Baby steps still move you forwardGermany and the UK have delivered two of the most winning F1 drivers ever, including Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. But what about drifting? There are drift championships in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America right now. But it all started in Japan.
Some Japanese people have been exposed to the sport even before it was recognized as one almost 30 years ago. So it's not at all far-fetched to think of them as some of the most capable drifters on Planet Earth.
There are plenty of videos online to support that statement, and you can always jump on the first plane to find out for yourself. Since the development of Formula Drift, North America's premier drifting series, there have been several Japanese drivers fighting for a chance to win the championship title.
Diligence is the beginning of brillianceAs Daijiro Yoshihara retired at the end of the 2021 season, there are still a few drivers hailing from the country where drifting was born including Ken Gushi, Wataru Masuyama, and Kazuya Taguchi.
While Gushi is one of the series veterans, you could say that both Masuyama and Taguchi are almost rookies in FD. Watching the last few races, we noticed a spark of brilliance in Kazuya Taguchi and a few other people saw it as well.
So we decided to get in touch with him and learn more about his drifting experience so far. He is 29 years old and has lived in Japan for most of his life. At an early age, as his mother was fighting a difficult illness - which she luckily recovered from, he got to spend a full year with his father.
Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites youAt age 10, his father took him to a drift event. He rode as a passenger in a Nissan Silvia S13, and that was a moment that left a strong impression on him: "Even now, I vividly remember the moment he initiated the drift and the shock running through my body". A few years later, he used all of his life savings to buy a Toyota Soarer which had a 1JZ-GTE engine inside with the clear goal of learning how to drift in it.
He was just 16 years old when he entered his first official competition, and you should be aware that you need to be 18 to get a driver's license in Japan. While everyone was impressed to see him there, he spun during his qualifying run.
"I made a decision, then and there. I decided I would become a driver who would perform well in competitions". Several years and probably thousands of destroyed tires later, he started competing in D1GP and Formula Drift Japan. A few years since his pro debut, he went up against Matt Field who had come over from the States for FDJ.
It doesn't get easier, you just get stronger"I had many firsts there including my first time in the American series and first time competing in a GT-R. There were a lot of challenges for me. I was competing with myself before competing with other drivers or teams.
The language barrier was also a bit problematic, and it wasn't easy with the tire pressure, and water pressure units to name a few problems. I couldn't probably convey how the car performed to the team. So I am still grateful to Jerry Yang Racing for continuing to trust me as their driver."
At first, Kazuya tried commuting from Japan to race in FD. He would travel up to 20 hours to reach the event from his home country, and then he would fly back the very next day after it was over. With the language barrier, jet lag, and fatigue, that was a difficult period for him from both a mental and physical point of view. He struggled to get to grips with the GT-R, and so he would often get eliminated early in the Top32.
Wish it, plan it, do it"Even if you don't get the score you want in qualifying, or if you lose in the Top32, we'll support you. Feel more confident about being a pro driver in the world's top drift series!" Those words meant a lot to Kazuya and helped him move forward despite his difficult beginnings.
This year Taguchi-san is driving the VR41FRS: a Scion FR-S with a Nissan VR38DETT engine off of an R35 GT-R. This is one of the least common swaps you'll see in drifting, considering both the engine and the chassis. And this year Kazuya managed to show the world what he's made of by qualifying P1 two races in a row, and winning the second race at that!
"After the knockout qualifying system was introduced, I refrained from driving 100% aggressively. However, in Saint Louis this year, I was strangely confident. Just before driving, I was struck by the idea that qualifying in P1 would lead to a media interview. So I needed to think of what I was going to say to them. With that in mind, I went out full of confidence and drove 100% of my ability and the result was great!"
"I've developed a good sense of control over my mind. Earlier this year, in Seattle, the car had a steering issue. In my early career days, having mechanical problems would have had me worrying about crashing or not being able to get a good qualifying score. But I kept my cool in Seattle, even though the car was running at 70% of its potential. I decided it was my job to control that 70% at 100% of my ability without making up any excuses. With that in mind, I was able to qualify in first place once again."
Moving to the United States to compete in Formula Drift and operate UP Garage USA out of California was a big decision for Kazuya. He decided to give up on all his personal belongings in Japan, aiming to only return once victorious in the North American Pro Drifting series.
He is currently in P12 in the Championship Rankings, with two more events to go. It's almost impossible for him to get on top of the podium at the end of this season, but it sure looks like he has the skills, energy, and determination to get there in 2023. We will be watching closely!