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D1GP Round 1 - Stop And It Don't

Scene: D1GP Round 1-Irwindale Speedway, Irwindale, CA

Jonathan Wong
Nov 10, 2006
Photographers: John Naderi, Henry Z. DeKuyper
130_0606_31_z+d1gp_round_1+participants Photo 1/29   |   D1GP Round 1 - Stop And It Don't

Last winter, something unexpected happened at the D1GP's USA versus Japan exhibition event. Vaughn "JR" Gittin, with an extraordinary display of driving prowess against Japan's drifting elite, muscled his way to the podium with a supercharged Mustang, marking the very first win by an American in any D1GP event. With less than a month to ship cars back and forth to the Tokyo Auto Salon (and back again for the season opener), regrouping, and preparing the cars for '06 (which could be drifting's biggest year yet), you could bet the Japanese would not accept anything other than a win. This would not simply be a show for the fans, but a fight for the year's first point's designation. A second American win in a row would be considered miraculous.

It Never Rains in Southern California
For the first time ever, the forecast called for heavy rain, but D1GP had every intention of making sure the show went on as planned. By Friday's qualifying rounds, the Japanese looked confident, having drifted in weather conditions like this many times over, and our home court advantage looked slight by comparison. Switching back to theoriginal course configuration used at the Irwindale Speedway (the event was run in reverse the last time), the usual suspects all came to play with some switching sponsors or teams.

On the American side, Team Falken's roster remained largely intact from last year with the exception of Tony Angelo and Ben "Big Smoke" Schwartz. Ben, who drove the Peak Performance/Falken S14 last year, will be joining Dai Yoshihara (who was absent from this D1 to prepare for Formula D's opener) as Pacific Rim's second driver; he also turned the controls of the S14 over to Robbie Nishida, who was picked up quickly by Peak's owner, Eddie Kim. Quoc Ly made a strong debut as Jasper's newest team member with his 240 hatchback, but could not advance past qualifying, and the Kaaz cars driven by Bryan Norris and Barry Wong picked up a new sponsor in Hankook tires.

130_0606_06_z+d1gp_round_1+nissan_350z Photo 2/29   |   D1GP Round 1 - Stop And It Don't

While there were a good number of American drivers who passed qualifying at the US versus Japan match, the same couldn't be said for this round. Stephan Papadakis, who ran hard and acquired a D1 license before smashing his S2000 into the barrier walls and destroying most of the chassis and the left side suspension, had it repaired in time to compete but had trouble maintaining a clean pass during qualifying. It should be noted that '06 will be Steph's first year as a full-time drifter as AEM has pushed all of its efforts into the sport for the next three years and will also be employing Tanner Foust as his teammate. Rhys Millen's Pontiac Solstice, the replacement for last year's GTO (also totaled at the last event), wasn't finished in time, but his father Rod came to represent the Americans once again and went into the Top 32 with the Grenade RX-8. Chris Forsberg was now back into the seat of his 350Z, but it was his first Z and not the topless Titan V-8-powered version that was showcased at SEMA. He was able to move into the Top 32 with Falken teammates Hiro Sumida, Ryan Hampton and JR Gittin.

But for all the changes and additions to the US side of drifting, there were just as many for the Japanese. The absences of former D1GP judge and RS*R driver Manabu Orido and HKS' Nobuteru Taniguchi were clouded by controversy and rumor. Orido was back in Japan practicing for the upcoming Super GT series and it's questionable whether he will be participating in D1 since his efforts are now being directed more towards GT racing. According to HKS, NOB will be focused more towards Time Attack and breaking records with the newly redesigned TRB-II Evo, which was re-launched at this year's Tokyo Auto Salon in a bright red color. NOB will also be concentrating heavily on racing in the Super GT series for Direxiv Motorsports (www.direxivmotorsports.com), piloting the Vemac RD320R, a 380bhp 3.5L Honda C32B engine, with co-driver Shogo Mitsuyama. Youichi Imamura, who drove A'PEXi's FD RX-7 to numerous wins, is now the driver of the Top Secret Z33, which was formerly driven by Ryuji Miki, who is now rumored to be driving a car that's to be built by HPI.

130_0606_22_z+d1gp_round_1+ford_mustang_and_dodge_viper Photo 3/29   |   D1GP Round 1 - Stop And It Don't

It's a Beautiful Day
As Saturday rolled around, the skies cleared and the sun showed brightly upon Los Angeles for the main event. Samuel Hubinette, who recently brought Shaun Carlson and the Nuformz crew on board for technical support, came in strong, qualifying number one in the Mopar Viper and posting his best D1 performance yet, which was due partly to his recent change of tire sponsors from Yokohama to BFGoodrich. Equipped with KDWs-mainly because BFG offers more variety in this tire than the stickier KDs-he was able to maintain the highest speeds of the 47 qualifiers around the outer bank. His new Charger was on display in the vendor area and will be finished by the first Formula D event at Long Beach.

Once the competition started, those who went aggressively into their drift and had close encounters with the wall received plenty of adoration from the fans. Many of the top drivers were grazing the wall on the inside bank in front of the judges stand. This was not the case of sloppy driving but skillful attempts to see how close the drivers could get to the wall without interrupting their line. On more than one occasion-most notably during a run by Sam Hubinette and Drift Samurai-a driver would tap the wall only to come back on the very next pass and hang it out within inches of the same spot, fanning the banners in dramatic displays of big talent and brass balls. It was kind of like our parallel parking technique, only at 50-plus miles per hour.

The first pairing was Tsuyoshi Tezuka in the outrageously loud BEE Racing HCR32 Skyline against one of the Team Orange GDBs driven by Kazuhiro Tanaka. Tanaka took the early advantage against the backfiring Skyline and advanced to the next round. Tatsuya Sakuma, who finished second to JR with the Kawasaki Car Company S15 at the last event, was hit hard by Syuuichi Yoshioka in the Team Julius 180SX, giving Sakuma the go-ahead to the next round. The other Yoshioka, Toshiki in the Project Hachiroku, gave one of the best tandem performances of the day against Nomuken in the Blitz ER34 v1.0. Yoshioka proved that a Corolla could hang with a car as fast as a Skyline, keeping up with Nomuken's speed and line and forcing the judges to give a "one more time" call. But no matter how well Yoshioka kept up with Nomuken in spite of the Skyline's clear advantage, the judges felt that Nomuken was the top car and he advanced to the next round. Considering that Nomuken previously damaged the v2.0 ER34 and could not get it fixed in time, he did very well with the original setup even though he prefers the responsiveness of the v2.0 ER34 over this one.

130_0606_21_z+d1gp_round_1+nissan_240sx Photo 4/29   |   Atsushi Kuroi rolls through with the River Side S13 powered by a RB26DETT.

Next up was last year's D1 champion, Yasuyuki Kazama in the DG5 S15 Silvia, against former Signal Auto driver Atsushi Kuroi in the River Side S13. While Kuroi's S13 boasts a monster RB26DETT engine configuration with 752bhp, he was just no match for Kazama, who has no problem going full power around the outer bank. Tetsuya Hibino in the Sunrise turbocharged Corolla AE86 went against the Vertex Soarer driven by Takahiro Ueno. While Hibino had the easy advantage over Ueno in the first tandem pass, he gave up that ticket to the Top 8 after hitting Ueno from the inside, giving Ueno a pass to the next round. Next was the most heated matchup of the day, pitting two Americans in Sam Hubinette and JR Gittin against each other. Both were hungry to advance and it showed as each driver came with aggression and increasing intensity with each pass, even coming into contact with each other and drawing a "one more time" from the judges and the crowd, but eventually it would be the Crazy Swede who would prevent JR from reaching another D1 podium.

GReddy's silent but deadly killer, Masato Kawabata in his blue S15 Silvia, who consistently blows by the judges with some of the fastest entry speeds in the D1GP series, took on Hiroshi Fukuda and the Power Enterprise 180SX. Kawabata took the early 7-3 advantage and moved to the Top 8. Crowd favorite Nobushige Kumakubo and the second Team Orange GDB went head-to-head against Youichi Imamura in the Top Secret Z33. While he drove the Fairlady withcunning reflexes, it was just not up to par as his time was behind the A'PEXi RX-7 and Kumakubo smoked the tires to the semi-finals.

Grrrrrrrrr-8!
As the sun set and the track temperature dropped into bone-chilling territory, the Top 8 read like a VIP list: No losers allowed. Each tandem battle had a clear and decisive winner with the exception of Kawabata and Kumakubo, who went with a one more time. An oil leak prevented Kawabata from going any further, allowing Kumakubo to go into the finals. Kazama took a fly-by right past Nomuken and Sam Hubinette took the Viper's V-10 power to the max, crushing Ueno's cool Soarer in the process. Tanaka fell short early on against Kazama's 7-3 advantage and then Kazama hit his A-game again, leaving Sam and Kumakubo the honor of determining who would join him in the final match-up. Sam took a penalty in the first run, forcing the two to line up again. Kumakubo caught the right line in the second run, going 6-4 against Sam, and the third pass resulted in a spinout by the Mopar Viper. With Kumakubo and Kazama pairing off to see who would catch the first set of high ranking points for the '06 season, everyone knew it would be a tough match, as both had cars that could easily win. It would be all up to driver's skill from this point on. But the win was decided early in the first run when Kumakubo hit a cone and spun out hard. As long as Kazama made a clean second pass it would be over, and sure enough, it was clean. If D1GP can maintain this level of excitement for the rest of the year, you can bet the next time it rolls through our way, you'll be able to witness drifting unlike any before.

130_0606_18_z+d1gp_round_1+drifter Photo 5/29   |   D1 will be uniting with the NHRA in Las Vegas for an exhibition.

D1GP Goes Worldwide
Keiichi Tsuchiya, the Drift King and D1GP's head judge, announced that the D1GP would soon be expanding to countries outside the US and England. Starting this year, exhibition events will be held in Las Vegas with the NHRA Sport Compact Series, again at Silverstone in the UK, and for the first time ever in China at the Shanghai International Circuit. Next year, D1GP plans to go fully international with a points series held in countries spanning four continents, including Japan, USA, Korea, China, England, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. For more info, visit: www.d1gp.com.

RESULTS
RANK DRIVER TEAM VEHICLE POINTS
01 Yasuyuki Kazama DG5 {{{Nissan}}} S15 Silvia 20
02 Nobushige Kumakubo Team Orange/Yuke's {{{Subaru}}} GDB {{{Impreza}}} 18
03 Kazuhiro Tanaka Team Orange/Yuke's Subaru GDB Impreza 16
04 Samuel Hubinette Team Mopar/Nuformz Racing {{{Dodge Viper}}} SRT-10 14
05 Masato Kawabata GReddy Nissan S15 Silvia 12
06 Ken Nomura Blitz Nissan ER34 Skyline 10
07 Tatsuya Sakuma Kawasaki Car Company Nissan S15 Silvia 8
08 Takahiro Ueno Vertex {{{Toyota}}} JZZ30 Soarer 6
09 Toshiki Yoshioka Project {{{Toyota Corolla}}} AE86 4
10 Vaughn "JR" Gittin Falken Tire/Drift {{{Alliance}}} {{{Ford Mustang}}} {{{GT}}} 2
By Jonathan Wong
485 Articles

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