Kansai All-Star Drift GP 2016
The sun had not yet broken the horizon when I hopped into my friend's HiAce, bound for Meihan Sportsland. As we started the ascent into the mountains of Nara I was reminded of where I was and where I was going: the 17th Annual Kansai All-Star Drift GP. Ask any driver from the Kansai region of Japan and they'll probably tell you that the number one drift course is at Meihan. If you want to see top level drivers, crazy drift trains, wall scraping and the occasional wall tap, Meihan's C-Course is the place to be.
It’s been a while since I've been to Meihan so it was great to be greeted by a lot of familiar faces. Walking the paddock and watching cars roll in was something I missed next to the people and the driving. It was truly like living a dream since I've read about and watched these drivers so much, and here I was, finally seeing them all up close. These are cars that have competed in D1GP, D1 Street Legal and Formula Drift, which is a testament to the quality of drift culture in Kansai.
The hosts for the event were non other than drift legends Kazuya Bai and Kunihiko Teramachi (representing Origin Labo) Michihiro Takatori (a legend in his own right for piloting the Super Autobacs R34 in D1GP during the mid-2000s, and more recently the TRA Kyoto S13 in FD) and Akinori Utsumi (from DIXCEL). Each prefecture in Kansai sends 20 drivers (including two female drivers) to compete overall, plus their own individual class. Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Wakayama and Mie all represented with a total of 136 drivers, and each team comes wearing colorful t-shirts to indicate their prefecture.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon, drivers are divided into run groups of eight cars and by 3p, the drivers with the best scores enter the final tournament. This event isn't like D1 or Formula D in that scores are based on individual runs, not tandem battles. This gives the drivers ample opportunity to push their cars to the max, scrape the wall along the straight and then reverse enter into the decreasing radius as a 12-foot wall waits to punish anyone that pushes too hard. On this day, the wall claimed three cars and a lot of bumpers.
This track is also great for viewing the action from a spectator's point of view. Spectators are seated right at the end of the main straight where drivers enter to gain momentum before heading directly towards them, frequently disappearing as they inch closer to the wall only to reappear, followed by a trail of smoke. With close to 1,000 spectators, it was largely friends and family of the drivers, and it seemed everyone knew each other.
Team Kyoto had an especially good day as their drivers took first and second place. Fujika had to beat last year’s winner, Nakamura of Team Burst, to take a spot in the final tournament. In the end, the top three drivers were winner Toshihiro Fujika (Toyota AE86, Kyoto), runner-up Hiroyuki Fukuyama (Nissan 180SX, Kyoto) and third-place Akihito Fujio (Nissan S13, Mie). The winner of the ladies league was Kiyomi Owatari, representing Nara with her black Kouki S14.
After the main competition was time for the free-run, which I had been looking forward to all-day. Teams of five try to put on the best show possible with things getting a bit crazy if someone in the front has a spin. Unfortunately, after only a handful of runs the sky opened up to put an early end to an otherwise great event. I was looking forward to seeing more crazy drift trains and the drift police, who made an appearance again this year.
It was truly amazing to be on track to capture all the action and I'm looking forward to seeing it again next year.
Check out the gallery below for more from Meihan Sportsland and this year's Kansai All-Star Drift GP, and meet one of the drivers, owner of the cleanest FD3S RX7 we've seen in a while.