Toyota GR86 drifting
(Photo/Toyota Racing)

Toyota GR86 Drift School With the Pros & How to Get in on the Action

Our resident drift enthusiast Danny Korecki spent a day throwing around a brand-new Toyota GR86 at a pro-level drift course. The best part, Formula Drift pros taught him some skills, and you can experience it for yourself as well.

Due to my love of drifting and prior coverage of professional drifting, Toyota invited me to visit Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., for some fun with the pros after the Formula Drift event weekend being held there was over. The main goal was to get behind the wheel of Toyota’s newest enthusiast vehicle — the GR86 — and learn the skills needed to slide the car around.

Toyota GR86 drift experience
(Photo/Danny Korecki)

While I was going to get my hands on the GR86, it was to be a full drift day getting eyes on some of the best professional drift cars in the business, as well as being taught to drift by some of the Formula Drift pros.

Overview From the Best Builder in Formula Drift

Toyota GR86 drift experience
Stephen Papadakis shows off one of his drift creations; (photo/Danny Korecki)

Stephen Papadakis got his start setting drag race records in front-wheel-drive Hondas, and then switched to drifting in Formula Drift. He then took a step back to be a team owner/car builder on one of the best drift teams in the world — Papadakis Racing.

At the start of our event, Papadakis gave us a quick overview of his two newest prized machines: a Toyota GR Supra driven by Fredric Aasbo and a Toyota GR Corolla driven by Ryan Tuerck. Jhonnattan Castro was also taking part in our event — with Papadakis maintaining his GR86 drift car as well — but it was not available to partake in the day’s fun.

Papadakis showed us the engines, the safety features, and all the technology that makes these machines excel on the track. He was sure to emphasize that we could take pictures of whatever we wanted; there were no secrets here.

Papadakis even runs a successful YouTube channel where he details the builds of these cars from start to finish, as well as all the updates in between.

Seeing How the Pros Do It

Toyota GR86 drift experience
(Photo/Danny Korecki)

Aasbo and Tuerck hopped in their Formula Drift Pro cars to warm them up for the day. I was invited with a few other media folks and at the end of the day, we were all going to get ride-alongs with the pair.

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In the meantime, we were shown just what they can do behind the wheel in the box area of Raceway Park. We were given a play-by-play from Castro on everything from how they were warming up their tires to why and where they were placing their cars on the track.

Getting Behind the Wheel of the GR86

Toyota GR86 drift experience
(Photo/Danny Korecki)

After getting a detailed walkthrough of the Papadakis-built machines and seeing the pros warm up their rides for the day, it was time for me to get set up with either Tuerck, Castro, or Aasbo to start learning how to slide the GR86s around.

We broke off into groups of two to three students per driver. I was fortunate to get paired up with two-time and current Formula Drift Champion (2015 and 2021) Fredric Aasbo.

Toyota GR86 drifting
Fredric Aasbo road passenger while I learned to drift the GR86; (photo/Danny Korecki)

The 2022 Toyota GR86 comes from the factory as a car ready to slide around. In fact, the GR86 is so queued up for car enthusiasts that Toyota throws in a complimentary track day with each one it sells.

The GR86 comes powered by a 2.4L four-cylinder engine kicking out 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and sends that power exclusively to the rear wheels. For drift purposes, all of the GR86s we drove were manual transmission machines.

Step one in the driver seat was to disable the traction control and other driver aids to allow the tires to break loose with ease. Step two was to get comfortable in the cars.

Toyota GR86 drift experience
(Photo/Toyota Racing)

The pros set up a cone course to be able to evaluate our level of car control ability. The pros rode passenger seat while we all attempted basically a slalom course with a turnaround. That turnaround quickly became a drift-around and everyone knew we were all ready for the next step.

Let the Fun Begin

After the initial slalom course, the pros set up a very large donut out of cones with a clipping point in the middle.

Toyota GR86 drift experience
(Photo/Danny Korecki)

It’s pretty easy to turn the wheel hard and do a donut around the inside tire and slowly circle around, but our goal was to work toward controlled drifts closer to the outside of the large donut circle. With Aasbo riding in the passenger seat, he helped me polish my skills in what I would call “controlled pre-donut exercises” before progressing to full-on controlled skids.

One thing Aasbo helped me work on was after initiating a skid, I was using the steering too much — left-right-left-right — to try to get the angle I wanted. Aasbo helped me dial in using the throttle to keep the angle I wanted and use less and smoother steering inputs. Eventually, I began putting the pieces together.

Toyota GR86 drift experience
(Photo/Toyota Racing)

After getting our adrenaline pumping we broke for lunch, after which we would all have a mini-competition for who could hold the most controlled donuts. Sadly, I came up just shy of a win and tied for second place.

Toyota GR86 drift experience
(Photo/Toyota Racing)

After sliding the GR86 around all day, I think one of the most apparent things was just how accessible drifting really is and how easy the GR86 platform makes it. Turning off traction control and a quick little flick of the wheel and blip of the throttle, and the GR86 is just at home sideways. The car felt at home on the limiter, letting that 2.0L Boxer engine scream all day.

While we were sliding borrowed cars around on a professional-level drift track, this track’s parking lot was actually the birthplace of many of the best drifters in the U.S., including Tuerck. You also don’t need a Formula Drift Champion riding shotgun — though it does help. The key is a fun rear-wheel-drive car to play with, like the GR86, and a wide-open safe space for some sideways fun.

The Best Part

Learning car control and how to skid around by a Formula Drift Champion is definitely bucket list stuff, but getting to ride in the passenger seat while they slide around in their Formula Drift PRO cars is priceless. While Aasbo taught me everything I now know about drifting behind the wheel, I did my PRO ride-along with Tuerck.

After hitching a ride in the PRO car, there are definitely some comparisons to be made. The GR86 is such a fun package, easy to drift, and definitely gives smiles from ear to ear. Now, Tuerck’s PRO car, while not a GR86, is just a completely different animal altogether.

The 800-plus-horsepower power difference is definitely front and center, but there are many changes made for efficiency and motorsport. With the GR86, there is a limit to the angle available in stock form, while Tuerck’s Papadakis Racing machine has its steering angle turned up to 11, allowing him to drive sideways with ease.

Overall, the theater of a professional drift car is what keeps me smiling. When much of motorsport has prototype one-off machines, these are cars you could buy from your dealer.

Just strip it down, add safety systems, have a wizard engine builder open the performance capabilities, adjust the steering system for maximum angle of attack, fit some serious rubber,  and let her rip — obviously, it’s not quite that easy, but you get the point.

This was all a day’s worth of drifting fun and education, but I am already itching to get back behind the wheel of the right car with enough room to play. There are a few ways you can do this, too.

How to Go Drifting

This was all a press event, but that doesn’t mean that there are not some routes you can take to get a comparable experience with some Formula Drift pros on your own.

Formula Drift fan favorite PRO driver Chelsea DeNofa runs the School of Drift out of Portland, Ore. He created the curriculum for the school and in the Formula Drift off-season for the right fee, you can also find him in the passenger seat teaching you how to drift at the school.

Josh Robinson, an ex-Formula Drift PRO2 driver, runs the Texas Drift Academy in Marion, Texas, and I could go on and on with the drift schools even without pros all along the East Coast and throughout the country.

If riding passenger alongside drift pros is something you are looking to get after there are also chances for that as well. There has been an influx of drift festivals such as GRIDLIFE, Drift Week, and many others, and depending on your funds and luck, you might find yourself in some PRO car ridealongs at these festival events.

You can also get behind the wheel of your own car at many beginner events at tracks around the country. Regardless of what path you take, you really need to get out there and experience this performance-driving sport for yourself!

Danny Korecki
By

Danny Korecki is a Writer at GearJunkie. He has been writing about off-roading and overlanding for 7+ years. Prior to his current role at GearJunkie, he was a Contributing Writer at Super Street Magazine, Autotrader, DriveTribe, The Drive, and CNBC. Based in Hanover, PA when Korecki isn’t behind the wheel of some machine he is enjoying the outdoors.