Drift Japan – Evolving Beyond its Mountain Ranges


The Drift Japan scene began back in the 1970s. At first, headlined by the Kunimitsu Takahashi, a motorcyclist turned drifter. He inspired the now legendary ‘Drift King’ (ドリフトキング ordorifutokingu) Keiichi Tsuchiya, who was so amazed by the drifting techniques. He took it upon himself to practice around the twists and turns of roads that exist in Japan’s mountain ranges.

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As his reputation grew among racing fans, a video emerged in 1987 that recorded his skills and quickly gained notoriety with racing fans. The video called ‘Pluspy’ was produced in collaboration with racing media and tuning garages, and so drifting was born. His popularity grew to such a level that he soon influenced many racers to follow in his footsteps. His achievements also include drifting every corner of Japan’s Suzuka Circuit.

Drifting became such a phenomenon it spread not only across the country of its origin but the rest of the globe. It has become a motorsport in its own right. As a result, you can now find tournaments on almost every corner of the planet.

The Actual Technique

The idea of drifting is pretty simple; get those read wheels spinning and power slide around the corner. Drifters should also aim to make it look cool. Make it look like you’re in complete control and get through that corner as fast as possible. Linking a number of corners in quick succession too, with your tail out, also makes for a pretty darn spectacular sight.

Ideally, rear wheel drive cars were made for this kind of cornering technique. While four-wheel drives can try and front wheel drives can obliterate their handbrake cords. Hence, why its best to head for the real rear wheel drive variety.

Of course, depending on who you talk to there is a specific line to follow. This is a pre-defined path that would yield the maximum number of points. The less course correction and adjustment made by the driver, the more control and fluid the car appears to the eyes of spectators. Furthermore, keeping the car as sideways as possible while linking corners in quick succession is also a crowd pleaser.

Classic Drifters

The car that was elevated to cult status as a drifting icon was the AE86 Toyota Sprinter Trueno. The word Trueno in Spanish means thunder. That is, its electrifying ability to light up its tires as it screeches sideways through a corner. The fastback classic began its life in 1983 – 1987 as a front engine/rear drive layout. It made ample power for its time, with its new dual head overhead cam engine. Its classic status has won the hearts of racers even to this day, and it maintains its place as a power-sliding hero.

Seemingly, further boosting the machine into the foray was the Japanese classic anime and manga special initial D. Starring your favourite 86 Trueno Sprinter and its driver Takumi Fujiwara. A typical high school kid from Gunma Prefecture, he used the family car as a delivery vehicle. We follow his journey through the mountain ranges of Gunma as he drifts his way to stardom.

Another classic drifter, seemingly arriving just as we say goodbye to the Trueno, was the 180SX. Entering production from 1988, this fastback was also a popular racer on the drift scene. Being reasonably lightweight, and affordable as a sports car it was an obvious choice. The later SR20 spec model is the more robust and powerful engine-model of its generation.

Another Nissan sports car which was heralded a classic in the realm of drifting was the Nissan Skyline, namely the turbo variants. Initially, the RB26 GTRs were considered monsters on the racetrack, especially as four-wheel drive machines. They packed tones of grip and the performance to boast about too.

However, it was also easy to switch them to rear wheel drive, simply with the removal of a single fuse in the earlier models. This was the fuse linked to the 4WD system. So if you removed it; this powerhouse suddenly became a rear wheel drive power-sliding monster. Thus, rendering them the perfect sideways track weapon.

Fast and the Furious – Tokyo Drift (2006)

The third instalment in the fast and furious series, but nowhere near the last, was Tokyo Drift. It hit cinemas with an entirely new story and cast. The film was actually mostly shot on location in Tokyo, paying a huge amount of homage to the home of drift. In terms of the drifting stunts, key drifting talents including Keiichi Tsuchiya were brought on for consultation. They helped execute the driving finesse we experienced in the movie.

While the movie did make some profits at the box office, it is still the lowest performing part of the franchise. In addition, its critical reception was generally poor, even if the stunts and technical driving prowess received acclaim from many critics.

Many would say the movie was also very much responsible for helping to shine the spotlight on the artistic motorsport. As it captured the essence of the underground car culture and drift Japan street racing scene. Therefore, catapulting the popularity of drifting further into stardom.

Drift Japan – Events and Tournaments

If you find yourself in the land of the rising sun, you will be pleased to hear there are a bundle of drift Japan events that run throughout the year. Tokyo and the greater Kanto region hold a number of tournaments, with many others throughout the country.

In Tokyo for example, experience the real Tokyo Drift scene at the annual event held in Odaiba. There they hold both the final of the GT D1 Grand Prix Series plus the D1 World Champions Quick 24 race.

In the outskirts of Kanto in Utsunomiya, Tochigi you can find Nikko Circuit. There they run regular drifting events for locals to join, as well as professional competitions for the more skilled drivers. It a little less than 2 hours drive outside of central Tokyo.

Tsukuba Circuit is another venue that holds regular events in Ibaraki. They also run professional drifting tournaments for skilled drivers, with the Gran Turismo D1 Grand Prix Series. Slightly closer to central Tokyo it is around 90 minutes drive from central Tokyo.

You can find events all around the country including places like Nara, Sapporo, Hiroshima, Nagoya and of course the infamous Suzuka Circuit.

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