Japan

Published on June 23rd, 2014 | by Jos Roder

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Drift Heaven: Drift, Fix And Repeat (Part 2)

WEDNESDAY

Breakfast on the run was bread and orange juice from the local 7 Eleven as we headed out to Ebisu for our first day of drifting.

Rain was falling as we headed down the express way but I didn’t mind. I love drifting in the wet just as much as in the dry and the huge bonus is you don’t go through as many tyres.

As there is no such thing as scrutineering at Ebisu for drift cars, it was simply a matter of paying for a competitor entry to access to 5 tracks (9,000yen) which is at time of writing around $95 AUD and signing our name for the day at the gate.

The sign at the entrance to each track states HELMETS AND SEATBELTS and they are the only requirements to get on track.

Waz looked at me as we both jumped in our cars like excited little kids and asked  “What track would you like to drive on first?” I chuckled to myself and at that moment, it really hammered home why Ebisu is so special. How many circuit complex’s can you say that!?

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Ebisu is the ultimate amusement park for Drifters. Choose your own adventure. Low speed, high speed, short, long, the choice was mine. I honestly didn’t know where to start.

Minami (South) course was as good as any and a few moments later, there I was taking a C35 Laurel onto a course I had seen countless drifting videos of. GO TIME!

I haven’t spent much time driving in RB25’s and never in a large family sedan like the Laurel. Being wet though, it seemed to handle predictably, drove straight and the engine was smooth and strong so I was actually really pleased. The seat was supportive but considering I am 6, 5″ I can honestly say the lowest drift seat i have ever sat in. Having a car that behaved itself meant I could start to focus on a) learning the course, then b) working my driving technique and most importantly c) having some fun.

The only thing that quickly became apparent was the lack of lock. Now just to clear the air, I have never owned a car with extra lock knuckles and steering shaft spacers seem to be more than enough for me on S chassis cars but the lock on this car was definitely worse than a standard s chassis car without any steering rack spacers.

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This didn’t stop me, I just had to ensure i was more conservative with the car angle and throttle input, although i certainly had a few more spins while I got used to it on the wet Minami surface.

After about an hour, Waz suggested our next track should be Kita (North) course. So we took the service roads further up the mountain, through an underground tunnel and arrived in the North course pit area. In which we stayed for about 5 seconds. Another new track…wooooo!

There is no point saying North course was fun…all the tracks were fun, I loved them all.

About 20 minutes into my first North course experience, I came in for a break and realised the rear windscreen had not survived.IMAG1726

As it was safety glass, the screen was still in more or less one piece, so we removed it and found a bin to dispose of it.  A solution to the missing rear window issue was discovered on a subsequent trip to Up Garage.

With the glass removed, we headed back on to the course to resume drifting.  A few laps later i started to hear some rear vibration/clunking. It started to get worse so I pulled in to the pits.

Checking the rear left wheel that we had repaired the studs with, my discovery made me cringe.

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Two of the nuts had stripped themselves off the studs, metal shavings were everywhere,  which was frustrating, considering we had spent an hour replacing studs on our setup day, to avoid any issues like this. We took the wheel off, cleaned away the shavings, tried to salvage one of the threads before re tightening the wheel and limping back to our pit area.

With some WD-40 and some wire brush action, we cleaned everything up properly and decided i could make do with 4 studs for now.

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While we were in the pits, Waz was excited to show me that his cable ties now had scrape mark on them as well.

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By this time, we were starving and conveniently there is a couple of restaurants at Ebisu. Amazing. Waz is about to chow down into a massive beef cutlet meal.

After lunch, we spent some time on the smaller school course which was a good circuit to practice battle techniques and then the touge course, which is epic, however very complex to nail an entire lap.

All the tracks are closed at 4.30pm so before we knew it the day was over.

Before leaving the complex, we drew up another shopping list before driving to Up Garage as well as a huge local hardware store(imagine Bunnings) looking for some eyelets to mount my harness with. I had brought my harness from Australia and after a day of using the standard flimsy seat belt that didn’t exactly promote confidence, I was keen to tie myself down for safety and to aid in my driving.
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We found some eyelets that would suit our application, as well as some assorted goodies, like white gaffa tape, a tyre pressure gauge, big washers and windscreen wipes.

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To complete the showbag, we purchased an oil pan, as we planned to change oil on our beasts the next day.

THURSDAY

The rain was back again during the morning session, once again relieving us from our tyre supply worries.

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Looking outward from the Powervehicles garage, you can see some of the stock they currently own. Some cars are for sale, some are being repaired, some are customer cars and some are the Powervehicles crew personal cars.  If you look closely, for bonus points, spot the ‘ADM’ car amongst the group.

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Returning to our cars, we found the thickest area of metal behind the Laurel’s passenger seat, drilled two holes, added large washers and nuts to the eyelets and tightened. We did the same for the floor eyelets and our install was complete. Not optimal, but it did the trick.

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The car was so much better with a harness tying me to the car but at times I was struggling to see over the bonnet!

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In case anyone wanted to have some back seat passenger rides in the future, I cut a neat hole and returned the rear seat to the car, whilst retaining the harness.

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Here is that rear window solution I mentioned earlier. After a tip off from Aussie drifter Chris DeJager who had seen the screen at Up Garage, I went ahead and located it at the store in Nihonmatsu.  It was perspex and suited for a Toyota Celsior, however it looked close enough to the dimensions I needed for the Laurel. $15 later, it was in the hire car and the next morning we fitted it with some gaffa tape and tech screws. Win!

With the track drying, during the afternoon Waz and I joined many of the other foreigners over on the G1GP course for some practice before Friday’s competition.

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This is one of the only photos that Waz and I have of us drifting together. Thanks Seth Tanis!

My car was running strong and if you look closely, my steering lock has magically increased. Waz took to the lock stops of the standard knuckles. The side effect was the worst steering behind i have ever encountered.  You will see more of this in the video I will release soon.

Waz’s car wasn’t fairing so well. It getting louder and losing power. The S14’s manifold to turbo gasket had blown out and the car was starting to overheat. I returned from G1 at the Nishi (west) course late afternoon to find Waz half way through pulling off his turbo and manifold!

With everything removed, we headed to Powervehicles to locate some bolts/studs (Waz came to Japan with a gasket set). A couple of the guys thought it would be worth welding his turbo to the manifold to avoid further issues. Waz was (yes i know)  hesitant to weld his nice Trust turbo to a cast manifold, but in the end agreed it could prevent issues in the future.

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Pulling a turbo and manifold apart on a Thursday night, what could be more exciting. This is such a  ‘newspaper’ shot, don’t you think?  “Warwick Fitzgerald of Melbourne Australia, works on repairing his turbocharger at a motor racing facility in northern Japan”.

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Welding it all together! Welding a cast manifold to a turbo housing is advanced level welding, or so I’ve been told. Due to weld being different in properties in heat range and the way weld shrinks when it cools compared to the manifold, this can lead to cracking. However Jono from Powervehicles is a fabricator and knew what he was doing!

With everything welded we headed back down to the pit area  to carry on refitting the turbo setup to Waz’s car, so he was ready for Friday. Alone under lights next to a quiet Minami with only some music keeping us motivated,It was a surreal drift experience that probably only Ebisu can provide.

FRIDAY

Friday was G1GP day for myself and many of the other foreigners. How did I go? Well, I will cover this with a separate blog post (stay tuned). Waz decided against entering to save money and happily found other cars to play with for the day.

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Waz started to experience more and more overheating issues as the trip wore on in the old SR20DET. The issue progressively got worse over the rest of the weekend and left him with a blown head gasket. However he formed a drift at all costs survival routine which consisted of: out lap, two laps on the limiter, then an in lap followed by feeding the cooling system for about 10 minutes! This issue will be covered more via the video to be released soon.

DRIFT MATSURI – SATURDAY AND SUNDAY

Japanese drifters come from all over the countryside for the weekend festival.  As such the rule is that the foreigners, who have parked their drift cars in most of the prime locations and car ports at the various tracks earlier in the week, all have to remove their cars from these areas. This gives a fair chance for the Japanese drifters to obtain car ports and prime locations that would otherwise be taken before they had a chance. Even so many local drifters arrive the night before and  sleep in their cars out the front in the queue at the gates. Commitment to drift!

Up early, Waz and I were on the express way by 7am.

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It turns out we weren’t the only ones. The Spring Drift Matsuri coincides with Golden Week, which is the most sacred long weekend for Japan. Naturally this results in every single person in the entire country hitting the express ways, to return to family home towns or somewhere slightly less urban perhaps.

When we arrived at the circuit, the gates had already opened. Unfortunately for us most of the nice areas and pit bays had been taken.

After picking up our cars from one of the large car park areas, we located a nice little spot with a good view of the touge course and set up a picnic rug and some champ….oh sorry , wrong story.

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This is the Waz ‘location approved’ signal.

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With no support vehicles, it is simply a matter of taking everything you own in the cars and relocating as required. Laurel’s are quite good for load capacity!

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It turns out we were thinking the same thing as every other foreigner on Saturday morning. We need tyres!  This is the queue for the Powervehicles supplied tyre changes. Bead blaster in the foreground, comfy seats everywhere else. We never experienced wait times of more than 10 minutes and there is always someone to have a chat with so it’s no worries over at the Powervehicles tyre changers!

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There is also a permanent tyre changer available to everyone on the Minami course that the local drifters made good use of during the weekend.

Eventually we got busy drifting!

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We teamed up with fellow Victorian Stuart in his C34 Laurel for the weekend and together we made the most of the higher speed tracks that were only opened for the weekend festival.

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Fourth gear Higashi (East, pictured) and Nishi (West) course. This track had a couple of sections I really enjoyed, of which I will show some footage of shortly!

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But just like jumping from the hot spa to a cold tank at the local hot springs, we also spent time on the touge to keep things fresh.

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Of course we had our fair share of issues, but never anything terminal!

Night time at Ebisu on Saturday brings a whole different vibe to the place. It’s pretty cool and draws out those feelings many of us have of the  original touge videos so many foreigners have watched.

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Check this! Another white C35 Laurel! Plus it is driven by a woman. Nice combo!

After a massive day of drifting, we headed back to the hotel after midnight and then returned early Sunday for more!

(Insert more drifting and fixing here….brrrm, crash…brmmm, fix, brrrm ba ba ba ba, lunch, brrm, talk some crap…brrm some more)

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At the end of the Sunday, you pack everything back into the car and head down to the post apocalyptic drift car park to snuggle up with some other rough looking beasts. From here, it is simply a matter of handing your keys to Powervehicles in case they need to move your car and you have completed your drifting adventure.

As I wrote these blogs, I have been smiling as i reminisced. I thoroughly recommend the experience and I am sure that everyone who has been would say the same.

I hope someday I can head back and do it all again!

I have to say a special thank you to my friend and partner in crime Warwick, who if I’m really honest, couldn’t have done it without! A mechanical wizard, Waz’s goal was to keep us both drifting. He certainly accomplished that. The other special thanks goes to my wife Mayumi, who not only gave the green light to the rather expensive exercise but organised most our trip for us.

The only real thing left to do, is put together the video of the trip and I am quite excited about it’s potential. I think I will go for something slightly different to the norm if possible.

Jos

IF YOU MISSED IT, CLICK HERE FOR PART 1 

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About the Author

Jos Roder

is the owner of Drift Life and delves deeper into drifting culture. Jos started drifting more than 10 years ago after discovering a sport existed that captured his favourite motoring endeavour, going sideways! Jos works full-time in the automotive/motorsport field as a PR Manager and Advanced Driving Instructor and currently owns a JDM S15 Nissan Silvia for drift/track/hillclimb duties.



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