Round 2A black cloud seemed to linger over the heads of all the U.S. drivers, as numerous engine failures and inconsistent driving reduced the qualifying U.S. drivers from 10 to four in the second round of competition.
Last year, U.S. driver Ernie "Gung Ho" Fixmer surprisingly dazzled the crowds and judges with a smoke-filled display of drifting skills. Unfortunately, a blown engine during Friday's practice session diminished Team USA's chance of winning this year.
Burning the midnight oil, Fixmer and his crew swapped the engine. The car was in running condition just in time for Fixmer to get to the track and jump in the driver's seat without any practice time. Unfortunately, after two laps Fixmer's 240SX hobbled off the track due to a transmission failure that was heard clinking and grinding all the way from the grandstands.
Rhys Millen and his newly acquired Pontiac GTO, powered by a 5.7-liter LS1 V8, made its debut within the drift circuit with mixed reactions from the crowd. The boos and unappreciative die-hard import fans looked upon Rhys and his GTO as a disgrace to the import drift community. After an excellent first round of competition, Rhys slowly gained their respect with his clean drift lines and consistent tire smoke, which received thumbs-up from the three judges, advancing him to the second round.
Samuel Hubinette, otherwise known as the Swedish ice racer back home, took his JZ80 Jasper/GReddy-sponsored Supra to new levels. The crowds erupted when his car's rear fender and bumper came within inches of the retaining wall.
Keiichi Tsuchiya jumped out of his seat and clapped as Hubinette precariously pitched the Supra from left to right in angles never witnessed on the track. Back in the pits, the drivers from Japan lined up on both sides of the car, clapping and shaking Hubinette's hand in appreciation for an excellent run. Hubinette scored a 99 out of 100 points, earning him the highest score for a U.S. driver as of date.
Crowd favorite Ueo Katsuhiro and his Yukes/ Revolver-sponsored AE86 performed flawlessly in the first round of eliminations as, once again, Ueo displayed his trademark ("kakudo") angle of drift. Laying down perfect drift lines and smooth transitions from one apex to another, Ueo was sure to be a shoe-in for this year's U.S. D1 series, but with drifting, nothing is written in stone.
Second-round eliminations proved to be a disaster for Ueo as he uncharacteristically missed key drift points and his speeds going into the turns were dramatically slower than his previous runs, ending his quest for back-to-back wins.
Japanese driver Daijiro Yoshihara in the Pacific Rim-sponsored 240SX held his own, as his speed and drifting skills were comparable, if not better than his fellow Japanese drifters. In Japan, Yoshihara was to compete in the upcoming D2 series, the minor league of drifting.
During the second lap of round two, Yoshihara miscalculated the second bank leading into the J-turn. The car slid head-on into the retaining wall at 80-plus mph. A loud echoing boom followed the impact as debris showered the crowd and the unlucky Option video camera man. Daijiro was unscathed, but the car was a complete loss.
Sweet 16 TandemWhat started out as a field of 39 cars and drivers narrowed to the best 16, with many of the popular Japanese D1 drivers still in the hunt. Youichi Imamura (A'PEXi FD3S) went toe-to-toe with Kazuhiro Tanaka in the Team Orange S15 in a series of tandem drift eliminations.