Maybe it's all those spectacular roads around Mount Fuji, or all the RWD sports cars, but despite all the many talented drivers from other countries, the Japanese seem to have a special affinity for drifting. Fresh from Formula Drift's 2010 second round at Road Atlanta come the thoughts of two sons of Nippon: one from the top step of the podium, the other somewhat further down.
As the only person to competitively drift a Nissan R35 GT-R, it's hard to feel too sorry for Robbie Nishida. But let's give it a try. Nishida had to miss the first round of the 2010 Formula Drift season and he's still trying to get to grips with his new ride. Awwww . . .
As you probably know, it's been a rough start to the season for the team and me. Sitting out the first round was not only bad for our points standings, but everyone else is now a race ahead in experience. So Atlanta was my first round of 2010, and in a brand-new car: my Hankook/Gruppe-S GT-R.
I had a quick test session before the event. Short and simple. We just wanted to make sure everything was working properly and nothing was going to fall off. We arrived in Atlanta the night before practice day and went to the track the next morning. There were many minor complications that impacted our important practice time and I ended up doing only three passes.
The next day I made about four or five runs in open practice before qualifying, trying to dial the car in and get used to it. This car is difficult to drive and so different from the 350Z I had last year. The wheelbase is long, the car is heavy . . . I have a list of reasons why it's hard to tame. It's going to take time to sort out.
I don't know how I pulled off my first qualifying run, putting me in 11th place. I was struggling, trying to run my best line and not make any mistakes. We had a nighttime practice session after Qualifying, but I couldn't even make one clean pass. It might have been getting to me. I was stressed by the combination of too little seat time and too much pressure.
On the big day, I was up against Matt Powers in the Top 32 tandem. Matt hadn't made any major mistakes throughout the weekend, so I knew I had to make clean, calm runs against him. Since I had done only one tandem practice run, I was pretty nervous. We had a One More Time (OMT) call, but I was able to move on. It wasn't easy at all.
I was glad to make it into the Top 16 and introduce the new car to all the fans. For this round, I was paired with Mike Essa in his BMW, which he debuted at Long Beach. He was consistent and throwing big angle into the first initiation. When following, my car didn't have much front-end traction, making me look choppy. When I was leading, temperatures were cooler, so I e-braked a little earlier than usual, thinking it would slide a little more. The car straightened out and missed the clipping point. That was my weekend, finished.
Some people have said it was good enough, since it was our first competition and the first time I actually got to drive the GT-R hard. But I don't want to make any excuses and just wish I would have controlled the car better. I know the car has potential if we could dial it in more. We will work closely with KW Suspension before the next event. Because of the weight and long wheelbase, we will try a much softer setup on the springs, along with a look at compression and rebound settings to gain more traction.
We are running Hankook 305/30R19 Ventus Z222 tires at the rear, which work great, but we need to try different sizes at the front and get more data from testing with different tire pressures. Gruppe-S will re-tune the car for extra horsepower to accommodate this setup.
Thanks to all my fans, and be sure not to miss the continuing adventures of the world's first drift R35 GT-R!
Is this the same man who had such a dismal 2009, who hasn't stepped onto a podium in two years, who hasn't tasted champagne in all that time unless he bought it himself, who topped a field that included a GT-R and a V10-powered BMW from behind the wheel of an S13? The short answer is yes. Dai provides a longer version.
During the practice sessions, my S13 felt great, but I felt the gearing didn't go well with the track, so we changed the final drive. The new gearset matched perfectly and the car felt even better. After a few solid runs, I was ready for Qualifying.
I tried to be conservative to get a decent score in my first Qualifying run, but ended up initiating a little too aggressively and ran off the line. I guess I scored some good excitement points, though, because I was standing in Third. Then I dropped to Eighth before my second run. I went smoother and cleaner after that, got 89.4 points, and ended up qualifying Fourth.
In the Top 32 round, I went up against "Mad Mike" Whiddett. He's a good driver, but it seemed like he was still having a hard time adjusting to his car and the track, so I thought I could beat him as long as I didn't make a mistake. I made sure to drive nice and clean, and moved on to the Top 16.
Next round, I raced against Pat Mordaunt. He beat me last year, so it was a great chance to get revenge. I'm usually nervous in that type of situation, but I was able to keep calm and both my runs were good. Plus, he spun at the first corner when I was leading.
I faced Darren "D-Mac" McNamara in the Top 8. His car was fast, so we set the tire pressures five psi lower and tried to gain a little more traction.
He was damn fast! The battle was close, so the judges called for an OMT. When I was leading, he was really close to me the whole run. As I was about to transition at the horseshoe, he hit me. It was pretty hard and I thought my car was broken. But my spotter Mike said it didn't seem any worse than cosmetic, so I drove back to the start line and we called a five-minute break.
Luckily, there was no frame damage and Scott and Owen got it ready to drive in time. When I was following, I knew the wing was gone, so I initiated carefully. After that, I tried to stick with his ass the whole time and made it to the final four!
I met Chris Forsberg in the Semis. He's a great driver-super-consistent. But I knew my car was faster and I could pull away coming down from the horseshoe. I focused on running as fast as possible while leading, and when I was following, it wasn't too hard to keep up.
It was myself and Vaughn Gittin, Jr. in the Finals. I couldn't really think of anything at this point, other than that I really, really wanted to win. There was no strategy. I just tried my best and got the result.
Overall, it was a victory through great teamwork. Scott and Mike set the car up exactly the way I wanted it. Scott and Owen maintained the car after each run so it was working great the whole weekend. We had good strategies. And Mike did a great job spotting. I had so much information about other drivers and my driving all weekend that I didn't have to worry or guess about those things, I could just focus on driving. All those factors went well and gave us the win. I really appreciate everyone's effort on the team.
Finally, thank you to all my sponsors for continuing to believe in me. And to all my fans. After a disappointing 2009, my fans continue to provide great support. I had so many encouraging comments on Twitter and Facebook during the event. It definitely helped. I'm so happy I could prove to everyone-and to myself-that I can still fight for a winning spot. Although this is only one win, I will try hard in the upcoming events to take more and be the 2010 champion!
Round 2 Results
1. Daijiro Yoshihara
2. Vaughn Gittin, Jr.
3. Chris Forsberg