Tsukuba Circuit. The modest race track located in the countryside of Ibaraki Perfecture outside of Tokyo is a place of legend. All across the world Tsukuba is known as the proving ground for Japan’s tuners and as the birthplace of Time Attack. Besides all of the history that’s been made at the track, Tsukuba has also been virtually lapped millions of times in the numerous video games its been featured in.
While the main Tsukuba 2000 meter course is used primarily for track days, club races, and time attack meetings like Battle Evome , on rare occasions it also becomes a drift course. Tsukuba doesn’t host nearly as many drift events as nearby Nikko or Mobara Circuits, but when it does it’s usually something very special.
This past Sunday, the MSC Series held it’s national championship event at Tsukuba, inviting the best amateur drivers from across Japan to do battle at the famous circuit. I first witnessed an MSC drift myself event back in 2006, and ever since I’ve been hooked. When I read that MSC would be holding it’s championship event at Tsukuba Circuit the weekend after Tokyo Auto Salon, I was ecstatic.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot MSC events on a few different occasions. It’s been quite a while since I last attended one, but in my eye they are still the place to see Japanese grassroots drifting at its very best. The cars, the drivers, the style – it’s just fantastic to experience.
Even though I’ve been to Tsukuba Circuit dozens of times, I still get goosebumps each time I emerge from the tunnel beneath the first corner and the paddock appears before me. Coming up the ramp and seeing the pits packed full of drift cars on Sunday morning put a huge smile on my face.
It was a typical winter day in Japan – a bit cold, but sunny and dry. While most of the snow from last week’s big storm had been melted or cleared away, these guys were able to make an optimum viewing spot out of this pile. Clever.
There’s always a certain sense of nostalgia that comes with drifting at Tsukuba. Watching cars drift the course brings to mind images of BM Hai competitions and D1GP events from the “good old days”.
There were plenty of moments on Sunday when I felt like I had been transported back to the late 1990s or early 2000s – a time when so many of us fell in love with Japanese drifting for the first time.
Now any MSC event is guaranteed to deliver plenty of cool cars and great driving, but with this being the national championship everything was amplified.
Over the course of 2012, MSC hosted drift competitions at circuits all across Japan, with the top ranking drivers and teams from the season invited to come to Tsukuba for the championship.
While many of the drivers (especially those from the more distant parts of Japan) were unfamiliar with the course, they wasted no time in getting aggressive out there. A true testament to their skill level.
Being a national championship, this also presented to the opportunity to see drift cars from all corners of Japan. I’ll cover this end of things a bit more in the next post.
As I mentioned a moment ago, there aren’t a whole lot drift events held at Tsukuba Circuit, so most drivers jump at the opportunity to put their skills to the test on the “big” Tsukuba course.
For drift events, it’s the center portion of the track that becomes the stage – with the judged section beginning just after the first corner and continuing through the infield to the Dunlop Bridge. The rhythm of Tsukuba as a drift course is a joy for both drivers and spectators…
It begins with the esses, a high speed section where the drivers pull off some rather dramatic angle before they rotate their machines and enter the into the tight corner where the judges and the crowd sit.
Some ride this corner high, while others dip down and drag their front tires over the rumble strips and occasionally into the dirt.
From there, it’s on the accelerator (and occasionally into the dirt) as the they approach the Dunlop Corner.
Finally, it’s under the bridge the with the throttle buried to complete the run…
While you expect and event like this to be dominated by Silvias and 180s,, I was pleasantly surprised to see that several of the top-ranked drivers were piloting AE86s.
And on the subject of Corollas, Sakai-san from MotorFIX made the trip to Tsukuba with his 1UZFE-powered KE70.
I’ve seen the videos of this thing online, but nothing could prepare me for the sight and sound of this battered little Corolla and its V8 in action. It was without a doubt one of the coolest and most unique cars competing.
At MSC events, the competitors are divided into classes, with the higher level “Expert” and “Super” classes being represented at the Tsukuba championship. In the Expert Class the drivers are judged on solo runs, with Toshihiro Maehara from Team WEST in Wakayama taking the top spot in his S15. Just look at the angle he was pulling through the transition!
The AE86 is a very capable drift car in the right hands, with three of the top six drivers in the Expert Class all driving 86s. Takanori Kaneko from Team Mouse finished second in his screaming Trueno.
In the top dog Super Class, the battles are decided by classic tsuiso matches. The fights here were close, with many battles needing re-runs before the judges were able to declare a winner.
In the end it was Saitama’s Hideyuki Fujino who emerged victorious in his GP Sports equipped 180SX after a hard match with Seimi Tanaka in his D-MAX One-via.
In between the regular MSC competition, D1GP drivers Takahashi and Tokita rolled out in their big sedans to burn up some Goodyears for the crowd.
But of all the fun that comes with an MSC event, I think the highlight is the Triple Class, where three-car teams compete against each other in a show of precision and sometimes chaotic group drifting. This the realm of teams like the legendary Abou Moon and their notorious shakotan R32 sedans.
But on this day, it was clear that one team was running closer together and more uniform than anyone else – Team Attraction and their trio of red S14s.
There’s just something about seeing three nearly identical cars drifting together in perfect unison. These Silvias may be simple in spec, in my eye this stuff is just as fun to watch as any professional drift match.
There can be times when it seems like drifting is evolving too fast to keep up with. While I have enjoyed watching the sport progress and grow, I also take a lot of comfort knowing that the roots of the sport are alive and well through the efforts of organizations like MSC.
Long live the spirit of drifting.
More from MSC tomorrow.