Final Bout Special Stage Japan: Return to the Spirit of Drifting
Four years ago in the Windy City, a group of friends started a movement toward — or maybe better stated as — a return to the ideals of what drifting should be. To understand why it is more of a return, we have to go back five years to when the seeds of Final Bout were planted.
If you are a fan of drifting, then you have know about Final Bout but may not know that the organizers also organize Club FR events. Club FR events are held in the Midwest and provide opportunities for drivers to practice and occasionally compete.
Final Bout Mission
As two of the organizing members, Simba Nyemba and Ilia Smolov explain, the direction of Club FR events had reached a crossroads. They began to feel that the events and competitions were becoming just a stepping stone for those that had aspirations of becoming pro. The spirit of drifting was being lost.
Ilia explained that the cars started to become more about motorsports and less about style. Simba added that what people were bringing were not their best cars, of course some were, but many would be classified as "missiles." It had also become less about teams and more about individuals.
This individual mentality led to a couple years where events that were normally sold out in one day were being cancelled. Instead of calling it quits, some of the Club FR staff decided to create a new event, an event that would truly capture the spirit of drifting. Final Bout was then planted, and now it just needed some time to grow.
Planting the Seeds
The first event drew participants and spectators from around North America and became the event to showcase drift teams. Besides the fact that the drivers had to be skilled drifters, their cars must also be show quality — that meant no unpainted parts, no damaged fenders, nice wheels and of course as low as possible.
The event became an annual event held at Club FR's home circuit at U.S.A. International Raceway located in the heart of cheesehead country. It draws participants from across North America, and spectators travel from different corners of the planet to witness the awe-inspiring spectacle.
After the second year, it was time for Final Bout to sprout some branches, and so the Special Stages West, Central and East were created. Ilia explains that this was not to make Final Bout bigger; it was to provide support to the regional teams by reducing overall participation costs.
Special Stage International
With the success of the Regional Special Stages in the books, a big leap was about to made in the form of an International Special Stage. You don't need to be a psychic to know what country it would be held in. As the announcement rolled through the flags of several countries, it of course stopped at the Land of the Rising Sun. Final Bout was heading to Japan.
Seemingly cut into the mountains of Aichi Prefecture, Motorland Mikawa would host the first Final Bout Special Stage International. The previous day saw a lot of rain and very strong wind but it seemed as if the drifting spirits were watching out as the day could not have had better weather.
Freee's and Lowbrain Racing helped organize the event from the Japan side, and I had the privilege of spending some time with them the night before. As we pulled up the gate of Motorland Mikawa, we were greeted by members of THe☆BReaST, Magician and Sexy Knights.
As the morning proceeded, members from Team49 Make F.D.R 1 (Rowdy), LevelΣ, Realize, Motor Fix, Props, Ketsuketsu Dohmei and Aspiration took up their spots in the paddock and prepared their cars. Thirteen teams altogether with a total of 63 drivers would be participating, but one team had yet to show up.
As the event start time approached, something got the attention of everyone in attendance. Rolling into the event was A-BO-MOON with their team flags proudly waving as they and their signature R32 Skyline sedans made their entrance. With a mix of legendary teams and new style prodigies, it was shaping up to be a spectacular day.
The day was broken into six sessions with two to three teams on the track per session. The last session would be the only judged session to determine the best drift team. The fact they would be judged didn't weigh on anyone as this was more an event to simply get all of these teams together. There was no stress, only smiles — smiles on the drivers, smiles on the staff and smiles on the spectators.
The track had a surprising amount of elevation change. The main straight went uphill into a large sweeper serving as a staging area to get all members together before they started heading back downhill. Outside the sweeper was a slight left to right and then a left turn through the woods, which then transitioned to the final smaller sweeper exiting to the straight.
For many, it was the first driving Motorland Mikawa, but after just a few runs, everyone appeared as if they could drift the track in their sleep. The spectators were able to get an up close and personal view of the action that only these smaller events can provide.
Leaning over the guard rails, replicating rally spectators, everyone was waving and cheering on all of the drivers urging them to get as close to the barriers as they dare. Pool noodles and blow up dolls were a few of the more interesting props used to cheer on the drivers.
Showing off the Kansai passing drift style was THe☆BReaST, who also happened to change the transmission on Takashi Mine's S13. With his team, Mine was able to get it swapped between their groups runs and not miss a moment on the track.
Sexy Knights and Magician were amazing to watch in person as a team. I have often seem them compete individually, so it was a treat to see these legends in person.
The younger teams definitely held their own showing why they were drifting alongside legends. In short time, the reputations of Freee's, Lowbrain Racing and Ketsuketsu Dohmei will become legendary on their own.
At the end of the day, everyone had given it their all, but more importantly, everyone had fun. Of course there was a best team award, and backing up their superstar entrance, A-BO-MOON was the recipient of that award.
More to Come
Final Bout Special Stage Japan was the first international event for Final Bout but probably won't be the last. I was let in on a little secret; if you recall the announcement for Final Bout Japan and the rolling country flags, those will provide a hint at a future Final Bout Special Stage.
To summarize the feeling that accompanied Final Bout, I have to say it is rare to attend an event and just see smiles everywhere. Usually, you can sense stress somewhere along the way, but not on this day — not at Final Bout Japan. I hope to see more events return to a similar team format and a return to the true spirit of drifting.