What Happened To D1GP?
Revisiting D1

One of the original highlights of my job as a photojournalist in Japan was covering the D1 Grand Prix from its initial seasons all the way through to my first years as a Speedhunter. But then I stopped. It was a combination of overseas media outlets losing interest in the format, as well as the events themselves becoming repetitive and so predictable that I lost interest too.

The questionable organization of the series didn’t help either, so I concentrated on covering other elements of Japan’s massive car culture. On the drifting side of things I quickly discovered it was far more fun to hit up grassroots events, and every once in a while I’d take a little trip back and revisit D1 and D1SL to see if anything had changed. But that was years ago, so I thought it was about time I took another look at how the pro championship that put drifting on the motorsport map has evolved.


I decided that Tsukuba would be the perfect round to attend, as it was the first pro circuit that I started fumbling around with shutter speed settings in an attempt to learn how to shoot drifters in the days before the series had even taken off. What I discovered was a very different place, an event that felt familiar but with enough change to make it all feel exciting again.


With Formula Drift in the US having really pushed the envelope in terms of what a pro drift car should be, it seems that D1GP has finally caught up. The 2018 cars are pretty serious machines.


In fact, this element alone has vastly changed what the action looks like.


Having seen this car halfway through its build late last year, it was great to finally watch it on track. It was touch and go for a while though.


That’s because Daigo’s new engine setup has called for the use of a rather tall intake plenum which forces the resulting hood bulge to surpass the 80mm limit stipulated by D1 regulations.


On the Saturday’s practice and qualifying that I attended, I caught him arguing with the officials over their initial call to not allow him to compete on the day. But whatever his angle was it must have worked as he was out with this beast ripping up Tsukuba’s tarmac.

The Corvette looks amazing in action; it’s nothing short of a wild animal that even the man himself has to sweat a bit to keep it under control. Then there’s the NASCAR soundtrack, which is a pretty fresh thing in Japan.

Familiar Faces

The driver line-up was peppered with familiar faces – drivers and personalities that brought a big buzz to the sport back in the day. There’s also plenty of new talent, guys that have fought their way up through the ranks and are now at the top of their game.


I was very happy to see Katsuhiro Ueo’s friendly face during the autograph session. Ueo is responsible for giving me one of my most memorable rides in his legendary AE86 back in the early 2000s at  Sugo, a time when handling a car’s momentum was more important than outright power. That’s no longer the case in D1, it’s all about massive horsepower figures and Ueo too pilots a crazy VR-powered machine. But I’ll talk about that in another post on my favorite cars from the Tsukuba round.


Then there’s this guy, Ken Nomura, one of those recognizable JDM personalities that would be sorely missed if he ever left the sport. It was also great to see Nomuken back in an ER34 Skyline sedan, albeit now powered by a Toyota 2JZ. Traitor! Just joking, you do what you have to do in order to compete in the power war that pro drifting has become.


Every now and then I stop by the Car Make T&E shop in Yokohama, so I knew that Ueno was back in the Z30 chassis that he started his D1 career in. He’s still got a pretty crazy Lexus RC F shell waiting to be built though, so maybe we’ll see more of that in 2019.


One car you’re about to see a lot more of is this, the Do-Luck VR-powered 86. I followed a great deal of the build late last year and finally shot the completed and setup car last week. In fact, it’s partly because of Ito-san that I ended up checking out D1 this past weekend; I really wanted to shoot this thing in action as it’s one of the most violent tire destroyers I’ve ever seen.


And with great power comes the need for lots of grip. It’s crazy to see how all the cars are running sticky semi-slicks these days; they offer the control at the limit that these cars need and the grip when they need to accelerate full power out of a corner. Forward traction is the name of the game.


Because of this the tire changers were busy throughout the day.


The intense heat of the day meant that I took a far more relaxed pace as I reacquainted myself with a series I used to call home back in the day, noting the changes, chatting to even more familiar faces and attempting to understand the very different way in which the competition is judged.

Removing The Human Element

Which brings us to the layout of Tsukuba for this round, one that put a massive grin on my face. While years back it was only the infield part of the track that was used, this time around drivers were asked to initiate at the start/finish line on the main straight, which meant having to pile on the speed as they exited the long sweeper at the end of the track. They’d then flick to the left before transitioning right at the pit wall and then lining up for Turn 1.


This three-motion drift (san-patsu) was a pleasure to watch; it takes full commitment from the drivers and is one hell of a way to start their runs. Masanori Kohashi of Team Orange didn’t hold back; his S15 runs a 6.7L stroked LS3 with a Vortech blower. Are SRs pretty much done in D1?


The link up into the first corner is visually pretty epic, the slight elevation change providing a nice backdrop of Tsukuba’s main straight.


From there on it’s pedal to the metal as the drivers unleash the power mid-corner to nail their angle before setting up for the exit. This is Pon at full chat with his 1,100hp GT-R-powered 86. Open up the picture in full-res and check out all the chunks of rubber being spat out.


Hibino’s 700hp 2JZ-swapped S2000 was, without a doubt, one of my top three favorite cars from this event. I have to say, the Honda looks far better this season than it did last year with the Gulf livery. It’s so cool to finally see new and different cars in D1.

Hibino and Kitashiba put on great shows out of Turn 1, both of their cars powered by 2JZs, the LS of Japan.


And then we get to the main judged section of the course, the infield with the S-curves connecting up to the hairpin where most of crowd were watching from.

The main difference of D1 these days is the lack of actual judges. They’ve pretty much removed the human element and replaced it with the ‘D1 Original Scoring System’, DOSS for short. It’s all based on a scoring system where the course is split up into a series of sections with each section being attributed a maximum number of points. The system relies on in-car telemetry via a Racelogic DriftBox to judge the car on things like entry speed, angle, speed of transition, and even angle smoothness. There are no clipping points anymore, which has really changed how D1 action looks.


The only human element is a marshal whose job is to deduct points for things like off-course dirt drops. Each driver is then graded and the points are instantly displayed on the digital screens.


I’m still not sure if this is the right thing for the sport, but it certainly makes sense as you are creating a fair judging platform for each driver. That said, there are other successful series out there that continue to rely on humans to make the calls, adding a more tangible element to the sport. It’s tough to say which is better; maybe a combination of the two could be a good in-between, but whatever your personal view is I have to say what I saw this past weekend is definitely a better, more exciting and fresher version of the D1 Grand Prix.

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: speedhunters_dino



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William murtie

It's nice to see the little monkey man still Burn Rubber

William murtie

But I guess he did go to the dark side with 2JZ swap in the 34

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Car wasn't performing too great on Sat have to say


I'm getting the idea that professional drifting is about taking full blown race cars and smashing on 'em. It's obvious how that happened. You did say, " ...a time when handling a car’s momentum was more important than outright power.", and I wonder if that takes away from Grassroots type events or makes them more desirable.


as for that DriftBox computer... idk. I fully agree with taking out the subjective human element, but did they convince everyone that the box can allow for drivers to not "drive to satisfy the computer"?

Dino Dalle Carbonare

The momentum thing will stay in grassroots, pro drifting is just drag cars that can slide. Good or bad, both are entertaining in their own rights. And yes you can tell drivers totally do that, it's like some have just built massively powerful cars to get high points on speed and angle and so on.


Wow...all of those old school drivers are looking.....well OLD. Which means....I'm old.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Yes they are, then again if they age everyone else ages lol


D1 is a joke. It’s not real drifting. They don’t judge line which is one of the most important parts of drifting. If you don’t have to be close to the walls and clipping points it’s not real drifting especially when it’s judged by a stupid box where you can do a couple fast transitions and score well.


They created the sport. They can do whatever they want. Why bend or play by the rules which you think are the only rules? Open up a little. No one cars what you think or how you think things should be done. And to some of the old schoolers here, yes we are all getting old.


Everybody in the rest of the world judges line and uses actual judges who can actually think and interpret situations which a box can't do. D1 didn't create drifting it started in the mountains of Japan. Japan may have started drifting but they aren't the best drifters in the world, some of them wouldn't be competitive in fd USA however on the other hand I'd love to see all of them in USA so they could prove me wrong. I respect all the original drifters from Japan without them we wouldn't have the sport and I'd love to actually meet all of them but like i said they would have to come to USA for that to happen.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

The way I see it is, this DOSS thing is good for standardizing it all out. Every drift championship out there seems to have different requirements from the judges, which in a global setting like what the FIA is trying to do just creates issues when drivers from different areas of the world meet to compete together. It's something I've seen even at the grassroots level at comps like G1-GP in Ebisu or when D1 drivers compete in FD or vice versa. DOSS simplifies things, simple as that. Is it good or bad? That's another matter


Add some bonus point area near the edges and you're in a video game (kind of reminds me of the NFS pro street as how it's judged right now).


It's the same with formula d. I followed it for two years, then it got boring and I have no idea why it still exists...same donkey show. Grassroots drifting has grown and that I find more fun to watch. Street or track

Dino Dalle Carbonare

It's important to mix it up, D1 has definitely done that although the more chilled grassroots scene is and has always been where it's at IMO

Jeremie Sunico

It's great to see the og drivers still holding it down, but at the same time there is a definite lack of next gen drivers and cars. I can't be the only one who finds it odd to see s chassis and jzx vehicles still in pro field when back in the day they pushed for development of the new cars at the time (which were those vehicles). Those cars were the highlights of my childhood when I first saw drifting. It will be nice if newer cars are developed the same way, not just GTRs and GT86s.


The problem is this was never "drifting" - your not drifting lighting up the tires with 1000hp - that's power over-steer. Drifting as a sport was always dumb - take it back to basics on a mountain course and I'll be the first one to show up.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Not sure what you mean. There are more corners than ever, countless transitions, it's more drifting than most other championships out there

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

While the DOSS system makes judging fair for solo runs like qualifying, you do have to wonder how does the system judge tandem runs, since I doubt they can "judge" the proximity factor. Using a computerized judging system would also open up the possibility for drivers to abuse the system as well.


proximity could be evaluated using parking sensors? i mean its pretty much a common sensor in the automotive market now a days, i don't see how hard it would be to adapt them to measure tandem proximity.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Yeah it's hard to say that it works well for tandems...


Seeing many of the same people as ten years ago is both heart warming and freaky. I never imagined my heroes ageing, are they even human? people like Ken Nomura seem too youthful for wrinkles, it's like if someone upped the "structure" on Instagram,

Dino Dalle Carbonare

So true, you'd hope to see more new faces but then again the organizers rely heavily on these guys as they have become personalities and they help sell their video series. There isn't a new generation of younger guys to follow, of they haven't really invested in anyone new. Weird and sad at the same time. Nomuken in 53


Thank you for your response Dino! I am still not ready to never see these guys again, I'll take old Money Man over no Monkey Man! They are undoubtedly the soul of D1GP, the pioneers of drifting from a more romantic time, they look tired yet their presence is comforting. Thank you for giving the old boys some exposure, drifting is so cold these days, I will forever have fond memories of funny fuzzy videos when I look at these guys.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

He's apparently set to retire at the end of the year but I wouldn't be surprised if he stays on to present and get up to his usual shenanigans in front of the camera


The liveries were a thing since ever but the paint work/quality has advanced a lot. Love the idea of the US (and Europe) seeking the JZ and Japan seeking the LS engines, but we must see a new rule popping up soon limiting the engine capacity/power since we are already too far.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

No way, let the evolve it, that's the fun of it, sort of unlimited in the way they are able to do engine set ups. Start adding rules and you screw things up


I've never been one for watching professional drifting because I find it boring. (Looking at you Formula Drift & British Drift Championship) but I happened upon D1GP Tsukuba circuit last weekend on Youtube and found myself glued to it all weekend. Its still ahead of the times, the drivers are still far more advanced and the cars just look better. Yes yes some Americans will claim "Forsberg this" and "Tuerck that" as typical Americans do in their "we are the best of the best 'MURICA!" fashion but in the end, how many drivers do you see in D1 hanging off the hydraulic handbrake for every single initiation and transition like in FD? None. Why? Because they are better at the sport than anyone else. The D1 cars look better. The tracks are better. Its just better. And as for British Drift Championship.......snore fest in every aspect. Wtaching the live stream of that is like watching dried paint because paint drying is actually more exciting than BDC.


... there is seriously a regulation for hood bulge height?

Dino Dalle Carbonare

That's exactly what I was asking Daigo's mechanics. A number someone just pulled out of their ass, probably attributing it to "safety" lol. Pedestrian safety? Hahaha


Question for you, Dino.

Do you think that D1GP's ageing roster is due to the drivers' unwavering loyalty to the series? Where younger and new drivers are perhaps attracted to other championships?

Seeing drifting at Tsukuba puts a huge smile on my face, and the layout for this event is particularly impressive by incorporating the front straight. I'm still left cold by the DOSS system, however. From watching videos, it's clear that drivers spend more time on trying to game the system, rather than laying down a killer run. By having no set line, twin-battles must be a disaster for the chase driver?

Still excited to see more from this event (and future ones!)

Dino Dalle Carbonare

It's a tough one to call, I've personally always had the opinion that the top seeds have enjoyed much protection over the years, it's been so tough for younger guys to come up the ranks and the costs (albeit not as high as other series) strangles most that start out. It seems to be changing now, or has been in the last years, a better balance if you will. For me though them turning away drivers like Nakamura is just plain silly. As for judging it's still evolving, there are changes planned and they are continuing to tweak the way in which it's handled so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until they nail a process that works for everyone involved.


Honestly, drifting as a competition bores me. When it's there as more of an exhibition then I get interested as for me it feels like the drivers are out there showing their artform and talent.

I never could get into competitive drift events. It doesn't seem to garnish any excitement like actual racing does. My only logical reason that I can come up with is because it requires a judge to tell you who wins.


This system looks fantastic. It removes the curse of the sport that is bad and biased judging calls.
The track looks amazing and long. Not 3 corners of the same consistent radius.
Having no set line is brilliant. Leaves a lot more freedom for different driving styles. Not every single driver trying to replicate an exact scripted run.
It's brilliant to see a chase driver challenged to chase closely whatever the lead driver comes up with. Rather than blaming a lead driver for not being perfectly to the planned line.
And the judging of proximity I presume could be done by a GPS sensor in the center of each car and the least distance between the two cars at all times the better.
Sorry I missed the livestream of this event now. This could be a drift competition to get back into..

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Tsukuba is the best for both time attack and drift haha


Competition drifting today is lame, its basically a powerskid contest lol.


We want Daigo back in FD. It would be awesome seeing Chris, Aasbo, Deane and Daigo go at it in the finals and not only them. Seeing JTP and Field improving a tone, Odi just needs a new car Piqtr beeing a beast that too is a beast on the track and others. Daigo would raise the skill ceilling even higher! Great article on D1 Dino. That S2000 is really impressive and one thing strange to me is that people dont really build Lexus cars anymorem, an RCF would surely bring a light of hope for them again.


Sry for the misspelling