It’s a new season of Motorsport here in Japan. The last icicles are melting and the cherry blossom trees are blooming which means Summer is just around the corner! What better way to start off a new season of Motorsport than with the Formula Drift Japan series.

What started in America has now moved to Japan. The best of the best take it to the track in this five round series that takes place all over Japan’s main island, Honshu. Each round will be the usual individually run qualifying followed by battles to crown the victor.

Round one of the series takes us to Suzuka Twin Circuit in Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture. The track has four sections and four clipping points. Two on the outside during the entry, and two inside clips in sections three and four.

The points system for FD Japan is split into three sections: initiation, fluidity, and commitment. Initiation is how well the car goes from driving straight into drifting and hitting clipping point one. The judges ask the drivers to keep the car steady, full throttle, and smooth – that’s fluidity. Lastly, the judges wanted to see 100% committed drivers, I think that speaks for itself.

With a three-day schedule set up for all drivers there was plenty of time for rubber to be burnt. Friday was open testing and practice, with Saturday occupied with qualifying and Sunday held for the battles tournament.

As the track opened on Saturday morning everyone was eager to get out there and put in as many laps as possible before qualifying later that afternoon. Cars from all over Japan, and even some foreign drivers coming from around the globe, flew in to try their luck for the top spot on the podium.

It was hopefully going to be sunshine for the weekend ahead. The track was hot and cars were heading out for their first runs of the day. The Japanese drivers were absolutely killing it! Lock to lock, hitting every clipping point every time.

I was starting to think that the judges were going to have a very tough time picking winners. I think this particular photo mimics the typical D1GP and Japanese photographer’s style very well. Tight crop, lots of smoke. Maybe next time I need to add some angle to the shot.

A few battles were had closer towards lunch time. With each battle the drivers closed the gap between the lead car and chase car. It was good entertainment just before lunch, spectators also had viewing points which made the whole track visible to them.

A few battles were had closer towards lunch time. With each battle the drivers closed the gap between the lead car and chase car. It was good entertainment just before lunch, spectators also had viewing points which made the whole track visible to them.

As soon as lunch hit, an abnormally fierce storm swept past Suzuka Twin Circuit. This turned a scorching hot track into a surface that not even a polar bear could stand up on. Two days of dry practice, leading into a wet track for qualifying wasn’t ideal for teams and their drivers.

Spin after spin, into the first corner. The first 5 or so cars couldn’t hold their angle and the rear came through. However, the sun was starting to shine and the track was heating up for everybody’s second qualifying run.

Qualifying saw Andrew Gray in his JZX100 take the 3rd spot with 89 points. In second place was Masashi Yokoi driving the beautiful D-Max S15. Lastly taking the top spot for qualifying was Kazuya Taguchi in the yellow Up Garage S15.

Only thirty drivers banked points during qualifying, so only thirty drivers would compete in Sunday’s battle tournament. Both Taguchi and Yokoi would received ‘bye runs’ and headed straight into the top 16. Practice day had come to an end, it was now time for me to find some much needed dinner.

As I returned to the track the following day, battles had already commenced. It was blistering hot on Sunday, no clouds, just bright Japanese sunlight. This meant battles were going to be fast and tight as grip levels were high and track conditions were consistent.

Runs in the morning seemed to be rather consistent. The pace was fast and each driver’s skill was utilized as best as it could be. I’ve always had my concerns with running spacers on your car, but the S13 seen here was using 85mm spacers on all four wheels!

This was probably the best viewpoint of the track, sitting low in front of the spectators, waiting for the cars to glide around the corner. The Silvia population was large, but the Toyota 4-door competitors were also in high use. Unlike in New Zealand where it’s not such a common site.

The Silvias in attendance were on fire. All well modified with kick-ass livery made for a pleasant site while covering the event over the weekend. There were S15s, S14s, S13,s and 180SXs drifting, plus this S14 Onevia!

Not every run was perfect though, the tyre wall in front of the judges tower claimed victim to many drivers over the weekend. Come in too hot and you have nowhere to go except up the tyre wall. If you managed to escape that wall it would be smooth sailing from there on out.

With lunch time hitting and the track closing for a while, it was time to check out the car park to see if anything interesting had shown up. There was a lot of cars to choose from, not only Silvias, but every make and model you could think of.

This S14 had turned up rather late in the day. I’d expect he had only come to watch the battles or maybe to cheer on one of the drivers. I am a big fan of the massive mouth that the front bumper has. It adds to the already aggressive looking kouki lights.

Over-fenders anyone? Or how about some perfect fitment? Even though some of the 180SXs are over 20 years old, they still look like a masterpiece of a design with the full type x options fitted to it. It’s on my list to own in the future for sure.

Today was a lot busier than yesterday, so it made total sense to have another driver signing session. Drivers were lined up along a table, and everyone was herded through the line like sheep. In NZ we do this a bit differently. Drivers sit next to their cars to sign posters, this creates less of a crowd and also helps the exposure of the driver’s sponsors better.

The styling from the early 2000s is slowly coming back into the drifting community. This time it’s refined and doesn’t look just as tacky. Do you think in another 10 years we will look back at the recent 2010s and think, uhh, what were we thinking?

Walking around the pits proved that FD Japan had ass for days. Extended rear fenders made room for bigger tyres and better specification wheels. Along with the cut off bumpers, it’s a good view for anyone that likes the rear end.

After lunch, it was straight to the track to show off the drivers who were competing for that top spot on the podium. Kazuya Taguchi was looking good for keeping his number one position, however the driving ability of all the drivers was exceptionally high. It was anybody’s game.

Straight into the battles showed that drivers were hungry. Banking the most points for round one would prove a huge advantage running into the series. Sadly for us Silvia lovers, it was an all non-Silvia podium finish.

Even the amazing Yokohama S15 wasn’t able to make it onto that elusive podium, so who would take out the top spots then? In 3rd place, was Kazumi Takahashi in a JZX100, and 4th foreign driver Sheng Nian driving the Powervehicles JZX100.

First and second place was between a Nissan and Toyota. Shinji Minowa in the Z34 vs Koukichi Yamashita in yet another JZX100. Only one Z34 was participating, but the amount of JZX100s was, as I said before, rather astounding. It’s definitely a popular drift chassis here in Japan.

Three cars lined up, only one could be crowned winner from round one of FD Japan. Who would it be? Would it be the Nissan Z34, or the blue JZX100? Each driver could have easily been on the highest stand of the podium that day.

As you know though, there is only room enough for one driver. The driver of the JZX100, Koukichi Yamashita took top position from round one putting him in first place for the championship. A good advantage to have with four more rounds to go.

The next round of FD Japan takes place in Ebisu above the Tokyo area. You don’t want to miss it, as the course is tight with concrete walls surrounding the drivers. One small error could mean a new car at round three. See you there.

Coverage and photos by Shaun Constable – Ambition Works, for S-Chassis.

Follow Shaun on Facebook: Ambition Works

Follow Shaun on Instagram: @ambitionworks 

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