Drifting for non drifters – the September Matsuri

So I’ll be honest – I’ve never much been a fan of drifting. I think some of the cars are cool, and I’d really, really love to give it a go, but despite its rapid gain in popularity all over the world, it’s never really been something that’s grabbed me. I’ve taken a passing interest in it on other blogs, but sports cars, rallying and road racing always piqued my interests that little bit more and I’m willing to bet that most readers of Any Given Reason probably fall into the same boat.

But there are a few readers that love their drifting, and recently they suggested that I really ought to come out to an event and have a look for myself. So with an open mind, a blank camera memory card and the accompaniment of fellow drift-noob James Wiltshire, I headed out to Mallala for the September Matsuri.

You know there’s a drift day happening when you can see the tyre smoke hanging low in the air before you even get to the track. This was taken from the road to Mallala, just outside the township.

So first off, what is Matsuri? It’s a style of event that originated in Japan (as everything drift seems to), and is basically an anything goes, run what ya brung freestyle event. There’s no judging and no rules on what you can drive – it’s just you and an open drift track. From what I’ve read on other blogs, Matsuri events in Japan are wild – they often run straight for 24 hours with no rules or anybody really running the show. Crashes, bodging up damaged cars, drinking, stunts. Everything goes.

Australian Matsuri events are nowhere near as wild. There’s still no judging and no real regulations on what you can drive, but the events are controlled for safety. The field is split into two groups based on experience, and these groups rotate with 30-45min long sessions throughout the event. The September event ran from 10am-10pm, a straight 12 hours of drift action.

There were a couple of really clean cars there, like this 180SX Type X, but on the whole the standard of car preparation was very low. For someone who’s used to the rigours of CAMS scruitineers, I struggled to believe a few of the things I saw.

Bald tyres down to the steel belts? No problems!

Bit of a dent? Don’t bother fixing it, it’ll only be hit again!

On a side note – drift pipes work soooo well on the right car.

As expected pretty much everything was Japanese and just about every car sported an attempt at differentiation. I thought this S13 managed to pull off the primary colour wheel look very well.

The other cool thing was that you could take a passenger so long as you had at least a half roll cage. Just about every car had a passenger, and they were all out there sharing the fun with their mates.

And that’s the one thing that drifting has that I think is lacking in a lot of other motorsport – the social side. It’s a sport where you bring your mates along with you, and you just hang out when you’re not on the track. It’s possible to go to a grip track day and not talk to anyone all day, but at the Matsuri I didn’t see a single person on their own. There were bbq’s and esky’s everywhere, and almost every car in the paddock was surrounded by a group of people having an awesome time. It’s about the most relaxed and accessible atmosphere you’ll find, and I think that’s got a lot to do with its popularity.

And of course drifting is just so mechanically tough on the cars that you need all the help from your mates you can get. Be it the never ending tyre changes (reckon this car was running much camber???) …

 … or the never ending gearbox changes…

… or just the odd radiator change.

For quite a few cars the punishment was just too much, and they were loaded up and heading home before the day had ended.

One thing I noticed was the sheer variety of engine swaps taking place. It’s probably brought on by the lack of any real rules or standards, but drifters seem to have a healthy optimism about tackling huge jobs that most of us would shy away from. It was almost commonplace to see RB26 Nissan engines (2.6l + straight 6) shoehorned into cars that came out with SR power (2.0l 4), and the odd V8 stuffed into anything that would take it.

In most cases the workmanship probably wasn’t up to a level that would pass a rigorous CAMS race scruitineering, but it was still cool to see people actually doing it rather than just sitting back and talking about it.

Fitment boss.

The action continued once the sun went down, and if anything these guys pushed even harder at night.

I’m probably going to cop a lot of crap for saying this, but watching the top guys initiate into turn 1 was seriously impressive. The speed that some of them carried was almost unbelievable, and it was literally breathtaking to watch.

The guy in this R32 4 door was pushing harder than just about everyone else. It’s hard to convey with photos just how fast the car is travelling at this point. Lap after lap I thought he would spin…

… but no, he just backed it in and kept it planted…

… with the occasional blue flame shooting out the guard mounted screamer pipe.

The level of spectacularness just grew as the tires wore out.

I learnt one very important lesson about drifting that night. Almost anything that’s rear wheel drive can be drifted in the right hands, but it takes serious power to create smoke plumes like this!

I was also amazed at the sheer number of spectators. Apparently this Matsuri was one of the smallest they’ve had, but there were still several hundred spectators glued to the action for the whole time I was there. They love it, and with a spectator entry fee of $15 each, Clem loves them. They’re probably what’s keeping Mallala a viable business, and if that makes it easier for us to go and race, well that can only be a good thing.

So am I converted to drift? Well, no. It’s still not my thing, and despite trying really hard to get into it, I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m not a drifter. Probably never will be.

I just had this uneasy feeling the whole time I was there, and I couldn’t quite work out why. It was James who pointed it out to me, and it’s because these guys just don’t seem to have any respect for anything. Their cars, the track, themselves. It’s all fair game.

I firmly believe that we build relationships with our cars, and part of what I like about motorsport is working with the car to achieve a common goal, not bludgeoning it to death at every given opportunity. I’ll be the first to admit that motorsport, rally in particular, is very hard on cars, but in regular motorsport breaking stuff is an unfortunate side effect of what we do, and we try to minimise it. Drifting? Some of these cars are built with the intention of being ruined, and I’m not really comfortable with that.

There aren’t many clean cars out there because cars don’t stay clean for long if you drift in the pursuit of awesomeness, which is all most people drift for.

But don’t get me wrong, drifting is a lot of fun to watch and it is something completely different, and for that reason alone everybody should see it at least once. It’s a huge spectacle, and I completely understand why it’s popular.

There’s no real risk of Any Given Reason turning into a drift blog, but it’s still probably something I’ll go and see once a year.

This movie, Keep Drifting Fun, does a far better job of explaining ‘the why’ of drifting than I could ever do, if you’ve got a spare half hour.

But I think there’s a lot that conventional motorsport can learn from drifting. It’s popular because it’s just a fun thing to do, and I think we need to do more to transfer that casual fun into our conventional events. There’s a lot of bureaucracy in conventional motorsports, and that’s what’s turning people toward sports like drifting. When they come out to the track on the weekend they don’t want to be bogged down with pointless rules and regulations and people nitpicking over the tiniest of details – they just want to build their cars the way they want to, and get out and have some fun with their mates. That’s exactly what drifting delivers.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Tom Gilbert September 22, 2012 Reply

    Yeah not the prettiest cars in the world are they. It is also a lot harder than it looks. Good on them.

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