D1 Drift Odaiba Japan 2016 PASMAG 8

All the sliding and drama that happended under the 1:1 Gundam.

Round One of the 2016 D1 Drift Series kicked off as usual at the tight and technical confines of the Odaiba Venue, just outside Central Tokyo. On behalf of the readers of PASMAG and Toyo Tires as one of the sport's main sponsors, I was there to cover the main event.

As a guest of Toyo, I received special access to the Trust R35 compound, and as you’ll see elsewhere in the magazine, some quality time with Kawabata-san, who endured my 20 questions just for you guys.

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The main event itself is typically held on the Saturday instead of Sunday, with the main prizes being handed out for top 16 finishers that evening. In a weekend full of surprises, some more expected that others, both Masato Kawabata and Daigo Saito squared off against each other in the final.

Kawabata in particular, looking to put his stamp firmly on the 2016 championship and Saito, with new sponsor, the Chinese rubber manufacturer Wanli, now in the mix after quitting Formula D at the end of 2015.

It was a final that saw Saito emerge victorious, but not without contention from certain ranks of the establishment. With the competition concluded, the drivers lined up in front of the judges for the presentation and it was clear that Kawabata was furious with Saito; hands on hips and throwing well placed glares at the former teacher while the two traded words.

With a very close first run under the belt and even splitting in the judges’ points allocation, during their second run, Saito, who led out, appeared to lift off midcorner, whereby Kawabata was forced into a spin, thereby handing the second run and overall victory to Saito.

D1 Drift Odaiba Japan 2016 PASMAG 9In defeat, Kawabata was phlegmatic about the outcome, but the true extent of the 2016 rivalry is only now just starting to play out. Now that Saito is back for the full season, one can only wonder what we will see in the rounds to come.

The semi-finals produced an extremely popular and unlikely protagonist in Yusuke Kusaba who, in his D-Max sponsored Onevia, managed an impressive string of wins through the preceding rounds against Tomokazu Hirota and Yusuke Kitaoka to go heads up against Kawabata in the second of the semifinals. It wasn’t meant to be for the grinning “Bucky,” as the raw power of the Trust R35 simply overwhelmed the Onevia, but it was well deserved and a first for Yusuke in D1 to reach that level.

In the other semifinal, Saito, having dispatched a valiant and popular Tetsuya Hibino in the JZA80 Supra during the quarter-final round, squared off against Hideyuki Fujino in the 180SX. Hibino, it must be said, suffered as a result of a poor second run, handing an easy win to Saito. Fujino, on the other hand, proved a much tougher opponent, keeping Kawabata honest in what was an inferior car on top-end power into and out of corners.

Undoubtedly, the battle of the tournament took place between Daigo Saito and Naoto Suenaga in the Team Orange S15 Silvia. Neither competitor seemed to give an inch across three thrilling runs, with both drivers on each other’s door handles, punch for punch.

D1 Drift Odaiba Japan 2016 PASMAG 10In closing, the opening round to the 2016 campaign in Odaiba was a spectacle of sorts, but was punctuated by some major changes within - tweaks to the scoring system and tire allocation easy to see - but with even fewer rounds on offer and a number of noticeable absences from the driver lineup, one has to wonder where D1 is actually heading. Scoring issues aside (which have plagued drift for years), the obvious lack of international drivers present was in stark contrast to years previous, with all but Daychapon Toyingcharoen absent from the event.

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In a sport that seems to be struggling with identity and stagnating in growth, one tends to think D1 and drifting in general needs all the help it can get if it is to survive as a legitimate, open-minded and progressive-thinking international top class formula for budding drivers to aspire to.

While the action may often be thrilling, the sport of D1, as a whole, seems far too closed as a society for those outside the country to appreciate on a consistent basis, not least of all due to restrictive media regulations allowing only the inner sanctum of Japanese media cartel to head proceedings in media output, which in turn, leads to detrimental effects for fans of the sport all over the globe. We can only hope for change and an even better event next year! #PASMAG

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Contributor: Adam Zillin (7Tune)

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