Saturday, 4 August 2012

Four Wheel Drift

Pom liked analyses. This illustrated the forces working on a mid-engined Cooper-Climax
Road test cars in lurid skids are so 1950s. Only louts and motoring hacks drive cars sideways in clouds of smoke. Power slides, what Stirling Moss used to call four wheel drifts, went out with skinny tyres.  Jack Brabham was still “hanging the tail out” with the Cooper-Climax in 1960 but it now looks a quaint relic of a bygone age.

Up to about 1937 racing drivers tended to brake before a corner, go round on half throttle, and then accelerate. With more power they could spin the back wheels, skidding out the tail, keeping control by steering on opposite lock. When independent suspension came in wheels had more grip and for the first time understeered. In Design and Behaviour of the Racing Car (Kimber 1963) by Stirling Moss (left) and the late and much lamented Laurence Pomeroy, Moss says: “It was now possible to produce a halfway house between the trailing throttle and power slide techniques. At Rheims in 1938 spectators saw cars set up for right hand corners by turning the front wheels well to the right then feeding power into the rear wheels with such control that wheelspin, and a power slide, was avoided, but at the same time the cornering power of the tyres was so reduced that the tail came out without the wheels spinning. The car then went round, pointing well in-field, so that a photographer standing back might have it pointing straight at him. Thus was the four wheel drift initiated.”

Well, it’s different now. Any grand prix driver getting that far out of shape is either wasting time or having an accident. The fastest way through a corner is a precise line, yet surprisingly editors still like pictures of Ferraris, or any fast car it seems, in a tyre-screeching skid. It does not prove road testers are clever drivers. There’s no skill to it. But it makes me wary.  It looks as though motoring magazines are designed for juveniles and not for Ferrari-buying classes at all. Exemplary road test picture: Jaguar (right)

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