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Skyline and Driver Emerge Unscathed From a Brutal Summer Drift Matsuri

August 10, 2009

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A great weekend was made perfect with the Skyline running faultlessly on the 300 odd kilometer return journey back to Tokyo from Nihonmatsu, where the Drift Festivals are always held.

I really caned the Nissan hard this weekend and despite me not bothering to change the oil or filter, not to mention the fact that it had been sitting idle for 3 months under the care of Andy and Emily from Powervehicles, make the mechanical reliability of the RB20 and its 1994 chassis even more amazing. I’m really surprised with how compliant and robust this car is. It’s like it was made with drifting in mind and I can tell you first hand it is a very easy car to slide around in any condition.

I took 6 rims and wheels with me to this event figuring they wouldn’t last long at all but as it turns out, the weather in Fukushima had other ideas. What started off as a fine day on Friday, turned into non-stop drizzle over the course of Saturday and Sunday meaning that tyre endurance was less of an issue. I needn’t have worried though.

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I will admit I was concerned about the weather. I have only ever drifted once before and that was in May for the Spring Matsuri  but at that time, the weather was bone dry.

Fast forward 3 months and things, at least “on the surface” anyway, were very different. Not only was I a complete novice with a 2 way LSD, I was also a novice at chucking around 1400 kilos of car around with said LSD in the wet. Like I said already, I needn’t have worried. The car ran mechanically perfect.

I had an absolutely amazing time. I found my limits on a huge number of occasions on all the courses and still managed to avoid the walls and other cars the entire weekend. How much of that is down to outright good fortune, I will never know, so for now, I am content to consider it a mix of things!

One of the absolute high points of the weekend, came late on Sunday; in what appeared to be the craziest time for all concerned. I cannot describe the amount of chaos and damage being delivered piping hot to spectators and cars alike. There were chances to get close and talk with some of the sports larger characters and many professional drivers use these events as a fun and cheap excuse to test parts and settings; in general a great reason to go absolutely nuts.

Not that I minded because I finally discovered  just what it was that separated the realm of a top level D1 driver to, well, the plebian and insignificant existence of  a driver the caliber such as myself. The canyon is beyond large and yet, I still think I can bridge it…

Naoto Suenaga, an integral member of “Team Orange”, took me for what is quite possibly the most exhiliarating 15 minutes of my time ever spent in a car. I find it very difficult to put into words the savagery, finesse and utter control with which he manhandled his “street driven” 180SX around the Nishi course at Ebisu Circuit. For the entire time, he was within mere centimeters of the car in front, Andy from Power Vehicles, in what can only be described as controlled madness. I’ve never seen someone so comfortable being that deep inside someones line and not only that, at over 100kph and completely sideways to boot…at least not from the passenger seat, I haven’t.

I couldn’t help but laugh every time he came over the crest sideways, on full lock with the engine held at red-line then off the throttle for the slightest of moments, sliding out wider that I cared to imagine.  He somehow found grip everywhere on the wet and slippery surface, no doubt thanks to the amazing Advan Neova’s just before viciously kicking the clutch in the guts while holding the right foot flat – all the while within an inch of the car next to him. It was an awesome display of car control and it left me stunned.

Naoto was also kind enough to offer me some pointers for the Skyline and how I should approach the “Minami Bowl“, as I like to call it. Predictably, I have a lot to learn but I was heartened by the fact that he felt I was very talented and that was a very large compliment from someone of his caliber.  It makes me wonder if I should continue or not.

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