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A Cultural Drift Exchange – Speedhunters

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A Cultural Drift Exchange – Speedhunters


The Best

Chucking around terms like ‘the best’ is never something taken lightly. There’s a couple of ways to rationalize such opinions too – subjectively and objectively – but with the haze of a drift context, surely, it’s a subjective opinion.

Spanning a weekend in June, ‘the best’ visited New Zealand: Naoki Nakamura of Japan’s Team Burst finally made the journey to our Shaky Isles. And not only had he packed his inimitable aggressive driving style, accompanying him was Miki Takagi, D1 Street Legal Ladies League champion.

I’ll admit, although I document an awful lot of it, I only exist around the fringes of drifting. Sure, I was vaguely aware of Nakamura and his Team Burst exploits, but by and large I was ignorant to just how highly those who live and breathe drift-life regard the man and his driving style.

That a handful of passionate Kiwi drift advocates revere the drifting accomplishments of Nakamura enough to band together and spirit him across oceans to be here speaks volumes. However, the relationship stretches way back – around seven years to be precise – when local lads Joel and Adam Hedges made the pilgrimage to Meihan Sportsland.

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If you’re wondering where you’ve heard the Hedges name before, then you might find the C’s Garage moniker refreshes your memory. We’ve showcased their Kiwi S-chassis antics on Speedhunters in the past to great adulation, but prior to our shed raids the brothers made the pilgrimage to Osaka to run at Meihan in an S14 purchased for the task.

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“Back in those days, you couldn’t talk about Meihan without mentioning Team Burst,” Joel explains. “Nakamura and his friends were a league above any other driver. These were the years he was dominating D1 Street Legal.”

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Witnessing Nakamura’s off-the-charts driving style, encompassing crazy-aggressive entries, far faster than anyone else, the C’s Garage duo knew then and there that at some stage, this was a spectacle New Zealand needed to experience.

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If anything, it had to be a positive for Kiwi drift culture, a cultural exchange of sorts where locals could measure and improve against the benchmark.

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Fast forward a few years from their initial visit, and the C’s team were seriously considering options on how to get Naoki-san on Kiwi soil. Following a year’s stay in Japan and driving alongside the Meihan-master, the Hedges formed a relationship with both Nakamura and ex-pat Aussie drifter/parts-slinger Shane Bingham of Stacked Inc., the latter a close friend and sponsor of Nakamura’s.

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Driving with both Naoki and Miki, Joel and Adam learned visually – studying the Japanese drivers’ techniques and emulating – and by asking questions. And as time progressed, so did the driving style. Joel mentions Nakamura’s aggression intensified as suspension improved and sticky 265-section tyres became the norm. “The throttle’s used even more to slow the cars down, everything’s raised to another extreme; it’s exciting to watch.”

This period sparked the journey to get Nakamura and Miki here. With Shane’s assistance J-side, it was simply a case of the stars aligning.

Finally, on a murky winter weekend the Japanese duo found themselves in Auckland on a mission to impart some Meihan-style lessons towards a Kiwi drift faithful. Factor in the D*Club team of dedicated Nakamura fans and drifters in their own right, and the PinkStyle GP was born.

A Worthy Steed

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With Shane taking care of things across the other side of the Pacific, the task locally fell to the C’s boys and a team of dedicated friends to piece together something for both Naoki and Miki to drive during their whistle-stop tour.

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The duo’s previous offshore drives in the Australia and USA were both in cars supplied expressly for the purpose. With a couple of months up their sleeves, it was all hands on deck to build the S13.

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Languishing in the corner of the C’s Garage rural property, even the Silvia itself has history. Originally thrown together for a mate some five years prior, the Hedges ended up with the shell a short time later. For couple of years, the S13 sat deteriorating.

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To label the transformation anything short of stunning would be to underplay the achievement. From rusty shell to vibrant drift weapon in two months of long days is no mean feat. Adam spearheaded the build, taking on the panel and paint, wiring and fabrication work with workshop assistance from previous Speedhunters feature car owner Graeme Smyth, an accomplished fabricator and driver himself.

The setup is simple. Mechanically, the S13 runs an internally stock SR20DET boosted with the assistance of a Garrett GT3071R turbo. Drunk on E85, the SR pumps out a safe 375hp (280kW) to Zestino semi-slicks out back, power kept relatively sedate in order to preserve the engine. Some minor teething problems occurred early, a byproduct of having the car sitting around. Rust flakes from the tank made their way through the fuel lines, ultimately blocking the injectors. Fresh injectors solved the problem, with tuner Chris mashing the laptop buttons to keep the SR happy.

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Suspension wise – and arguably one of Nakamura’s most focused areas – the boys haven’t reinvented the wheel. At Naoki and Miki’s request, the car sits on Stance coilovers, with Naoki’s own B-Knuckle steering arrangement providing lock.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a C’s Garage car without the Origin Labo bodywork. The S13 sports the Aggressive Line aero, coated with C’s signature red-to-yellow fade paint scheme.

The livery? Created alongside local design wizard Ash of Heroes design fame, the livery blends the C’s branding with Naoki’s Pink Style aesthetic, all the while giving exposure to the sponsors who got the build across the line.

How To Run The Wall

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I’m not even going to make an excuse for just how miserable the weather was, but conversely, I’m more than happy to drop a played-out pun: spirits weren’t at all dampened. Hell, Naoki, Miki and Shane had travelled half a world to be here – the local guys weren’t about to shirk a day’s hooning on the run-off area of a local drag strip.

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The running of the weekend operations were placed in the hands of the D*Club team, a collective of drifters who’ve been on the scene for longer the most. These guys represent what you could term ‘core drift values’ – having fun and going sideways with your mates. No better crew of Kiwis to welcome international drift royalty.

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The D*Club guys are veterans of this kind of lark, setting up the ideal tarmac classroom. Two courses, one involving a selection of cones to manji among, and a second slightly more daunting effort involving a committed, aggressive entry into a right-hander at speed. It was on the second, that Nakamura would impart knowledge.

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Renowned for his car setup knack, the man himself fielded a few questions and conducted visual checks on the cars lined up for a run. As it would later transpire, Naoki’s words on the subject started with a smile: “The car setups need a bit of work. Especially toe, and the ride heights are too low.”

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Naoki’s setup tips were conveyed via Shane’s translation while students listened, and soon enough the C’s S13 was fired up, burbling away in that unmistakable SR20 fashion. After a brief warm up, Nakamura pointed the Silvia towards the entry.

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Although the prescribed technique sounded simple, the sheer speed with which he flicked the S13 left, then initiated with a weight shift to the right into the corner dropped jaws. Minimal handbrake, maximum pace. The Meihan way.

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The locals began their assault with the C’s Garage team leading and showcasing their own fluid style honed in Japan. Not to be outdone, the rest charged in hard – in some cases a little too hard – with the occasional wall tap rearranging a quarter panel.

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Saturday continued in much the same fashion beneath inclement weather. The assembled cars, some dedicated drift weapons and the others very much street cars attacked the entry time after time, interspersed with some Q&A time with Shane, Naoki or one of the present D*Club team. Not to mention some Japan-style encouragement, as Nakamura took on the role of a clipping point.

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Nakamura even managed some seat time in an Aussie-spec R31 Skyline. For the uninitiated, these cars rock an RB30E (yes, single cam) and a live axle rear – not that it appeared a hindrance. The R31 was running the wall instantly with a feather touch on the left-rear corner displacing the tiniest piece of trim. Naturally, a couple of tandems were thrown in too.

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Saturday’s finale? Big drift car trains, with all three C’s cars getting involved in the show until closing time, and even a few examples of the infamous ‘Team Burst overtake’ thrown in for good measure.

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Of course, we were only halfway through. Wider tracks, serious cars and faster speeds beckoned the following day.

Come One, Come All

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The schoolyard gave way to the tarmac of Hampton Downs Motorsport Park’s club circuit for Sunday. Traditionally, people have complained this is a power circuit, the fast right-hand entry giving way to a moderate length straight, before a left-hand switch, another straight and a never-ending left to finish.

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While some of Saturday’s participants stayed on for the second day, reinforcements drafted in to share the track with Naoki and Miki included some heavy hitters in the Kiwi drift scene.

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Remember Carl Thompson’s wild quad-rotor Lexus GS300? Well, that was in attendance, now drinking methanol and sporting an even crazier turbo setup. A handful of D1NZ competitors also showed up, including the Jenkins boys with their always immaculate Silvias, and one of the quickest guys on track, Andrew Redward and his LS-powered FC RX-7.

All level of drift machinery was catered for though, from a hard-driven MX-5 rocking a rev-happy, ITB-equipped 1600, to an SR20DE S14 Q’s street car. Leading the world’s best and as well as a D1NZ-spec car in your NA Silvia must be a priceless sensation. The common denominator throughout however, was aggressive driving.

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Limited public tickets meant a small (but sold out) crowd was treated to some of the best drifting to grace a Kiwi circuit. Nakamura’s relentless chases and high speed entries claimed numerous victims, offering a contrast to the prevailing Kiwi style of drift.

“Pretty slow,” was the Japanese drivers summation. “The Kiwi guys enter in a much more lazy fashion, relying on power to drift the corner,” he mentioned during a brief interview. On track, the difference was clear – Nakamura remained glued to the door of each and every sideways adversary.

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New Zealand was smitten. The lunchtime queue for autographed posters, regardless of the weather, seemed to never shorten. This was rock star territory, with a passionate few being allowed on stage to have a jam.

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Nakamura and Miki weren’t the only international guests on track. Also making the trip from Japan was Ryota Hirakawa, who although wasn’t able to run in the car prepped locally due to a mechanical issue, managed some seat time in Zac Barlass’ D1 Pro-Sport S14, all the while smiling. With assistance from event sponsor Autohub, Atsushi Kumekawa even shipped his own S13 over for a run, taking in Hampton Downs’ cambered curves at the wheel while his kids scampered about the pits, stealing hearts and ‘helping’ refuel.

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This is the beauty of the casual drift day – nothing is taken too seriously. The smiles at the wheel from both visitors and residents alike never diminished, although thankfully by the time sunlight began to fade the moisture slackened and a dry line developed.

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The finale? Massive backwards entries backlit by the dying light, in a somewhat secondhand-looking C’s Garage shop car with Naoki at the helm, and Joel plonked in the passenger’s seat. Why not round up the best weekend, with a run with the best? A fitting thanks for building “the best car outside of Japan,” that Nakamura reckoned he’s driven to date. And as for that subjectivity – if excitement and pure driving aggression is a subjective measure, the reputation is well deserved.

Richard Opie
richy@speedhunters.com
Instagram: snoozinrichy

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