Drifting at Irwindale 2004-03-02

Kazama Savors First D1 Grand Prix Victory Ecstatic Kei Office driver dazzles at Irwindale season opener IRWINDALE, Calif. (Feb. 28) - Drifting's top drivers descended last week on Los Angeles, ready to rumble. When the tire smoke and engine ...

Kazama Savors First D1 Grand Prix Victory
Ecstatic Kei Office driver dazzles at Irwindale season opener

IRWINDALE, Calif. (Feb. 28) - Drifting's top drivers descended last week on Los Angeles, ready to rumble. When the tire smoke and engine roar faded, Yasuyuki Kazama had out-styled and out-gunned all comers to take home his first-ever D1GP victory.

"I was really on my game today, and luckily any mistakes I made were small," Kazama told reporters later. His bright green drifting machine, a 414-horsepower Kei Office Nissan Silvia (similar to the 240SX once sold in America) dazzled the estimated 10,000-plus who flocked to Irwindale Speedway.

The 34-year-old Nagano resident savored his moment, treating the audience to an extended set of tire-melting donuts, waving, and finally scrambling to the top of his car to wave his D1GP trophy for the cheering crowd.

The always dangerous Nobuteru Taniguchi had to work hard for his second-place finish, putting away a white-hot Ken Nomura. Nomura had earlier dispatched Hiroshi Fukuda and Kazuhiro Tanaka in a brilliant display of aggressive driving that thrilled the crowd and showcased the power of his white Nissan Skyline. Still, the weapon of choice in drifting seems to be the Nissan Silvia.

Fans of the extreme motorsport were treated to a sparkling-clear, if chilly, day of wild drifting action as their favorite American and Japanese drivers rocketed through the course, getting as sideways as their nerves - and physics - would allow.

The attrition was brutal for the non-Japanese, who haven't been drifting professionally nearly as long as the D1 Grand Prix aces. The only Americans to make it into the "Best 16" were Samuel Hubinette in the Jasper Performance Supra, and Rhys Millen in a barely finished Pontiac GTO. Sidelined were popular Southern California drifters like Ernie Fixmer of Rotora Racing and Daijiro Yoshihara of Pacific Rim Racing. Yoshihra was uninjured when his Nissan Silvia slammed nose-first into the course barrier just below the D1GP judges' platform.

In the first round, Atsushi Kuroi beat Hubinette, who was born in Sweden. Millen, who immigrated from New Zealand, and his four-week-old GTO, went down in defeat to Ryuji Miki. "This week most of the drivers have been here to learn the track. I'm here trying to learn the car. I'm confident we'll have a competitive American machine," said Millen, who has Pikes Peak Hill Climb wins and rally racing on his resume. The Millen Racing Products team and Pontiac will be fielding the yellow GTO in a stateside drifting series which concludes in the fall. Millen hopes that will leave time for him to go up against the Japanese D1 drivers again before year's end.

In other round one action, Tanaka beat 2003 D1 series champion Youichi Imamura and his Mazda RX-7; Taniguchi bested Toshiki Yoshioka and his Toyota Corolla; Gen Terasaki beat Hisashi Kamimoto; the popular "Team Orange" driver Nobushige Kumakubo defeated Ken Maeda and Kazama sent Masao Suenaga packing.

In the "best eight" round of eliminations, Nomura beat Tanaka; Taniguchi edged out Terasaki; Kumakubo put Miki on the trailer and Kazama beat Atsushi Kuroi.

The semi-finals featured Nomura pitted against Taniguchi while Kazama faced-off against Kumakubo.

The finale to the first-ever D1 Grand Prix series opener in the U.S. - a formation drift - brought the fans to their feet as all 16 competitors lit up their tires in lap after lap of drifting mania.

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Series General
Drivers Rhys Millen , Nobuteru Taniguchi , Daijiro Yoshihara , Samuel Hubinette , Toshiki Yoshioka