We never thought we'd see the day when HT could justify an interview with a drifter. But in the wake of RS-R's success with its drift S2000, Honda has a place in the competitive drift world.
Then one day we searched online and found a video clip, narrated in Japanese, of this guy drifting an EF Civic. Not only was he drifting it, but he was also beating the Nissan he was going against. Whether this was actual competition, demo or just friendly sparring, we don't know. But the performance made an impression on us. Not only was this driver drifting, he was also controlling the car in a manner worthy of any top road racer (check out crabdrifting.com/pictures/cv4.wmv).
That guy turned out to be Keisuke Hatakeyama, a mild-mannered business owner from Akita City in northern Japan. The name rang a bell and we realized we'd seen Hatakeyama-san's EF hatch at the 2004 Tokyo Auto Salon, where it was emblazoned with his F Dori Style graphics (www.fdori-style.com). About six months later, we got word from folks at Falken that they'd bought Hatakeyama's car, planned to ship it over to the United States and set it up for drift demos with none other than the man himself behind the wheel.
We got some time to sit down with this truly underground legend of car control and drifting.
Honda Tuning:How did you get into FF drifting?
Keisuke Hatakeyama: When I was 20 years old I was drifting with Truenos and 180s like everyone else. One night I was drifting hard and totaled my car. I had no money, so I had to settle with what I could get my hands on at that time, which was a used 1.3-liter Civic. Automatic! (laughs). I bought it for 50,000 yen (about $500). I still wanted to drift so I took the Civic out and started drifting with it.
HONDA TUNING: So you just went out and starting drifting a FF?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: At first I couldn't, so I had to practice a lot in a parking lot with cones, like gymkhana (autocross). I went through about 300 tires in a year. First I had to use the e-brake, but later on I could do full turns without the side brakes. It's still the best way to practice how to drift an FF. I highly recommend it.
HONDA TUNING: You must have been a rare case drifting in a Civic.
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: Yeah, after I got better I started competing in drift contests organized by Japanese magazines and videos, like "Car Boy" and Option. I won the Car Boy "dori-con" (drift contest) and most of the local drift contests against 180s and Hachirokus with my Civic. I've gone through eight Civics since then. I had a sponsor and drifting was paying the bills.
HONDA TUNING: In the United States there's quite a bit of prejudice aimed at Honda people who try to drift. Many guys think "real" drifting is only Toyota and Nissan. Did you find this same attitude in Japan?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: Yes, but it didn't bother me. Actually, I was trying to outdo the FR guys with my FF. Yeah, there were guys with negative attitudes but my whole thing was to shut them up.
HONDA TUNING: You now have a deal with Falken Tires. Can you explain how that all came together?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: I took a break from drifting for about three years to start my own business and get married. My company installs air conditioning and ventilation systems. I couldn't devote my time to drifting because I was so busy, but then the business settled. I decided to get back into it late last year. Then out of the blue, Falken USA called me. Some Falken people saw me in an old drifting video and set out to find me. They brought me out of retirement!
HONDA TUNING: What are the terms of the deal? Will you be competing in U.S. drift events?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: I'm signed up to participate in all of the Falken Drift Showoff events next year, which should be about five or six times. I was just in Irwindale last month and showed Americans that you can drift in FF Civics.
HONDA TUNING: So no competitions?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: We're still in the works to compete in some kind of drift competition in the United States with the Falken team. It's still undecided, but I would love to compete.
HONDA TUNING: Now that you're back into it, will you continue drifting in Japan?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: After going to the United States and drifting at Formula Drift at Irwindale, I decided to make my place of activities there. The States is happening! You see, in Japan everyone wants to drift FR's. In America, drifting is still new and I see GTOs, Vipers and guys in pickup trucks trying to drift. OK, so they are still FR's of course, but I think there is less prejudice (in the States) toward people who do things differently. And drifting a Civic is definitely different. There used to be more people in Japan that drift FFs but now there aren't any.
HONDA TUNING: You might be surprised. Some people booed Rhys Millen when he first came out in his GTO. Some of these guys are not as open-minded as you might think. But coming back to your activities in the States, what do you hope to accomplish here?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: Well, I would really like to enter some competitions and win. [Falken] says Americans like to see FF drifting, so I think it's a good place for me. The Japanese scene is very competitive and you need serious backing from sponsors. It's a tough battle. I'm even thinking about moving to Los Angeles. Taro, what's the best way to learn English?
HONDA TUNING: The best way to learn English is find an American girlfriend the next time you visit and stop hanging out at Japanese hostess clubs in Torrance. I hate bumping into people I know there (pause, clears throat). Let's talk about technique for a minute. What about tire and suspension settings?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: You should raise air pressure in your rear tires to about 35 psi. Then make sure the rear wheels are toe-out, where the rear edges are closer than the front edges. Rear shocks should be soft but the springs should be hard. I use Tein shocks. I also use bigger wheels in the front than rear.
HONDA TUNING: And you're using an Integra engine in your Civic?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: Yes, it's a Type R engine. The extra power helps.
HONDA TUNING: One of the Falken guys told us they were planning to turbocharge your car.
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: Yes, it's being turbocharged by the Falken people for next year. The reason is to increase corner entry and exit speed. Compared to FR cars, FF cars can go side by side at the entry since it's only about how fast you can get it going before entering the corner. But FR cars have it easier at the exit so hopefully the turbo will help me cover that point.
HONDA TUNING: Can you explain your e-brake technique?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: The first thing is not to tune your e-brake so that it's too sensitive. Some guys think they have to have the brakes ultratight to drift in FF cars but that's not true. You need to have a lot of slack until the e-brake fully kicks in at the very top. You need that partial braking zone so you can ride it. As for practice methods, start by practicing your turns using the e-brakes. When you start drifting, make sure you don't stop the rear tires with the side brakes. Just use the brakes to turn the direction of the car, not to stop the rear tires. That's just sliding your car with momentum.
HONDA TUNING: Why the EF Civic for drifting?
What about the Integra or CRX?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: The EF hatch is a better car for FF drifting because of its overall balance. Despite its light weight, the wheelbase is pretty long. The EF is actually longer than a Toyota Levin. When approaching a corner to drift, I can make the rear end slide out with only the brake pedal. The EF hatch is also good because its movement is very smooth. The Integra and CRX can be very sharp. The CRX especially is very twitchy. I can drift with an Integra but its tendency is to stay sideways once it starts drifting. It's hard to swing it back at the end of a turn.
HONDA TUNING: What are your thoughts and technique as you approach a typical corner and initiate a FF drift?
KEISUKE HATAKEYAMA: The entrance is the same as an FR. It all depends on how fast you can enter the corner and throw the tail out sideways. You adjust your drift and cornering angle with the gas and steering. When you reach the clipping point, you use the gas and tap the e-brake to maintain the drift. Exit the drift on the gas and tapping on the e-brake once again. All of this must happen without lifting off the gas. Your foot should be on the gas the whole time, either at full or half-throttle.