DECEMBER 20, 2004
A sign of the times
Former Formula 1 driver Erik Comas and his team mate Toshihiro Kaneishi took their Hasemi Nissan 350Z Turbo to victory in the inaugural All-Japan GT promotional event at the California Speedway. The exotic Japanese GTs drew a crowd of 30,000 which is rather better than the audiences at recent IRL races at the venue. The event was planned to meet the demand for souped-up GTs in California where the coolest cars are now considered to be those fitted with all the latest Japanese GT gadgets. This is in part due to the growth of the new sport of drifting.
Drifting grew out of illegal road racing in the hills around the towns of Rokkosan, Hakone and Irohazaka in the early 1960s. Youngsters took their cars to remote country roads and rather than race them concentrated on trying to get the cars sideways and then controlling the slides from corner to corner. The art is to achieve a series of corners in as flowing a motion as possible without regaining traction. The activity gained a wider audience when a new generation of urban drifter developed and fans of the sport began to turn up at events. Problems with the law led the best of the drifters to organize their own events at race tracks and from there it developed into a professional business where the best drifters went head to head in demonstrations, attracting big crowds and thus marketing opportunities with sponsorships, mainly from companies involved in after-market accessories, who recognised the opportunity to tap into youth culture by way of a spectacular activity which had the additional cachet of having once been illegal. It was a phenomenon not unlike NASCAR in that respect.
The switch from underground sport to the mainstream was a success in Japan and the Japanese have now organised a D1 championship and are trying to export the sport to the United States of America. Last year a group of D1 drivers put on an exhibition at Irwindale, California, drawing a sell out crowd of more than 10,000 people.
Wired magazine recently likened the new sport to skateboarding and said that "drifting is starting to look like the next pop fusion of customer culture and rebel aesthetics". This is, of course, the perfect vehicle for marketing to the youth of America and this year it seems that drifting will gain an even bigger hold in the USA as no fewer than four videogames about drifting appear in shops across the nation...
Automotive ballet may not seem much of a threat to the testosterone-driven racing boys but it seems that drifting is something which will ultimately have an affect on motor racing, if only because it will deprive young racers of funding.
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