Having shot and covered D1 multiple times here in drifting’s birthplace of Japan, I decided that it was time to head out Stateside and see how the U.S goes about it all and study the styles and builds of the cars as well as the bigger picture; the fans, the vendors and the entertainment that makes events more than just the racing…
It’s mid October here and still scorching hot in California, compared to the much cooler climate I left back in Japan. We’re driving out to Irwindale Speeday the home of the final round and championship decider of the 2014 Formula D series and the scene is set for a battle between the biggest names in U.S professional Drifting.
Gitten Jnr taking time out in the hot pit.
Chris Forsberg thinking about his charge for the championship between him and Vaughn Gitten Jnr and Frederick Aasbo.
All the way from Norway, certainly a good image for drifting… At least, I’m sure the ladies think so.
Scale is the word – along with noise…lots of noise. I walk through the paddock dodging the cars returning from their run. Everybody is eager to get out and start the competition. Everything seems louder and bigger than I am used to and to be truthful it probably is.
With practice underway, I made my way onto the track into the photographers pit, another first for me as this is usually the areas reserved for official photographers and journos in Japan – so a big plus point in getting good coverage of an event to help you grow your brand. Nicely played, Formula Drift.
The action comes in thick and fast and it’s then, under the blazing sun, that I start to notice the difference in approaches compared to D1. I wouldn’t necessarily say they are better, just different.
Fast entries in Formula Drift – real fast here at Irwindale Speedway coming off that bank.
There is also door to door action at Irwindale coming courtesy of the last section with its more technical S-bends.
After the competition had been whittled down to the top 16, I decided to go check out what really makes an event complete in my opinion – the entertainment!
Turns out they have a number of “Pro-2” open paddocks for the public to wander around in and they arrived in droves. Irish representative Dean Kearney and his Viper struggled to get race ready for the main event. Unfortunately Dean had a torrid day with a crash and then another technical issue on track – technical in this case meaning fire! When he was running, he dominated in the big snake Viper, good to see the Irish Drift scene represented out here.
In around the entertainment areas there were people of all ages; men, women, young and old – something very reminiscent of Japan where feeling of family and involvement is encouraged with events for all ages.
Needless to say there was a lot of free swag being handed out.
… and of course some eye candy to go along with the pretty machines. Offset Kings had some cars present and everyone put on a show.
The hospitality and vendor sections of Formula Drift were well run and everyone was having fun, free tyres and swag for your car was up for grabs. This is where Japan can learn, so listen up D1 – it’s all about the swag. People love swag.
Enough fun for now and it was time for the main event.
Top 16 and top 8 was one event after another; fire, spin outs and collisions, Formula Drift had it all.
A good international selection of drivers is another draw card for Formula D with Irish, Norwegian and Japanese drivers bring diversity.
With the top 8, fans could smell what was coming; a Chris Forsberg elimination as he was going up against Aasbo and his Scion. Sure enough, out went Forsberg much to the chagrin of the crowd who just couldn’t believe he had lost out considering his great performances in the earlier rounds.
Things were building up to an intense finale with Aasbo needing to win the event to be champ and Forsberg needing Aasbo to lose to be champ after his own untimely exit in the semi final.
In an ironic twist for this photo-journo, Japan’s very own Daigo Saito pulls his third consecutive victory here at Irwindale! An impressive feat!
So as the lights go out at Irwindale, (and I get driven off in a ’98 GT Mustang back to the beach) I can safely summarise that whilst Formula D ticks all the boxes involving major sponsors, major venues and big name drivers delivering big fun, I can’t help but feel it’s missing that little something that D1 brings to the table.
Maybe the scale of the event takes some of the intimacy away from the racing and the people involved. Who knows. Maybe it’s missing a little bit of soul? Again, who knows.
Japan does face a few very serious problems if professional drifting is to survive there on any scale worth mentioning – primarily being able to think a little differently to draw the crowds in other than a once a year exhibition event in Odaiba, central Tokyo. It is just not enough.
With the other D1 events at circuits far and wide spread all over Japan and the fact that it’s not cheap or easy to get to, well, they need to start thinking in different directions to bring its game to the table in more central locations.
I don’t have the solutions to these problems but here’s to hoping the Japanese do!
Many thanks to Brendan’s throaty 98 GT ‘stang for the ride to Irwindale.
7Tune. The Ultimate Drift Experience Since 2005.
Words and Photos: Adrian Venner
Image Credit: Brendan Parker