Tripping The Drift

D-Mac and I. Photo courtesy of

Don’t you just hate it when you watch professional sports? The sportsmen and women make their chosen profession look so easy that you just think “I could do that, no problem”. What we sometimes forget is the days, months and years of hard work that these people have put in to be the best at what they do. So when I was flown out to Weston Executive Airport on the outskirts of Dublin by the kind people at Electronic Arts, to try my hand at drifting, I was in for a massive shock.

Like most people my only experience of drifting has been watching the utterly horrendous film Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (I was in a hotel in America with nothing to do, please let me off). For those who don’t know what drifting is please see the very handy Wikipedia definition:

“Drifting refers to a driving technique and to a motorsport where the driver intentionally over steers, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels through turns, while maintaining vehicle control and a high exit speed. A car is drifting when the rear slip angle is greater than the front slip angle prior to the corner apex, and the front wheels are pointing in the opposite direction to the turn (e.g. car is turning left, wheels are pointed right or vice versa), and the driver is controlling these factors.”

Make Sense? Didn’t think so.

Here is that definition again, but this time in easy to understand English: it is sliding about on tarmac in a beast of a car, trying not to crash and kill yourself… usually with somebody alongside you.

Drifting is a big part of Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed and what better way to test out how it plays in the game than by doing it for real? I’m really only going to focus on a couple of new aspects of Shift 2 Unleashed, check out Dom’s awesome Preview and Interview with the game’s developers for a comprehensive rundown on the full list of features. One of the intriguing features I had heard about in Shift 2 was the addition of the helmet cam where you race through the eyes of the driver, the head turns when coming up to a corner, the camera bobbles about when you go over gravel and it shakes about when you go crashing into a tyre wall (which I was doing a lot of). I wanted to get out on the track in real life and then see if what I had learnt there could be implemented in the game.

Enter Darren McNamara, world class professional drifter who is currently competing in the World Drift Championships in the USA for Falken Tyres. D-Mac (as he is known to friends… and me) and his crew were on hand to give all who had gathered a crash course in drifting using a selection of pretty expensive looking vehicles (on the outside anyway, one of the interiors looked like my old Ford Fiesta). My instructor for the day was to be James Deane, which I was a little worried about because we all know what happened the last time James Dean(e) got into a car. After my worries passed I grabbed my helmet and got into the passenger side of the vehicle and got strapped in. I was about to experience my first taste of drifting… No, sliding in the snow in my Peugeot 207 doesn’t count.

James pulled away pretty quickly and headed for one area of runway before he turned sharply sending the car into controlled slide. I watched his hands pretty closely on the steering wheel to see how he controlled the car as it glided across the tarmac with the grace of an ice skater. He spun the car 180 degrees and then tried to explain to me that he was about to perform a manoeuvre that I was going to have a go at… tight donuts. This involves the car skidding around in a circle… sounds easy right? Wrong, get that thought out of your head because let me tell you this first lesson I found the hardest. If you don’t drive the next sentence or two may sound a bit alien to you but this is what I was told about how to perform a tight donut:

“Drive up to the cone in the middle at about four thousand revs, press the clutch all the way down and turn sharply to the right, bring the clutch back up and accelerate.”

That is all I was told. “Easy” I thought as I made my way towards the cone in the centre of the runway. I dropped the clutch turned in and put my foot on the accelerator. The car performed a wicked 180 degree spin and that was it. That was all I could muster on my first few tries. I never realised how much control is needed, you can’t just put your foot on the accelerator and expect the car to keep turning.

One thing I realised when trying to perform the manoeuvres I was being taught day was just how off putting everything suddenly became when I messed up. I would be watching the rev counter and forget to keep turning the steering wheel. Then when I concentrated on the steering I wouldn’t concentrate on how much power I was putting on the accelerator so I either put too much or too little on. My head started to spin and it became harder and harder with every try.

I had a few more goes at the donuts and managed to do a couple of pretty meek 360 spins. Bless James Deane, he kept telling me I was doing well but I could only imagine how frustrated he was getting watching me struggle with something that he could do in his sleep.

Throughout the day I was taught how to do some larger donuts and then finally how to drift a corner. Now surprisingly I found the cornering a lot easier than I had doing the donuts. This is what I wanted to try out in the game when I had the chance to go hands on. I was actually pretty decent at the cornering, managing to keep the car controlled and not spinning off one way or another. James Deane seemed genuinely impressed… except for the two times that I pulled the hydraulic handbrake like a girl and the car didn’t even respond… but those two attempts aside I pulled the cornering off and felt pretty good about myself.

Then came the crunch time, would the cars in Shift 2 Unleashed handle like the Nissan Skyline I had just been driving?

As soon as my race started I put the game into Helmet Cam mode as I wanted to try to replicate the feeling of being inside the vehicle, yes using a controller took a lot of that feeling away but come on, suspend your disbelief for a second. I came up to my first tight corner, hit the handbrake and turned into it. All of a sudden my screen shudders and goes black and white, the sound of metal hitting concrete screeches from the TV, I am all over the place, I try to correct my car and get it back on track but, just like in my real drift car, my senses had been rattled by my mistakes. I had hit the accelerator too early and had spun my car straight into the side barrier. I turned the car around and carried on up to the next corner. I tried and failed at drifting the next turn. More unhealthy noises and black and white screen help emphasise the confusion of the events unfolding around you. This is what I absolutely love about Helmet Cam and how it has been implemented into the game; it really does make you feel that there are more things to think about than just braking and accelerating. You can see your whole dash, but some of your peripheral vision is impaired so you need to keep turning your head to see what’s going on around you. It makes Shift 2 Unleashed that much more challenging than some other racing simulations out there at the moment. And, just like when drifting for real, the satisfaction you feel when you finally nail that corner is that much sweeter.

I have to say that the day out was one of the best experiences I have had. Drifting is something that I have a new found respect for and I really want to experience a live event; it was clear when talking to D-Mac that the live events are something special to be a part of.

“It’s something once you go to an event you really get into it, it doesn’t really get the media attention that it deserves.” Was D-Mac’s response when I questioned him about what draws fans to drifting. “And once you go, it’s just an experience, it’s a show. It’s not just watching racing cars, it’s serious, there’s always something for the crowd. It’s a lot like WWE Wrestling it’s just a constant show for the crowd and they go nuts.”

It was clear looking into his eyes the passion he has for this sport and the determination he has to win and help grow the sport both in the US and back home.

Come Friday 1st April when you pick up your copy of Shift 2 Unleashed I implore you to play the game in Helmet Cam view, this is the only way you can truly appreciate the game. The speed as you race down towards the first corner, the claustrophobic cockpit with all its dials and instruments, the confusion and panic that comes from clipping a wall or turning just that little too much, allowing your nearest rival to pip you to the post… this is how a racing game should be played.

Thanks to Dan for allowing us to use his footage from the day, the GamingLives fairies will forever bless your breakfast with sugary goodness!

Last five articles by Joey



  1. Ben Ben says:

    Sounds like an awesome experience! Think I’d be literally crappy myself over wrecking the car in all honesty >.<

  2. Ste says:

    So was that Dan shooting the video or Dean? By the way, I think you did pretty well! Good job. I used to have an old mk II MR2 which are rear wheeled drive. Being abit of a boy racer and a knob, I would regularly go and find a car park to pull donuts on and its hard than it looks. I managed to do a reverse 180 spin once too which was cool, and one time driving home quite early one Sunday morning after a night out I accidently spun out on a T junction. Man, I miss that car!

    Nice write up by the way.

  3. I drifted once…on ice…into a lamp post. Bad times. Looks awesome though. Nice write up. xXx

  4. Joeydale13 says:

    That was Dan driving in the video,

    It was a great day out and the game was very good from what I played of it. Looking forward to getting a copy back at home and putting some practice in, then next time I hop in a rear wheel drive I can terrorize the Roundabouts of Swindon with my drifting skills.

    If any of you do pick this up, like i said in the write up, play it in helmet cam, it’s the only way…

  5. [...] over to to check out the rest of the [...]

  6. Retro-Drake says:

    The entire experience must have been incredible. I’m super envious right now. The only time I have ever drifted was similar to what Gabriella_PRowl described above minus the lamp post (insert shopping charts). Great job, fun article to read.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    Nice write up and sounds like you had a fantastic time – certainly one of those real ‘life experience’ moments :) *jealous* I’m one of those people who has always thought that donuts would be easy, but I guess not. As for drifting, there is nothing that I like more in driving games, whether I’m good at it or not! Helmet Cam mode seems to be the way to go, though I imagine it increases the ‘heart stopping’ moments.

  8. Edward Edward says:

    So jealous. I wanted to do this so much but I had Uni at the time, and I’m sitting here like “I really wish I could have done this!”
    To be fair, I’d have pranged the car or something and end up having to owe EA loads of money for the rest of my days.
    Great job!

Leave a Comment