Why Assetto Corsa is Still the Best Drifting Simulator Over a Decade On

Two cars drifting in Assetto Corsa's Virtual Drift Masters
Credit: Why Assetto Corsa is Still the Best Drifting Simulator Over a Decade On

Two cars drifting in Assetto Corsa's Virtual Drift Masters
Credit: Why Assetto Corsa is Still the Best Drifting Simulator Over a Decade On

Drifting's humble beginnings started in Japan as an underground sport on mountain roads. Now, it’s transformed into a global phenomenon. Celebrating its tenth year, the annual Drift Masters (formerly known as the Drift Masters European Championship) competition showcases the world’s best drifters burning rubber across the globe in tyre-smoking, 1,000-hp monsters.

After a qualifying round, race weekends culminate in thrilling tandem drift battles that test the driver's skill and precision.

RacingGames was invited to the opening round in Valencia, Spain, where we sat down with the Drift Masters president, Adam Krawczak, and driver, Jack Shanahan, to learn more about this growing sport and why Assetto Corsa is still the best virtual drifting simulator over a decade on.

Drift Masters president wants to “take the sport to the next level it deserves”

Before becoming president of Drift Masters, Krawczak was chairman of a Polish football club. When Drift Masters approached him, he saw a golden opportunity to “take the sport to the next level it deserves.”

“It’s an international league, so I was really excited about moving from something solely Polish and doing something international,” Krawczak told RacingGames. “I saw a lot of potential in this sport and in this particular league.”

Two cars tandem drifting in the Drift Masters championship
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Credit: Drift Masters / Jordan Butters

Krawczak feels this international appeal sets Drift Masters apart from other drifting competitions like America's Formula Drift.

“What’s exciting is we have so many nationalities that participate in our league, even outside of Europe. On top of that, I think the skill of the drivers and the level they’re representing are the highest in the world.”

This month, the championship made its Spanish debut, with the opening qualifying and battle rounds held at the Ricardo Tormo circuit, home of the Valencian MotoGP, and won by Estonian driver Kevin Pesur.

An aerial view of the Ricardo Tormo race track in Spain with cars drifting on it
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Credit: Drift Masters / Jordan Butters

For the last ten years, Drift Masters has been based in central and eastern Europe. This year's season will visit six diverse locations, including Spain, Ireland, Finland, Latvia, Hungary (which returns to the calendar for the first time since 2018), and Poland. As the sport continues to grow, Krawczak wants to “spread the drifting virus” to more territories.

“In our long-term plans, we want to have Drift Masters in other parts of the world like the US and the Middle East. It’s a difficult thing to do because it’s a small sport. But if you think long term, focus on that, and have that as a goal, it then becomes achievable. If you’re a motorsport fan, I’m certain you’re going to love drifting once you understand what it is and get the feel of it.”

Drift Masters Ricardo Tormo RacingGames
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“Drifting is the fastest growing motorsport”

While it’s still considered a niche sport, Krawczak believes drifting is the "fastest-growing motorsport right now" – particularly in the US thanks to Formula Drift and Ken Block’s viral Gymkhana series. Drift Masters is also gaining traction, with last year’s finale attracting a record 55,000 drift fans at a sold-out stadium in Poland.

Two racing cars are drifting on a race track in the Drift Masters championship
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Credit: Drift Masters / Jordan Butters

"I think drifting has been perceived as a fun activity but not always legal for a long time," said Krawczak. "But if you look at professional drifting and what the guys do behind the wheel, it’s a unique sport. We’re not racing to be the fastest; we’re driving to be the most skillful, beautiful, and artistic in that brutal 1,000-horsepower way.”

The rise of racing simulations is spreading drifting culture to a new generation of fans. But aside from a few indie games like Absolute Drift and Inertial Drift and mobile games like CarX Drift, there aren't many serious dedicated drifting games for players who love driving sideways in a plume of tyre smoke.

Instead, most virtual drifters get their drifting kicks in track-focused games like Gran Turismo 7, Forza Motorsport, and Assetto Corsa with drifting relegated to side modes. Krawczak is confident this will change and wants to see more dedicated drift games in the future.

“Once the sport grows and games companies see the benefit of that, more drift games will follow. For now, we would be happy if titles like Forza Motorsport, Assetto Corsa, or Gran Turismo offer an add-on with good quality drifting.”

A red racing car is drifting on a race track in the Drift Masters championship.
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Credit: Drift Masters / Jordan Butters

“Most sim racing is heavily focused on track racing, which is fun. I do it myself. I have a rig at home and I love it. I love playing WRC and F1. But drifting brings something that other motorsports don’t offer: you dance with the car. If you can feel that in your simulator, I’m sure you’re going to fall in love with it.”

Krawczak is also open to licensing an official Drift Masters game in the future: “It would be amazing to partner with someone who can develop something with real quality. We would love to work with someone who can deliver beautiful graphics and wonderful licensed tracks to promote the world of drifting.”

Virtual Drift Masters reborn

When the European Drift Masters European Championship was canceled in 2020 during the COVID pandemic, the official drivers competed in Assetto Corsa's Virtual Drift Masters league.

Virtual Drift Masters relaunched this year, with events scheduled two weeks before the real championship on the same tracks and a €21,000 prize pool. “Some of our real drivers are participating along with some of the best sim drifters in the world,” said Krawczak.

Virtual Drift Masters
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Credit: Drift Masters

“We’re going to continue growing on that and maybe bring in different levels, so professional players can compete with other professionals and more casual players who just want to have fun can see how they perform against others with similar skill levels. But that’s the next step for the years to come.”

Digital marketplace G2A.com saw Drift Masters as an opportunity to reach wider audiences in a long-term partnership.

Billed as “the world's largest marketplace for digital entertainment,” G2A started as a games marketplace before branching out to other digital software outside of gaming, selling everything from shopping gift cards to streaming subscriptions. To date, over 100 million products have been purchased by 30 million people according to chief marketing officer Mona Kinal.

a car is drifting on a race track in a video game .
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Drift Masters

“We have always been very strong with esports. We have invested more than $12 million into esports to date, supporting more than 70 teams and over 100 events," said Kinal. "We wanted to build on the esports and real-life experience and create synergies between the two worlds. We try to show people that the emotions they experience in real life can also be experienced digitally.”

As part of this partnership, Drift Masters drivers Ruben Bolanos, Piotr Wiecek, and Pawel Korpulinski have become G2A brand ambassadors. “We’re trying to engage our audiences with these role models who are gamers themselves,” Kinal explained.

Assetto Corsa’s drifting is the “closest to real life”

Despite launching over a decade ago, Assetto Corsa is still the platform of choice for the Virtual Drift Masters. The reason is simple: its drifting is the “closest to real life,” according to Krawczak. While the visuals are starting to show their age, Assetto Corsa's driving and drifting physics remain best in class.

“It might not be the most beautiful game, but it’s the most realistic compared to what we do on the track," said Krawczak. "It represents the feeling of drifting on a track the best out of all the games. That’s why our real drivers use Assetto Corsa to see how they should finetune their car and how the track works when they prepare for the season.”

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Drift Masters driver Jack Shanahan, who won the 2016 and 2017 British Drift Championship, knows this all too well. The Irish driver has been drifting professionally since he was 13 and learned the art of sideways drifting the traditional way.

Jack Shanahan stood next to his car at the Drift Masters 2024 opening round
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Credit: RacingGames

His younger brother Conor, on the other hand, “learned how to drift through gaming.” After competing in the Virtual Drift Masters, he went on to win the 2023 Drift Masters championship. “His knowledge and practice gave him an advantage ahead of us,” said Jack.

Racing simulators are “good for reference points and setups because you can get the physics of the cars really close to what they are in real life" according to Jack. "It gives people a better understanding of what we’re doing in the cars.”

"If anyone is trying to get into motorsport, the best way is to start with a simulator. It’s a cheaper option, and it’s not going to cost you money every time you use it.” You won’t have to buy new tyres either: Jack estimates the team destroys between 60 and 70 sets of tyres in a weekend.

Assetto Corsa Drift Masters
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Credit: Drift Masters

“We’re always using Assetto Corsa for competition. It’s the easiest for getting people to build your cars, uploading files, and getting people into the game. I think it’s the most realistic drift game you can get. A few others are getting closer to the real thing with updates, but when it comes to your sense of steering and feel of the car, Assetto Corsa is where it’s at.”

“You need to make sure your wheel rotation is set correctly," Jack advises for novice drifters in Assetto Corsa. "Racing drivers aren't used to letting go of the steering wheel. When you’re drifting, you aren’t really touching the steering wheel. When you transition while you’re sliding, you need to let go of the steering wheel and let the car do what it wants to do. If you change your rotation to half-lock to half-lock, it’s not going to be good practice.”

With Assetto Corsa Evo on the horizon, Virtual Drift Masters could move to a new platform next year. “I haven’t checked that game out myself yet. Once we do some testing on it, and we will for sure, we’ll make that call," said Krawczak. "I’m sure it’s going to be great, so we might move to the new Assetto Corsa next season. But I can’t confirm anything yet.”

Drift Masters meets Drive to Survive

Looking ahead, Krawczak sees more cross-media opportunities for Drift Masters outside of video games. Soon, a documentary called Chaser will chronicle the careers of several Drift Masters drivers and is awaiting distribution.

Krawczak also thinks the sport is a perfect fit for a Drive to Survive-style series that takes fans behind the scenes of Drift Masters.

“Drifting is not just what you see on the track, it’s what you see in the paddock. Drivers help each other," said Krawczak. "They share spare parts and support each other when someone’s car breaks down."

"It’s a beautiful sports culture that is competitive on track. But outside of a track, we’re one big family. I think that’s something that could be explored to show who we are and what we represent."

“Going forward, I firmly believe drifting is going to become huge, so there’s going to be a lot of media attention around it. I just hope that doesn’t kill the vibe, culture, and beautiful moments that we share in the paddock together.”

Which games do you enjoy drifting in? Let us know in the comments below.

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