FD Japan: The Right Formula
Formula D

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?

Epic Fans

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…

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto

Cutting Room Floor


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Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

Great stuff Larry, always a good read and pics.
1 question, do you think that D1GP will ever get back to its hey day of the mid 2000's?
I (and a lot of others) do think that the pinnacle of the sport is FD, but it lacks the soul and sheer fun of D1GP.
What does everyone else think?


I hate drifting, but I have to say having grown up watching the grass roots of drifting in Japan on VHS videos I really do enjoy the early D1GP days of the sport. For whatever reason now, mainly because I think it's just become way too serious, I don't enjoy it anymore.

The Japanese scene to me I still enjoy watching, it's the commercialization of it that puts me off. As odd as this may sound, I don't find taking it serious to the point that it is now is enjoyable.

Watching Tsuchiya yell like a crazy person and everyone laughing during the events at Ebisu was really fun, now it's marketed in this way where it's trying too hard to be badass and has a whole "take me serious" vibe. Japan will always be the mecca for this sport and it's true entertainment value will always lie in the mountains, not on some big shot circuit like Formula D with sponsors and cameras.


Chris 'Haffy' Hafner agreed. No Daijiro and Tsuchiya means D1GP of old wont ever be the same in my opinion. FD is fun/awesome but there is that soul missing like you said. I honestly think it's because of all the rules in place and the epic long wait times. Back in the early d1gp days, things were more nuts and fun. 2 or 3 one more times were common and it wouldn't take forever to see some fun.


but great photos Larry, it's cool to see the series going back to where it came from. Unfortunately I think a lot of the flavor has been lost now.


Chris 'Haffy' Hafner I completely agree with you, voiced my opinion above, but yes. The sport back then was fun, it's all just too serious now. Once drifting took on its modern image I lost all interest.


Agree with all the above comments. I personally will like to see more control over engines rules. I would like to see a rule that bands the use of a engine that is not made by the same manufacture of the car is going to be use. Ending the american V8 swap pandemia that has plague drifting. Its no fun to see a Scion wins with a ford or chevy V8. It just kills the fun of you owning that car and feel exited about it.


I wonder how this event was for spectators. I watched the stream, which was great though it took forever. One thing I'd like to see less of in the USA version is the commercials. How many times does FD need to show that Ford Mustang commercial both live and on the stream? Maybe try being creative over displaying the same things over and over while making people wait.
Couple more things:
1. Daigo, fix your damn cars!
2. Someone bring Kawabata to the USA.
3. RE-Amemiya Forever


mindbogglingly phenomenal pictures.


EdoSNTRL FD Japan is still in its infancy. There were plenty of "Lost In Translation" moments at the event, which of course caused much of the delay. You have to remember that FD has been around for 12 years in the USA. The Japan crew still has quite a bit to learn, but they are getting there quickly.


EliThanos Isn't that what makes drifting fun? If you have been paying attention, many of the podiums have been getting dominated more and more by turbo cars.

I agree that at one point there were too many V8s, but check out some of the motors that they guys are running now: http://www.speedhunters.com/2015/05/horsepower-wars-the-engine-bays-of-formula-drift-2015/


@Chris H haha, I see where you are coming from. Thanks for the kind words anyways.


I am aware on the current engines the teams are using and there is a bit of variety but the favorites still are a 2JZ or GM Block they are great engines no doubt.. But I still think is not that fun...not anymore in my humble opinion. When I see a Volkswagen Passat for example with a GM engine it is tragic and begs the question.... why? I mean I work in the racing engineering business so I perfectly know why. But to me Its like saying that Volkswagen that owns: Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, and overseas-brands SEAT and Skoda doesn't make or have a decent power plant like a V8 or a V6 or 4 or 5 cylinder to be use. So they have to use one from another brand a GM seriously? They want a V8 in a Passat swap one from a Touareg and develop that engine.
Drift use to be fun cause as a car enthusiast or owner of the same make and model as the drift cars you where able to relate with them...in the sense that you can actually buy and get the same parts they where using and copy them the cars where Real... Now days you barely can do it anymore, the cars are getting fake in a sense with all the one off parts and one off fabrication and the swaps.. I don't know if you get what I am trying to say.?! I mean obviously if you had money is not and issue. But it was more possible I guess is what im trying to say to the mere mortals to imitate they're favorite drift cars.
I just think It will be more Fun and will open the aftermarket parts and development if they make a rule that allow them to only use engines of the same manufacture of there cars they will use. I wan to see diversity and not a sport that without a big million dollar sponsor behind you will be impossible to a normal driver to compete and the same engines every year is boring.
I personally applaud Rockstar Energy/Hankook Tire Scion tC  for using Toyota 2AR-FE (2.7L) and guys like Mad Mikke and the others that has stick with Rotarys cause that is being different.
I hope I have explain myself In what Im trying to say.


In all honesty i have begun to bore of speedhunters coverage of drifting events, you've lost your reporting and just become a photo blog, i understand that you are just that... a blog but still gone are the days of an event write up with a decent run down of what happened and who placed where, drama, fun. i guess you are trying to push to watching the stream and  physically going to the events but for those who just dont have the time its a bit sad that we cant even get a decent write up anymore. I check your site almost every day i know what im saying. im sorry to annoy anyone but this is my opinion and i crave a good read on drifting events. i used to come here for that; now i feel dissapointed before your homepage even loads


@Upset Sorry you feel that way, but we try our best to stray away from traditional round by round motorsport coverage. It gets a bit dull after awhile, and I hate sounding like a broken record about who one this or who battled whom. The stream is really the best way to watch each battle in detail.


Larry Chen that is appreciated the behind the scenes view i guess i just miss a bit more of a report. kudos to sticking to your guns though


Hey Larry Chen! Great read and photos man! Do you have more pics of that blue FD front or going sideways? Would love to see more of it!


The Japaneese seems so humble and dedicated.
Thanks for another great article.
And happy birthday Larry Chen


"...but now it’s a normal thing for teams to go back and fourth."
Sorry can't help myself. 
great article.

Analogue Blacksheep

Formula Drift speaking to the FIA?
FIA world championship no. 5 perhaps?
Looking forward to it!


Holy cow Larry....that picture of Suenaga chasing Yokoi through the hairpin looks like it should be on the cover of a Video Option circa 2005! Staggeringly good shot, the flying rubber, the action, Suenaga's lifted tire....Absolutely perfect for an action drift shot. Keep on turning in these winners man!


Ive always thought that D1GP takes more of the technique of the driver/car combination (hence less hp required) in consideration, Formula D feels more like the most angle and smoke wins? An american take on the, dare i say, more pure D1GP so to speak?


Chris 'Haffy' Hafner The genie cannot go back in the bottle. And D1GP may have been fun for some of the drivers then, but for many it was painful...ask Ryuji Miki and Tanaka from Team Orange. I remember half the field sliding off track in the top 16s. D1GP was having old drivers drop out left and right over crooked calls and obvious sponsor favoritism. Don't you remember why Tsuchiya and GoGo left in disgust? 
The old,  fun scene you want is still out there, you just have to find and/or create it. It's called the underground for a reason. Don't read a professional event just to say, "I want the less covered stuff". Because its less covered! Don't forget car parts and mods...they were great in the past, and many things were learned and have evolved since then. Why would you rewind the clock to make it harder, unless you wanted to lose? These are professionals!


@Upset Larry Chen I agree with you, and though I see Larry's point, it seems like sites that cover drifting are trying so hard not to do a traditional report, that there is now none whatsoever.....making the more unique I hope? :)


Really enjoyed this article. Drifting is along overdue a properly global championship.


One of my favourite articles in a while, loved every shot and every word.

It never ceases to amaze me how well your photography skills travel Larry. To say you were shooting an unfamiliar competition in unfamiliar territory there's some amazing shots in there, you're a true Pro! 

I have to ask how you got this picture, the car seems to be coming almost right at you, but you had a low enough shutter speed to get the movement of the wheels in there? I'm still learning the ropes on panning shots, but I really like the challenge to get it just right and keep it interesting, and you've nailed it! http://www.speedhunters.com/2015/07/formula-drift-japan/#_presentation-251838

I agree on someone running a Lancer in FD USA, but with that model no longer in production, a more realistic goal might be to get a Subaru in there. Surely Subaru USA would love to get some advertisement in the market segment FD represents, and with the USA being one of their big growth markets it makes sense. Also, on a personal level, it would look epic with the new saloon fully sideways against some american muscle!


Kawabta only took about a year to get that R35 dialed in! GREDDY definitely needs to bring him in the USA!

D1SL is where its at right now!


All have been Nicely taken!! That Mr. International FR-S is breathtakingly beautiful (y)


charles' pairing with the team orange evo made it look like they were destined to be each other with the color scheme lol.  nice pics larry!


Would you rather see less makes, like cars that would be able to run a 2jz or ls according to your rules, or more makes and models using similar engines? I personally prefer the later.


Not to mention that a 2jz or ls v8 are cheaper than most other engines. In a sport like drifting where sponsorship money and over all winnings isn't that great any way to save obey is a good thing. It's what's keeping drifting going right now.


Larry Chen Yep, all taken into account. I've been going to FD NJ since year one LOL! I'm dating myself here haha. Anyways, yea I mean it happens in the US too. Long wait times might just be unavoidable with pro-drifting. It would be nice to see something more entertaining than the same commercials over and over while we (the spectators) wait. Although we're all hanging out, I think the FD folks need to remember that people paid good money to get into the event and have a good time, not have ads in their face all day. Vaughn Gittin "throwing his car into a turn at 100mph" ads get old and annoying really fast!
Love the shots too BTW :)


D1RGE Agreed! I'd love to read about what actually happened. Shots of cars drifting are always awesome but for folks that can't stay up to 3am watching a stream, a full report would help fill in the blanks.


I just wanna see teams tinkering with other engines of the same brand of the car being use. Nissans using nissan engines, VW using VW and so On. That's all.


EliThanos The only way to compete in the "Manufactures Championship" it to pilot a vehicle that has an engine from the same manufacture. For example Mats Baribeau running a JZX100 with a 2JZ or Aasbo running a 2ARFE in his Scion. I feel that the more the manufacturers of vehicles get on board with FD, the more we will see when it comes to engine variety. 

That being said, LS power plants are so prevalent in FD due to them being inexpensive to make gobs of HP and torque. That makes them a no-brainer for some of the lower budget teams. The development work has already been done which keeps cost down.


EdoSNTRL D1RGE Larry Chen @Upset 
I'm cool with how Larry Chen does it now. Plenty of places provide updates and coverage. It's cool to see events through the perspective of someone like Larry. 
Keep up the good work!


Larry Chen! The Absolute Photo Beast! :D

Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

I think I speak for everyone and say that FD has gone the way of F1, massive sponsor deals, at the time thinking about the dollars raised. Its a shame that D1 did the same but yeah it forgot it's way and it'll probably never return to those days.


There is something different with this feature; I could almost feel the heart you put into shooting this Larry. The usual skill is there, but the level of passion is amped.


Nice light Mr. Chen!   :)


Any plans for a feature on US Yokoi's car?


Make sure you guys check out the shots in presentation mode!


@researchisyourfriend Haha, I guess I just felt it. I was amped to be a Fuji again for sure.


Robo_No1 Which photo? The link does not work.


davidfryklind The D1 drivers are the ones who changed the game with big power. No car had over 1000hp till Daigo Saito came around. Now look at Kawabata's car! 1200hp!


@Analogue Blacksheep We can only hope!


EdoSNTRL I see what you mean. On a side note, Jersey is really my favorite North America track. So raw.


Chris 'Haffy' Hafner I wish FD has gone the way of F1. It's still tough for even the top drivers to secure sponsors year after year. That is just the reality of a young motorsport.


Lensburn Larry Chen Robo_No1 ^^ that's the one!


Although lately it is quite uncommon to see old true japanese sportscars in the FD it is nice to have them back for a change. In my mind i cant have such a show without them


whenever theres picture about evo,skyline,silvias sure u got a bit of an info bout the car u shot, but when it comes to hyundai..aaa..nope,nothing..only about the driver, u people got something against korean car or what?notice that since long time ago


FormulaDrift Driftfotos what car is this ? :D


Hyundai just sucks so hard it doesnt even deserve a mention. Slavery plagues their factory in Korea, and workers do it for just about enough to eat and drink.


Robo_No1 Lensburn Well two things were going on here. Even though I was shooting wide open at 400mm f/2.8, there was not much light which slows down the shutter significantly, plus that section of the course was very high speed, so naturally the wheels and background get more blurred out.


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