It was an event three years in the making but this was the year that brought the word Drift back to the streets of Tokyo.
Now we’re not talking about Vin Diesel drifting through the drive-thru here in downtown Tokyo but rather a full on pavement attack from some of the best D1 drivers in the series. As it were, back in 2004 and 2005 the D1 Grand Prix Series held an event at the now famous Odaiba Tokyo Waterfront, just a short ride from downtown Tokyo on the Yurikamome line. Normally the site functions as a car park serving the many shopping centers, businesses and visitors coming to the area, though recently it has also become known to play host to other events, including the Motors Sports Japan Festival held at the same location last year. With the action so close to town that it was IN town, we knew we had to take a closer look for ourselves.
Going by the events popularity previously, this time round two whole days had to be marked off on the calendar to squeeze all the action in. With the crowd filling the gates and topping over 8000, the air was abuzz with excitement and everyone knew that they were in for a spectacular day. The weather forecast reported clouds and a good chance of rain, but to the drivers and guests delight the rain didn’t materialize allowing the drivers to let loose but hopefully not get too carried away.
Tokyo Drift in Odaiba, differing to other events on the D1 schedule, is actually an exhibition event but run in the same manner as a regular D1 round. The beginning of the day starts with a warm up for the drivers followed by a qualifying session. After the eliminations, the Best 16 are selected and round by round narrowed down to a Best 8, Semi-Final and Final. The schedule on this day though was broken up by a short pit walk and other entertainment, including our favorite D1 Team, Team Orange, ripping the pavement up and M.O.V.E. providing music for the up and coming new Initial D Movie. But more on that later! Let’s take a look from the start.
With more than 30 drivers divided into 3 groups the pressure was on to get top spot to qualify for the Best 16 and progress onto further rounds. Drivers were out to impress the judges from early on with insane entries and speeds pushing over 120km/h into the first right hand corner. The judges were looking for angle, counter steering, entry speed and presentation. On the other hand, some drivers were just looking not to destroy their cars on the tight course. Hiroshi Hukuda was one such driver, putting his RPS13 into the wall not once, but twice in to the wall in one round, damaging the rear then the front! He came back shortly afterwards though demonstrating that you don’t need to have a beautiful car to slide well. Other drivers who didn’t seem to have much luck either included Daigo Saito in the JZX100 Mark II, laying more rubber and smoke than some other competitors combined but not making it into the Best 8. Takahiro Ueno in the red JZZ30 Soarer also had trouble getting past the preliminary round but seemed to enjoy showing off to the crowd in his 1.5JZ Soarer.
With the crowd already pumped and hanging on to the edge of their seats the members of Team Orange came out to display their skills and show what four very talented individuals can do together on the track. The team, consisting of Nobushige Kumakubo Car #1, Kazuhiro Tanaka Car #9, Hideo Hiraoka Car #11 and Naoto Suenaga Car #27, they danced along the tarmac drifting in pairs together, drifting in 4’s and then even drifting in pairs coming at each other! The four also showed off their expertise by circling around each other in the tight confines of the course and doing long, heavy and smoky burnouts to the crowds screams of joy and delight.
With Kazuhiro Tanaka proclaiming victory but bowing out in the previous round it was up to the best 16 to Tsuiso their way to the podium. Atsushi Kuroi and Masao Suenaga in the new faced FD3S RX-7 blasted out of the entry gate fighting it out over and over to a Kuroi that wouldn’t let up. The judges having difficulty giving the upper to hand either of the drivers finally gave Suenaga the thumbs and added him into the top 8. Stepping up to the stage, also with a heavy smoke show to rival the Team Orange boys, Nobuteru ‘NOB’ Taniguchi made his long awaited comeback to D1 and Odaiba one to remember. With this foot welded to the floor he piloted the SXE10 Altezza around the tight course. It was his contest with Hideo Hiraoka from Team Orange that finished of the round off spectacularly with Hiraoka crashing into one of the guards surrounding the floodlights, sending his Impreza into the air and ripping off half of the front end of his car. Doctors and medical staff were on the scene quick, but Hiraoka was able to get out of the car and after being checked by the medical staff off course, he eventually came back to help in the cleanup of the wreckage and clear the course for the other drivers.
Best 8 and Best 4
With the action almost at boiling point, the top 16 had become the top 8 and the action kicked off again. Yoichi Imamura in his red S15 took on the Drift Samurai in his FC RX-7 making light work of him and sending him packing after two swift rounds. Yoshinori Koguchi also stepped up to the plate taking on Masato Kawabata in his RPS13, defeating him in letting Kawabata slide on into the semi-finals. This would also mark the end of the day for Taniguchi, being done in by Tsuyoshi Tezuka. To everyones amusement he at least managed to go out in fine style by adding another thick layer of rubber to the Odaiba car park before leaving the course. The real action though was still to come and as the participants were knocked out one by one it was down to Imamura vs. Suenaga and Kawabata vs. Tezuka.
Imamura went pound for pound with Suenaga, both trying so fiercely to knock each other out in an attempt to reach the finals. In what was one of the most epic Tsuiso rounds of the whole weekend as both drivers took it in turns to outshine and outdo each other making it difficult to judge and choose who would go. Suenaga was coming in hot with high speeds and long slides but in the end was no match for Imamura’s pin point ‘on lock’ control and smooth style. Kawabata and Tezuka in the Good Year Skyline also went neck and neck but Kawabatas aggressive and finely tuned 180SX was more than enough for what seemed like a very high and somewhat unstable Skyline. It would be Tezuka and Suenaga out, Kawabata and Imamura in for the finals.
It was only down to Imamura in his red Prodrive S15 and Kawabata in the blue Toyo Drift 180SX but both competitors were hot on each others heels and the crowd was expecting a big battle. Round 1 saw Imamura come out first, stomping down an almost perfect run and leaving Kawabata to eat his dust and chase after him. A quick round 1 showed the advantage 65 / 35 to Imamura. Round 2 saw Kawabata lead the Tsuiso in front but Imamura too hot on Kawabata’s tail and showed the crowd who’s boss, delivering another almost perfect run and ending any hopes of a multi run showdown with the two competitors. Imamura showed up his opponent in a quick 2 round knock out, taking home the Tokyo Drift in Odaiba cup and a reward of 2 million yen for his work. Not too bad for one days work is it?
With the day over, the crowd all hoarse and shouted out one and all left for home with a smile on their face. The drivers were very happy to show off what they could do and the sellout crowd stayed mesmerized on the edges of their seats the whole day with not a drop of rain in sight to top off a memorable and unforgettable weekend. Unfortunately rumor has it that this may be the last event of this kind at the Odaiba seaside area with the land used for the event and the surrounds ear marked for development for the near future. Let’s hope that this isn’t the case and that next year D1 will be back bigger and better here in Tokyo!
Words: Peter Horniak
Images: Peter Horniak