What once was a technique used by Japanese street racers while racing in twisty mountain roads has now become a global phenomenon. Today, drift competitions and events are some of the hottest and most sought-after events around the world. Sri Lanka is also starting to see the birth of a drift culture and interest in driving sideways.
And, why not? Seeing these powerful machines slide around corners, engines revving and tires wailing is a sight to behold, and it all began with one man behind the wheel of a Toyota Sprinter from the 1980s.
The ‘Drift King’
Starting out as an illegal street racer, it wasn’t long before Keiichi Tsuchiya became a professional racer. The story goes that Tsuchiya was such a skilled racer that he hardly had any competition, and to keep things entertaining, he would slide his car sideways around corners instead of doing it the usual way; a trick from his street-racing days in the mountains of Japan.
This was the spark that set the flame that snowballed into becoming a global phenomenon, with Tsuchiya behind the wheel. His name has already been immortalised as the ‘Drift King.’
Some of the first videos of drifting ever recorded were of Tsuchiya drifting on twisting mountain roads. He was a consultant to the creation of Initial D, a hit Japanese comic and animated series that introduced drifting to the world.
This hype around drifting created by Initial D was capitalised on by the Fast and Furious franchise, the result being Tokyo Drift; a movie where Tsuchiya contributed as a stunt-coordinator and stuntman. He even cameos at one point of the movie too.
The ‘Drift King’ Tsuchiya single-handedly influenced the world of automotive enthusiasts today. Everything from how car magazines look, to what camera angles are used when filming cars — even in slow-motion, are the result of his work, and all this magic happened behind the wheel of a Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno.
Drift racing and drift culture is slowly seeping into Sri Lanka as well, and fittingly it is also being spearheaded with a man behind an AE86, Ayesh Bandara as well as a group of friends.
Ayesh is no stranger to Sri Lankan motorsport, having participated, and won many drag, and track events. His shelves were packed with the trophies he has won throughout his years of racing, having had considerable success in these events.
“We’ve been racing for some years now, and we wanted to bring something different to the table,” Ayesh shared. “And it’s all thanks to the AE86 that drifting started to pick up in Sri Lanka, it’s that iconic of a car.”
Stepping into Ayesh’s garage, we were greeted with of course, Ayesh’s iconic AE86 drift machine. But alongside it was an AE85 Corolla Levin, the AE86’s sibling – the main difference between the two being the engine. While the AE85 comes with a 1.5 litre A3-U engine, the AE86 packs one of Toyota’s most iconic engines, the 4A-GE.
Of course, our eyes couldn’t ignore one other vehicle, Ayesh’s Toyota Mark II drift build. Specifically modified for the purpose of drifting, this sports an impressive list of modifications, including swapping out the existing engine with a 1JZ, the same engine that is found under the hood of the Mk 3 Toyota Supra, the predecessor to one of Japan’s greatest sports cars.
“We started out with the AE86, but it’s just too iconic of a car, and parts are too expensive and hard to find,” he explained. “Which is why we built this, taking all our experience with the AE86, to create a drift car suitable for Sri Lanka using the Mark II.”
Taking apart the entire car, Ayesh has rebuilt the Mark II with significant changes to the handbrake, shifter and steering, increasing its steering angle to be able to take tighter drift angles and plenty more. As Ayesh’s skill and proficiency at drifting increased, an ECU modification helped to up the horsepower and make it easier to kick out the car’s rear end and slide through corners.
“The Mark II is such an amazing vehicle to choose to build a drift car,” he said. “It’s extremely stable around corners which gives you a lot of confidence to attack corners and push the limits.”
The art of drifting
“Drifting is something no one has ever done before in Sri Lanka, meaning we had to learn everything on our own,” he shared. “We started testing out drifting in Katukurunda, and it took a lot of trial and error to develop the driving style you need to adapt to when drifting.”
It goes without saying, Ayesh and the group needed a place to practice regularly, but with difficulty in getting permission to book the Katukurunda track, the team had to start looking elsewhere. “But Maduranga Caldera has a track in Meerigama, the Kanway Auto Drome, and we’re grateful that he welcomed us there.”
However, drifting at the Kanway Auto Drome isn’t easy. “It’s an extreme track,” Ayesh commented. With coconut trees on both sides, he explained that there was very little room for error in the track. “At first we just power-slid around corners, slowly building our skills and our cars to the point where we could drift with confidence around the track.”
Pioneering drifting in Sri Lanka
Ayesh’s interest in drifting began when he started looking exploring options beyond racing and motorsport. “I had a couple of friends with me, Clyde and Praveen, and speaking with them, I said why not give drifting a try,” he recounted.
“When we were starting out, we had no idea what we were doing. We knew about the concept of drifting existed but had no clue beyond that. But “How we set up the cars were completely wrong.”
But it didn’t take them long to get the hang of things after a lot of trial and error, looking up drifting videos and tutorials on YouTube as well.
“It started with just us and two cars, but interest continued to grow, and more people started approaching us to learn about drifting. People are really curious about this, and there are a lot of people who have even started to build their own drift cars as well.”
A risk worth taking
Ayesh explained that one of the reasons behind him wanting to try out drifting was because of how expensive it is to race or participate in motorsport in Sri Lanka. But while drifting is a lot freer, with fewer regulations and relatively lesser costs, it also comes with its risks.
“It is a massive risk,” Ayesh admitted. “Crashing a car that cost you between 8-10 million trying to go sideways around a corner means all that money you spent could easily go down the drain at any moment. There’s a lot of things that could go wrong while driving sideways, but taking your chances and that risk is part of what drifting is all about. And the feel of drifting is something unlike any other.”
A place to grow
Ayesh sees a lot of opportunity for drifting in Sri Lanka, as well as the potential to take the motorsport and compete in international competitions as well, which exist and operate from the smallest to the largest of events around the world.
“But we need sponsors to make it happen. There are a lot of things that we can do with drifting, and it’s something that a lot of people are talking about. We see this from the reception we’ve been getting from social media,” Ayesh said.
“I remember this one time recently, a person from Anuradhapura reached out to us because he was interested in drifting. We would love to see more people gain an interest in drifting and join us. We’re always happy to welcome and help out, because we see a lot of potential in this.”
The art and sport of drifting in only gaining momentum in Sri Lanka, and it won’t be surprising if you’d see Ayesh and his friends appear around various motorsport events.
(Pix by Kelum Chamara)
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage