Taka Aono: The Last Star Fighter

The AE86 along with the S-Chassis will always be associated with the drifting. However, as Formula Drift approaches it’s tenth year of competition, there is only one AE86 left running the full season.

This sole remaining Corolla is campaigned by Taka Aono and his wife Yoshie, with help from the Megan Racing team. I sat down with him in the pouring rain at Formula Drift Seattle practice day to understand why he is the last of the Formula D Toyota Corollas.

Larry: Thanks for sitting down with me. I just have one main question. Why are you still sticking with the AE86 when most of the other drivers have moved on to different cars?

Taka:(Thinks for a moment) I have so much experience with the Corolla and I don’t have to think too much about fixing it and working on it and that is critical because we have such a small program.

Its like, Oh we broke this? No problem… We can get spare parts very easily. Or maybe it’s just because i’m lazy (laughs)

Larry: So what about developing the car further to be more competitive?

Taka: During the Season we don’t get much time to develop the new car and because our operation is very small and we don’t have lots of money. So most of the time we end up developing the current car in the off season. Of course, that won’t change unless we have a bigger sponsor.

I still think there are many things we can do to improve the car. I know it’s easier to get sponsors with a new car, but I get so much support from fans who love the Corolla. Those are the people who are keeping me going. And I realized I’ve got so many years with this car, I have grown attached to it.

Also it’s so fun to drive, I have the opportunity to drive other cars, for me drifting itself is….. a lot of people talk about commitment, especially at Evergreen Speedway, you go 4th gear and clutch kick into it. Those kinds of things excite me. So if I am going to drift at all it has to be exciting.

When I jump in any long wheelbase car like the S-chassis for example, for sure it is much easier to drive. It’s also boring.

Larry: So that is why you drive your Corolla balls to the walls and you drive ten tenths all the time? Never lift, right?

Taka: Yeah, back then yes it was always full throttle.

Nowadays we have too much power, and I have to lift to avoid hitting the rev limiter. But for sure, I always wanna go as fast as possible.

Alex Pfeiffer and I have been friends for a long time and we always talk about competition. Even at grip events, if you are not scared you are not going fast enough. If you are comfortable in the car, you are not fast enough.

So the drivers that are competing in Formula Drift now….. How do I put this…..four or five years ago is when the drivers started to change. They all were pushing it before and now you have to drive 80 percent to win. One mistake and you get knocked out.

I have to consider driving like that now especially with more power, I have to adjust my mentally. I have a bad mentally ingrained in me that the Corolla is slow and that with close to 600 hp to the wheels my Corolla is not that slow, especially considering it is one of the lightest cars on the grid.

In Florida I was overshooting the course. I know everyone can dive into the outer wall on the Palm Beach course. I know everyone is capable of a 63 to 65 mph entry, but they were all driving at around 57mph to keep their runs consistent.

I know to win you have to tune down your driving. But, for me……I was watching people drive like that and it made me sad. I was thinking “wow, we have come to this level in Formula Drift where we all have to tone down our driving in order to do well”

You know that whole keep drifting fun movement? Well I understand that winning is fun but driving aggressively is just as fun.

Larry: Back to what you were saying about developing the car. The AE86 has been around so long! Don’t you think all the parts that can be made for the car have already been made? You really think there is still room to develop that car?

Taka: Yes, it’s because drifting is a relatively new motorsport, if we can even call it a motorsport. A few years ago removing the sway bar was a widely accepted method to make the cars easier to drive. But now people are putting them back because they are developing new setups that require a sway bar.

And who would have thought a car sitting like this (shows me his hand at a slant) front up and rear down would do well in drifting at all, but now it is widely accepted.

And there are a whole bunch of new parts being developed for the S13 and S14 chassis and those cars are old too. I see new knuckles coming out. The major limitation to the AE86 chassis is the Formula Drift regulations. But then again they are there to even the playing field.

I mean, look at Dmac’s AE86 in Europe. That car is fast…

Larry: I know it is amazing. When I was following it in the Gatebil chase car we could not keep up at all.

Taka: He can do whatever he wants to the rear suspension and he can gain more grip.

Larry: Dmac said he is going to try to fit 295 size tires in the rear.

Taka: You have to! If there was no tire to weight rule in Formula Drift I would go a lot wider too.

Larry: You’ve never missed a Formula Drift event have you?

Taka: I was close to missing an event this year in Atlanta. I started practice and we dropped a valve so we could not run the main day but I was still there.

Larry: So you’ve never technically missed one?

Taka: Not yet.

Larry: Where did this dedication come from? Is it just because you love the sport of drifting? You nearly missed one event last year due to your broken leg from hitting the wall at this very track (Evergreen Speedway).

Taka: One reason is because I love the sport, I’ve been with FD since the beginning and I’ve seen it change. The drivers are evolving every single event. I don’t want to miss any of it.

But the biggest reason is the travelling, and the out of state events. I’ve met so many people all over the place and I’ve met so many fans. They all want to see a Corolla run in Formula Drift. Those people send me emails telling me how much they can’t wait to see me run and I don’t want to disappoint them.

Larry: Do you think you want to compete in any other kind of racing? I know you and Yoshie are SCCA Solo2 National Champions.

Taka: Yeah, we were doing auto-cross very seriously before.

Larry: I am so jealous of your national and regional championships, I tried competing, but I never really had the time to get into it.

Taka: Yeah, that National championship took me eight years to earn. But Yoshie did it only in two years and she has two of them. We were actually going to do SCCA club racing after that and go road racing.

Around that time my friend Moto was running the Ikatan drift competitions that were held in parking lots and he asked me to setup the course and develop drivers. I never liked drifting and it felt slow to me. I was more of a speed freak.

Then at the same time Alex Pfeiffer was a great grip driver but he drifted his car and I watched him. It looked so much fun so it got me a little bit interested.

Then one time there was an event in the Irwindale Speedway parking lot and they didn’t have enough drivers. So they asked me to drive. I and drove and made top 8, but that day I saw Ken Nomura drive the Signal S15, and I was like holy…. It was totally different than what I’ve seen before. I mean he aimed towards the wall and flicked it and grazed the wall and looked back in his rear-view mirror to see where he had hit.

(When Taka is not driving he is a full time chiropractor. Just moments before this interview someone came by with a neck problem. He had little movement, but after a few minutes with Taka his neck was able to move once again.)

I was like DAYYYYYYM. After that I was heavily involved on the organizational side of the drifting world on the west coast. A big turning point was Falken show off, where I met Vaughn Gittin and many other Formula Drift drivers.

Larry: So do you think you would drive the new 86 given the chance?

Taka: Ahhh….if I had a chance, yes. But most likely not. I am old, so I’m going to stick with the old Chassis. I’ve already driven one, and I was really impressed. I had a chance to talk to Mr. Tada, the chief engineer for the FR-S, and I was asking so many technical questions like what was the caster etc… He just told me they spent quite a bit of time to make the car fun to drive, especially the steering feel, because it has electric power steering. They made sure it had good feedback and it was not too light.

When I drove the new 86, it felt like an AE86, because with the 17 inch wheels it did not feel like it had much power (chuckles). But as for the steering feel, it was top notch. There is only one drive by wire car that I like and that is the Honda S2000.

Larry: So now for the hard question. Do you think you have a chance to win a Formula Drift event with your current competition car?

Taka: I think we have the right combination. At least I think it’s getting there…..I think that car still has a chance.

We didn’t expect that much speed out of that car. Because we have plenty of power but the tires are so skinny. That is all we have been thinking about, tire size this tire size that. When, we try out different sizes it helps a lot, and the fact that it is so light is no joke.

We have not had a chance to develop the suspension on that car. All the events this year we have been fixing the car. Mostly minor issues and then major issues like the one we had yesterday. (blown head gasket)

So when we get decent seat time and when we start working on the suspension I think I will surprise people.

Taka: You know, I should say… the car is there, but I need to drive better…. I gotta catch up with the power. I need to be the big man, or I gotta get bigger balls or whatever…

Larry: Thanks Taka

Taka: No Problem.

More retrospective stories on Speedhunters

More stories from Larry Chen on Speedhunters

Taka and Larry

larry@dev.speedhunters.com


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39 comments
Atlantian866
Atlantian866

Him talking about the need to cut back the driving to win reminds me of how David Coulthard said his time in F1 was competitive but he wasn't consistent as other drivers who went on to become champions.

Taka is pretty much the David Coulthard of Formula Drift, and I don't mean that as a dig at him, haha.

Spaztastik
Spaztastik

Awesome interview with Taka. It completely matches my impression of him from the coupla times we have met when he showed up to Vegas Drift events. He is a pro drifter that fully appreciates true grassroots drifting..... He doesnt always win but he has enough heart to inspire others (like me) to go out and f@ck up our cars and have fun. One of the very few soul drifters left at the pro level. We need more Takas!

AE86 Racer
AE86 Racer

Taka is a great driver; better than most of us.  I know him personally and have raced with him during his autox days at Hollywood Park.  However, I think he really needs to reconsider his drifting career.  At the beginning, his main excuse was because he had no power.  I don't think that is the case anymore because he is making a lot of power.  In fact, making much more power than most D1 86 drivers back in 2003 and, even now.  Most of those drivers can easily out-compete Taka, such as Ueo.  I understand that Taka has been drifting for a long time and even taught many who are now podium finishers.  Many people would credit him for "staying real" by sticking to a 4-cylinder AE86.  However, the bottom line is, he is not competitive, and therefore, have lost big sponsors and have invested countless of his own time and own money.  It's cool that he is keeping it real and maybe, doing it for fun.  Nevertheless, I think there is a point when the "fun" takes over your whole life.  From the time I met him to now, he has aged so much, looks a bit haggard and doesn't have his day job as a chiropractor.  Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but what I do know are the facts and stats....he has crashed several times, lost several sponsors and has not come close to finishing top 3.  Excuses like, "it's because he is keeping it real with the 86 and 4-cylinder" is a poor excuse.  If you want to be competitive in a sport that doesn't have any categories/class, you will do what ever it takes to win...and the way I see it, that's what many have done.  Again, this is by no means attacking Taka personally, but just an observation.  

WesOngchampOng
WesOngchampOng

Internet applause. This is the closest i've ever been to shedding a tear while reading SpeedHunters. Bravo Larry, Bravo Taka! 

KE20
KE20

Glad to see this guy has the right attitude that seems to be lost in the US

I hope he sticks with the 86 and shows all the LS swapped cars and V8's how its done right

BCuison
BCuison

Taka is an inspiration and very friendly. Been a fan of his since the old Club4AG DVD. I also ran into him while testing at Balcony and he gave me some great advice and then talked to one of my buddies who was interested in drifting for the better half of the day and traded numbers. I'm a fan for life.

FPSeth
FPSeth

Great interview- Love it!

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

Taka is one of the most down to earth guys around. Wish him nothing but luck, it will be a very sad day when his 86 isn't on the grid.

ClaytonPayton
ClaytonPayton

nice write up. I had no idea formula D had a tire to weight ratio. takas always been one of my favorites. keep it up!!

jmcn R
jmcn R

Big up Taka, been watching him drive the hell out of that 86 from the beginning. Forget about the FD powers and their poor judging and special interest rules, just keep doing what your doing and you will have fans man. Thanks to SH for giving him some airtime.

TRDAE86
TRDAE86

Hell yeah for Taka! Both him and Yoshie gave me a few tips on how to slide my old corolla.. worked like magic! 

yanesnyawai
yanesnyawai

I'm happy that he's a Cyropracter and involved in other races (SCCA). Not to forget that it's a family business too. Those acts can keep the car running. We all know drifting ain't cheap. Very happy that Taka himself said he'll stick to the AE86 and I have much more respect. Go Taka!

AlexanderEvensen
AlexanderEvensen

A very nice feature. He's got a new fan here at least :D Love to see those old cars drift.I think this excerpt says a lot: "four or five years ago is when the drivers started to change. They all were pushing it before and now you have to drive 80 percent to win. One mistake and you get knocked out."There should be a limit to how much horsepower cars can have IMO, take it back to be more about the skill of the driver than the car. Isn't that what the new series, Drift Muscle, is about?

mark666
mark666

Really great interview. Enjoyed reading that a lot. Good job Larry.

Mez
Mez

Taka Aono - True 86Lyf connoisseur with you're mentality. Much love!

Luka024
Luka024

I remember when people wondered why drifting wasn't huge here and lamented the fact that there were only a few grassroots events. Now that it has caught on and the big corporations have stepped in and started throwing money at it, everyone is upset about that. It happens with everything that becomes mainstream. No real way around it. There are still grassroots events. And the big money develops the parts for the grassroots guys to buy instead of having to try to come up with solutions or parts on their own. I guess the only real solution is to come up with classes. Go the way of GT and have a 300 and 500 class. That way you need more drivers and with a 300hp cap you can start to give some of the smaller guys a chance.

 

AB
AB

Interesting read, but shocking amount of typos or grammatical errors. For a site as big as Speedhunters, you'd think they could sub an article properly before publication...

 

Fearedisx
Fearedisx

I never really payed much attention to Taka, to be honest, but I really like what he said; How the amount of power is ruining the sport. I've alwats thought that, but it's nice to see someone else agrees, too.

delbs111
delbs111

have a lot of respect for taka right now...great article

Porthos1984
Porthos1984

Do you have more pictures of the S14 in the 1st picture?

PatrickJakobsen
PatrickJakobsen

i think i love you taka, and i'm not even gay.

 

oh and on that note, does anybody remember the old desktops of this car without the huge spoiler?

I was looking for them a while ago, but couldn't find them

andrewhake
andrewhake

Always rooting for Taka. So sick of all the Nascar Cup Car drifting.

zackspeed333
zackspeed333

Its really great to see Taka stick with the AE86 chassis. I feel like something needs to be done to curtell the V8 takeover. I know its cheaper to run and build but takes away from what drift is all about. Also at the same time Taka made a valid point on how everyone has to hold back to do well and it seems to hurt the sport quite a bit. We don't see the epic battles like we used to and that's kinda sad. The comment he made about lack of freedom to play with tire size and suspension seems kinda lame. I have seen allot of the cars up close and seems to me some are allowed to get away with stuff and others are not. Maybe instead of a tire to power rule it should rather be a weight to torque rule. Or maybe a power to weight rule putting all cars on an even playing field. Would also be nice to see longer more technical courses. Take them down Taka!

Larry Chen
Larry Chen

I don't think it is a waste of time or 'life' if you have fun doing it and if it is your passion. Just because you want to do something it does not mean you have to be the very best. I can related to him because for many many years I pursed photography and poured my own money into it just to go to the events. I didn't get paid or anything. People thought it was a waste of time. Especially since my photos were terrible, but you know what? I had fun doing it and I would be doing the same thing if things never took off.

 

A life is not worth living if you don't have passion for something. As Taka said, Winning is not everything. Having sponsors is not everything either.

Larry Chen
Larry Chen

 @AlexanderEvensen But I think that is what attracts people to drifting. The fact that you can use any motor from any car. As long as it fits. Which means there is a limitless power potential.

Jrunk
Jrunk

I have to agree with AB.  10 minutes fixing the typos would make the article 100x times better.  Its just so unprofessional to have so many silly typos.  Cyropracter? is not even close to chiropractor.

 

Anyway, pictures and articles are otherwise top notch.

yanesnyawai
yanesnyawai

@AB Chill. You know it's an error right? So I guess you understand the meaning. So chill bro..

Jochem
Jochem

@AB So you're reading this article and that is the only thing you notice? This article is about the sport of drifting, not about spelling

MatsNorway
MatsNorway

 @Dekro Power does not ruin it. Big tracks do. I want to see both, small tight track for Taka and others with smaller cars to do well at and bigger sweeper tracks for the big cars.

AE86 Racer
AE86 Racer

 @Larry Chen I agree, it's all about fun.  However, I don't think Taka is doing it primarily for fun, especially when he stays up overnight pulling off the head or replacing the transmission between practice and qualifying. Knowing how competitive Taka is, he is doing it to compete and, ultimately, win.  If I was a sponsor and I hear my driver say winning is not everything in a competition, I would be very worried.  In terms of sponsorship, unless you have an unlimited amount of money, which I know Taka doesn't have, sponsors are the ones who will make it possible to compete.  They don't just pick drivers who doesn't even make it to Top 8 and crashes all the time, despite how much experience he has,  I respect Taka and love the AE86, but when I see him and car repeatedly not qualifying or not getting close to a podium finish, it is a bit disheartening, especially knowing that he is one of the hardest working guys in the industry.

AlexanderEvensen
AlexanderEvensen

 @Larry Chen Two classes then :P Unlimited, and Expert or Pro, just so both are top classes, but with different ideas behind them.

super_mut
super_mut

Ok, so I'm not the only one who see's all the typos.  This is a consistent issue I have been seeing on a lot of SpeedHunters articles.  Come on guys, F7 will fix all your problems. 

 

Content is always very good though :)

jmcn R
jmcn R

@ Racer, to address the first part of your latter response...I believe  passion can accurately describe what you have possibly misinterpreted.    To be honest, most persons who posses and can found their own thoughts end up being passionate about something in life. Not to be confused with the the "in crowds" of their times following the leader and LSx'ing, rusting, steelies(ing?), bike roof racking and hellafailing. 

Larry Chen
Larry Chen

 @AlexanderEvensen I see what you mean. I think it may be an option once the FD field gets a consistent 70 cars. Who knows.

AlexanderEvensen
AlexanderEvensen

 @Larry Chen But my idea was that both would be top classes, but I guess it's hard to get people to think of both as equal, just with different philosophies behind them.

Larry Chen
Larry Chen

 @AlexanderEvensen That already exists in the drifting world. It's just that there are too many guys who go "pro" to soon. Many of them are just not ready to compete against the big dogs. There are plenty of pro-am series out there that need great drivers.

 

I think in every motorsport there will be the big name guys and the little guys.


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