YZ Circuit is one of my favorite places to watch a bit of drift action. It’s a place that never fails to provide some excitement in one form or another, be it skilled driving or sensational crashes. I’ve seen more cars get destroyed here than at any other circuit and they usually go out in spectacular fashion and this particular day was no different.
The circuit itself has been operating since 1997 and was originally a motorcycle track but these days anything with wheels can use it. Nowadays the majority of traffic is cars, with about 60% of the track’s use made up of ‘grip’ sessions and the other 40% for drift sessions. The circuit is open seven days a week and frequently holds a variety of competitions for different skill levels and anyone with a valid driver’s license or international driving permit can use the track.
The course is quite short at only 1100m in ‘long course’ form with a straight of 190m. A short course is also used, which shortens the first corner to lower the risk of lesser skilled drivers sustaining significant damage, in theory, but every time a car makes an unintended exit from the course a surge of excitement builds in the spectator’s area as the impact-scared barriers quickly bare down on oncoming cars. It’s what makes the place so exciting for spectators and so heart-stopping for drivers. There is very little run-off for any of the corners so drivers are punished for mistakes and the first corner has claimed more scalps than I can remember. In recent times the tire wall bordering the first corner has had substantially more padding added to ease the impact a bit and it has worked, to a degree, as a lot more cars are able to drive off again after sliding into the tires but the forklift is still needed often enough to stretcher the more unlucky ones away, like fallen players leaving the football field on a stretcher. It’s not just the cars that sustain injury though, flying debris, such as small rocks, sometimes get flung hard into the main seating area, positioned on the wall of corner one, and it’s a good idea to take cover when a car is heading straight for the gravel trap. It’s all part of the excitement of the place.
Recently I attended an event held by Tetsuya Hibino from Sunrise Garage. It was mostly a practice session but the afternoon had a friendly team drift competition where groups of three cars per team would be competing against each other. That would mean triple the likelihood of something going wrong… excellent! The only decision then was to find a place that was going to give me a good shot without having me become part of the action.
There were only a few teams participating in the challenge and the team I was looking forward to seeing most was the three ‘hachi rokus’ (AE86s). They put on a good show during the practice session, and let’s face it, the angry buzz of a couple of ‘hachis’ (hachi also means bee in Japanese) is music to any drift enthusiast’s ears.
Getting in close to the action is what it’s all about and I had a prime location to snap away from my position on the apex of the second corner but a few spin-outs by the AE86s only a few meters from where a few of us were standing had some of us searching for higher ground. It was from this new location that I was happily chatting away to another guy with a video camera when it happened. One of the teams came hammering into corner one with a red 180sx in the lead, a white S14 Silvia following close behind and a ‘Onevia’ bringing up the rear. The 180 drifted wide and had already hit the tire wall once by the time I had lifted my camera into position and was heading back into the tires by the time I pushed down the shutter release button. No time to zoom, just shoot away and hope I’d get a clean shot. The white S14 Silvia was so close the driver had no chance of avoiding what was to come next, things were happening all too quickly. The 180’s nose slammed into the tire wall and was thrown, twisting 270 degrees, into the air, all the while threatening to roll onto its roof. Half way through the twist it smashed into the side of the Silvia, right behind the door. The impact lifted both cars into the air and sent tires and shards of glass soaring in all directions.
Luckily, both drivers walked away from the crash with nothing injured but perhaps their pride and certainly their pride and joys. It might be a steep price to pay for an afternoon’s fun but as they say, that’s the price of drift.
Words: Matt Lindsay
Photos: Matt Lindsay