Dubbed the fastest drift track in the D1 Grand Prix series (only the Tsukuba circuit in Japan is comparable), Irwindale Speedway gathered 39 of the world's best drifters to battle it out in front of a capacity crowd of 10,000 fans.
This D1 series event, the second to take place in the United States, took on a more serious theme. At the inaugural USA D1 in August 2003, the only things at stake were a cash purse and recognition from the crowd. On February 28, 2004, the drivers battled for real D1 series points as Irwindale Speedway served as the venue for the D1 Grand Prix season-opening contest.
This year, the three Option Video judges, Keiichi Tsuchiya, Manabu Orido and Manabu Suzuki, were back on their infamous black podium with pen in hand and stern looks on their faces. They expected all the drivers to perform better than the previous D1 and put on a spectacular show. Keiichi "Drift King" Tsuchiya personally monitored the track layout for this year's D1.
During the morning practice session, we talked to the Drift King about his motives for changing the track setup.
"I wanted to make the course faster and more challenging than the previous year. This new setup will not only give spectators a more exciting show, but also will give us judges a better idea of each driver's abilities in this particular course," Keiichi explained. The course is filled with difficult sweeping turns and cars need to carry higher speeds through the apex to complete the drifts, so many drivers and spectators anticipated tough competition and crashes throughout the day.
Friday, February 27 - Yokohama Media Day/QualificationsYouichi Imamura in his A'PEXi-sponsored RX-7 was the first to fall victim to mechanical problems at Yokohama media day. As Imamura completed the long sweeper and was preparing to counter the secondary cones at midtrack, the front lower tie rod bolts on the passenger side snapped off. The front tire swung out as the RX-7 lost control, careening into the plastic safety barrier and barely missing Taniguchi (HKS S15). The accident wasn't serious as Youichi climbed out of his car, and it suffered only minor body damage to the doors and rear fiberglass bumper. Imamura then jumped into another car, the left-hand-drive U.S.- spec A'PEXi RX-7, to continue his exhibition show.
Huber Young's day to shine at D1 was cut short on Friday when his Motorsports Dynamics-sponsored Nissan 240 crashed into the infamous Turn Two "elimination wall" at full speed. Just as Young exited the sweeper going into the "J turn," the vehicle rotated sideways, hit the concrete barrier at 70-plus mph, launched into the air and landed on the track on all four tires. Within seconds, Judge Keiichi hopped the wall to attend to the driver. Amazingly, Young climbed out uninjured, although his car wasn't so lucky.
Saturday, February 28 D1 Grand Prix Round 1Last year's runner-up Nobuteru (N.O.B.) Taniguchi in the HKS-sponsored S15 was determined to take home the coveted trophy and points lead in 2004. During the first round of eliminations, which consisted of three judged runs, Taniguchi scored a perfect 100 on all three runs, a feat never before accomplished in the D1 series.
Perhaps the sleeper of the day went to the A55 Daihatsu Charamant driven by Ryoji Takada. Powered by a mere 160 hp, Takada made the most of this old-school vehicle as he impressed the crowds and judges, combining high-speed entries into the turns and smooth drifting throughout the course, and advancing to the next round.