Drift Heaven: The Journey to Ebisu…
Mankind has long debated over the existence of heaven. Discussions have been had, movies have been made, even a few books have been written about it but the question still remains. Well, I’m here to conclude that debate with a definitive “Yes, heaven exists”! I know because I’ve been there. I was lucky enough to make the journey last month when the gates to drift heaven opened up for two days and for the few hundred participants lucky enough to be admitted into heaven the experience was ecstasy.
Journey to the East
Like all journeys to heavenly places, this one was a long, tiring, costly one that followed a path leading through mountainous terrain, bad weather and poorly cleaned rest stops. Such journeys shouldn’t be taken alone so before leaving I’d planned to meet up with a group of roudy drifters from Body Make McCoy to make the pilgrimage together. My first step was to find their workshop, which was a good hour and a half from where I live but once I managed to find the place, at 2am on Thursday morning, it began to dawn on me the size of the task that lay ahead. The buildings surrounding the workshop were dark and lifeless, with a quiet that clearly stated office hours were over but there was a continual eruption of light and movement from within the workshop as people were busying themselves with the preparation of eight cars for the event. After a quick reunion with those that I knew and short introductions with those that I didn’t everyone was back on the job. It would be a hectic forty-two hours leading up to the departure time and with so much work yet to be done it was clear there would be no sleep tonight. But shortly before sunrise I needed some shuteye so I snuck off to my van for a few hours rest.
With the morning sun rise came increased activity. A buzz was emanating from the heart of the workshop and onto the street. People and cars were everywhere and now that the surrounding shops were open there was movement in all directions. With the clock counting down and so much still needing to be done tension started to fill the air. A lack of sleep and workshop space meant it was only a matter of time before tempers would erupt. There simply wasn’t time for anything to go wrong and as it was there was doubt that all eight cars would be finished if everything went right. Sure enough, the afternoon rolled on and we suffered our first casualty. One car had an overheating problem that would trigger the ECU’s safe mode. Hours were spent trying to fix the problem, including relocating the radiator and fitting and modifying a vented bonnet, but after a diagnosis from a D1 mechanic all hope of fixing the problem was abandoned. Major work needed to be done to the cooling system and there was no time. The car would have to stay behind. It was a big blow to the owner and the atmosphere had turned sombre. But then an hour later, the owner of Body Make McCoy came up with a possible solution in the form of another car that he’d just sold to a customer but would cancel that sale so the devastated owner could buy the car instead. The air was filled with drift fever once again.
By midnight we were all physically and emotionally drained so everyone headed back to their apartments for some real sleep. Friday, departure day, what wasn’t done today would have to be finished at Ebisu and inside the workshop things were really hotting up. Cars were coming and going while drivers tested and tuned. Everytime a car inside the shop needed to go for a test run one or two other cars had to be moved out of the way. Disruptions were bringing tempers to boiling point until finally a yelling match broke out between two of the drivers. Not much could be done but to keep the two hotheads away from each other as there was no time for resolution now, cars still needed tuning. I teamed up with one driver to tune the Adaptronic ECU fitted to his SR20DE equipped AE86. After spending a bit of time punching numbers for the engine I’ve gotta say these ECUs are fantastic products and are very easy to use. After only an hour and half of tuning on the street we had no choice but to head back to the workshop. We’d run out of time, the cars needed to be loaded onto the trucks and if we didn’t leave by 8pm then we’d arrive late at Ebisu. We still had an eleven hour drive to look forward to yet and the concept of sleep had long been forgotten.
The Gates of Heaven
We drove all through the night and stopped only when we needed fuel and food. We had to make it through Tokyo before the early morning traffic built up or we’d lose hours in traffic congestion but the wet weather and pit stops weren’t helping. But by 8am on Saturday morning we’d made it. We were staring at the gates to Ebisu Safari Park. Ebisu Safari park? My first thought was the lack of sleep had messed with our navigator’s head. But we were indeed at the right place. The circuits are inside the safari park. Even in heaven not everything makes sense. However, wild animals were the last thing on my mind, it was wild drift I sought and a quick look at my ticket revealed the map of heaven. This year there would be ten different drift courses. Ten! It was pure insanity. Was it even possible to experience all ten tracks in two days? I’m sure this question rang out among many drivers. We made our way to our camping spot, trackside, and proceeded to set ourselves up before each driver checked their car over and headed out for some track time.
Throughout the whole day there was a constant stream of cars changing blown tires and refuelling empty gas tanks at exorbitant prices, heaven isn’t a cheap place to drift. Eventually the afternoon sun gave way to night but the action didn’t stop, some courses ran well past midnight while many drivers used the cooler evening air to fix broken bits and pieces until exhaustion finally took over. I returned to camp for some sleep. It was about 9am the next day when I slid open the door of my van slash temporary place of residence to the feeling that I’d already missed hours of Sunday drift action so I get ready and decided to make my way up to higher ground where there were some circuits I hadn’t managed to visit yet. I reached a plateau that was teeming with movement. Being a Sunday the Safari Park had attracted thousands of visitors. A steady flow of families were walking mindlessly through the carparks as drifters negotiated their way around them while driving to their chosen circuit.
Everything seemed surreal by this stage. I tried to rationalise the situation but was struggling to. Here I was, high in the mountains, surrounded only by blue skies and more snow capped mountains where, amongst the greenery, lay a drift oasis, a paradise for those who made it to Ebisu Drift Festival 2008. Oh, yes. There is a heaven.
Text: Matt Lindsay
Images: Matt Lindsay