The 2005 D1 Grand Prix season got into swing February 27 at Irwindale Speedway. For the first time ever, an event contested in America would count for points toward the D1 championship. Other big news saw Manabu Orido step away from the judge's table and into the RS*R Supra. Orido had a close encounter with a K-rail and failed to make the field of 30 and advance into the elimination rounds.
On a more ominous note perhaps, D1 unveiled DBS, Drift Box System, a GPS-based sensor array that sends vehicle dynamic telemetry to the judges. The DBS was demonstrated at Irwindale for use in competition in future races. Is this a good thing? Real-time punch scoring statistics have done wonders for the boxing game and drifting has been somewhat criticized for its subjective scoring, being compared to figure skating or gymnastics more than to other forms of motorsport. So we will see how DBS pans out. D1 is also looking for more international flavor as plans to take the sideways circus to Korea, the U.K. and Singapore are in the works.
Saturday: Demo Day (more demolition than demonstration)
With all the American drivers on hand and amped up to compete there was a big letdown when only three Stars and Stripes representatives made it to eliminations. Rhys Millen, Alex Pheiffer and Vaughn Gitten Jr. advanced while Chris Forsberg, Andy Yen, Calvin Wan and other notables missed out.
There were other casualties as well as twisted sheet metal was the order of the day for many. Kazuhiro Tanaka in the Team Orange Silvia punished a barrier with the rear quarter panel and rear wing tip of his Nissan and failed to advance. Gen Terasaki tried to join the growing spectator count when he backed his new Autobacs-backed Honda S2000 into the wall. But a fan in the crowd offered up his S2K as a parts donor and Terasaki lived to drift another day.
The festivities on Saturday culled the herd down to 20 qualifying drivers who would join 10 seeded, pre-qualified combatants on Sunday for elimination tandem battles. But as the crowd left Irwindale the sounds of die grinders filled the air as battle-scarred cars were being revitalized for the big show on Sunday.
Sunday: Judgment Day
The field of 30 was reduced to 16 and after the granulated rubber dust settled, Millen was the lone American survivor. Orido had another close encounter with concrete and Toshiki Yashioka had altered his paint job scraping the wall, which put both drivers on the sidelines. The sweet 16 would square of in tandem drift shootouts and the crowd revved up noticeably. The enthusiasm was pumping hard as the fans made their favorites clear by chanting the name of their top drivers Jerry Springer style. Taniguchi and his HKS S15, Imamura and his A'PEXi RX-7 and Kazama and his tasty Kei Office S15 Silvia seemed to get the loudest cheers.
Earlier on it was evident that Kazama and Imamura were operating on a level a notch above the rest. Ueno and his Vertex-backed turbo Soarer and Millen in the RMR GTO were also on top of their game.
The battle between Millen and Kazama in the second round was a classic as the crowd demanded a 'one more time' but in the end Kazama got the pass. Imamura and Ueno were brilliant as their cars and skill level were in sync and Kumakubo of Team Orange, winner of the U.S.A. vs. Japan D1 event in December 2004, showed his success was no fluke as he powered to the final four.
In the final four Ueno and Imamura went at it like titans. Imamura did enough to win but it was super close. The other pair of drivers, Kazama and Kumakubo, made it easy on the judges. Kumakubo came in too hot and spun out as Kazama slid by in full drift; next stop, the final.
As Imamura and Kazama emerged from the pits they tried to sway the crowd with some much-appreciated pre-race antics. Soon after the flag fell for the final Kazama asserted his superiority, working a wicked angle coming off the banking and the pulling a super-quick transition in the heart of the course. Kazama would follow on the second run and he was glued to the back of the Mazda sealing the deal with both the judges and the fanatical Irwindale crowd.
The first points of the 2005 D1 Grand Prix Championship have been scored. There is a long way still to go and a lot of attention on the series and a number of questions need to be answered. How high will Orido's star rise? When will an American driver win a D1 event? How will the DBS telemetry impact the sport? Stay tuned as we will bring you the answers and all the drift action.