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Drifting In Japan - A Foreigner's Perspective

by Justin Carvalho


Drifting is one of the greatest auto sports ever created.  If you have never heard of drifting back home before coming to Japan; by the time you get back, it should be popular.   So you ask what is Drifting, why is it so great, and where did it begin?  First off, drifting is getting your car sideways down a road. So what do I mean by getting a car sideways down a road?  Basically drifting is the controlled loss of traction.  Although the car may look as though it is out of control, a good drifter will be in control of his car at all times.  So in essence a good drifter has the ability to take five or six opposing turns without having traction at any point in time.  Good drifters take their cars upwards of 80mph and sway the car from side to side at angles of 45degrees or greater.  There are basically two kinds of drifts, there is a straightaway drift and there is a corner drift.  Often a straightaway drift is combined with a corner drift.   

 

"Basically drifting is the controlled loss of traction."


So is drifting illegal?  Yes and no. It's kind of like a don't ask don't tell thing. The Kesatsu (police) usually ignore it unless it is done in a public area. The docks which is a very popular drifting spot is about half a mile from a police station but they very rarely bother coming down and passing out tickets


So why is this so cool you may ask?  For starters, itís a sport that was started in and mastered in Japan.   Drifting has many different roots and similarities with other motor sports such as rally racing, auto cross, and any other high speed racing.  So some might say that drifting never began in Japan, but it definitely developed here into what it is today.  One of the pioneers of the sport is Keiichi Tsuchiya.  Back in 1977 Keiichi began his racing career driving many different cars in amateur racing series events.  Later Keiichi was picked up to drive the ADVAN sponsored AE86/1984 Corolla GT-S.  During many races on a downhill corner he would drift the car and carry a better corner speed than his competitors.  This technique is what made him the Drift King.  Drifting a car through a corner is not the fastest way around most turns, any race car driver will tell you strait out.  Although it is not always faster to drift through a corner, Keiichi was able to use positions on the track that no one else in the race could.  This helped to prove his style of driving.  Along with improving his ranking in races, Keiichiís style helped his reputation to grow.  He is a racecar driver now and still takes to the mountains for illegal racing this also made his reputation grow.

 

"Drifting a car through a corner is not the fastest way around most turns..."


So where do these Drifters drift you ask?  Why have I never seen or heard of then?  In Japan the first and probably the most popular is in the mountains (Touge). Drifters flock to them because they are relatively desolate with few people and they have perfect groups of S turns to test a drifterís abilities. The second is the docks, which are usually deserted of cars and people late at night.  It is also done in isolated parking lots.  I know in Kobe, the docks are a very popular place for drifting.  I am not sure but I would think the same is true for the docks near Tokyo.  This is where drifters learn or warm up for the mountains. Last but not least are the circuits. This is where competitions are held and contestants are judged on a specific group of turns on a 100 point scale. Circuits are very popular but are usually only open one day a week (Sunday or Saturday) and you have to pay to get in.  In Japan there are over twenty different circuits scattered all over Japan. 

 

"Technically you can drift with any car..."


So can you drift with any kind of car?  Technically you can drift with any car, but itís mostly done with rear wheel drive cars.  The reason being that rear wheel cars are better balanced for the swaying motion of drifting.  Also having a rear wheel powered car, you are able to add power to the rear thus adding to or reducing your slide when needed.  The following is a list of cars that are some of the most popular drifting cars: 1986 Toyota Corolla / AE86 / Trueno / Levin, the Nissan Silvia S13 and S14, the Nissan 180SX / 240SX, related mechanically to the Silvia, the only difference is in the body style and the fact that is lighter and has a better front/rear balance ratio, the Mazda FC3S RX-7, and lastly Nissan Skyline GTS-T.  There are many other great cars that are used for drifting, but I want to keep the list short for the sake and simplicity of this article. 


I could go on and on about this topic, but like the saying goes ďseeing is believing.Ē   So please search the net.  I will list some popular sights that you can get a better idea of what drifting is.  There are also numerous videos and magazine you can check out.  The best videos and magazines out there are Options, Options 2, and Drift Tengoku (Drift Heaven).  Car Boy video and magazine is also pretty good.  I would say the best way to experience drifting without actually going to the track would be through a video. 


http://streetracing.tiora.net/japan/drift/drift1.htm 
(Drifting Explained)

http://www.driftclub.com/DriftKing.htm  (History of the Drift King)

http://www.v-opt.co.jp/index.html  (Options Video Website)

http://www.motoracing-japan.com/circuit/index.html  (Index of Japanís Race Circuits)


Any questions email me at: justin_carvalho@hotmail.com 
 

 

About the author:

Justin Carvalho is a bi-lingual (Japanese / English) business liaison and interpreter for the Drift Session. His knowledge of drifting and the sports compact market make him an invaluable resource when dealing with drivers and businesses in Japan.

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