It may surprise you guys, but up until very recently I had never shot a professional drifting event in Japan. Sure, I’ve visited the Land of the Rising Sun dozens of times for the Tokyo Auto Salon and sportscar racing, but never a D1 Grand Prix event. Ironically though, my first taste of pro drift in this country was not at a D1GP round, but Formula Drift Japan held at Fuji Speedway a couple of weekends ago.
A few years ago I would never have imagined that a Formula Drift event would – or could – be held in Japan.
Of course, it was D1 Grand Prix that made the first international move by holding a Stateside event at Irwindale Speedway back in 2003, and thereafter until 2009. So it’s only fitting that Formula Drift turned the tables and brought its competition to Japan – which it did for the first time last year.
So why is Formula Drift’s expansion into Japan such a big deal, you ask?
Because hardcore fans still think of Japanese drifting as the pinnacle of this sideways motorsport.
While that may have been true at one point in time, today I consider Formula Drift an equal. Some may even argue that Formula Drift has overtaken D1GP in terms of technology, safety and the size of its worldwide fan base.
For me, it’s all kind of all the same now, and I prefer to think of it as one big drifting melting pot.
The majority of the 60-strong field of teams that assembled at Fuji Speedway for this event were Japanese, which makes it much more apparent that Formula Drift and D1GP are on par in the eyes of Japan’s pro drift community.
Now it’s truly a global community. The first few Japanese drivers that competed in the US in Formula Drift took a real leap of faith, but now it’s a normal thing for teams to go back and fourth.
So what’s next for the sport of drifting? Are we going to see even more expansion into other areas? Formula Drift President and co-founder Jim Liaw has been very open about his meetings with the FIA, and at this point the sky really is the limit.
If you think about it as a whole, professional drifting has only been around for a short time compared to other forms of motorsport. In fact, it’s very much still in its infancy, and there’s still lots more left to achieve.
Each and every one of the teams and drivers who compete are helping drifting become more of a mainstream motorsport.
From what I’ve seen, there are many teams and drivers from all over the world that have adopted drifting as their own sport.
It’s all fine, but why not actually compete in the land where drifting was born?
I applaud the drivers who have gone out of their way to support Formula Drift in its efforts to take the sport to the next level.
While it may not be a traditional motorsport – or maybe not truly a motorsport at all – it’s still darn cool to watch.
As the self-proclaimed world’s #1 drift fan, I was so excited to see the competition play out at the historic Fuji Speedway course.
Friends New & Old
There were plenty of familiar faces and a few new ones to the Formula Drift series at Fuji, but let’s start off with the rotor-head.
Mad Mike Whiddett is a true testament of what being a drifter is all about. Traveling the world and driving the wide variety of Mazda rotary-powered machines in his stable – what better life to live, right?
As amazing as the creations are, they don’t come without their problems though. It was the first competition outing for HUMBUL – a four-rotor, twin turbo FD3S RX-7 built by Total Car Produce Magic – and the team were plagued by teething issues.
The TCP Magic crew stayed up all night to get the car running, but were unable to pinpoint why the Mazda was not making anywhere near the power it should be. Mike still took it out for a single run in qualifying, but did not make the main show.
Daigo Saito literally changed Formula Drift competition back in 2012, so it’s really sad for me to see him struggle these past few years.
His team also stayed up throughout the night to rebuild his motor in the pits after it took a turn for the worse in practice.
In Saito’s first qualifying pass he had an off-track excursion due to the level of grip changing dramatically.
He made the battles, but during the competition his car ran into problems again. I hope he can catch a break soon.
If there was one driver and car combo everyone was talking about, it was Masato Kawabata in the GReddy R35 GT-R.
The world watched as he eliminated everyone in his path during tandem competition.
It might have taken him a few years to get the chassis dialed in, but he now has more speed than anyone else in the field. It was the perfect weekend for him: 1st place in qualifying followed by 1st place overall.
It’s fun to follow Speedhunters driver – and one of my best friends around the paddock – Fredric Aasbø, all around the world.
He always calls me Mr. International, but he is the one who is truly living the global drift dream.
He was just a small town boy, living in a lonely (drift) world in Norway (cue Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’).
Who would have known when he embarked on a journey to the United States all those years ago that he would be where he is today.
Let alone take Manabu ‘Max’ Orido’s place as the wheelman in the legendary RS*R drift team.
While he has yet to earn a Formula Drift Pro Championship title, he was only a few points short last year.
Fredric didn’t have a great event at Fuji, but there are still plenty of opportunities left to take the Pro championship in North America, and the Formula Drift World championship.
Nothing would be possible without Papadakis Racing and Team RS*R coming together to try and make the dream a reality.
Up until this year, Aurimas ‘Odi’ Bakchis has flown largely under the radar.
While he’s had some high-ranked finishes in previous years, only recently has he stood on the top step of the Formula Drift podium.
I’ve been following Odi’s antics since his Vegas Drift Pro-Am days, and back then everyone was saying he was one to watch.
Odi is in the best position this year to take both the Formula Drift Pro and World Championship titles.
I’ve been keeping a close eye on Matt Field ever since his epic battles with Daigo Saito back in 2012 at Irwindale Speedway. It was a real eye opener for the young driver.
Now he is an international driver with some serious ambitions. He has come close to earning his first podium many times, so I don’t think it will be long until that happens.
Speedhunters driver Charles Ng had an opportunity to drive the legendary Team Orange Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Even though he had less power to play with than what he’s used to these days, he made the most of the Evo’s 500hp and put on a great show.
I just love the way this car looks when it’s pitched sideways. While I understand it’s very hard to start with an unproven chassis, I really wish some of the North American guys would consider campaigning an Evo.
Away from drifting, Charles has been heavily competing in endurance racing in Asia. He also has some interesting projects in the works that we will get to see in the near future.
It’s no secret that Masashi Yokoi is a very talented chase driver. He was well on the way to his first Formula Drift podium – or perhaps even the win – in Orlando, when his car caught on fire.
It’s only a matter of time before Yokoi earns his first Formula Drift win, and potentially a championship.
Most importantly, he drifts with style and grace. Fun fact: His S15 in North America still has power windows! How cool is that?
What really impressed me was how dedicated the Japanese fans were – especially given how far Fuji Speedway is from Tokyo.
Drift fans of all shapes and sizes came out to the second Formula Drift Japan event at this hallowed venue.
There’s no better way than starting them off young! Who knows, maybe this little guy will grow up to be a future drift champion…
Mad Mike even worked on his Katakana for his poster signing.
This dedicated drift fan brought the ultimate selfie stick. Cell phone? GoPro? No, try a DSLR with flash!
It was refreshing for the international drivers to meet with the fans that follow their every move in the drift world. And why not? Japan is the birthplace of drifting after all…