The list of watershed events in this scene is short but sweet-the first import drag race; the first Hot Import Nights; the first US D1; and most importantly, the eruption of Nads' first moob (the left one in case you were wondering). Will the inaugural Gymkhana USA event join this hallowed list or will it be cast asunder in the annals of history much like the dropping of Nads' right tittie? In other words, will gymkhana be the next big thing, or just the next thing?
For those of you without the proclivity for obscure YouTubage, gymkhana is essentially autocross on steroids. At first glance, a gymkhana and an autocross course may look identical, with cones strewn about a parking lot or other such paved area. However, the gymkhana course kicks things up a notch with even tighter turns sometimes requiring competitors to complete figure eights, slide into parking boxes, or reverse through specially marked gates. Because of such automotive acrobatics, gymkhana is also known as car rodeo, but we think a more appropriate comparison would be to ballet or figure skating given how the cars rotate on their axis and glide gracefully from forward to backward, threading nimbly through the cones. But then figure skating is not the manliest pursuit (Chazz Michael Michaels not withstanding) and at least rodeo riders don't have to wear tights. Whatever your favored comparison, gymkhana is much more technical than your average autocross.
Southern California's El Toro field-deep in the heart of Real Housewives country-was the site of this kickoff event. The Christmas tree start and a pair of mirrored courses gave everything a ProSolo feel, albeit without the ProSolo pressure as the entire day had a relaxed grassroots vibe to it. There was also a wide variety of cars like an old school air-cooled bug, a C5 Corvette Z06 and just about everything in between. A large contingent of drifters came out, with 240s and Hachi's being the most prevalent, as well as a surprising amount of subcompact rides with more than a few Fits and even a Yaris hatch dancing delicately between the cones.
Because a great gymkhanaist (gymkhanaer?) should be able to make their car pirouette around the pylons, those of the drifting ilk are seemingly genetically engineered for such antics. D1 great Toshiki Yoshioka as well as Dai Yoshihara, Stephane Verdier and Wes Hamachi all oversteered their way around the gymkhana course. Alex Pfeiffer went minimalist with his turbo 4AG-powered Lotus Super Seven and Chris Forsberg may not have been fastest in his Titan V-8-infused Z33, but he looked perfect enough as every one of his passes was punctuated with plenty of opposite lock and even more tire smoke. Rally rockstar and DC Shoes co-founder Ken Block even took time from his globetrotting schedule to whip the Crawford Performance STI Time Attacker through the gymkhana cone field. Ken's 54.18 was one of the fastest of the day. Many of the pros dipped beneath the 55-second mark and Verdier's 50.98 was nothing short of amazing. But what of the Super Street bunch? Nads cone-crushed Project STI to a pathetic 58.78 and Rikdaddy's NT (for no time) was only because our SRT4's Sprinter van-like turning radius wouldn't allow him even one clean lap. Well, at least we have our health... Okay, Ricky has his health, Nads is lucky he can still go to the bathroom unassisted.
Pundits may argue that gymkhana is no more than a "style" of autocross doomed to the same fringe status. We say, who cares if this motorsport never rivals that of drifting and Time Attack, it's exciting to watch and requires little effort to participate. Besides, if gymkhana doesn't go big it just means more sessions for us.
Hey, Gymkhana USA, Who's Your Daddy?
The American Gymkhana Association and its Gymkhana USA series of events is the brainchild of Ken Takahashi, who's been in the game even longer than Nads. We asked him some questions about his first event, and you know what? He answered them.
Now that the event is over, what is your overall impression of how it turned out?
Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Originally I was expecting [fewer spectators]. It was a good sign that our industry is ready for something new.
Were you surprised at the skill level of the drivers competing in this first event?
I expected some good drivers and some semi-pros to show up...but to be honest, there were some pretty good drivers.
What are some things that most drivers need to work on?
For the most part, (and I know I'm going to get some flack from some of your readers) I noticed that the majority of Americans depend on their cars for performance. They invest money in buying parts to make their cars run faster and don't develop their driving skills. Gymkhana is about driver skill-the car is just a platform. It is about mental concentration (memorization) and your talents to navigate your platform though a course as best as you can. That's the beauty of gymkhana, you can do it with a stock or modified car, your everyday driver or a race preped machine. There is nothing to intimidate or segregate you. The challenge is to make yourself a better driver. Don't use your car as the excuse; usually the weakest link is the driver.
How will you change the course for the next events?
As time progresses the courses will get more complex. We didn't want to blast the American drivers with one of those "hardcore" gymkhana courses you see on YouTube because, again, AGA is not making a new sport, only reintroducing one that has been around for a while to a new generation of drivers. We're trying to energize the market with parallel synergy from autocrossing, drifting and rally interests-giving them one big playing field. Our courses will integrate things from each of these three disciplines, which American drivers are familiar with-a hybrid of sorts. You'll have to wait and see, but one thing for sure is it won't be predictable.
Where will the next events take place?
Probably at El Toro in Irvine for now, or at least the next two events. It's conveniently located within the city. First, we want people to get familiar with the sport. I think always moving the venue makes it hard for people to figure out where we are going to be next. Eventually we will move to a couple more locations around the LA and OC area, but the key is to remain in the city. Although it's easier to book a place like Buttonwillow or Willow Springs, my goal is to bring the sport to the people and make it easy, fun and cheap. That's the formula for a great grassroots motorsport.
Which pro drivers do you hope to bring out to the next gymkhana?
That's the neat thing about my event, you never know who's going to pop in! At the last one it was nice to see guys like Ken Block, Dai Yoshihara, Toshiki Yoshioka, Alex Pfeiffer, Chris Forsberg and Samuel Hubinette, and Tanner Foust popped in also. I am working with several Japanese companies and race teams that are interested in promoting their gymkhana background here in the US so you'll be seeing more Japanese drivers popping up here in the States, soon. Maybe even Tarzan, too.
Any other comments?
American Gymkhana is actually a collaboration of the industry's top respected companies that strongly believe in the power of the individual automotive enthusiast. It's our way of showing it's not all about money, but about the sharing and support of one common interest. I would like to mention and thank the companies that support American Gymkhana: 5Zigen, A Spec Products, Autobacs USA, Bride, Bridgestone Tires, Falken Tires, HKS, iloveracing.com, JIC Magic, Nitto Tires, RSR, Toyo Tires, Tanabe, Tein and Works Bell.
For a complete list of results and more information about upcoming Gymkhana USA events, check out www.gymkhanausa.com.