Dearborn, Michigan - This is the Ford Performance Drift Stick, claimed to be the first rally-inspired electronic performance handbrake, developed for Ford’s hottest hatch, the Focus RS, and approved by Ken Block.

Note we said handbrake, not parking brake. The downside of the electronic parking brakes that are now common on new models in all segments is that they’re either on or off, which means you can’t use partial rear-wheel braking to kick the back out and initiate a drift.

The Drift Stick was developed by a group of Ford Performance engineers led by a petrolhead named John Wicks - hence the internal code-name Project Wicked Stick - who were originally responsible for the drift mode on the new all-wheel drive Focus RS.

Converting a car with an electronic parking brake to a conventional handbrake requires cutting and drilling on the bodyshell and tapping into the car’s hydraulics - which won’t do your wallet or the car’s warranty any good, and it’s irreversible; you can’t return the car to standard.

But the Focus RS has a conventional handbrake as standard, so Wicks and his crew came up with an electronic lever that gets mounted on the handbrake,  sticking up right next to the steering wheel in proper rally style.

It plugs straight into the car's diagnostic port and operates via the all-wheel drive system and ABS module, opening the rear-drive clutches and locking up the the rear wheels to start the car drifting with a simple pull of the lever, just like a real rally car - and because it’s electronic you don’t even have to pull very hard; two to three kilograms of force will do it. Wicked.

And there’s an added benefit: During the project one of the engineer noticed that its electronics interacted with the car’s systems in much the same way as another aftermarket gizmo - the professional calibration tool. So they incorporated a USB port that allows the Drift Stick to provide both functions, pulling selected diagnostic data and uploading powertrain calibrations for the Focus RS.

Ford is at pains to point out that the Drift Stick is only for closed track use; while nobody can bust you for having a handbrake in your car, using it to make the car drift on public roads is very illegal. Nevertheless, it will be available in North America from December 2017; sadly, there are no plans at present to release it in South Africa.

IOL Motoring