Additional photos by King of Nations staff
It was the King of Nations drift series that plucked us from our cubicles and tossed us onto a 13-plus hour flight to Japan. That was followed by a two-hour drive north of Tokyo, past Saitama and Gunma, and eventually into the Tochigi prefecture. You'll need to traverse a bumpy dirt road and through a small tunnel to find the legendary drifting course, Nikko Circuit. For years the 12-turn course has served as a home for both professional D1 GP events as well as your regular grassroots soukoukai. We were well aware there was multiple drifting events held that same weekend, but only one of them had drift king Keiichi Tsuchiya behind the judging table.
In '05, the drift series was born in Belgium as King of Europe, and over the next three years King of Asia was added to the mix. Naturally, the series would see another huge expansion to a worldwide championship that included the Middle East and Brazil. General manager Mike Procureur says, "We started with the motto 'made by the drivers for the drivers' — we were racers before, and I have been so disappointed with lack of track time and consideration from the promoters that I wanted to make something different, and I've created King of Europe. You know, sending the winner home happy is easy. Sending home the other 30-40 drivers happy, too, is the trick part of the job."
We followed Formula D Pro 2 driver Ryan Rasberry in his first drifting event in Japan. "I didn't know what to expect when I arrived, but when I did get there, I realized it was the big leagues. It also had some of the biggest names in drifting history at the event. I knew I had to step my game up if I was going to be able to qualify," Ryan says. Using a Toyota JZX100 from STF Garage's drift rental service, Ryan was able to land 24th place in qualifying. Pretty impressive considering it was his first time driving a right-hand-drive car and a turbo inline six instead of normal LS-powered S14 stateside. "When qualifying came around I was so nervous. I laid down my first run and didn't spin so I knew I'd be okay. The second run came around and I went for it and ended up qualifying. The event was amazing and something I will never forget," Ryan concludes. Unfortunately, due to mechanical issues, Ryan's weekend wouldn't go any further than qualifying.
One of the most anticipated battles was between legendary driver Daigo Saito and fan favorite Naoki Nakamura. Everyone knows Saito for his extremely fast drifts but the interesting story is with Nakamura, who's gained quite the reputation as the bad boy in drifting. Back in '11 he was banned from D1GP for street drifting on public roads. He made a comeback, winning D1 Street Legal in '14. It's the tsuiso where he shines. It was a David and Goliath story as Saito and his drift-spec Corvette outmuscled Nakamura and his Nissan S15. Saito is also the current points leader in the series by a large margin.
"This is our third time racing at Nikko," Mike says. "Nikko is magic because for Japanese drifting, this is where it all started 20 years ago and a bit for us, too. Our worldwide adventures started at Nikko." The next stop for King of Nations is Ebisu, which many of you should know is an epic drifting track. Is King of Nations slowly taking over the drifting world?