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D1 Grand Prix - Season Opener

Presented By Yokohama

Scott Tsuneishi
Dec 1, 2003 SHARE
0312_impp_01_z_+d1_grand_prix+race_way Photo 1/1   |   D1 Grand Prix - Season Opener

It's official: Motorsport history was made August 31, 2003, in Irwindale, Calif., as the inaugural D1 Grand Prix was the largest event to ever be held at Irwindale Raceway. The previous track attendance record of 8,700 was eclipsed as approximately 10,000 spectators witnessed D1 2002 series champion Katsuhiro Ueo take home first place in the first-ever U.S. D1 Grand Prix competition.


Drift Mania
As I roll up to the track at 11:00 a.m., thinking I have the advantage of arriving early to the event, I was in for a rather large surprise. "Holy shit! Wait a minute. This event isn't opening to the general public until 3 p.m. right?" I muttered as I sat in my car waiting to enter the parking lot of the Raceway. A long line of cars began to trail around the gates while a larger line, reminiscent of Disneyland rides, begins to form at the front entrance gates. If this was a typical ride at Disneyland, the proper sign would have been "The wait from this point is 4 hours." That's how large the crowd was that was waiting to enter. With seating capacity at 6,500, the grandstands on either side of the track were at mass capacity, while trackside was crammed to standing room only, packed in nearly three rows deep. The chaos continued out into the streets of Irwindale as cars lined the borders of the event and spectators willingly took the 20-min. walk to reach the racetrack. For those parked illegally alongside the road there was always the chance of being towed away by the local police.

The practice runs had begun for the 24 drivers in the qualifying field and drivers began testing and tuning their cars for the inaugural D1 Grand Prix.


The Chaos Ensues
Keiichi "Dorikin" Tsuchiya, Orido "Helmet Hair" Manabu and legend Daijiro "Dai-chan" Inada, executive of Option Magazine, sat high above the crowds in the makeshift podiums, carefully analyzing each of the drivers and their abilities. When I asked Tsuchiya-san what he expected from the U.S. drivers before qualifying he smiled and enthusiastically said, "I'm so excited to see such a big crowd with lots of fans attending this event. In Japan the usual crowds range anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 people max. This is a complete surprise! I hope the U.S. drivers put on a great show and I really look forward to watching their drifting skills." Among the 24-driver field for qualifying, eight of the D1 competitors chosen are U.S. drivers ,while the remaining 16 represented the Land of the Rising Sun. Before the competition began, the fans and drifters were in for a big treat. Keiichi "Dorikin"(Drift King) Tsuchiya and legend Manabu Orido took to the wheels of the RSR 350z and S15 Kei-Office Silvia for some tandem drifting around the track. As Keiichi suited up and began to roll onto the track, psychotic crazy man Tarzan "Vaka Mon" Yamada hopped on the top of the Kei-Office vehicle. Dorikin calmly put the car in first gear and began doing doughnuts around the track while Tarzan held on for dear life. The crowd erupted in a roar of laughter. Damn those crazy Japanese drivers!


U.S. drivers don't stand a chance? Shieet!
Ueno, Ueo, Imamura, Fixmer, Koguchi, Daijiro, Taniguchi and Nomuken all advanced to the final eight along with two U.S. drivers. It's been talked about in chat rooms and at car shows and drift events that the U.S. drivers can't compete with the Japans D1 pros. Well, for all you doubters out there: Go suck a big one! Ernie "Gung Ho" Fixmer and his spectacular performance at D1 Grand Prix have been the talk of the town for the past month. Fixmer went head to head with Japan's top driver, Imamura, and performed at such a high level that the judges were in complete shock. They requested the drivers go for a second-round duel to see who would advance to the next round. Although Fixmer lost the round, the crowd and judges gave him a standing ovation, while Imamura clapped in praise as he looked on.


The Tears of joy and the agony of defeat
"What's wrong with Ueno?" asked people in the crowd as he exited his Vertex Soarer. Ueno crawled out of his car sobbing after he completed his run against Taniguchi in the semifinals. Judging the two cars from trackside, it was a close race. The car control, speed, angle and line was nearly perfect for both drivers, but Taniguchi had the overall advantage with the smoother of the runs and more angle going into the turns. Was the loss to Taniguchi too hard to swallow for Ueno? Quite possibly a significant factor, but I can honestly say that was only one side of the story. As I watched Ueno and Imamura of A'PEXi embrace each other, they both began to cry profusely. Compelled to see what was going on I approached Ueno only to overhear him whisper in Imamura's ear, "We did it. We're drifting in the U.S. We finally did it." Shoot, I'll admit it; it even made me misty-eyed.

Ueo (Revolver-sponsored AE86), who is currently third in the overall D1 Grand Prix point standings after five rounds of competition in Japan, had a score to settle with D1 current point leader Youichi Imamura piloting the A'PEXi FD3S in the semifinals. It was obvious the crowd was rooting for the underdog Ueo in the AE86, as the car was the only Corolla on the track and its horsepower figures topped in at a scant 200 at the wheels. As both drivers tore through the banks, the angle of the drifts that Ueo displayed were nothing but spectacular. When it looked like Imamura would pull away on the straightaway, Ueo made up for the loss through the turns. Unfortunately for Imamura the alternator pulley came loose, tearing up the belts and eventually ending his day. Back in the pits Imamura showed his competitive side by throwing his gloves in the car with disgust and swearing in Japanese. Within 5 minutes of the incident, Imamura was back to his joking ways, teasing his fellow drivers.

Unfinished business in the Final roundIt was 9:45 p.m. and the crowds still remained strong in the grandstands, shouting and yelling in admiration for their favorite drivers. In the final round, once again it became a classic battle of last year's first and second place drivers that D1 fans have become accustomed to. Nobuteru "N.O.B." (No One Better) Taniguchi driving the red HKS S15 and Katsuhiro Ueo piloting the AE86 Revolver Levin prepared their cars for the first championship run of D1 in the U.S. Recall in last year's 2002 D1 Grand Prix finals, Taniguchi lost the championship to Ueo during the final run, perhaps leaving Taniguchi with a bad taste in his mouth for his opponent. With the long-awaited finals came the anticipation factor. Orido and Keiichi began to pump up the crowd by yelling "USA! USA!" while the Japanese drivers waved American flags in unison. The crowd came to a roar as both drivers pulled out from the pits onto the oval track to battle side by side. With Taniguchi in front on the first round, both took off in a hail of smoke. With the initial glance it would appear the S15 was a shoe-in to win because of the higher horsepower and faster speeds on the straightaway, but as the first turn approached, surprisingly Ueo began catching up on the corners against Taniguchi. Who won? The crowds were in complete chaos as they yelled, "One more time! One more time!" Both drivers completed a parade lap.

The judges couldn't decide who had the winning advantage so it was unanimously decided that both drivers battle it out again. Second time around Taniguchi bumped Ueo from the rear, causing Ueo's Levin to careen into the makeshift plastic barriers. The damage was minor to the Revolver AE86 as the two Zip-ties holding the front bumper fell off causing the front end to dangle to the ground. The deafening roar of the crowds shouting, "One more time! One more time!" gave clue to the judges that a winner wasn't to be determined as Taniguchi went back to the pits to replace his worn out tires, while Ueo followed suit and pitted to fix his front bumper. Both drivers rolled back onto the track as Tanigiuchi did his infamous line-lock burnout to warm up his rear tires. Taniguchi was in the front this time as both drivers proceeded to run full blast down the track, no holds barred. This time Taniguchi wasn't going to underestimate Ueo and his AE86, and he flew down the full sweeper in his S15. Following in hot pursuit was Ueo, pushing his motor to the limit as you heard the 4ag motor screaming down the sweeper. Taniguchi was pulling away on the first small S turn, but when it came to the second big sweeper Taniguchi went wide, enabling Ueo to slide right in front of him, cutting him off with inches separating both cars' bumpers. Frustration seemed to overcome Taniguchi, as he didn't wait for the AE86 this time, tailgating Ueo on the banked turn. Like a scene out of a NASCAR race with one lap to go, Taniguchi tried to pass Ueo on the outside to drift around him as both cars ran neck and neck. As the cars straightened out, Ueo refused to let Taniguchi pass, causing the S15 to pull a dramatic slide into the wall, doing speeds in excess of 80 mph. Ueo completed the turn as the smoke and roar of the engines subsided. The night was over for Taniguchi and the HKS S15 as emergency crews and tow trucks came to the aid of the HKS S15. Taniguchi was safe but once again he had lost in a tight-lipped competition against Ueo and his AE86. Quickly jumping on the roof of his car, Ueo pumped his fists and celebrated his victory as he shed tears of joy and accomplishment in front of the congratulatory crowd. During the awards ceremony, there wasn't a dry eye in the group as Imamura, Ueno, Taniguchi and Ueo held back tears of jubilation and appreciation for the fans and fellow drivers.

With the winner ceremony tapering down for the night, the drivers' exhibition was far from over. To show the U.S. fans and drivers their appreciation, a full staged exhibition with all the drivers ensued. With a number of close calls followed by "oohs" and "ahs" resonating from the crowd, one by one a car would join in to do doughnuts in one big circle. In a hail of smoke it ended up with 10 cars doing a synchronized doughnut. As the sick-ass burnouts and trailing smoke filled the sky, Keiichi jumped up from his chair and began yelling "D1 Grand Prix USA!" and Tarzan Yamada and fellow drivers began to scale the Irwindale fences to hype up the crowd.

It was 10:45 p.m., almost 12 hours since I arrived at Irwindale Speedway. I lost my voice from screaming "One more time! One more time" in unison with the thousands of fans. My body and face were covered with a fine blend of molten rubber, while my skin burned bright red from sunburn. Throughout the entire event I stood there in the media box wedged between the hoards of photographers with the dumbest grin on my face as I had witnessed my first official D1 Grand Prix up close and personal. It's hard to describe what had just taken place in front of the thousands in attendance. Utter chaos and a frenzy of activities best describe the drivers and fans at D1. You could write a book on it, take thousands of pictures to capture the drifting, but the only way to fully digest the bulk of the dramatization was to be in attendance at D1. Until the next event, keep drifting off the streets and on the tracks.

U.S. D1 Grand Prix Drivers
Ken Gushi {{{Nissan}}} S13 coupe
Ernie Fixmer Nissan S13 hatch
Rich Rutherford Nissan S14 coupe
Samuel Hubinette {{{Nissan 350Z}}}
Daijiro Yoshihara Nissan S13 coupe
Hubert Young Nissan {{{R32}}} Skyline
Calvin Wan {{{Mazda}}} Rx-7 FC3S
Bryan Norris Nissan S13 {{{Coupe}}}
Rhys Millen {{{Toyota Supra}}}
Japanese D1 Grand Prix Drivers
Katsuhiro Ueo Revolver {{{Toyota}}} AE86 Levin
Nobuteru Taniguchi HKS Nissan {{{S15}}} Sylvia
Yoichi Imamura A'Pexi Mazda FD3S {{{RX-7}}}
Ken Nomura Blitz Nissan Skyline Sedan
Nobushige Kumakubo ADVAN APC Nissan RPS13 180SXtruck
Takahiro Ueno ADVAN Vertex Toyota JZ30 Soarer
Yuuki Izumida ORC Nissan R32 Skyline {{{GT}}}-R
Kazuyoshi Bai Signal RPS13 180SX
Fumiaki Komatsu Signal RPS13 180SX
Akinori Utsumi C-West Mazda FD3S RX7
Kazuhiro Tanaka ADVAN APC Nissan RPS13 180SX
Koichi Yamashita Tomei Nissan S15 Sylvia
Yasuyuki Kazama Bridgestone Kei-Office S15 Nismo
Yoshinori Koguchi Falken Nissan RPS13 180SX
Seigou Yamamoto Falken S14 Toyota
Murao Gui-Gui Tein Nissan {{{350Z}}}


Sunpros.Co.Ltd
Official D1 Grand Prix Sponsor


Video Option
www.v-opt.co.jp


Yokohama Tires
(714) 870-3800
www.yokohamatire.com


Slipstream Global Marketing, Inc.
949-252-9710
www.slipstreamglobal.com

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Yokohama Tires
Fullerton, CA 92631-5106
Sunpros.Co.Ltd
By Scott Tsuneishi
247 Articles

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