When I found out that I'd be crashing in the same room as Dai Yoshihara (I was assed out of a room and begged the Pac Rim team for a spot on the floor), I was elated. Not many people get a chance to see a pro drifter in their skivvies, let alone go for a ride along at a drift event. What would he be like? Is he a neat freak? Does he snore or is he more of a teeth grinder? (Both annoy me in equal doses.) Does he clean up any "stray" hairs after using the shower? These sorts of things can make or break the deal for bunking up with someone. We're talking Dai for crying out loud!
I discovered immediately that having Dai as a roommate was a gift from the gods. He is impeccably clean, just like the way he drives. Every article of clothing is neatly folded before he goes to sleep, he carries enough hair styling product to put my collection to shame, and he doesn't make a peep during the night. I thought he might need a set of earplugs to drain out my snoring but to my own amazement, Dai told me that I didn't snore at all. Then he told me he had been using his own ear plugs. Just out of pure coincidence, this weekend turned out to be one of Dai's biggest podium finishes in his Formula D career. And to think, it was a year ago this time when Dai had one of his worst performances (according to the man himself) and at the same track of all places. A victory would surely be the sweetest comeback and a redemption worthwhile.
It seemed, from Friday's open practice and non-seeded qualifying sessions, that every driver in attendance was on top of their game, coming off a slight slump from the last round in West Virginia. Hiro Sumida in the Falken/Discount Tire IS 350 seems to have become a lot more comfortable with his 2JZ power, swinging around the track with ease and popping off exhaust caps on every exit, but took a quick exit when he spun out against Tanner Foust in the AEM 350Z. Dai initiated his winning streak first with Ken Gushi, who actually had an 8-6 advantage in the first set, but a "one more time" prompt from the judges placed them back into action with Dai coming out on top and into the Top 8. Robby Unser, Jr. qualified for his first ever Top 16 spot, but had trouble keeping the car from spinning out against JIC's Kenji Yamanaka.
A shocking turn of events came during the match between Hankook and JIC's Tyler McQuarrie (catch this month's Guest Parking on page 46) and the Red Bull Solstice driven by Rhys Millen-a broken tie rod in the first run compromised Rhys' chances of going any further, putting the current Time Attack record holder into the next round. Next, Sam Hubinette lined up against "The Little Corolla That Could," Taka Aono's AE86, which was just a treat to watch as the two also went for a "one more time" decision maker with Sam, advancing just with more controlled driving and not just full-on power. Another undercard, Bill Sherman, who drives for Enjuku Racing, was on fire during practice and qualifying and overtook Falken's Robbie Nishida as he understeered on the second pass off the bank, which resulted in Robbie missing the clipping point. Chris Forsberg rounded off the Top 16 eliminations when he advanced past Darren McNamara.
With the weekend's top eight drivers now left standing, it would be quick moving action all the way until the very end. Tanner tapped out after tapping the bank wall, which caused irreparable damage to the left rear end and promptly put Dai into the Final 4. The Hankook/JIC teammates would be a win/win situation for the team either way, but Kenji advanced past Tyler. The familiar scenario of Falken's JR Gittin and Mopar's Sam Hubinette happened yet again and both were equally matched for the first round, which called for a "one more time," but on the second go, Sam scored an automatic zero when he tapped JR after spinning.
The most exciting match-up of the day came when the two S15 Silvias lined up against each other. Both JIC's Kenji and Pac Rim's Dai scored an amazing 9-9 tie during first pass, and on the second pass, Kenji overtook Dai on the inside line, causing Dai to straighten out. However, the Formula D judges deemed the inside pass as unsafe and illegal; had Kenji taken the outside line to pass it would've been OK, but passing on the inside was potentially dangerous and could have sent Dai into the wall if something went wrong. Dai advances.
Former Falken teammates, but Drift Alliance partners for life, JR Gittin paired up against Forsberg, who advanced against Bill Sherman in the Top 8. In their tandem, Forsberg slid against the bank wall, causing serious damage to his wheel, and was unable to move on. This automatically gave Third place to Kenji Yamanaka because the consolation round would've been between Kenji and Forsberg. Kenji gives the Seattle fans a smoky show with a solo pass around the Evergreen Raceway.
The final death match would not go down easy either. These were two very determined individuals who have seen their fair share of victory and defeat over the past few years as professional drifters. Dai took the early 9-8 lead against JR and it would prove to be enough to go home on top.
Bunking with Dai from that moment on was nothing but smiles.