s not actually that fast. It almost looks like it’s happening in slow-motion. In this respect, it’s very accessible and easy for novices to have a go. Here, what’s important is not the ability to control the car quickly, but how well you can replicate real drifting.

radio-controlled_drifting05 A driver’s point-of-view shot. Almost none of the cars are facing the direction they are going!

One of the secrets to achieving the best RC drifting is countersteer. By using just the back wheels you can get a more realistic drift.

Suzuki also gave us a mini tutorial.

Where the skill lies is in switching between the front and back and left and right depending on the direction of the car. No matter how far away he is, Suzuki’s control is flawless.

The start of a New Wave?

At Yatabe Arena there is also an off-road course for beginners, made from artificial grass. Saying that, it might well be an introductory level course but seeing the huge ramp — more like something out of a skateboard park — we couldn’t help wondering if we were witnessing the birth of the next stage in the RC drifting phenomenon.

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RC drifting has till now essentially been emulating the drifting of real cars, but with such developments as this “off-road sports course” things seem to be moving in a new whole direction entirely. Ping Cars is certainly looking forward to the arrival of the next fast and furious genre of RC drifting.

Hiroshi Suzuki and everyone at Yatabe Arena, thank you!

Yatabe Arena

http://www.yatabearena.com