Here’s How Caterham Took Me From From Stalls To Slides In A Single Day Of Drift School

Up until now, the majority of my driving has been on roads or highways and has pretty much always involved pointing forwards. I’ve not done a ton of track driving and have definitely never attempted to drift — until today. Caterham believes that with a little bit of hard work and a whole heap of advice from its experts, it can teach me to kick out the back end in style. Wish me luck.

To do this, I’m at famed race track Brand’s Hatch, which hosted the British Grand Prix 12 times from 1964 and now plays host to truck racing, touring cars and all kinds of motorsport meets. But instead of taking to the historic track, Caterham has taken over one of the parking lots for its Drift Experience. For about $450, the experience can be booked by anyone who fancies learning to donut and drift in a day. Here, a team of expert instructors attempt to pass on their knowledge through briefings, demos, test runs and assessed drift contests between participants.

Full Disclosure: Caterham invited me down to Brands Hatch for the day where I was fed, served up countless cups of tea and allowed to take part in its Drift Experience. It then dropped me back at the train station with a big smile on my face.

A photo of a pile of Caterham helmets.

Safety first.
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

The Caterham Drift Experience kicks off when me and the other drivers sit down with our instructors for a safety briefing that could double as a motivational speech. The assembled team of tutors comprises racers and drifters who’ve taught some of the best young drivers out there. And now, they have the dubious honor of teaching me.

After the briefing, we’re outfitted with helmets, get a dash of confidence and head out to the makeshift track that’s been set up where racers would usually park up their trucks and roving garages. It’s there that we meet the cars: a fleet of Caterham Seven 360 Rs that pack 180 horsepower, a manual gearbox and a top speed of 130 mph. The cars have been outfitted with slippery rear tires and have been raised at the back to slightly increase the rake of the car. This, the instructors assure us, means they’ll be easier to get sideways, and it’s the only modification from the stock Caterham.

Caterham Drift Experience

Caterham Drift Experience

The first task we’re given in these mighty machines is a slalom course, which should get us to grips with the cars and start sending them sideways. Before hopping behind the wheel, the instructors demo the course and talk through the steps of initiating a slide. First, you point the wheels where you want to go, then you let out the clutch, hit the gas and allow the momentum of the car’s spinning wheels flick you around the corner. Repeat this a few times and then bam, you’ve drifted your way around the course. Simple enough, right?

Wrong. I stall before I’ve even left the gate on my first attempt and manage to lap the track incorrectly. Clearly, there’s room for improvement. Thankfully, after each pass the team pops over to tell me where I was going wrong. Tips like “more aggression” and “maintain momentum” are pretty helpful and should make going sideways that little bit easier, they inform me.

A photo of a person drifting between two Caterham flags.

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

It does, and on the second pass, the back end starts to kick out a little, the tires squeal and there’s that smell of burning rubber. Again, the instructors were on hand to call for more aggression, more confidence in the car and more speed. Basically, more of everything.

But there wasn’t time to put this into practice, as after another lap of the track we move onto another skill: figure of eights. These are really hard. It was probably the toughest skill we attempted on the day. My attempts are full of spins, stalls, crushed cones and general embarrassment. I struggle to get my head around turning tight enough to kick out the back end, but not so tight that I miss the course.

A photo of the rear end of a Caterham sports car.

The rear end of a Caterham, ready to be drifted like crazy.
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

It turns out the key to this is throttle control, as too little means you won’t make the turn and too much means you’ll spin out. Tiny movements are vital, but having that finesse is really hard to get to grips with.

Then, to make matters worse, the rain begins falling right as we switch to our third and final skill: donuts. For this, it’s back to the first course to refine our slalom, but now there’s a cone at the end that we each have to try and spin around. This, the instructors say, is simply a case of lining up alongside the cone, initiating a drift as we’ve been doing all morning and keeping it going by modulating the throttle and keeping the steering locked. Sounds easy.

With the cone on my right and the car parked up ready to slide, I floor it. All that aggression the instructors wanted is finally coming out — and this means I spin too far, overdo it and stall. The next time around, my aggression is dialed back and I use more modulation of the throttle, after the teachers explained that it’s all about minor corrections that you can make with just one toe.

A photo of a person sat on a wall with a helmet next to them.

This is how I look when I’m excited.
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

With this knowledge in mind, and the rain starting to dry, I’m making progress. The donuts are beginning to form and I manage to only crash over the cone once. After a few hours of instruction, confidence finally begins to build in me and the drifts start to form. Or so it feels from inside the car; the footage might tell a different story.

With that newfound confidence, it’s time for the day’s main event: a drifting competition between me and the other drivers on hand, which comprises journalists and influencers across the automotive space. Suddenly, the other drivers with their custom race boots and personalized helmets go from being friendly advisors to arch rivals, even though I knew there was no hope of winning this thing.

A photo of an instructor talking to the driver of a Caterham

Do it the same, but better!
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

For the contest, the instructors assembled a mammoth track with big turns, tight turns, donuts and all kinds of drifting obstacles for us to tackle on two practice runs and then one judged run.

It’s great fun to try and traverse. My first run at the full track is a flurry of slick slides, tire smoke and awesome drifts. It feels like I’m sliding from cone to cone with pizzazz and it’s easily the best drifting I manage all day. Caterham really took me from a sensible highway driver to someone with a whole heap more skill behind the wheel.

A photo of two Caterham cars drifting on a track.

With a little Rust-eze – and an insane amount of luck – you too can look like me. Ka-chow.
Photo: Will Longman/Jalopnik

Sadly, the performance couldn’t be repeated on my final judged run and the pressure got too much. I mess it up, and mess it up big time. I stall off the line, spin the car, miss cones and crash over others. All my hard work is undone by a little extra pressure.

But while I’d not set the competition alight, I’m at least happy with the progress I made. Over the course of a few hours, I went from never drifting at all to sliding round corners and making donuts, which I can still be pretty happy about. And I still got a medal to take home, even if it was just one for taking part.

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