Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
January 7, 2014

When we visited with Gittin at Palm Beach, it was obvious that he is one of the sport’s top stars as autograph-seekers continually tracked him down for a signature. We asked about his switch to Mustang in 2005. “Not really being a Mustang guy, I was really excited by it,” Gittin told us. “The wheelbase is right, the track is right, and we know it’s easy to make horsepower. I was like, ‘Torque!’ after coming from a turbo four-cylinder. The Mustang was the best-kept secret of this sport and it had been in our backyard the whole time. That year, I won the 2005 USA vs. Japan, which was like the shot heard around the world—an American wins against Japan’s finest in a Mustang.”

Today, Gittin is not only a Mustang guy, he and his Monster Energy Ford Racing Mustang are imbedded in the Mustang lifestyle. He’s even built a ’69 SportsRoof and a Fox-body for exhibitions, plus he has his own line of RTR Mustangs that are available from Ford dealers.

“I fell in love with the Mustang,” Gittin adds. “It suited me, it suited my style. Through that, I fell in love with the Mustang community. Now it’s a part of me.”

An extension of Gittin’s drift success and popularity is his RTR Mustang, a package designed and manufactured in a partnership with Classic Design Concepts and available for installation by participating Ford dealers. The RTR is available in base Spec 1 form or amped up as a Spec 2 with adjustable sway bars and struts/shocks, full appearance package, special wheels and tires, and an optional supercharger.

Just as it’s important for Mustang to be involved in drifting, it’s also important to Formula Drift to feature a legendary nameplate like Mustang. “Ford has done a great job in the way they’ve approached the sport,” says Ryan Sage, a co-founder of the Formula Drift series. “The iconic nature of the Mustang is something I’ve always been fascinated with. We’re proud to have it as a staple of the series.”

Gittin points out that drift cars are engineered and purpose-built to drive sideways at 100 miles-per-hour. “They pull more grip than a lot of road race cars, pulling more than a g in some turns while sideways. The reason we need an 850-horsepower engine is because we dial so much grip into the car. We need that power and torque to keep the tires spinning.”  

Gittin also understands the skepticism of older Mustang enthusiasts, saying “Their first thought is, ‘A bunch of guys sliding cars around in parking lots.’ But when somebody sees the sport live, or goes for a ride, their minds change instantly. Cars going inches from each other, 100 miles-per-hour, smoke, noise, 850 horsepower screaming at 9,000 rpm. Who doesn’t love that?”

Drifting and Judging

Unlike traditional motorsports, drifting competition is based on a judging system, with judges awarding points for line, angle, style, and speed. The first three are subjective; speed is measured. Per the Formula Drift website:

“Angle: The maximum drift angle at which a driver can maintain control of the vehicle throughout the marked course. Line: The drift line is defined as the ideal path that a vehicle must take on course and is marked by inner clipping points and outer clipping zones. The exact line is dictated by the judges at each track. Style: The driver’s overall ability to take the specific judging criteria and display it in the most personal and individual way, including aggressive flicks, closeness to walls, extreme angle, and proximity to the lead vehicle (during tandem runs). Style is probably the most subjective part of a run. Speed: A non-subjective criteria, speed is monitored at a specific part of the course.”

There is only one class for the top drivers.

Formula Drift events are held at major American race tracks, including Road Atlanta and Texas Motor Speedway, with the actual drift course using only a small portion of the track. Depending on the venue, it’s not unusual for over 60 cars to enter an event. However, single-car qualifying narrows the actual competition down to 32 cars. From the ladder that’s based on qualifying position, the cars compete in pairs, or “tandem,” with a lead car and a chase car.

According to Formula Drift co-founder Ryan Sage, “The lead driver is supposed to run the best qualifying line; the chase driver is following as closely as possible, using the lead car as what we call a ‘moving clipping point.’ The idea is to follow the lead driver as closely as possible, even if he goes off-line because it shows you have to ability to stay with him. Then the cars reverse and do it again. The driver with the best lead run and the best chase run will most likely win that round.”

From there, the cars move through the ladder with the top four cars facing off in the finals.