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Why do Formula Drift cars look that way?


Once upon a time, the livery worn by racing cars was a simple matter. Each country was assigned a color. French race cars were light blue. British racers wore a dark shade of green. Naturally, Italians got red. German cars were silver. American racers competing internationally were white.

But then along came funding from corporate sponsors and livery design soon evolved into much more than merely slapping a company’s name across a hood or other body panel.

‘Rad Dan’ showing his cool blues at Formula Drift

Livery design has become an industry unto itself, and perhaps in no form of motorsports is it more important than in drifting, where a car’s design and appearance play a role in the impact the car has not only on the fans but also on the judges.

Schulte displays his ‘Itasha’ style livery

Consider the case of Andrew Schulte, the Formula Drift Pro2 driver competing with sponsorship from ClassicCars.com. He drives a Nissan 240SX (aka S13) powered by a Lingenfelter-built Chevy LS7.

Such Nissans with V8 power are not unusual among drift entries. They are considered good choices and reliable for competition. But what makes Schulte’s car stand out is the way he expresses himself through the car’s Itashastyle livery.

Itasha is a Japanese slang term meaning “Painful Car”  as expressed through the use of popular Japanese media such as anime animation characters, Magna comic books and video games.

With a themed combo of background colors, chrome graphics, and highly detailed characters, the impact is immediately felt when the car is seen.

Schulte 2018 livery design

Schulte has been exploring this style since the beginning of his drifting endeavor and has gone through four other designs to become the first driver to introduce the style to Formula Drift.

His philosophy is to “Use the livery to express your style and make sure it is the best representation of you.”

Early style designs from Japan’s drifting scene in the 1980s and ‘90s showed influence from zokusha (gang car) and bosozoku (violent speed tribes). As the drifting culture grew, the cars evolved into the display of more graphics and louder, wilder liveries. Known in Japan as hade-hade (flashy car), this became a dominant style in Japanese drifting competitions with sets of holographic and chrome decals in tribal-like patterns spread across the whole body with logos of all the brands used in the car’s build.

Wide body kits used to increase wheel well space shown on Pro1 driver Kyle Mohan's car
Wide body kits used to increase wheel well space

With the addition of wide-body kits and wings, the goal not only was to show off your drifting skills, but to look good while doing so. The hade-hade style still shows its influence in drift car livery designs today.

Today, sponsors, drivers and designers work together to create a car’s image. The primary sponsor often will have a required color scheme for the large logo decal typically placed on the doors where it will be the most visible.

Tire sponsor placements

The competition series also has required placement decals like name/number plate, and windshield banner. Tire sponsor decals are clearly visible over the wheel arches, and the rest of the sponsor logos are spread throughout the areas of the car relative to the level of sponsorship to the driver’s program.

Then, with input from the driver, a livery designer creates graphics to fit the driver’s style while still satisfying the primary sponsor. Most times the colors of the primary sponsor logo are used as part of the livery theme. The driver’s racing suit and helmet are matched to the livery color scheme as well.

Regarding body modifications, there are kits designed to replace the front fenders, hood and front and rear bumpers as well as to add side skirts and sometimes a rear wing. So called over fenders widen the car’s body and allow for wider tires. Front wheels also are pushed outward several inches with tire tread protruding beyond the fender arches. Formula Drift rules specify how far a car can be altered in such ways.

Travis Reeder Formula Drift Pro1 driver

At some tracks, rear wings must be removed to avoid possible contact with walls or fencing around the course. Where allowed, the wing must be tethered to the car body by cables, and wing end plates are limited to 12 inches by 16 inches.

One reason for making changes to the car’s body is to make the body lighter. However, the rule book requires that a uni-body vehicle cannot be modified between the front and rear strut towers, although doors, trunk lid and hood can be replaced with fiberglass or carbon fiber materials, and windows are commonly replace with Lexan plastics.

Some replacement rear bumpers have been designed to flex several inches inward before making contact with the metal bumper bar behind it. Driver’s started taking advantage of this with more daring transitions into walls and allowing more of the car to push into the wall with minimal correction.

Read bumper modifications can be an advantage

To address this, Formula Drift made rules required the rear bumper bar to span the width of the rear frame rails, and the bumper tubing must keep the minimal clearance possible between the bumper cover and the bumper bar itself. This fills out the bumper cover area and flexing is minimized.

Some teams experimented with the metal rear bumper on the corners with tubes connected to a joint and the use of small motorcycle shocks and hinges to allow the bumper bar to pivot inward when it makes contact with a barrier. This was shut down due to the high risk of breaking off and striking the chase car. The rule book was changed; the rear bumper bar must be one piece and the use of any kind of pivoting and dampening device is not permitted.

Read more about Formula Drift here.

Bryan Young
Bryan Younghttp://maximumdriftcast.com/
Bryan Young has been in the drift scene since 2008. He has owned a few drift cars for drifting and has taught drifting to newcomers. He has volunteered as a crew member/spotter for local ProAm driver Austin Kriegle and a control room operator for the Maximum Driftcast podcast. He currently drifts a 1991 Lexus LS400 with a manual transmission and other modifications.


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