Published on November 30th, 2016 | by Jos Roder0
Nikko Dreams With Catherine May
Although drifting originated in Japan nearly two decades ago, even in 2016, the world still looks to the land of the rising sun with respect as the spiritual home of the sport, for so heavily influencing the discipline and of course the driving and vehicle styling that has continued to evolve.If you are anything like me, you grew up watching Video Option DVD’s and D1GP competitions, being amazed and entertained with crazy cars and amazing drivers.
Some of us even harboured dreams of competing in D1 and competing against our idols. For a handful of Aussie’s, some of those dreams have become a reality, competing in various Japanese domestic drift competition over the years, including D1 Street Legal, D1 Divisional and even MSC events. Jake Jones even competed in the prestigious top tier D1GP Championship back in 2011.
Catherine May (Cat) is a self-confessed drift tragic, having first being exposed and then addicted to the sport nearly 10 years ago, after entering a beginner drift day in her personal 180sx. Drift Life has previously covered Cat’s history as part of a female drift feature. Cat is also owner of the ‘I Love Drift” clothing label, so the love for drift runs deep!
For Cat, the seed of competing in Japan started after viewing some female only drift competitions on YouTube which included the now dissolved ‘Queen of Nikko’ events and of course the well-known and respected D1 Ladies League (D1LL). Ladies League brings together the top female Japanese drivers for a series of events across the country.
Cat was particularly impressed with the skills of arguably the best female drifter in the world, Sumika Kubokawa San, who could hold her own in any competition, female or open.
As with all dreams, they remain that way unless you get out there, take action and make it happen. Originally planning to travel to Ebisu this October, drift for a few days at Ebisu and then watch Ladies League again at Nikko, the idea came up in conversation for Cat to compete at the event instead. With the thought in play, Cat, along with her partner Warwick Fitzgerald (a prominent Victorian drifter with a crazy turbo MX5) started to tackle the huge challenge.
“I’ve been trying to find a competition ready car to purchase in Japan for the last couple of years with no luck. I even considered sending over my highly modified Sil80 in Australia! Ultimately though, I decided to just bite the bullet and compete in my practice car (S14 Silvia) that I’ve been storing at Ebisu.”
Cat’s S14A was only lightly modified, running a LSD, exhaust, intercooler and coil-overs. When you add all that up and combine it with the standard turbo on the factory boost setting, it was clear the car wasn’t quite on the same level as most of the regular D1LL vehicles.
Imagine you wanted to compete in a Japanese drift event (not at Ebisu) yourself. Genuinely think about it for a second. Where would you start? Japan is a long way from Australia, Japanese people funnily enough speak Japanese, not English, and so you can’t just make some calls and read the regulations as they are in Japanese as well. How do you get your car to Nikko? How do you enter? What are the vehicle requirements? The questions quickly pile up in a scenario like this, but unperturbed, Cat and Waz set about solving the challenges in front of them.
The first query was to enter the event and then find out what licence Cat would need to compete. It turned out that you can sit for the licence on the day of the event and with a small fee, you are all set, so that part was easy enough. The reality of the task in front of them suddenly dawned on Cat only after seeing her name on the entry list!
The larger issues however were around regulations and vehicle transport.
With the D1 Ladies League vehicle regulations in Japanese it was extremely difficult and risky to try to interpret everything correctly and hope the car was to spec. The worst outcome would be being denied entry by D1 staff at the tech inspection, especially after all the time, money and effort invested in the dream, so they had to get this right.
“After having no luck with other avenues on the regulations, the organisers finally agreed to translate the entire technical regulation document into English for us, so we were very thankful for their efforts. At least they won’t have to do it again for any other foreigners that want to attend in the future!”
There are various differences in regulations for D1 competition drift vehicles in Japan vs Australian regs and require the car to be a bit of a mix of a street car with a comp car. Two unusual examples are that all vehicles must install a catch can for the diff and gearbox, something that is not required in most racing or any drifting regulations in Australia.
After brainstorming the list of modifications and changes they would need to make to her S14 at Ebisu, they realised this wasn’t going to be as simple as they had hoped. It never is! After arriving at Ebisu a week before the event a Nikko, Waz got straight into preparing the car. The list of modifications and the few pictures Waz snapped are an interesting read in their own right.
The first things to do were strip the interior and fit a 6 point roll cage that included side intrusion bars. The other safety consideration was installing a harness and eyelet bolts that must have a 60x60x3 backing plate.
With the event quickly counting down, Waz became too rushed to take pictures, but the list continued as the car was slowly given a new lease on life and was brought (hopefully) up to D1 spec.
- Fuel pump (to help when they bumped the boost a little)
- Replace 3 wheel studs.
- New coil-overs which included spending an hour swapping springs off old units.
- Modified knuckles fitted for extra lock.
- Hazard wiring repaired
- Replace the broken tail light. (cannot be smashed).
- Bashing out the dented front so it looks presentable
- Install bonnet and boot pins.
- The final and rather expensive requirement was a new windscreen, which given there was no time and being located at the isolated Ebisu complex, cost $600AUD. Chomp.
After four full day’s nonstop working on the S14, it was finally ready for battle. The significant wear marks on Waz’s fingers perfectly summed up just how frenetic the pace was to complete all the modifications. Ouch. #commitmenttodrift
With that marathon of work complete, the final piece of the puzzle was transportation of the car from its home in Ebisu, to Nikko.
Cat’s saving grace came in the form of another female Japanese drifter Shino Murai, from workshop Shino Kouba. That name may sound familiar to drift enthusiasts from around the world, with Shino owning many cool AE86’s over the years and being a handy steerer herself.
“Shino was a lifesaver, offering to organise the transport of my car to the track and back, plus answering many of the other questions I had in the lead up and even throughout the day itself, assisting with translation and even spotting for me!”
Heading to the event Cat spoke to Drift Life about the track itself and how she had prepared.
“I’ve been watching a lot of in-car videos of Nikko on YouTube for prep. Nikko looks like a fun track. I prefer low speed, technical tracks so I think it will suit my driving. I would feel much more comfortable driving my sil80 though!”
Traditionally D1 Ladies League event have between 9-12 entrants. This year Nikko had a massive 25 females competing. The kicker is that D1LL only run a top 8 so with 25 entries, it certainly piles the pressure on for entrants to qualify for the battles. As for expectations, Cat was realistic considering her car, experience level and the new environment.
“To be honest, I don’t expect to qualify! The girls in Japan are really good drivers. I’m hoping to come back again next year and do a bit better!”
Game Time. After the car was delivered to Nikko, day 1 of the event saw the women headed in for a drivers briefing ahead of the allocated practice sessions that were placed in between the D1 Street Legal sessions.
Starting out in the wet can be a help or a hindrance depending on your preference and mentality, but after starting to re learn the car after the changes and with extra lock available, Cat began to get the hang of and enjoy what is one of the most famous drift tracks in the world.
Last practice session in the wet for Cat. #D1ladiesleague #D1dreambucketlist
Posted by Team Sweet Spot on Saturday, 19 November 2016
Here is one of Cat’s early practice runs.
After the first day, Cat and Waz were both wrapped that the car was working well and Cat’s driving was improving lap after lap, so they were both excited ahead of Saturday’s competition day.
As the competition day dawned, no one could have expected what would unfold only a few hours later.
The morning was cold but dry and Cat was able to get some clean laps in ahead of qualifying.
Being combined with the D1 Street Legal event meant sharing a race track and just before the D1LL qualifying session was about to begin, disaster struck on of the D1SL competitors. A Team Magician car had some issue (mistake or failure we are not sure) but lost control of the car the wrong way and collected the tyre/earth barrier at considerable speed on the inside of the track.
In the collision, from what we understand a wheel from the vehicle has broken off, striking a female spotter who was standing close to where the vehicle impacted the wall. Sadly the spotter was seriously injured and rushed to hospital. The driver was also treated for minor injuries. Due to the seriousness of the incident, the D1 organisers were forced to cancel the remainder of both events, as a result of the investigation and out of respect for the woman injured. We are unsure of the status of the injured woman, but we certainly hope for the best.
For Waz and Cat, the situation in front of them was a surreal, sad and disappointing way to finish up their Nikko adventure, with many emotions to try to process amongst what was such a serious incident.
Packing up was a quiet and solemn affair for all the entrants, officials and spectators in the aftermath. With the car sent back to Ebisu, Waz and Cat only had two to recover and reflect on the journey to Nikko, before tackling the long journey back to Melbourne.
On reflection, Cat is proud to be the first Aussie woman to have competed in D1 Ladies League. however she certainly has unfinished business and has vowed to return. With a sorted car and the learnings from the first trip, Cat is confident subsequent trips to Nikko will be an easier proposition and something she looks forward to.
Cat wants to extend a huge thanks to Waz for his support, preparing the car, organising the logistics with Shino and being pit crew at Nikko. Thanks to Shino for transporting the car and for all her help throughout the event and Emily from Powervehicles who ordered the roll cage, coil-overs and other parts for the car.
For more information on Cat’s journey to Nikko for D1 Ladies League and to follow her drifting adventures across Australia and Japan, follow her on Facebook