Af­ter 25 years of com­pet­i­tive drift­ing, we ques­tion Nomuken on what he thinks of the west­ern­iza­tion of drift

NZ Performance Car - - Tuning Japanese - WORDS & PHO­TOS: AARON MAI

The world of drift­ing is full of colour­ful char­ac­ters, although you would be hard pressed to find some­one with a larger per­son­al­ity than Ja­pan’s Ken No­mura. Known as ‘Nomuken’ the Fukuoka-born ‘Driftmonkey’ wasn’t al­ways des­tined to be be­hind the wheel, although his au­to­mo­tive ride to drift­ing’s elite level has been just as tur­bu­lent as a hairy ride around Ebisu Mi­nami. As a young­ster it was base­ball that had him fo­cused, play­ing at a top level through high school and un­der the eyes of scouts. It was not to be though — he was trag­i­cally struck down through in­jury. Soon af­ter turn­ing 18 and get­ting his car li­cence, he found him­self en­tan­gled in the mid­night street-rac­ing scene. He cred­its the drag scene for giv­ing him the fun­da­men­tal as­pects of car con­trol, throt­tle con­trol and fine ad­just­ments while un­der power. It wasn’t long af­ter that he trans­ferred his skills from the strip to the twisty moun­tain roads of the touge. Con­tin­u­ing to hone his skills in 1996 he en­tered the All Ja­pan Ikaten Fi­nals, a com­pe­ti­tion that searched around Ja­pan for fresh driv­ing tal­ent — Nomuken was vic­to­ri­ous and fast for­ward to 2001: the Driftmonkey was born. Em­brac­ing his new­found iden­tity in the mo­tor­sport world he started his own aero com­pany — URAS that if spelt back­wards reads SARU — Ja­panese for monkey. His range of kits that were de­signed out of his own per­sonal taste have be­come fa­mously rec­og­niz­able as a Driftmonkey kit. It’s fair to say that not too many drift cars be­come global rac­ing icons, although his Blitz Sky­line has truly be­come a much loved and fondly re­mem­bered ride. The big four-door chas­sis paired up with the pint-sized drift king has been noth­ing short of a win­ning combo. “I can’t say the Sky­line was ever a sci­en­tif­i­cally se­lected car for me, it re­ally came down to the fact that it was large, pre­dictable, and just suited my driv­ing style — why drift some­thing you aren’t used to?” ex­plains Nomuken. With the fast-paced tran­si­tion of drift­ing in Ja­pan chop­ping and chang­ing from one plat­form to an­other, it would only have made it dif­fi­cult to stay at the pointy end of com­pe­ti­tion for any driver, so fa­mil­iar­ity was the or­der of the day. It wasn’t all plain sail­ing for Nomuken though — his de­but in 2001 was de­scribed as ‘av­er­age’, but once Blitz came on board with spon­sor­ship and a raft of new per­for­mance parts, he quickly started climb­ing up the lad­der and was soon known as the ‘Smoke Mas­ter’.

“The 34 was big and nicely weighted so it made good smoke and I am all about putting on a good show, both in the car and out of it,” he grins. As time ticked on, his skill be­hind the wheel caught the at­ten­tion of GReddy. Still in his R34 plat­form, GReddy paired up with Nomuken to cre­ate the high-per­for­mance in­take man­i­fold for the RB25. Yup, that’s right — you can thank Nomuken per­son­ally for that one! Af­ter 25 years of drift­ing, the much-revered pro has seen his fair share of in­ter­na­tional drift­ing, so, what is his take on the dif­fer­ence in style? “In Ja­pan we are very firmly fo­cused on the spirit of ‘tsu­isou’ which is tandem­ing; it’s all about get­ting right up against your com­peti­tor’s door and stick­ing with him all the way through the judg­ing sec­tion. Prox­im­ity is key.” With the big­gest fo­cus on prox­im­ity, there are two other key com­po­nents. “An­gle and smoke are the other big things we must at­tain, I have no­ticed other coun­tries fo­cus more on speed and style, so when we travel you have to ad­just your driv­ing style to en­sure you give the judges what they are look­ing for”. One thing he no­tices about the New Zealand scene is how sim­i­lar it is to Ja­pan, “You seem to fol­low in our foot­steps re­gard­ing what the fun­da­men­tals of drift­ing should be; for Ja­panese driv­ers there is noth­ing more ex­cit­ing than be­ing mil­lime­tres off your ri­val’s door han­dles while main­tain­ing con­trol of your car and not touch­ing — this is the real rush of drift­ing for me”. With the sport hav­ing evolved so quickly in the last ten years where does he see the sport headed? “It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. We didn’t think it would ever take off like it has. I can’t say where I see it go­ing as I am amazed at where it is now. I can tell you where I hope it doesn’t go and that is fur­ther into the high realms of horse­power. There isn’t any rea­son to drift with mas­sive power fig­ures as it’s not about num­bers, it should al­ways be about the pure spirit of drift­ing — close com­bat pow­er­s­lid­ing — my D1SL Sky­line has am­ple power at 450BHP”. He ad­mits that many driv­ers have been caught up in the ‘horse­power strug­gle’ as in or­der to keep up you have no choice but to start play­ing with big power, or you will sim­ply be left be­hind. Em­brac­ing the idea that set-up should al­ways be put be­fore power in or­der to at­tain the ideal drift, his think­ing is a breath of fresh air, I mean how can you ar­gue with some­one who has seen drift­ing in its in­fancy? Af­ter an in­sight into how the Driftmonkey ticks, I had a few more ques­tions to ask. Af­ter years in the R34 plat­form and now the Toy­ota 86, why the change? “We had a large ac­ci­dent a while back and with the chas­sis be­ing no good we hit a cross­roads with where to go, and the de­ci­sion was made to mod­ern­ize our ap­proach so we went with the ’86 with the 2JZ up front.” Favourite drift­ing mo­ments? “There are too many to list, the in­ter­na­tional events, and my suc­cess in D1GP”. How much longer do you see your­self con­tin­u­ing on? “I’m hav­ing a lot of fun, and drift­ing isn’t some­thing you give up or just stop do­ing. So … prob­a­bly not for a while yet. Does Ebisu Mi­nami scare me? Only in the rain,” he chuck­les. Although the burning ques­tion for those of us who want to take a leaf out of his book — what does it re­ally take to be­come a Driftmonkey? “You have to al­ways main­tain the fun as­pect, and en­sure you are al­ways chas­ing door han­dles.”



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