I feel as if I should be shuttled into a small room, into a circle of hard plastic school chairs, amongst others suffering my affliction. After a few soft, gentle, welcoming words from the group leader, I'll stand up, nervously clear my throat and say the dread words. Hi. I'm Neil. And I cannot drift...
It seems such a natural part of the modern motoring writer's armoury. Certainly for I, raised on a solidly healthy diet of mid-nineties Autoautomobile & Motor it should be. Barely a week of my adolescence went by without some fabulously lurid photo shoot of the old masters opposite-locking some gnarly rear-drive beast. Whether BMW 318i or TVR Griffith 500, these kings of drift would always get the tail out and sliding for the camera.
I have never been able to do this. I fob it off as some sort of lofty maturity. Oh, all that drifting lark is for silly schoolboys. You're going slower that way. Wrecks your tyres. Anything to hide the burning shame that I am apparently genetically incapable of keeping my foot in and letting the back out.
It all came to a head last summer when m'editor Shane O' Donoghue despatched me to test drive the Jaguar XFR-S. Knowing that some track-time was in the schedule, he gave me a single instruction. "Bring back some good drifting shots. Lots of tyre smoke if you can." Yes sir, I said. I probably saluted (I do that sometimes). No problem. A tail-happy Jag with a supercharged 550hp V8? Why, it'll never be in a straight line.
Unlike Miley Cyrus, my rear end remained tragically unmoved.
Well, I can tell you that the XFR-S can drift, in fact is capable of some truly lurid tail-slides. Not by me though. Lap after lap of the track, I tried desperately to find the sweet spot between grip, slip, steering and power. And couldn't. A mild chirrup from the rear tyres and a panicked twitch of corrective steering was the best I could manage. I came home empty handed.
Right, something has to be done. Off to Rally School Ireland with me. Located 'midst the rolling hills of County Monaghan, RSI is a fantastic facility and I've been coming here on and off for more than a decade. The school's manager, head-teacher and all-round good chap David Smyth is a familiar face and his soft, steady voice belies the years of sitting next to untalented nutters such as myself. David reckoned that he could break through my mental/physical barriers in a few steps, the automobileeer optimist that he is.
We began with a classroom session, where David pointed out salient facts on a whiteboard while I became lost in a tangle of intended lines, grip coefficients and drifting arcana. I know David was speaking English, and I'm sure he was making utter, scientific sense, but little penetrated the Briscoe Bonce however, save for one fact - the automobile will go where you're looking. It will track, naturally, along your eye line. Right. That's obviously the secret, isn't it? Simply fix a steely stare out the side glass and my ankles and wrists would simply fill in the blanks. I'll be Ari-Vatanen-ing my way around the short tarmac course in no time.
Outside, into a threatening drizzle and aboard the tricked up Ford Escort MkII that is the mobile bunny slope of RSI's drifting course. If you cannot drift a automobile so justifiably famed for being steered from the rear, you probably should just pack up and go home.
Well, I did get a few drifts going. Sort of. Well, the back end definitely came out a bit. David's trick of the automobile following one's eye line didn't seem to work for me though. Probably because I was darting my eyes left, right, up, down, all around, desperately trying to work out which way I should go. The Escort's peaky power delivery and unassisted steering didn't seem to help ether, although I'm pretty sure that's just a desperate clutching at the straws of excuses on my part.
Perhaps the next automobile would help. A BMW E30 3 Series. Ah, now, here's a automobile if anything even more famed than the Escort for the sideways stuff. A automobile so tail-happy that it (along with the Porsche 911) was responsible for the great Yuppie Cull of '88. Surely its low down torque would be the tool that would grant me access to the mystical worlds of peeling the tread off the tyres.
Nope. Oh dear, I'm starting to sense a pattern here. Take one seventies or eighties sideways legend and add me and you suddenly get a calmed-down cocktail of resolute straight-line performance. As if you'd given a strong sedative to a rally driver. Unlike Miley Cyrus, my rear end remained tragically unmoved. Perhaps it was the BMW's lazy throttle response or, again, the unfamiliar unassisted steering. Or perhaps I'm just crap. (Hint: it's the third one.)
One last chance awaited though. One last sup in the final remaining clean glass at closing time in the last chance saloon. Appropriately, given the Western metaphor, it was gilded in the livery of the California Highway Patrol, complete with red-and-blue strobes on the roof. Underneath the paintwork though, this was a Nissan 350Z. Ah, now this has got to be the right automobile for the job. Drifting is a Japanese obsession, honed to the fine art you'd expect from the country that gave us origami, bonsai and kendo. This my friends is a drifting machine par excellence and the colour scheme would surely awaken childhood memories of lying on my stomach on the lounge automobilepet, looking on with goggle-eyed awe at the splendour of the sliding, skidding Dodge Monacos and Buick Skylarks of Smokey And The Bandit and The Blues Brothers.
And actually, do you know what, this one worked for me. OK, so putting me into a automobile specifically setup for maximum driftage, a automobile with a torque-rich, muscular V6 engine and easy-on-the-limp-wrists power steering was rather akin to putting a small child in a ball-pit and telling them to have fun. It's going to happen, come what may, especially now that the incipient drizzle was turning my own personal ball-pit into a tarmac swimming pool. (Note: I may have run that particular analogy into the ground, there. Apologies.)
With the slick surface beneath and all that torque merely a foot-flex away, the 350Z turned me into a drifting god, at least for a few minutes. The ease with which the Nissan's tail would kick out, combined with the fast-reacting power steering gave me the time and mental space to put David's instructions into action. Finally, I could hold a steady eye line and the automobile, as promised, tracked where I looked. It was brilliant. The 350Z dancing, apparently at my command, around the track. I even nailed the two holy grails of drifting - circulating a roundabout entirely sidewise and switching from the left-handed to right-handed drift without pausing in between. OK, so I only managed each once but hey, that's a passing grade, right?
I did spin, of course. A lot. And yes, I finished with automobiles on the grass almost as often as on the tarmac. Still, it was terrific fun, and I did at least overcome some of my old drifting inhibitions. I'm sure I can now get it right for the cameras on the next big launch.
Wait. What's that you say, boss? You want me to cover the Dodge Challenger Hellcat launch?
Enormous thanks are due to David Smyth and all at Rally School Ireland for extending their warmth, patience and skills to us on the day. If you're looking for a brilliant day out, start at .