100 mph entrance speeds, precise slide initiation into hairpins, near 800hp of naturally aspirated fury unleashed around a signature circuit: This was an eye-opening ride along in one of the largest-bodied pro drift cars in the Formula Drift (FD) series. Traditionally, drift platforms hinged on compact Japanese rear-wheel drive chassis. Today, car variety is abundant due to new sponsors and driver interest in assorted styles.
European flavor and American muscle now compete side-by-side the classic Nissans, Mazdas and Toyotas in the premier Formula D series. One such driver pilots a stateside hallmark unique to the 2013 grid: #17 Tyler McQuarrie and his Mobile 1 / GoPro 2011 Chevrolet Camaro. Loud, wide and dripping in ‘Emurican character, the GM Racing COPO LS7-powered Chevy may not be the fastest within the series but in the words of McQuarrie:
“As far as a drift car goes, the Camaro is probably the easiest car I’ve ever drifted. Its chassis and wheelbase is ideal. It is not the quickest car or the quickest to change direction but it’s the most fun. It has tons of angle and it’s just great to drive. That’s comparing it to the 350Z I used to drive at Falken Tire, which was like riding a bull and the Porsche 993 I drove at Hankook, which was just a knife-edge. The trade on that is it is not necessarily the fastest.”
On a Saturday evening during the 2013 GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend we strapped into Tyler McQuarrie Racing’s official FD ride, as a passenger, for a full tire-shredding lap around a 2.22-mile, 11-turn racetrack. Normally, competitive FD runs last around 30-40 seconds and take place on select portions of a circuit. This 2.5-minute run highlighted the car’s capability and driver’s skill in an extended and extremely fun light.
That same weekend McQuarrie was also competing in the Maserati Trofeo World Series event. Sonoma also known as Infineon Raceway holds a special place in his heart: “I’ve been here instructing for almost 17 years, which is just insane to think about. I love this track. It has so much character. There are so many great tracks around the country but they all don’t have the character, you know. It has every type of corner, off camber, cresting hills, long downhill. Running Grand-Am, one of my favorite tracks is Road America, which is way different than here but Sonoma is on the top of my list.”
GoPros rolling inside and out, McQuarrie planted the pedal to the floor inducing heavy acceleration towards the upward ascending left hander of Turn 1 quickly met outside of the pit lane exit. As a naturally aspirated engine there was no boost lag. Power came on immediately and pulled linearly through the rev range. The built LS7’s roar reverberated through a cage-framed cabin that filled with smoke shortly after the tires broke loose.
In the chaos of sound, speed and smoke, the transitions between sweeping 100 mph corners, straights and heavy angle hairpins felt seamless. Like pushing a fat kid on a swing, the Camaro took initial effort to get sideways but once swaying back and forth it carried momentum and flowed agilely through each section. The length of lap lent much time to take in the driver’s calculated footwork and handbrake pulls that carried us sideways.
Being a high-dollar drift car used infrequently outside of short bursts of competition, segments of the 11-turn lap were spent with rubber planted to keep engine temperature below 220 degrees. “I would rather not use our Formula D car for this press stuff. This is our competition car and we don’t practice a ton or put time on it so there is stuff that can break. To put it through this is pretty hard. It’s built to do 30-second runs and stop. It’s never a consecutive two minutes,” said McQuarrie.
Pulling back into pit lane left a feeling of, “Another lap!” The ride along experience was rapid and audibly awesome. Smooth and precise, it was a testament to McQuarrie’s skill and engrained knowledge of each inch of the track. Birthed from Motor City and influenced by Japanese culture, this drift Camaro left a lasting impression. It’s a prime example of the evolution continuing within this extremely fun motorsport. Keep it loose.
Vehicle: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro
Weight: 2,800 lbs (est.)
Engine: GM Racing COPO LS7
Power: 780hp, 690 lb-ft of torque (est.)
Transmission: 4-speed Xtrac
Clutch: Advanced Clutch Technology
Wheels & Tires: Forgestar F14, Hankook RS3 tires (245/40/18 front, 265/40/18 rear)
“We’re running the COPO LS7 motor, which is a motor used for their drag cars. It’s built by GM Racing, and makes about 780hp at the crank and torque is about 690 lb-ft. It’s a super reliable naturally aspirated engine. The power is there all of the time and it has good torque,” said Tyler McQuarrie, pro racecar and drift driver.
The Camaro is probably the easiest car I’ve ever drifted. Its chassis and wheelbase is ideal.
“We are running a super light 4-speed Xtrac gearbox out of a NEXTEL Cup Car, which weighs about 65 lbs. – its light rotating mass helps get that power to the wheels. To the back is a quick-change rear end, which allows us to change the gears specific to every track so I only have to use third and fourth gear. Using only third and fourth is ideal because it’s easier gear changing – you’re not going across the gate and you just go down for the slow stuff. Most of the tracks we go to, you’re entering in the high fourth gear and it usually ends with a tighter corner so you just drop down to third gear and off you go.”
Tyler McQuarrie Q&A
Sponsors: Mobil 1, Hankook, GoPro, BC, ACT, Car West Auto Body, Chevrolet, Forgestar, Enterprise Rental Car, OMP, Go Puck, Braille Battery, Holly Performance, Eibach
As a racer first, how’d you get into drifting?
TQ: “So I was racing for Yokohama and American Le Mans in 2001-2002 while also working Yokohama’s Ride & Drive training program as an instructor. We went to this one event at the end of 2003 where one of their teams, JIC, came out to use the area we were using to test one of its cars. I was watching and one of the Yokohama guys asked me if I wanted to try it. The driver they had at the time was spinning so I jumped in there and began catching them in the course that they were doing. That led Yokohama to telling me about another team that needed a driver: the Jasper Performance Supra. So I said, ‘Sure.’ I had no idea what drifting was and didn’t really pursue it – I was racing.
I had no idea what drifting was and didn’t really pursue it – I was racing.
I then went to the second Formula D event ever in Houston without ever being to one before and hopped in. I qualified fourth and finished fourth. I literally would do a run and ask my team, ‘What do you want me to do, what am I supposed to be doing here?’ So it literally fell in my lap but ever since that event I’ve just loved it.”
Why do you think drifting clicked so fast for you?
TQ: “That is the kind of race driver I am; I tend to overdrive. I’m always kind of holding myself back while other types of race drivers tend to push themselves. Getting in a car and sliding it around was natural to me. But going to Formula D was way different back then. It was way looser so it was easy for me as a race driver to jump in and do well."
We just had IndyCar driver J.R. Hildebrand come out and he didn’t make top 32 in Seattle this year so that is a good example of the level it has come to.
How much has the FD skill level increased since you started?
TQ: “When I started in 2004, everyone came out to Formula D. But now it is the pinnacle. Nowadays, it’s tough for rookies to come in and compete. Just making the top 32 is a huge accomplishment. We just had IndyCar driver J.R. Hildebrand come out and he didn’t make top 32 in Seattle this year so that is a good example of the level it has come to.”
I personally think the faster the track the better. Nowadays, some cars are making 900hp.
What’s the average entrance speed in FD?
TQ: “Typically, 100 mph is what we enter at in Formula D. Sometimes over 100 mph depending on the track. The car is set up for that kind of speed. Most of the Formula D tracks are super high speed. I personally think the faster the track the better. Nowadays, some cars are making 900hp.”
What’s the best part about this motorsport?
TQ: “The cool thing about drifting is you can see a privateer beat a fully funded factory-backed car. You see it all of the time and it’s the only motorsport you are going to see that. You’re not going to see that in IndyCar, Grand-Am, World Challenge - it’s just not going to happen.”
There are definitely more American cars now. I’ve always been surprised there haven’t been more BMWs...
How have the variety of cars on the grid changed?
TQ: “There are definitely more American cars now. I’ve always been surprised there haven’t been more BMWs because that platform is great. And not a lot of work is needed on that thing so it’s nice to see some BMWs out there. Obviously, you’re going to see a ton of Nissans and stuff we’ve seen since day one but because of the support you’re seeing more cars coming out.”
What tire class does your Camaro fall into?
TQ: “My Camaro falls in the weight class of a 285-tire. That is the one thing that Formula D is controlling, the tire size. That has definitely helped some lower horsepower cars that are running smaller tires compete and close the gap a little bit.”
How do you choose tire psi each event?
TQ: “Every track we go to has different surface, different grip levels but we are still within a range of 15 psi for every track. In Long Beach, we run pretty low pressures because we’re the first event that goes on those city streets so there is not a lot of grip compared to somewhere like Atlanta. Grip is so important now and people are running crazy low pressures.
Back in the day, even D1 guys used to run crazy pressures. When I used to run the Hankook Porsche, we sometimes ran 80 psi...
Back in the day, even D1 guys used to run crazy pressures. When I used to run the Hankook Porsche, we sometimes ran 80 psi in that thing. It’s changed so much now that now you see guys running pressures down in the teens, to the point where guys wanted to run beadlocks so Formula D made it illegal.”
How has this year in FD been going?
TQ: “This year our team has been running the best it’s been. It’s just mechanical problems hindering us. The first two events we just got killed on a motor blowing at Long Beach and ECU issues at Atlanta. It really set a bad tone for the whole season but our team just busts their butts and no one gives up. We’ve been having some good runs but we need some luck to fall our way. There is a lot of stuff in drifting that is out of your control. I’ve been doing it for 10 years and it is still hard to get used to. As long as I’m still loving getting in the car and drifting I’m going to keep doing it.”
Should there be a limit on power within the series?
TQ: “I think the power needs to be there if we are going to be going to some bigger tracks. It’s getting to the point that you need to have a big budget to run but I think any series that is going to sustain sponsorship from big companies has to continue to grow. I don’t know if putting a cap on the power is the right decision. There needs to be more Pro-Am series here for people to gain experience leading up to the pinnacle of the sport, Formula D – that’s what everyone works towards.”
We need to start scheduling larger venues to get more people out there. People are getting turned away almost every event we go to.
What would improve the series?
TQ: “The pace of the events needs to speed up – that is always the problem. But it is what it is. There is judging involved and that takes time but just a quicker overall pace would be good. When a run is going on it’s so intense for spectators but it’s short, 30-40 seconds. On the other hand, all of the venues we go to sell out. We’re at the stage now where we need to start scheduling larger venues to get more people out there. People are getting turned away almost every event we go to.”
Would you compete in Gymkhana?
TQ: “I totally would do that. I was hoping they would have a 2WD class so we could take the car out.”
If you could race anything?
TQ: “I love sports cars. Le Mans LMP1 style, those things are just so badass. Even GT stuff like jumping in a new Audi diesel or Porsche. I’m doing Grand-Am now.”
Any viral videos in the works?
TQ: “With GoPro, they’re an amazing sponsor and we have come up with some real good ideas that we’re going to do soon. Can’t say anything about it exactly but it’s going to be in a State Park. One run takes, no practice marks, that’s the coolest stuff to do.”
Have you considered doing these passenger rides on a larger scale?
TQ: “I love that stuff. What we were doing today is so much fun because you’re not in competition or being judged – it’s just drifting. I love it. We’re talking about building demo cars to go do stuff like this around the country. We’re doing this because 1) it’s fun to do and 2) you’re exposing people to drifting that have probably have never seen it before. There is nothing like getting in a car and sliding around and feeling like it’s totally out of control.”