Doriten: Top of Wild
Christmas in Japan involves families eating fried chicken and couples spending a romantic evening together. For me, it was the best time to head to Odaiba and celebrate Drift Tengoku's 20th Anniversary. You already know what "drift" means, but you have might have to guess what "Tengoku" translates to. Simply, it means "heaven." That's right, this is Drift Heaven!
Drift Tengoku, or Doriten for short, is Japan's drift-only magazine and is known for featuring grassroots level drifters and a lot of DIY tips. To celebrate their 20th anniversary, Top of Wild was organized on Christmas Eve, inviting 400 drifters from around Japan to take part. 100 participated in the drift competition while the rest participated in the small course which consisted of drifting around two Christmas trees to do figure eights. (Cue the song "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree").
As we walked the paddock along with the other 5,000 guests, we became quite nostalgic from all the awesome cars, drivers and drift teams that were in attendance. Magician, Sexy Style and Burst are drifting names we are familiar with and owe our introductions to Drift Tengoku.
We found inspiration everywhere we looked in the paddock and especially through a drift team consisting of disabled drivers. There were, of course, plenty of S-chassis and JZXs with a few AE86s, FCs and R32s. Then there was this Supra which we sort of think got mated to a Duesenberg. Maybe a Duesenpra or Supsenberg?
Most came to participate on the figure eight track, which is a safe place for any driver level. It was an interesting mix of go-go dancers wearing Santa outfits, a DJ on stage, Drift Samurai providing commentary all while drivers were doing burnouts and figure eight drifts around the small course.
The big course was a bit more serious. From across Japan, 100 up-and-coming drivers were invited to compete based on various criteria. The groups were arranged by region and given the morning to learn the course setup.
Additionally, Naoki was tapped to demo alongside Daigo Saito as he introduced his 2017 D1GP campaign vehicle; an HKS Nissan Skyline GTR. Unfortunately, his S14 was driven pretty hard in the previous session and was currently out of commission. No worries, he just hopped into Miki's and drove it like his own.
After just two qualifying runs, the 100 drivers that entered were quickly cut in half. The remaining drivers were the given one run to move onto the tandem rounds featuring the top 16 drivers. As a spectator, I could feel the intensity of the competition. One can only imagine how the drivers felt, all of which were losing their fair share of bumpers to the barricades.
Judging all of this was the 2016 D1GP champion Saito Daigo and legendary drifter Yoshinori Koguchi. To add to the entertainment, none other than Manabu Suzuki, the long-time voice of D1GP, provided commentary for each run. While the judges tallied the scores and arranged the brackets, awes and shrieks from the crowd could be heard over the tire-screeching, precision driving performance of Team Orange. Pure amazement in everyone's faces.
With the sunlight beginning to fade, the tandem tournament began. Most of the action was in the transition area from turn one to turn three due to it not being a straight entry. All the drivers transitioned into what seemed like a slight right bend just prior to entering turn three; turn three being directly in front of the judges.
The final four started well after darkness had fallen with Masuyama and his S14 paired against Nagai and his S13; Maeda and his Mark II paired against Nishio and his S13. The final saw Maeda battling it out with Masuyama and required a sudden-death round to eventually determine the winner.
While you were getting the milk and cookie ready for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve, I was at one of the best drift events in Japan. As surreal as it was, I loved seeing cars and drivers that are usually only seen on the internet and in the pages of Drift Tengoku magazine. It was great getting that grassroots vibe in the big city of Tokyo.