A special part of the DSPORT Tokyo Auto Salon Tour happens on the second to last day, when the group migrates an hour east of Tokyo, over the Tokyo Bay Bridge and into the mountains. The destination is the annual DSPORT Tuner Challenge at the famous Mobara Twin Circuit in the Chiba Prefecture. This event is hosted by DSPORT and Vertex, and gives American fans of drifting on the DSPORT tour—along with special customers of Vertex—the chance to watch and interact with their favorite Japanese drift drivers. We even got to go for ride-alongs, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
My day started off the same as every other day on this trip; I awoke quickly and excited for the upcoming schedule. I stopped at the 7-Eleven outside my hotel and grabbed a riceball, yogurt, juice, and my personal favorite—the pancake sandwich, which consists of two pancakes stuck together, filled with butter and syrup. I then hopped on our tour bus and relaxed until we made it to our destination.
After ascending and descending numerous tightly-wound mountain roads (also known as touge) on the bus, our talented driver got us to Mobara Twin Circuit safe and sound.
Keep in mind that the temperature was circulating around the 27°F mark on this day in Mobara, so it was pretty darn chilly outside, but that didn’t deter any of the local drifting faithful from coming out for the demo. The covered paddocks were almost completely full of wild Formula DRIFT Japan and D1 Grand Prix professional drift cars, and any of the empty spots were shortly taken by one of the pro cars arriving on rollback trucks.
The uncovered spaces were all occupied by some of the cleanest amateur drift cars I’ve seen, including this JZA80 Supra!
Other favorites of mine were this impeccable pair of black Silvias. I loved how low they were, and their wheel fitment was so perfect. I wasn’t too confident they’d be drifting that day, because the cars were of such high quality, but sure enough they ripped.
Then this gorgeous 180SX rolled in, and I was completely smitten. Everything about it was calling to me. The low ride height, the aggressively-fitted Nismo LMGT4 wheels, and the spotless red body—it was perfect!
I walked around the grounds taking images of the rest of the cars, and stumbled onto this group of AE86s. Now, referring to these cars as 86 (“Eight Six”) has always seemed cumbersome for me, and I’d rather call them a Corolla, or by their chassis code of AE86, because the 86 by itself just doesn’t roll off the tongue—that goes for the new Toyota 86, too. However, “Eight Six” becomes “Hachi Roku” when translated to Japanese, and that rolls off the tongue just fine. After hearing the locals frequently call these cars Hachirokus for the duration of my trip, I’m convinced that’s why the 86 moniker is such a common reference for them. But my babble aside, these cars representing Run Free—a legendary group of AE86 enthusiasts and drivers in Japan—were just as well built as the other cars at Mobara. At the time, I didn’t think they would be drifting either, but they also proved me wrong.
Adding to my delight was this JZX90 Mark II. I admired this car so deeply at the time at Mobara, it ended up leaving a lasting impression on me and I just recently purchased one of my own. But this particular one with gorgeous silver paint, flared fenders, mismatched wheels, and a completely stripped and caged interior won me over from the second I saw it. I couldn’t wait to see it out on track!
For anyone who has never seen Mobara in videos, or knows the layout, there are actually two circuits on the premises, hence Mobara Twin Circuit. There is a very small, very tight, very narrow karting track close to the property entrance, while the larger—yet still fairly small—time attack and drift circuit resides at the back of the property. We were on the time attack and drift circuit, which runs counter-clockwise.
Once the majority of the cars had assembled, Japanese drifting legend Takahiro Ueno took over the microphone and made all of the announcements for the participating drivers, while also thanking all whom attended the event. His entire announcement was in Japanese, and since I’m an admittedly semi-ignorant American who only speaks one language, I understood none of it.
After the announcements had concluded, the drivers all rushed to their cars to begin their warm-up processes before heading out on track. Some of the drivers like D1 driver Kazumi Takahashi allowed his JZX100 time to idle in gear with the rear wheels up in the air, in order to get some semblance of heat and movement into the rear differential.
While others like Nobuteru “Nob” Taniguchi of Hot Version video and Super GT racing fame hadn’t even shown up yet. Although, once he did, I ripped a quick selfie with him.
A few of the amateur drivers got things started on track, and I went for a walk up onto the hillside to get a better vantage point.
What in tarnation?!? By the time I’d come back down… Do I even say it? Only in Japan, would a Mitsuoka Le-Seyde—an S15-chassis Nissan Silvia reskinned into a neoclassic kit car—be properly equipped and drifting on a circuit. This is the country where public urinals are transformed into video games, assigning points based on aim, so I guess nothing should surprise me, but still… where else in the world would this happen?
As the morning continued, the drivers each had a chance to practice out on course before the main event: the ride-alongs! We all got geared up in our balaclavas and helmets, and waited patiently for the pro drivers and their cars to begin filing onto the track.
Meanwhile, a shred of HPDE took place on track, although only small cars could really take advantage of the tight course layout. Cars like this interesting little Nissan Micra with a Recaro bucket seat and Volk Racing RE30 wheels were seen powering in anger through every turn.
Then it was time. The professional drift drivers began getting their bearings on the small course by experimenting with drift initiations and powerslides throughout numerous points on the track. When they returned to the paddock area, they were inundated with passengers like one of DSPORT’s Editors, Bassem Grigis, seen getting into Takahashi-san’s JZX.
The first group of passengers was secured in their seats, and the drift trains commenced! What a sensory overload it was to watch this incredibly talented group of drivers destroying tires in tandem, and in their valuable pro cars nonetheless.
By the time it was my turn to take a seat, I was able to position myself perfectly in line to catch Koichi Yamashita’s passenger seat in the Run Free AE86 and he did NOT disappoint! It was the ride of my life to be seated passenger to an absolute legend in the Japanese automotive world, and in his personal demo car to boot! Sure, those D1 cars on track with us had double the horsepower, but watching him throw the little Levin around the track at the top of the rev range from a foot away was life-changing for me.
I was already a massive drifting fan, but that day was another level of brainwashing intensity. The ride-along basically ended the day for me, but also changed my life forever. There were still a bunch of cars to admire around the paddock, so check out the gallery below for more. And if you want to catch up on other parts of the DSPORT Tokyo Auto Salon tour before booking your ticket, you can find my other articles here, here, here, and here.