For the 2017 Formula Drift season, Papadakis Racing decided to think outside the box. So it took a humble Toyota Corolla iM hatchback, converted it from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive, and installed a 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and nitrous-oxide system capable of producing 1,000 horsepower and 850 pound-feet of torque. Yup, this is definitely not your grandmother’s Corolla.
Papadakis Racing has plenty of experience converting unassuming street cars into drift monsters. It previously campaigned a series of Scion tC coupes in Formula Drift, and even built a crazy Volkswagen Passat drift car for series competitor and former Top Gear USA host Tanner Foust. Like the Corolla iM, all of these cars were converted from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive, and given steroidal power boosts.
Why rear-wheel drive? Drifting is all about controlled sliding, which means cars need to break traction at their back tires and oversteer, which is not something front-wheel drive cars are capable of doing. In addition to the rear-wheel drive conversion and souped-up engine, Papadakis Racing installed a four-speed dog-clutch transmission in the Corolla iM, made modifications to the bodywork, and added necessary safety equipment.
Given the team’s previous association with Scion, choosing a Corolla iM as a drift car was actually a somewhat predictable step. The Corolla iM was sold as the Scion iM before Toyota killed the Scion brand last year. Now that it wears the Corolla name, the iM is also a nice homage to one of the most legendary drift-car platforms of all: the rear-wheel drive 1980s Toyota Corolla AE86. Loved by tuners for its affordability and performance potential, it also starred in the manga Initial D.
The popularity of the AE86 is why Toyota calls its current rear-wheel drive sports car (the former Scion FR-S) the 86. That car is the more obvious choice for drifting, but there’s something hilarious about a five-door hatchback careening sideways in a cloud of tire smoke that makes us glad Papadakis Racing didn’t take the obvious route.