With the exhibition D1 event closing off the 2004 year at GT Live with a bang, it was no surprise the anticipation in Southern California was going to be feverish for the D1 season opener at Irwindale Raceway. Saturday's qualifying and driver search went through almost 60 drift vehicles and what a spectacle it was. The top ten Japanese drivers from 2004 were automatically seeded for Sunday's eliminations along with 20 selections from Saturday. The American drifters were unfortunately sparse in the top 20, with Vaughn Gittin JR, Alex Pfieffer and Rhys Millen paving the way. Sunday's eliminations would prove unfortunate for two of those three as Rhys Millen and his Pontiac GTO graced the best 16 as the sole American drifter.
Sunday's event was filled with excitement as the wide-open throttle of drift vehicles filled the air. In the top 16 were Ken Nomura and his four door Skyline, Toshiki Yoshioka in his AE86, 2003 champion Youichi Imamura in the A'PEX FD3S RX-7, Kuniaki Takahashi in the unmistakable Chaser, Maeda Ken and his AE86, Matsuda Toyohisa and his AE86, Miki Ryuji in the ORC 350Z, Ueno Takahiro in his bright red Soarer, Kawabata Masato in the GReddy S15, Rhys Millen and his GTO, Tanaka Kazuhiro in his S15, last year's Irwindale winner Kazama Yasuyiki in his S15, Taniguchi Nobuteru in the HKS S15, D1 GP Japan vs. US winner Kumakubo in his Team Orange S15, Hiraka Hideo in his Espelir sponsored AE86, and lastly Suenaga Masao in the GReddy RX-7.
The first round of eliminations threw Nomura Ken's ever popular Skyline against Yoshioka Toshiki's AE86. The AE86 just couldn't keep up with the expertise of Nomura Ken as the Skyline proceeded to round two. Up next was an intense battle between Imamura's A'PEX RX-7 and Takahashi Kuniaki's Chaser. Imamura was out to prove why he was 2003's champion and took out the Chaser giving him a slot in the second round. A battle of the diverse AE86s then ensued with Maeda Ken battling out Matsuda Toyohisa for the second round spot. Maeda Ken would return as the ORC 350Z lined up with Ueno's Soarer. All dreams of a 350Z winning the D1 season opener ended here however, as Ueno proceeded on. Kawabata's GReddy S15 then took on side to side action with Rhys Millen's GTO. Millen was out to prove why he was in the top 16 and put on a great show going onto the next round. Tanaka's S15 then battled with Kazama's S15 in great round of side-to-side drifting. When the smoke cleared however the green S15 would be making another return trip into competition. A familiar sight then popped up as Taniguchi's HKS S15 battled Kumakubo's S15 yet again. Reminiscent of the battle at GT Live, Kumakubo once again took out Taniguchi representing Team Orange to the fullest.
The last round of eliminations threw the GReddy FD3S RX-7 drifted by Suenaga Masao with Hiraoka Hideo's AE86. Once again the AE86 could not keep up with the power of the FD3S as GReddy's RX-7 moved on. Round two began with Imamura's RX-7 eagerly awaiting battle with Nomura Ken's Skyline. Imamura's coupe would prove triumphant over the sedan, and on to Round 3 he went. Maeda Ken then took the stage with Ueno's Soarer as they drifted as competitively as ever but Ueno proved triumphant in this battle. In one of the best battles of the event, Rhys Millen gave all he had against Kazama's S15. A sudden death was called after Millen triumphantly passed Kazama in an insane drift leaving people wanting more. Kazama was out to reclaim the Irwindale title however, and the sudden death round was given to him. GReddy's RX-7 then retook the course with Kumakubo's S15 and Kumakubo once again proved why he won the GT Live D1 GP event. As the semifinals approached, there was a huge debate as to who would win.
Ueno's Soarer would battle with Imamura's RX-7 in some of the closest door-to-door drifting we had seen all day. Imamura would make the trip to the finals and his opponent was still undecided. In an insane battle of the S15s, Kumakubo and Kazama put on a huge show but it unfortunately resulted in Kumakubo spinning out, giving Kazama the high hope of another win at Irwindale. The final battle between Imamura and Kazama proved dramatic, as a clear winner would have to be decided through competition. Several rounds passed before Kazama was crowned the victor of the D1 season opener.