NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: AARON MAI

The Ja­panese moth­er­land has thrown some amaz­ing scenes in front of my cam­era, but none of these scenes have evoked a re­ac­tion quite like the mis­siles that slip, slide, and scrape around Ebisu Cir­cuit. The drift­ing world has be­come strangely ac­cus­tomed to the term ‘mis­sile’, and this trend­ing style cer­tainly had its time when bat­tle scars were cool, rather than be­ing a shame­ful re­minder of a lack of tal­ent. Com­ing face-to-face with some of the most in­fa­mous mis­siles in Ja­pan has taught me that there is al­ways more to these myth­i­cal drift weapons than meets the eye.

Sadly, there is a huge mis­con­cep­tion sur­round­ing mis­siles. Many view them not as prac­tice tools but as scrap metal with a turbo up front on a one-way trip to to­tal an­ni­hi­la­tion. So, while I am a fan of these cre­ations, there is a large por­tion of the drift­ing com­mu­nity that con­sid­ers mis­siles a to­tal cancer, and there truly isn’t any mid­dle ground on the is­sue. You ei­ther love them or to­tally hate them.

The term ‘mis­sile’ has been de­fined by the Western world as a scrap­yard on wheels, but looks can be de­ceiv­ing, and the sto­ries be­hind some of these ma­chines are as cap­ti­vat­ing as the visual pres­ence of the cars them­selves.

“These cars aren’t scrap; this is ac­tu­ally my prac­tice car, but many peo­ple re­fer to them as ‘mis­siles’ nowa­days,” Shun­suke ex­plains. Defin­ing what con­sti­tutes a true mis­sile is a grey area. For many, it’s a se­ri­ous lack of pan­els, with ev­ery­thing be­ing held on with zip ties, and the in­abil­ity to work out what the car ac­tu­ally started life as.

The most im­por­tant point is that true mis­siles don’t look the way they do be­cause of in­ten­tional mis­treat­ment and de­struc­tive driv­ing. In­stead, they are the end re­sult of push­ing bound­aries, find­ing the edge, and rub­bing your friend’s door paint off in the con­stant pur­suit of the per­fect tan­dem. These cars are the tool that you’re pre­pared to bend while seek­ing drift­ing nir­vana. You ba­si­cally put your mis­sile through ev­ery­thing that you aren’t pre­pared to put your reg­u­lar drift car through.

So, while pho­tos tell one story about these mes­mer­iz­ing cre­ations — it is easy to see how they have been pegged as wrecks — ‘ugly’ is of­ten only skin deep. One of the most fa­mous mis­siles of all time first ar­rived at Ebisu as a Tokyo Auto Salon show car, ex­plains Shun­suke: “I backed it into the wall on Mi­nami to avoid the car in front who spun — and the rest is his­tory.”

The Garage GTM Lau­rel isn’t just a pretty Lau­rel ei­ther. Un­der­neath the hood is a Tomei Gen­e­sis RB28 with no ex­pense hav­ing been spared, all the way through to the driv­e­train. Sit­ting a cou­ple of pit bays over, Daigo’s JZX90 runs big power up front and a very sim­i­lar sus­pen­sion and arm set-up to his D1GP Chaser. There is no point in prac­tis­ing in a car that is to­tally dif­fer­ent to the one you pedal when be­ing judged. Yet, with­out know­ing, you would walk right past it, mis­tak­ing it for noth­ing more than a beat-up old stan­dard Toy­ota with a rusty arse.

With such vis­ually po­lar­iz­ing aes­thet­ics, for me, it is hard to imag­ine a back­drop other than Ebisu, so, when the two are com­bined, it makes for su­perb photo op­por­tu­ni­ties. The sea­sonal Mat­suri events held at Ebisu are an over­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that con­sists of 72 hours of non-stop drift­ing. When the sun goes down, the crazy ramps up, and the lim­its get pushed. Take one pinch of South Course, add two D1GP driv­ers, shake well, and you have buttclench­ingly tight tan­dem bat­tles, with both cars lean­ing on each other and sparks danc­ing off the rear quar­ters all the way down the pit wall. It is scenes like this that have be­come fa­mous all over the in­ter­net, and whether many want to ad­mit it or not, the rea­son Daigo Saito can jump like he does on Mi­nami is down to the count­less runs he has ex­e­cuted in his mis­sile.

While the past decade of Drift Mat­suri at Ebisu has been a fairy tale for me be­hind the lens, these fa­mous cars that I have slowly watched change form will now soon be merely mem­o­ries cap­tured via still im­age. As lev­els of safety have im­proved, so, too, have the re­quire­ments for cars that are out on track, which means that these cars will be­gin to van­ish from the track. For many driv­ers, these prac­tice cars, or mis­siles, are the sin­gle rea­son they have been able to find their lim­its, and the sto­ries they have pro­vided along the way will en­sure they are talked about for decades to come. In a world full of trends, Ebisu’s drift mis­siles will for­ever re­main a clas­sic.

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