Its aim is to establish a legit global drifting series, and to that end the Formula D (FD) World Championship got off to a solid start. Together with Motor Games, the pro sliding series returned to one of the most iconic circuits on the planet, Fuji Speedway in the Shizuoka prefecture, for the Japanese round of the 2015 campaign. Formula Drift President Jim Liaw said of the event, "Japan is the birthplace of drifting and it's fitting to start the first international round where it all started."
There are three other Formula D rounds held in the Land of the Rising Sun, including stops at Tsukuba, Suzuka Twin Circuit, and Okayama, but the event at Fuji is the only one that actually counts for World Championship points. Not surprisingly for two straight days Fuji was complete tire-slaying chaos.
During qualifying, Kawabata Masato in the Greddy Nissan GT-R easily won the hearts of judges, scoring a 93 overall to top the session. Kenji Takayama in the Lexus GS350 and Shinji Minowa in his JZX90 Toyota Chaser both tied for second with an 87. International drivers also vying for a spot included FD regulars Odi Bakchis, Fredric Aasbo, Matt Field, Masashi Yokoi, Dean Kearney, Daigo Saito, Robbie Nishida, Charles Ng, and "Mad" Mike Whiddett.
For eliminations day, spectators filled the rustic hillside viewing area as well the vendor village. Fortunately the stormy weather leading up to the weekend lapsed and Mother Nature provided nothing but sunshine for the event. It was impressive to see Field qualify with minimal seat time in a Toyota Chaser he borrowed from Saito. Aasbo made his way to the Top 8 only to be edged out by Masato.
In the semifinals, Bakchis was pitted against Tadahiro Fukada in the RC-ART Toyota Mark II, where the LS-powered Hyundai Genesis muscled the win. On the other side of the bracket was an epic battle between Kawabata in the Greddy R35 and Masao Suenaga in the RE Amemiya Mazda RX-7; the screaming rotary was no match for the sliding Godzilla. Sadly, the final battle between Bakchis and Kawabata was scrubbed due to mechanical failure in the Hyundai. Kawabata took home first place and a nice 500,000-yen check.
"We are excited at what we are building in Japan," Jim Liaw concluded after the event. "Not only is it that we are bringing a more globalized version of drifting back to the sport's roots but laying down the foundation for the next chapter in drifting, and that is a world championship. This challenge we chose to embark on is not easy, but I think the signs are good we are helping bring the world of drifting closer together, [and] as a result hopefully [making the sport] more exciting and more compelling."