When most people hear the word “drifting” their minds tend to go to the same place – Forza Horizon, Need for Speed and other arcade-style games.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with those titles, but there is a dedicated and committed group of drivers, 3D artists and mod makers breathing life into the world of sim drifting. While only scratching the surface, let’s try and explain what sim drifting is and the best way of getting started in the community.
Sim vs. Arcade Drifting: What’s the Difference?
When having conversations with those in the sim racing community, the majority are usually pointing towards more approachable titles.
Forza Horizon and Forza Motorsport are very drift-friendly with specific upgrades in both titles to cater to this subgenre of motorsport. There are also games like CarX Drift Racing Online and FR Legends that offer an excellent pick-up-and-play drift experience whether on PC or mobile.
All are valid and serve a purpose within the sim drifting ecosystem. Instead of offering a platform that is more approachable to pick up and see smoke pour off the back of your car, sim drifting is quite literal in definition: Trying to provide the most realistic experience to the player without compromise.
This means accurate tire models, tire heat affecting smoke and grip levels, setup adjustments like camber, caster and toe all playing major roles in the stability and speed of your car. It’s quite the leap from the typical ‘Need for Speed’ experience.
Equipment: What You’ll Need To Get Started
Don’t let me discourage you, it is absolutely possible to play sim games on a controller especially if there is controller optimization and compensation.
Though there are many sim drifters out there that do not own a wheel, nor do they plan to, I highly recommended you own a force feedback-based peripheral. It is an unfortunate and expensive barrier of entry and within the racing wheel market, there are some things to avoid.
Gear-driven wheels are normally the most widely available and cost-effective options, especially on the used market. While these are okay and totally driftable, I recommended seeking out anything belt-driven if possible. The belt-driven system offers smoother steering inputs for drifting and more consistent feedback over the entire rotation of the wheel. This is only a recommendation and in no way a requirement, however.
Don’t worry about things like a handbrake. As long as you have some sort of button that doesn’t move on your wheel, that’s perfect.
A used flight stick is also a great choice and can be found for less than $50 on eBay or in thrift stores. Amazon also sells very inexpensive handbrakes made out of Arduino boards. They’re not perfect, but much cheaper than the alternatives. It’s recommended to have some sort of shifter and clutch pedal as well, but you can make due with what you have.
For example, I’m currently using a Thrustmaster TX Leather Edition with T3PA pedals, desk-mounted to a very beat-up Ikea desk. For a shifter, my leftover G27 H-Pattern with a Leo Bodnar USB adapter and one of those cheap Amazon handbrakes we talked about. I’m still on a basic single monitor setup as well. Nothing crazy and that’s the point. Make due with what you have!
Assetto Corsa: The Platform of Choice
The most widely-used, populated and thriving platform at the moment is on Assetto Corsa. Released fully at the end of 2014, Assetto Corsa has an active community of drivers and mod-makers with new content being released on a weekly basis.
Pros from the Formula Drift series such as Andy Hateley use Assetto Corsa as a training tool and to keep sharp in between rounds. Assetto is also easy to get a hold of, the Ultimate Edition being for sale on the Steam platform and is frequently heavily discounted. Though Assetto does have console companions, those versions do not offer the same freedom that the PC version does with modding.
Getting On Track
So you’ve got the wheel and you’ve got the game, but you’re not finished yet. The last bit of logistics before you can jump on track is getting Content Manager for Assetto Corsa.
Though it isn’t drift-specific, CM transforms Assetto Corsa’s UI into a much more mod-friendly experience. It also comes packaged with Custom Shaders Patch which improves the game both visually and with tools such as Neck FX (the driver looking into an apex while the car is sliding) and car radar (being able to see how close you are to the car you’re chasing in drift).
This is a great guide on how to get comfortable with Content Manager.
Wheel settings vary by driver, but those provided by the Virtual Drift Championship are a great place to start. Check their Facebook post for links to your preferred wheel platform. If not a perfect fit, it’s a great place to get started.
Assetto Corsa’s base content is perfectly fine to get your bearings but mods really make the game come alive. The best place to go looking for mods is this Google Doc, being updated regularly with the newest content and is very well organized. Treat it like a Bible when it comes to your content.
For getting started, it’s recommended to use lower-powered cars with a more numb front-end response. Instead of throwing yourself in the deep end with zero drift experience, getting frustrated and never coming back to it, start with something easier and get comfortable.
The Aussie Drifting Co. 420 is fantastic with plenty of car variety and well-done models and sounds. With each car having around 420 horsepower it’s enough to get around larger courses without feeling overwhelmed on smaller ones.
If you find yourself struggling with front-end rotation, don’t be afraid to turn down your steering rotation to 540 degrees while you’re learning. Higher rotation is obviously more immersive and will smooth out your steering inputs but it’s better to just get some track time rather than rack your brain.
The more comfortable you get drifting, the higher you can turn up your rotation. Any lower than 540 and you might notice the car becoming too sensitive, so going from 540 to 720 to 900 is a great way to get your feet wet.
After that, it comes down to practice, practice, practice. Choosing a track like Spirit Peaks Raceway or Klutch Kickers are great places to start due to the lack of elevation change, flatness and no specific line required. However, pick a track that speaks to you. Go where you’ll feel like you will have fun!
The more comfortable you get opens up your options. Bored of the 420 pack? The AC Community spoils you for choice when it comes to extremely fun street-style drift cars that are fun to thrash on iconic drift circuits from across the world (WDT-Street cars at Englishtown Raceway Park or Meihan are personal favorites).
Want to dabble with competitive drift cars? Plenty of esports drifting competitions put out their own “public” car packs for drivers to get experience with high power, high grip drifting. A great resource for that is VOSAN who also hosts plenty of competition tracks to choose from. You can even make your own custom car with its own custom physics if you have enough knowledge with 3D modelling, or pay a creator to do it for you. The possibilities are endless and we’re only scratching the surface.
Keep it pinned, and I’ll see you on track!
You can watch Aero sim drifting, live, each Monday on the Traxion Twitch channel. 10 pm BST / 11 pm CEST / 5 pm ET / 2 pm PT.