The D1 Grand Prix kicked off at California's Irwindale Speedway on Feb. 27, 2005 in a hail of smoke. The nail-biting competition brought the sold-out crowds to their feet. The season also brought unexpected surprises. A new device entitled "the drift box system" debuted. The box uses GPS tracking to calculate and display each competitor's drift line, speed and degree of angle entering and exiting each turn. While it is uncertain if this unit will be used for the rest of season, the box would provide technical information that could be used to assess driving skill and strategy. Looks like we're only one step away from the spy cams you see in NASCAR. You can be sure both competitors and spectators alike will keep a close eye on developments as they evolve.
Qualifying took place Saturday. It was a day filled with numerous crashes and mangled fenders; at times it seemed to resemble more of a demolition derby than drift qualifying as vehicles were pushed off the track.
Despite the chaos, several drivers held good lines. Rhys Millen in his black and yellow GTO displayed consistent drifts and received an approving thumbs up from judges as he qualifed for Sunday's main event. Unlike Millen, Gen Terasaki, best known for his black AE86, was reduced to spectator status as he careened his newly debuted S2000 into the embankment. Unable to salvage many of the crashed components, a spectator came to Terasaki's rescue by donating parts off of his own S2000. This enabled Terasaki to rebuild and continue. Kazuhiro Tanaka of Team Orange also fell victim to the infamous K-rail when a costly miscalculation caused the S15 to come in contact with it. The rear quarter panel crumpled and the GT wing disintegrated in the process.
As the day slowly came to an end, it was no surprise that of the 20 drivers who had qualified for Sunday's event, only three were U.S. drivers (Pfieffer, Gitten Jr. and Millen). These lucky 20 would go up against the top 10 drivers who had already qualified for Sunday's event. When qualifying ended, the pits echoed with power tools and hammers as crews worked feverously to make repairs for Sunday's 9 a.m. practice round.
Sunday's qualifying session began with last year's underdog and most-improved driver, Yoshioka Toshiki in his baby-blue AE86. Producing unbelievable speeds and angles, the rear of the hachiroku snagged on the barrier, but amazingly Toshiki maintained his speed and angle, impressing the judges and continuing to the next round. Orido Manabu wasn't as fortunate as he came in contact with the exact same barrier he had hit on Friday. The crowds cheered him on when he jumped out on to the hood and pumped his fists in approval. Last year's Irwindale champion, Kazama in the Kei Office S15, performed another flawless, smoke-filled run. He easily eliminated Tanaka of Team Orange and proceeded to the next round.
The sun came out just as the field was narrowed down to the final eight. Ken "Nomuken" Nomura and his newly revised Blitz ER34 took on Imamura in the A'PEXi FD3S. The first of the two rounds was too close to call as both drivers executed textbook drifting. The second round was the deciding factor as Nomuken was automatically disqualified for "pushing" into the A'PEXi FD. Millen also made it to the final eight and was showered with cheers for being the only surviving U.S. driver. His next challenge was Kazama's green S15. After a sudden-death second round face-off, the judges awarded Kazama the win.
If anyone flourished, it was Takahiro Ueno in his JZZ30 Vertex Soarer. Ueno fought a tough battle and made it to the semifinals. His glory run came to a halt when Imamura sent Ueno packing. Another shinning star who unfortunately faded before the final round was Nobushige Kumakubo. Hoping to avenge teammate Tanaka from the previous round, he battled Kazama in a nail-biting round. While the first two rounds were too close to call, Kumakubo spun out in sudden-death eliminations, which meant Kazama and Imamura faced each other in the final round.
During the last round, the crowd chanted, "One more time," because the first two rounds were too close to call. Kazama and Imamura ran side by side refusing to let either move to the inside position. Kazama worked the lines and became the first driver in Irwindale history to take home two consecutive wins.