Sideways sensation James Deane gives us an insight into drifting
Reigning drift champion James Deane is the man to beat in 2019 if you're good at going very, very sideways.
After winning back-to-back titles in the American Formula DRIFT series, Deane also dominated in Europe and the Middle East last year.
When we caught up with him, he told us the secret to success is about overcoming a lot more than just jet lag.
Deane's inspiration: Watching his Dad and brother go rallying
Growing up in a family with a rallying background, it's not hard to see where Deane gets his passion for sliding from – his father was a rally navigator, co-driver and driver, and watching his older brother compete was part of his inspiration to get behind the wheel.
"Basically the first ever Irish drift event was back in 2002 and I watched my brother win there," says Deane.
“I was a huge fan of my brother and everything he did when I was a kid, and when I first saw drifting it just really appealed to me because it was just showcasing all the things that you’d hope to see in other motorsport events.
"With rallying the most exciting thing was to see the cars going sideways, and the drift event just ticked every box. So that was my introduction to the sport, and from that point on it was basically seeing what was happening in Japan through online videos and DVDs."
Deane then took matters into his own hands, and – like many other petrolheads growing up at the time – honed his driving skills on Gran Turismo 3.
He'd also drift whatever cars he could get his hands on in nearby fields with his best friend (and now Team Manager) Michael Sheehan, meaning that when he entered his first drift event at age 15, he felt well prepared:
“I was actually really lucky because I think from all my practice on Gran Turismo and drifting loads of tracks on different games, it gave me a really good idea of how to link up one corner up to the next!
“When I started driving in real life, I already had the best lines in my head already, so it was just figuring out how the car would feel. But in all honesty it came pretty naturally, so I was one of the lucky ones in that case," he says.
Rising up the drifting ranks and seeing the sport gain recognition
After winning the D-RIFT Ireland championship in 2007, Deane then continued his success at a national level in the Prodrift Ireland series before competing in Europe and the USA from 2010 onwards.
During his career, and especially in the last few seasons, he believes he has witnessed drifting become acknowledged as a competitive and skilful formulae, which is now being taken more seriously than ever.
“A big problem drifting had in previous years was that people didn’t consider it as a serious motorsport or think that it takes serious skill," explains Deane.
“But with every year that goes by, more people from different motorsports are acknowledging drifting a lot more, especially with drifting being showcased at places like the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Nurburgring 24 Hours, where a lot of other people from other motorsports get to see the skill that’s required to drift at over 100mph.
“Once you get talking to people and they actually see the quality of the field, and how seriously teams are taking it, they think it’s really going in a good direction with every year that goes by."
Going sideways requires a lot of grip. Yes, you read that correctly...
Another widely misunderstood factor in the world of drifting is that it actually requires a lot of grip. This may seem counter-intuitive given that sliding is the name of the game, but it actually makes a lot of sense.
"People naturally think that for drifting you probably need a car with good front grip and no rear grip so that the car slides easily," says Deane.
“But in competition drifting – it’s a competition so naturally everyone is trying to go as fast as they can – while going sideways.
“To do that you need as much grip in the car as possible, and the tyres obviously play a huge factor. I’m very lucky to have been using Falken Tyres for the last couple of years, and the grip is really good.
“The power of the cars nowadays is between 800-1000bhp so that tells you in itself how much grip we need to try to put all that power to the ground."
What's his favourite drift car? Easy – the fastest one
It's a common trend among drift drivers that you get to drive a variety of cool machinery, and Deane is no different, having raced Nissan Silvia S14s and S15s as well as the distinctive Falken Mazda RX7.
As with most drivers, the fastest is often your favourite, so he's a big fan of the S15 - but believes that the top spot on his list will be taken by his new-for-2019 BMW E92 M3, which is just a couple of weeks away from making its debut.
“I’ve driven quite a few! Between different events all over the world, and I would say the fastest car I’ve driven so far is the car I drive in Formula Drift which is the Silvia S15," Deane says.
“It has 1000bhp, the big, grippy tyres and it’s just extremely fast.
“We’re currently building a new BMW E92 M3 for European competition, and I think this car will quickly become the best car I’ve driven!
"1000bhp as well, and it should be ready in a couple of weeks. So I’m extremely excited to get behind the wheel of this machine. For me it’s definitely the next level.”
Drifting in the streets – by the beach
Deane's drifting exploits will again take him across the world this year, but there's one event in particular which he is particularly excited to return to - the streets of Long Beach in California.
“At Long Beach in Formula Drift, you basically have the track right by the ocean and there’s 15,000/20,000 people watching," he says.
"It’s a really tight course, so it’s wall-to-wall and brushing the cars of the wall with the rear end!
“There’s no room for error, and it’s extremely exciting to drive. Between the weather, the atmosphere and the grandstands being packed, it’s really hard to beat that.”
Swapping seats with Falken's endurance racers
Falken are very much synonymous with drifting, but are by no means limited to going sideways, and have been stalwarts of endurance racing - in particular the Nurburgring 24 Hours - for the last two decades.
The two are very different disciplines, and while Deane would love to try his hand at long-distance racing, he admits it would be a major shock to the system.
“One of the more challenging things for me would be it would be a new feeling to be behind the wheel for such a long time. In drifting we have a lot of time waiting between our battles, so you have a lot of downtime in drifting, and then really high adrenaline-filled action.
“But in endurance races you need to be in the zone for a longer period of time. But I think it would be slightly easier on your mind, because in drifting you have so many highs and lows throughout the weekend.
“I think all the ups and downs in drifting is quite exhausting in that sense. For me personally, but honestly when I’m behind the wheel I’m in my happy place so in the future I’d love to see what endurance racing is really like.”