When you hear the word Ebisu, what comes to mind? Hot Version battles at the Higashi circuit, or in-car footage of laps on the Touge Course? Maybe your fondest memory is that Noriyaro video, touring the entire facility in the rain and the Beer Can Skyline.
For most of us, however, the most memorable of Ebisu’s seven circuits is Minami: The Drift Stadium. Home to D1GP and Formula Drift Japan, as well as a highlight of every Ebisu drift matsuri, Minami is one of the most recognizable courses in professional drift — really, in drift as a whole.
Unfortunately, Minami’s time as a drift haven has come to an end. The course has been dug up, its pavement replaced with gravel, to start a new era for the course. Nobushige Kumakubo, Team Orange drifter and D1GP champion as well as owner of Ebisu, has already taken his V8-swapped Toyota 86 around the newly unpaved course to test it out for himself.
But when all of Ebisu is known for drifting, why raze the most famous of its courses? The circuit that brought us the Minami Jump? According to a Facebook post from Kumakubo, as translated by Google, the reasons are twofold: safety and cost.
In the post, Kumakubo talks about the “High cost and high risk due to high power and high grip,” and how it seemed to be only a matter of time before one of Minami’s many crashes turned fatal. As tire technology has improved, drift cars have become incredibly powerful to take advantage of the grip they now have at their disposal. This balance of grip and power can mean lots of fun smoke, and an incredible level of control mid-slide, but it can also mean catastrophe should things go awry.
And then, there’s the cost. It’s no secret Ebisu has had financial troubles recently; the facility was heavily damaged in the Fukushima earthquake and while rebuild efforts have gone well, they haven’t come without a cost. The track was already dipping into its rainy day fund due to reduced attendance from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the quake forced the facility to open a donation page on its site.
In his Facebook post, Kumakubo explicitly says that the gravel track at Minami will be less expensive to maintain. While the translation is imperfect, it seems that moving to gravel is a last-ditch effort to keep Minami open at all. With that in mind, maybe it’s best that Minami become a gravel course — better the last gasp of something than nothing at all.