When we say hotter than hell, we mean that 100% literally, figuratively, whatever - it was hot in every sense of the word. I have never been in such desert heat before in my life - then again neither had most of the D1 drivers. With the mercury hitting 112 and track temperatures hitting 150, the drivers entered a whole new blistering territory.
This D1 Las Vegas exhibition match was the most nerve-racking suspense-filled drifting event I have ever witnessed. Pit crews were constantly struggling to adjust the cars so they wouldn't go flying off the asphalt. Scorching heat and marbleized rubber do not make for an easy drift around the track. We witnessed the best of the best Japanese pro-drifters slam their cars into the wall because the pavement was simply too damn hot to get enough traction. Their usual 100+mph entry speeds were now a recipe for disaster. With each car that came down the track, the crowd watched and wondered in nail-biting suspense if this next heat-challenged drifter was going to hit the wall.
Further complicating matters was that the track temperature varied greatly from when the drivers practiced in the afternoon to when their final runs took place at night. What worked for them earlier was often a huge miscalculation later in the day. Adding to the challenge of the unrelenting heat was that the Las Vegas Motor Speedway set up a very narrow course that didn't leave a lot of room for error. Gone was the banked expanse of the California Irwindale track - this was a narrow short course that barely fit two cars side-by-side.
The fans were amazing in spirit and number, considering the sweat-inducing heat. Some of the attendees in the huge crowd were specially rewarded as they got up close to the action: the bleachers were so near the track many walked away with tire spew all over their faces.
Our favorite D1 announcer, Toshi Hayama, kept everyone entertained throughout the heat wave. In between runs the crowd got to check out the pits, which were not roped off so you could see every detail of the drift cars' set-up and the action of the crew changing suspension specs and tires. After all the crashes there was a lot of duct-taping bodywork going on as well. This event was also run at the same time as the NHRA Sport Compact series so fans could alternate between watching drifting and drag-racing.
This Grand Prix featured over twenty drift cars, with about half of their drivers being American, and about half being Japanese. All of the Japanese favorites were on hand to sign autographs for the fans, including Kazama, Yuke's Kumakubo, Yoshihara and monkey-man Nomura. The Drift King himself, Tsuchiya, also met with fans as he announced the event for Option video. The American drivers also put out an impressive showing, with Tanner Foust of AEM leading the way. Foust managed an unprecedented 120 qualifying points, a first in D1GP history, and was the first qualifier among all of the drivers. Unfortunately for Foust, he was out in the first round after a sticky emergency brake caused him to not stop in time and tap opponent Tanaka, an automatic disqualification. It was a sad event for the American side, as he was our best candidate to try and take the win.
Also representing for the American side was Alex Pfeiffer, who, after smashing his AE86 previously, was now piloting the show car worthy BRS RX-7. This pink beauty was designed for time attacks, so Alex was facing an uphill battle to make it cooperate for drifting. Ultimately a throttle problem knocked him out during the first round of the Best 16.
Although young scion Ken Gushi was on hand with his Mustang, he was clearly no match for Toshiki Yoshioka, who took his Corolla all the way to the final win.
In not so glorious news, Dynamic Autosports' Robbie Nishida took off his Quaker State 240's front bumper and failed to make the Best 16.
Also not making it to the Best 16 was Blitz's Nomuken, who smashed the legendary GT-R (and Turbo cover car) into the wall during one of the final qualifying rounds. After head mechanic Abe had stayed up all night perfecting the car, it was quite a sad sight.
Right after Nomuken crashed, two other Japanese drift cars also saw the wall. With the American drivers going next they saw the consequences of 90+mph entry speeds so they took it a little slower in the 80-90mph range. It was difficult for the drivers to find the perfect threshold between going too slow and looking sluggishly uncompetitive and going too fast and totaling their vehicles.
After running the Best 16, and the Best 8, the drifting field was whittled down to four: Tanaka in a Skyline, Yoshioka in his Corolla, Komoro also in a Corolla, and Kumakubo piloting an Impreza. Kumakubo was the odds-on favorite, as he has been drifting competitively for something like 15 years. The man has a lot of experience to say the least. He put the smack-down on Komoro's AE86 in the semi-finals and advanced his Suburu to the finals. In the end the engine-that-could won out and Yoshioka's Corolla took home the glory.
For all the riveting action you'll just have to go out and buy the Option DVD to watch it, as our few pictures here can't do these battles justice. (You can also see our Turbo staff ducking as drivers hit the wall that we were precariously standing next to.)
With the crowd waving orange D1 do-rags in the air, this Grand Prix was a resounding success despite the heatstroke-inducing temperatures. Hopefully all of the partying the D1 drivers did in Sin City eased away their memories of crashing and losing. We hope D1 returns to Las Vegas next year since it's a great destination for out of town fans to fly in, see some spectacular drifting, and hit the sights and sounds of the Vegas Strip. Just bring your hats, sunscreen, ice packs, misters and fans with you.