THE ART OF DRIV­ING

KANSAI ALL STARS 2017

NZ Performance Car - - Con­tents -

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!

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