No matter how you look at it, it’s undeniable that pro-level drifting takes an enormous amount of skill, power, and performance. Formula Drift, the largest sanctioning body of the sport, has an interesting rule book when it comes to car specs and since drivers aren’t racing each other or the clock to see who comes in first, the rules to win can be tricky.

Unlike some other motorsports, driver skills and their ability to consistently perform determines the winner. As a result, the field is composed of a wide variety of vehicles that adhere to some tight suspension pickup point restrictions and retain a large portion of the car’s original body, but there are no restrictions on what powerplant can be used and how much horsepower it can make.

This means Formula Drift competition cars are built to keep up with everyone else and the average car puts down 1,000 horsepower thanks to some kind of forced induction and a shot of nitrous on top of that.

We attended the final round of the 2019 Formula Drift Pro series championship, held October 18-19 at the “House of Drift” – Irwindale Speedway in Southern California – and got an in-depth look at qualifying and how tandem battles are run.

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How Does Qualifying Work?

Regardless of the track configuration, drivers are expected to start with a commitment and a high angle initiation. They must drift through all of the outside zones, reach all of the inner clips with pace and the highest degree of angle possible while making quick, aggressive transitions without corrections or mistakes.

According to the rule book, each driver is allowed two non-consecutive runs, each judged on their line, angle, and style–which consists of initiation, fluidity, and commitment.

What Do Judges Look For?

The objective is for the driver to show their level of vehicle control; thus, drivers that do not make use of the outside zones or reach inner clips, or those that do with a low degree of angle or make mistakes and corrections will receive deductions.

According to the rule book, to receive the maximum amount of “line points,” the drivers are judged on their ability to adhere to the line stipulated by the “line judge” during the driver’s meetings. Outside zones and inner clips receive points. Line points are broken up by sectors at each track.

Angle points are awarded based on the driver’s ability to achieve and maintain a high level of angle, as described by the angle judge during the driver’s meetings. Line points are broken up by sectors at each track.

The style judge has three areas of focus: initiation, fluidity, and commitment.

To receive the maximum points possible, judges look at Initiation and how quickly the driver gets to the desired angle, and how smooth they can do it.

To earn the maximum points for Fluidity, judges look for a smooth rotation during the transition, lock to lock angle, and whether the car is settled and flows through the course smoothly.

Commitment includes consistent throttle application and maintaining speed throughout the course, and judges want it to look dangerous – code for “approach barriers and track edge with confidence.”

Only 32 drivers will advance from qualifying to the top 32 tandem battles. To proceed, drivers must earn a score to secure a spot within the top 32.