I always knew that driving a Zhiguli during the winter was a sport. But I didn’t know that the Russians had taken it to this level.
Wikipedia states: “Drifting is a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, with loss of traction in the rear wheels or all tires, while maintaining control and driving the car through the entirety of a corner.”
And winter drifting in Russia is mainly a sport for Zhigulis. While visiting a drifting event in St. Petersburg, I found out why.
The track was a figure eight. And I learned that drifting has everything to do with technique, not speed. And for winter drifting in Russia, the track is prepared to be icy and the Zhigulis sport studded tires.
My Zhiguli driver Aleksey is a professional driver, and while during the summer he drifts with a much more modern car, his team still puts together a Zhiguli for participating in the winter drifting events.
My first impression was something like “you mean we all get together in a field on a freezing winter day to see who can spin out the best?” But as I observed, it seemed that although the drifting itself was the highlight, the hidden treasure here is in the process.
The drivers love to fix and prepare their cars, paint them in vibrant colors, and cover them with stickers. And as I also learned, they love to blog, particularly on Instagram.
It seemed to be a point of pride among several of the drivers how they build the cars from various car parts, and the number I heard more than once was that they had kept the total cost under 45,000₽ (roughly $670 USD). There is a joy in the process leading up to the events.
Anton showed me his rear-wheel drive VW Golf with a Zhiguli engine and car parts from a list of cars of the world. The only items on the instrument panel in the car were the oil pressure light and temperature gauge.
As far as I saw, there was only one non-Russian engine at the event. This was Dmitry’s car: a BMW with a Toyota engine. Dmitry told me that he is “trying to break the stereotype that you can only drift during the winter in a Zhiguli.”
The ride on the BMW felt smoother than in the Zhiguli, but as I learned, the Zhiguli in winter drifting has the advantage because it is lighter than most foreign cars.
Whether it be traveling to Kamchatka, visiting a harvest combine factory, or winter drifting, I’m loving not only observing, but joining the Russian people. Because we might be having more fun over here than you are over there.
Here is the video (with English subtitles) that I made of the winter drifting event: