THE ART OF DRIVING
KANSAI ALL STARS 2017
couple of months back, we had the pleasure of hosting the two best drifters, Naoki Nakamura and Mik iT akagi, on our shores for the DC lubGPx C’s Garage Pink Style GP, and, if you were lucky, you witnessed their talents behind the wheel, which are nothing short of amazing. You may also have seen the article in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 249 that mentioned they are both from the Kansai region in Japan. But what you won’t have read is that most drivers from the region are just as wild and aggressive, and possess that same ridiculously high level of driving talent — something which is overwhelmingly obvious at the region’s biggest event of the year — Kansai All Stars.
Each of the seven prefectures within the Kansai region — Osaka, Nara, Hyogo, Kyoto, Shiga, Mie, and Wakayama — fields a 17-car team. Each prefecture and driver feeds off the other to eventually be crowned winner of Kansai All Stars. But what’s truly different about this competition is the format. It’s not your standard D1-type competition in which the drivers need to qualify before jumping into tandem runs. Instead, all competitors are judged on individual runs, known as tan-sou. This allows the drivers to focus on pushing their driving to the absolute limit, taking the right lines to drive as fast as they can. They are divided into groups of eight cars, with one group being a class for female drivers, and the top-three drivers of each group advancing to the next leg until a final three-car showdown at the end of the day.
Alongside the main competition, there is also the best-team prefecture competition, which they call Team Dantai. This is where each prefecture chooses its best five drivers to drift in a team, with the aim of showing the best and most exciting drift-train performance, which typically ends up with wheels rubbing and bumpers flying!
The event is held at the infamous Meihan Sportsland C Course based in Nara Prefecture, and all drivers favour this course due to its high intensity and aggressive nature. Having a 40m long concrete wall on a not-so-wide straight, with a tyre wall waiting for you at the end, is a daunting prospect, especially when you’re entering the corner at speed and flicking towards the concrete. This wall is unquestionably the biggest feature of the course. So much so, that some of the drivers who have put GT wings on the back of their cars have set the height up so that the wing sits right on top of the wall’s edge, and fixed titanium on the end plates to make it spark as they ride the wall leading to the technical infield chicanes.
Drivers like Aki Fujio from Car House and Ken Uejima from Gloss Factory are masters of the art, running the wall with precision, lap after lap. You can definitely tell the men from the boys, as some of the top-level drivers enter at speeds well in excess of 120kph, which
may not seem fast, but, on a track this tight, and with no run-off or run-up, it’s mind-boggling how they can make it around the corner.
Such is the talent on display that the judges have a hard time trying to decide which run surpasses which, but with three veteran drifters at the helm — Michihito Takatori, who came to New Zealand with his SR20-powered Autobacs A31 Cefiro as one of the Japanese D1GP drivers back in 2005; Utsumi Akinori, who has been one of the pioneers of drifting in Kansai since its start; and Seimi Tanaka, a past D1 Street Legal champion currently competing in the D1GP championship — no one protests or questions their judgement, such is their reputation for understanding and finesse within the drifting community.
This year, it was a very close final. With Hiro Fukuyama from Kyoto and Takayuki Nakagawa from
Shiga both in their trusted RPS13 180SX chassis’ and Naoki Nakamura in his S15 representing Nara. The
runs were all insanely close, speed, angle, lines, and control were at their maximum. One wrong input of the wheel or throttle or brakes and it would be all over. Re-run after re-run they kept going until Naoki Nakamura put down runs you couldn’t believe were possible, it was at that point that everybody knew he had the win. This year’s female class top three were also displaying some top driving with Sachiko Tamura representing Wakayama in her Pink S15 taking the win over Yukari Ka in her C34 Laurel and Atsuko Tanaka in her S15. The team dan-tai winners were from Shiga prefecture, displaying some butt clenching closeness and precision. The overall winners for the battle of prefectures was Team Osaka, who had accumulated the most points per individual driver for the day which is a big feat in itself.
At the very end of the day, there is a session called SuperDantai, which translates to ‘super organization’. You may have seen videos
of the Super Dantai sessions, in which over 40 cars compete on the 840m long course at once, a spectacle only ever seen at Kansai All Stars. The number of drivers who drift together without a major incident is just incredible. The direct translation into English really does have the correct meaning — all drivers have to be super organized and plan a corner or two ahead before even going on the track. It’s complete madness.
With crowds of over 1000 flocking to the small circuit in the middle of the mountains in Nara, it’s easy to understand why the Kansai area exerts an influence in a way that you can only experience when you go to this event. Everyone is there to enjoy what drifting has to offer — the thrill, the atmosphere, the level of driving, and the smiles.
When you pause a moment to take it all in, you think to yourself, this is the essence of drifting.
Aki Fujio from Car House is a standout whenever driving at Meihan. His consistency here is something out of this world, scraping his GT wing end cap on the wall each time he runs the course. Being one of the original Team BURST members alongside Naoki Nakamura, during some of the qualifying sessions, Nakamura and Fujio displayed to the crowd their infamous BURST Overtake, which also showed how comfortable they are driving with each other.
Although this little Kei car may have looked out of place in between the sea of Silvias, it definitely earned its spot amongst the best. The Daihatsu Mira Gino started life as a four-wheel drive turbo, and was then converted to rear-wheel drive. Its speed and nimbleness were the key attributes, along with being able to throw it deep into the wall and throttle out of the main corner which was impressive to watch!