Vaughn Gittin Jr. reveals there is more to drifting than sliding and smoke
By Steve Turner
Photos by Steve Turner and courtesy of Ford Motor Company
If there is one man that moved the art of drifting into the consciousness of Mustang enthusiasts, it is Vaughn Gittin Jr. A self-taught Hoonigan with a love for our favorite Pony car, JR, as his friends call him, is a one-man marketing machine with a natural gift for car control.
Your scribe is proud to call Vaughn a friend, and I have been fortunate enough to be around Vaughn’s drifting program for many years. I have climbed in and out of his various competition cars, driven his RTR street Mustangs, and even had the privilege of riding shotgun in his demo car.
Along the way, I not only gained a great appreciation for Vaughn’s driving gifts, but for his Mustang passion. If you don’t follow the Formula Drift series, you might not understand that the cars run the course and they are judged, much like participants in some Olympic sports. Despite the subjective nature of the competition there is a lot more performance to drifting than the casual observer might understand.
“…The interesting thing with drifting is that the class is open, so I line up with cars that have 500hp and others with, like, 1,200hp that make our 850hp 410 look like a baby on the dyno,” Vaughn explained. “The most important thing is a proper range of usable power and getting the power to ground just like any other motorsport, really.”
Yes, under the hood of Vaughn’s competition drifter is a 410-cubic-inch Windsor based on Ford Racing/Roush-Yates’ light, but robust RY45 engine block. This is an aluminum version of the of the iron block run in NASCAR. Since Vaughn’s class doesn’t limit the engine combo, he turned to the block’s creator, Roush-Yates Racing to construct a powerful engine built to survive in the rigors of drifting.
The trick, of course, is artfully gliding that 850 horsepower on a complex drift course, with another competitor in your vicinity.
“The principal of the suspension setup is very close to a drag car, we are trying to get the car out of the ‘hole’ as fast as possible in every turn and that is achieved like you would with a drag car,” Vaughn said. “We obviously need our car to respond a bit quicker to steering than a drag car, so the way we dial it in is a bit different.”
From the shotgun seat of Vaughn’s lower-powered, heavier demo car we can definitely say the car responds quickly to those inputs. One can only imagine that Vaughn really has to work to keep up with 850 horsepower in a professionally competitive environment. If you are familiar with other forms of motorsport, we asked Vaughn to explain how his program compares to these other endeavors.
“Drag racing you have three things to focus on behind the wheel: get off the light, keep it straight, and get it stopped (nine out of 10 times all of those are harder than most people understand). Drag cars are all about forward bite/drive they are usually setup pretty soft to transfer the weight to the rear quickly,” Vaughn said. “You want the front to come up and the tires in the rear to try to lift the chassis at the same time, pushing all the weight onto the rear tires and launching you down the track. The only important input is that of the right pedal for the most part… Mistakes are just about impossible to recover from.”
You wouldn’t really think a drift car and a drag car would have much in common, but it seems they really do. You might imagine that its performance more closely parallels that of a road racer. While they are certainly similar, drifting is far less forgiving.
“Road racing is all about smoothly transferring the weight, smoothly picking up the throttle, and proper braking. It is all about carrying momentum everywhere! You are focused on being constantly fast every lap, hitting marks and minimizing mistakes,” Vaughn said. “This becomes pretty challenging when you add in race traffic and the different lines you must adapt to. These cars are setup pretty stiff and dialed to transfer weight in a very linear way. These cars are quite responsive to the inputs that are used the most—steering, braking, and throttle inputs. Mistakes can be made up for due to the duration of most races.”
So, what is it like to pilot a pro drift ’Stang with that kind of power? Well, it’s not something for the faint of heart. Not only does it take a gifted driver, but a support team to dial in the car to take performance aspects from both drag racing and drag racing to allow the car to perform like he needs it to.
“Drifting has some characteristics of both drag racing and Road racing. The car is responsive like a road-race car in drift, and when blasting down a straightaway you can feel it trying to lift the chassis and drive forward hard like a drag car. The chassis is dialed for maximum side and forward bite. Behind the wheel you are extremely busy, constantly using every tool in the car Throttle, brake, steering, clutch and hand brake to get through the course,” Vaughn elaborated. “Inputs are aggressive in comparison to anything else I have ever experienced. In addition to being focused on using all the tools behind the wheel to run a technical line in a 9-second (quarter-mile) car you have another car on the track that you are inches from that you have to mirror. Not to mention you cannot make one mistake, as most any mistake that the judges pick up on end ups earning a zero due to the caliber Formula Drift is at.”
To dig deeper into the performance aspects of Vaughn’s competition Mustang, take a look at our exclusive, behind-the-scenes video shot at the team shop, AutoSport Dynamics. In this clip, you’ll hear from the man himself and his crew chief, Ian Stewart:
Pretty impressive, right? Well, as cool as the competition car is, not many of us will ever pilot a pure performance machine like that. However, Vaughn is a true enthusiast that has cultivated his own line of Ready To Rock Mustangs that we can all enjoy. They don’t pack the performance of a professional drifter, but they do carry a great balance of performance and style to the street.
“RTR’s success and reception has been pretty incredible, My dream with RTR was to offer a turnkey Mustang that came from the dealer with unique fresh aggressive looks and could easily dialed to enjoy all the things I enjoy behind the wheel, railing turns, drifting, blasting some straightaways all while having a nice ride for a daily driver and general cruising. I also wanted to offer high-quality, functional performance and appearance parts that offered a fresh take on styling in the Mustang world in addition to the aftermarket,” Vaughn said. “What it has turned into is beyond what I ever expected. The passion that everyone has for RTR is driving my team and I to continue to push the envelope and we are just getting started! Our 2015 RTR and the products we will be producing for the new S550 and previous cars thru the future are being developed with the goal on putting smiles on faces! We plan to continue being a part of the Mustang movement and having as much fun as possible with our customers!”