The World Drift Championships (WDC) is the latest national drift series to surface in a rapidly expanding field of sanctioning bodies. The series put on a demo day to show what was up for 2005.
At the World Drift Championships Demo Day media and industry insiders got a chance to see some of the teams slated to battle in the series and, most importantly, get ride-alongs. Team Orange drivers Tanaka and Kumakubo were both there at Irwindale Speedway. You may remember Kumakubo from his win in the U.S.A. versus Japan D1-sanctioned event held at GT Live in December '04.
Also on hand were Andy Yen from Team JIC Magic, Barry Wong and Brian Norris from Team Kaaz, Rich Rutheford, James Bondurant of Bondurant Driving School, Verena Mei, Tanner Foust and Tyler McQuarrie.
After shooting the action for a few sessions, we decide to make our move. The main reason we were on hand was to get an up-close-and-personal ride in a hard-core drift car. I was strapped into the JIC-Magic 240SX with Andy Yen behind the wheel. For all the quick, tail-happy transitions and long slides I observed earlier, there was little haste exhibited by Yen. This had a calming effect on me. I was even able to check some of the readouts on the gauges and wave to a friend behind the fence as I slid by. It was a bit surprising when Andy let go of the wheel while the 240 was at full lock but it made sense-how else can the car transition so quickly. The key, we suppose, is knowing when to grab it again. There was no feeling of impending doom, no visions of concrete barriers becoming bigger by the second, just smooth sailing through the Irwindale circuit, the best drifting course we have seen.
Yen was conducting tire testing with one of his primary sponsors, Yokohama. It was odd to hear him talk of the added grip of one tire versus another as drifting seems to be more about a lack of grip if anything. It was also readily apparent that a tire sponsor was the deal maker as far as sponsors go because one set of rears lasts two or three sessions; about eight to 10 runs through the course. That's a consumption rate equal to NASCAR!
Irwindale is the mecca of American drifting; it's what LACR in Palmdale was to import drag racers in the early '90s. The course layout puts the sideways action right in front of the fans and in the sport compact scene drifting and Irwindale go hand-in-hand. Irwindale's PR man, Doug Stokes, confirmed that the D1 Grand Prix drift events are, by far, the track's biggest draw. But there could be a "too much of a good thing" scenario playing out. The problem is there aren't enough seats in the grandstands or parking spaces in the lot to support the 10,000 to 15,000 fans that flock to D1. But for drivers, any chance to stretch their legs at Irwindale is worth the road trip, especially those aspiring to break into D1.
No matter the future of the WDC, it was a real adrenaline rush to ride along in a purpose-built drift car attacking the track at full song. And in drifting it's all about the rush.