Some people ask me this question: "What's your definition of a nice drifting photo?" I usually respond with: "A photo that captures the speed and intensity of the motorsport."
This can be accomplished in many ways but the most common way is with wheel blur and background tearing. To achieve this style of photo you will need to use the panning technique outlined below.
First, let me address Image Stabilization (Vibration Reduction on Nikon cameras). High quality lenses will have 2 IS or VR modes. Mode 1 is for your general purpose stabilization and mode 2 is specifically for panning stabilization. If your lens has a panning mode stabilization you will want to use that when taking your photos. I've found that it's not a good idea to use the general image stabilization for drifting shots.
You will also want to use a low ISO setting and you MUST have a slow shutter speed (I use 1/60 – 1/125 of a second) to make the wheels and background blur. Turn your auto focus to AI servo (continuous servo on Nikon). This allows a half press of the shutter to focus on a moving subject. If your camera has a shutter mode that will allow you to just hold the button down and continue taking photos use this setting.
To take full advantage of the continuous shutter, put your camera in small RAW mode. Small RAW will be larger than a JPEG file but smaller than a normal RAW. By using small RAW, it will allow for continuous shooting with less buffering delay when writing to the memory card. It also has a much bigger benefit, in that it takes a more accurate photo that doesn't use compression. This also means that you can manipulate the photo in post processing and change values like white balance (something you can't typically do with JPEGs).
Track the car from the beginning to the end of the run, taking photos as you track it through your area. Afterwards, pick photos that have both wheel and background blur with the car in focus. In part 2 of my series I will go over some of the finer points of drifting photos and show some of the best spots to pick on a track.