Krisse Aalto

Hello, Krisse! Tell a bit about your beginnings.

I was born in Helsinki, I lived here until I was twenty. Then I began moving up northwards, first to Hämeenlinna, then to Vaasa, and now I live in Seinäjoki. I’ve always liked horses, so I’m a riding teacher. I also love driving, so I’m a driving instructor and a drifting driver! When I started, like eight or nine years ago, I was the first female drifting driver in Finland. Now we have two or three local active female drifters, and I hope we get more.

Do Finns carry the driver gene in their DNA?

(laughs) Maybe. I was sixteen when I got my first car, a RWD Open Manta. I’ve had a lot of RWD cars, like thirteen or so! And every winter I would go to the backroads and drive sideways. I didn’t even know there was a discipline called “drifting” but when I heard about it I started to get more interested.

Do you have siblings?

I have three younger brothers, so as a kid I wasn’t playing with Barbies or girlie toys, we were all playing with cars. My father was also racing bikes in Alastaro, Ahvenisto… So maybe that’s where my interest in cars comes from.

How did you get serious about motorsports?

I was kinda old when I started, like 26 or 27. At the time I had my own horse, but I was also dreaming of becoming a drifting driver, and I didn’t have the money to care for the horse AND get into racing. I had to choose, and I didn’t know how to start, because we were living in the city and there was no place for me to practice. In Finland people usually have a field where you can drive your car, but we didn’t have anything like that. So what happened was that one of my horses threw me off, kicked me real bad, and broke my leg. It was an exposed fracture, and the tibia came out.

Oh, my god. Why did the horse do that?

He was like that, wild. But I liked that horse. Anyway, the doctor said it would take a long time before I could ride again (I’ve had three surgeries on that leg). But that’s when I made up my mind, sold the horse and with that money I bought my first drifting car, a Toyota Soarer. I traded one horse for 350!

Drifting needs a ton of horse power.

Yeah, the more the better! In my current car I have 650 HP and sometimes it’s not enough. To compete at the highest levels you need a 1000 HP, but for now I have to manage with 650 HP.

What’s your weapon of choice at the moment?

A BMW E36 with an S50 engine from an M3.

A more powerful engine is transplanted from another car?

That’s normal in drifting. You take the chassis from one car, the engine from another, the gearbox from another, things like that; you build your own thing. The engine change had been done when I bought this new car, but with my previous ones I’ve had to switch engines like eight or nine times, because I blew them up so often.

Is there a limit in HP? What prevents you from installing a rocket engine?

At Pro Level horse-power is never limited (and I actually don’t know any drift series which would limit it, not even grassroots series). There are also rulebooks for every drift series, which may limit tire width, or what kind of tire you can use. The rules are mostly for safety: what kind of roll-cage you must have, safety equipment, stuff like that.

Where did you learn how to drift?

I learnt mostly by doing. Then I met helpful people on the track, and they also shared knowledge. But I think I’ve just been driving and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. My time at the BMW driving school has been really helpful too. I’ve been a teacher for six years, and we got training there.

Were you ever into competitive racing, as opposed to drifting?

Yeah. I raced one season in the BMW Club Finland, I came in 2nd in the series. I had an old E36 and took it around tracks in Finland. That was a really good experience, but I was again in a situation where I had to choose: do I want to race against the clock or do I want to do drifting?

Were there other girls in the BMW Club?

Yes, but just as club members, without racing. But I wanted to compete in the BMW Club Sprint Cup.

Do you ever feel prejudice or discrimination in a sport that’s traditionally male-dominated?

Sometimes. Like comments in a YouTube video saying “you should be in a bikini outside the track, racing is not for girls…”

Incredible. And here in Finland?

In drifting I don’t get bad vibes, because we’re like one big family. Everyone’s really nice, and we just want to drive powerful cars sideways and burn tires. Nobody gets really serious, everyone is having fun. Of course we all want to win, but we’re still having fun.

Do you get treated differently because you’re a girl?

Boys don’t want to lose to a girl in the track. Sometimes they try too hard because of that, and they make mistakes. Once I was at a big competition in Estonia and this young boy, who had previously won the Estonian Drift Championship, knew he had to compete against me. In the paddock he approached me and said “if I lose to you, I will stop drifting, sell my car, and it’s the end of this for me.”

What the heck.

He was like sixteen at the time, so it was really hard for him to lose to a girl. (laughs) And he did lose, but he didn’t sell his car or quit drifting, and we actually became friends. He’s a cool guy, he came to Finland a couple of years ago, to help me when I was competing here.

What about other girls? How do they react?

Female drifters support each other. I also feel support from girls who come to watch the competitions. In general, it’s usually men and boys who think girls can’t drive, and they expect me to fail (this may also be partly in my head, because a few negative comments stick harder than a lot of positive ones). I also get pressure for being the only girl; I think I have to succeed on behalf of every girl out there. I almost feel like if I fail, ALL the girls fail.

Do you have a team? Who covers your costs?

Sponsors. And I really need them; I couldn’t drive otherwise. And of course I put my own money into the car.

How many tires do you burn in a season?

It depends on the tracks, if they’re fast or slow. And on the weather: if it rains it’s easier to drift and you don’t use too many tires. But I would say 120 tires per season, roughly.

What tires are used in rainy conditions?

Normal road summer tires.

Do you prefer any particular brands?

I usually stick to one brand because I need to know how the tires will react; there can be huge differences between tires. Some of them, once you’ve burned half the tire off, might get really slippery all of a sudden, for example. Currently I’m on this brand called Viking (I think they’re from China) and before I was using West Lake, a semi-slick tire that gives more grip, but needs more power to drift. Now that I just got a new car I’ll start with normal summer tires, like the Vikings, and when I get used to the handling I will probably switch back to semi-slicks, which are more expensive.

Do you ever use simulators, or race online?

No. My brothers are all into sim-racing, but I don’t get it because I drive with the feeling, and that’s absent in a simulator; when I don’t get input from the car I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should do it more, because a lot of people say it’s really helpful. BMW has a manufacturer team with a Finnish driver (Jesse Krohn) and he’s been with us in the winter driving experience. He’s one of the driving coaches and uses the simulator a lot. Some simulator use motion to give the feeling, but they’re expensive. I need to choose either to use the money for a sim, or for tires to burn on the track.

What are your plans for the future?

For now I’m just waiting for the season to start, because the pandemic put everything on hold. It’s kinda good for me because I can use the time to get to know the new car and practice. But yeah, I’m eager to get on the track. At some point I thought it would be awesome to be the first female driver in the European Drifting Series, but that would take a lot of money. I should build a more powerful, more competitive car, which would cost about 50.000 euros, and then I’d need to travel around Europe. And of course I’d have to practice a lot more. But I know if get my head around it I’m capable of doing it. My head is the problem sometimes, pressure from too much thinking and worrying.

Have you ever watched the “Initial D” anime?

No, I haven’t. I do respect the Japanese roots of drifting, though.

Any drift heroes, like Ken Block or Vaughn Gittin Jr?

I actually don’t have any. I guess I’m my own hero, because I never thought I would get this far! (laughs)

In your opinion, what do you need to be a good drifter?

First off, you have to like going sideways. And you can’t be afraid of it, because everything happens really quick at high speed. And lately I’ve been learning that you need to be… cocky. (laughs) It’s difficult for me to be that.

Photos ©2021 by Jonsuu Photography. You can follow Krisse on Instagram, and YouTube.