For someone with not much drifting experience, I seem to be publishing quite a few stories on the sport. That’s not a bad thing, because I truly believe that stepping out of the comfort zone can teach a person a lot about themselves and the world they live in.
After many years of proclaiming that I was repulsed by a Japanese delicacy made from fermented soybean called natto without having actually eaten it, I decided to try the stuff and see if perhaps I had misjudged the book by its smell. Luckily for me, my instincts had been spot on and I spat the slimy snot beans out immediately. Similarly, In the past I’d always said drifting is so cool, without having actually been to an event. But again, my instincts served me well because drifting is pretty damn cool.
I’m in the right country to experience it in its rawest form of course. Drifting has been going on in Japan for 40 years, and for almost half of that time drivers have been drifting competitively at Fuji Speedway.
Drifting has helped me discover something about myself: I have a selective preference to what noises I can tolerate and for how long. For example, I can listen to the sound of engines revving all day, and can sit in stripped-out tin-can race cars listening to road noise and exhaust notes for just as long. Drift car tire squeal though? That really starts grinding on my nerves after about 20 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, watching drift cars sliding around the track is wicked. Especially when it’s a Daihatsu Mira Gino kei car.
The sight of rubber flying in the air and smoke bellowing from tires never gets old. And don’t get me started on how awesome reverse entries are.. Maybe I’ll just ask them to do it quietly next time?
Writing drift-related stories has also got me thinking about other once-illegal pastimes that have made it mainstream.
For the life of me, I can’t think of anything else other than drifting and NASCAR. I did think perhaps BASE jumping might be an illegal sport, but it turns out there are actually quite a few competitions around. It’s only the trespassing that’s the illegal part, although the actual act of jumping off a building in an urban area may be illegal in some countries.
The current Fuji Speedway drift circuit is really only a noisy playground next to what is otherwise hallowed ground. While Suzuka takes the podium as the oldest national circuit in Japan – beating Fuji Speedway by just three years – the history of Fuji is arguably more important and turbulent.
It was originally designed as a NASCAR-style speedway, but funding fell through and it was converted to a road track. That’s why you’ll find a section of the historic banked track still there today. Proving to be fatally dangerous, the track was redesigned minus some of its original corners, and that allowed international events to be held at Fuji Speedway with some success.
There was an IndyCar non-championship race held in 1966 won by the wonderful Jackie Stewart, and famously the first Japanese Formula 1 race was held at Fuji Speedway in 1976. Domestic racing continued, including drag racing on the main straight and the Japan Grand Touring Car Championship, but ultimately the track was too fast and too dangerous. After some serious accidents, the track was again remodelled.
Although Ebisu Circuit is undoubtedly the holy grail for circuit drifting in Japan, dare I say world, Fuji Speedway is no stranger to the sport. The D1 Grand Prix has held rounds here since 2003, and the smaller circuit featured in this story was built sometime around 2000. The main circuit was closed between 2003 and 2005 for major renovations and it’s pretty interesting to see how the track was transformed in that time.
Here are the 2003 and 2005 D1 rounds for those years provided by Video Option. Considering that’s almost 20 years ago, it’s pretty cool to think that most of the cars competing were just a few years old at the time.
Today these cars are all 20 or 30 years old, and have held their value unbelievably well. Sure, prices probably slumped at one point, but they’ve made drifting these modern classics a real game of Russian roulette for owners. While some of these cars are not much more than battered shells with 400hp under the hood, many are in great condition and, with a bit of work, would make very nice street cars.
Of course, the circuit was dominated by 180SXs, Silvias and AE86s. It must be noted that it was the women drivers of the day that were absolutely destroying the track in spectacular fashion. The young lady in the purple S13 impressed all with her continuous, well-balanced reverse entries which looked like some kind of rowdy automotive ballet.
The hills were certainly alive with the (obnoxious) sound of drifting on this day.
Looking at the cars drifting on this day, I could just as well have been in 2003, but I imagine there were probably twice as many cars in the pits back then. Young people in Japan have definitely fallen out of interest with cars in general these days, but as proven in these photos, there is still a loyal tribe in Japan who keep the rubber burning.