[Our Las Vegas stringer Curtis Walker is on scene making with the photos and words — ed.] With temps pegged in the triple digits by Friday afternoon, the air above the Las Vegas Motor Speedway hinted at a firestorm. The Formula D Grand Prix is in town, and that means wafts of tire smoke and smolder hanging over the Mojave for most of the weekend. Last year, D1's inaugural drift event was such a hit with the drift kids that more drivers and cars are here from Japan. With 13 of Nippon's finest and 10 domestic drivers vying for one of the 16 slots in Saturday's main event, something is bound to be set off up in here.
There's some impressive steel gathered here in the desert. Six Nissan 240SXs, Six Nissan Silvias, a couple of Subaru Imprezas, a selection of Toyotas, a Mazda RX-7 and, representing the continent, a Corvette C5. And that's not even counting the flurry of amateur cars taking part in the driver search event.
The D1 pits have a more casual feel than at other races. Crews wear flip flops, and drivers and crews are busy but approachable, always making the time to greet fans. But the laid-back feel doesn't extend to the judges who walk around docking points for litter and cigarette butts.
For the D1 circuit racers, Friday was all about practice. During the day, the parking-lot-turned-race-course topped 110 F. Tires tended toward liquification. Engines overheated after just a few laps. According to D1 commentator Toshi Hayama, drivers were operating at about 40 percent of their potential. Once the sun went down, he said, we got more like 80 percent.
Aside from the technical challenges presented by a July afternoon in the Mojave, the practice session went off without an abundance of carnage. Subaru driver Kazuhiro Tanaka managed to rip the rear bumper off his orange Subaru Impreza during a spectacular drift, while Toshiki Yoshioka did him one better by ripping off both bumpers of his Toyota Trueno.
One of the unique things about D1 is that they recruit amateur racers through a driver search event, or "Ikaten." Ikaten participants who receive their D1 license are then allowed to proceed to qualifying for that event and may register to qualify for any D1 Grand Prix USA competition that year before they have to renew their license. If they don't manage to score in the top 30 in at least one competition per year, they get their license revoked.
Ten wannabe D1 racers showed up with their souped up grocery getters, but after two crashes and numerous failed attempts at a convincing drift, only two managed to get their licenses: #12, Forrest Wang and his consistently impressive 80 point drifts and #4, Jason who managed to pull a 90-point drift on one of his passes. Sixty-year-old Daijiro Inada, founder of the D1GP, also competed in the Ikaten, but failed to deliver the goods. [D1GP Las Vegas]