The speed, the sound, the cars and the drivers are some of the key elements which attract fans to motorsport. Whether it’s watching Sebastian Vettel claim another victory in his Red Bull F1 car, cringing while the turbocharged WRC car of Sébastien Loeb launches over a bump or catching a post-race interview with NASCAR’s Danica Patrick, motorsport provides a variety of attractions and thrills for spectators. Yet, with all of the entertainment value comes the risk that someone will crash their vehicle. Niki Lauda during the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, Gilles Villenueve at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, Colin McRae at the 2000 Rally Corsica and Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the 2001 Daytona 500, provide a small example of the dangers drivers have faced over the years. In these instances, tragedy was brought about as high-powered vehicles lost traction and control. Most fans and drivers cringe at the sight of a vehicle losing control. Most, but not all.
The drivers of the D1 Grand Prix (D1GP) are a little different than those of F1, WRC, Indy Car or NASCAR. D1 drivers actually want their cars to lose traction and slide across the track. That is because the D1 Grand Prix is the premier drift competition. Drifting is the technique of intentionally sliding your car around corners by losing the traction of the rear wheels. This causes the rear end to ‘kick out’ as the car slides sideways through a corner in a controlled-uncontrolled maneuver. Due to the technique used, drifting is almost always done by RWD vehicles. Since the late 1990s, the sport of drifting has grown in popularity thanks to video games, movies and the growth of the Japanese tuner culture. In turn, this has all increased the fan base of the D1GP.
The D1GP officially began in 2000. Each season is composed of a series of competitions or rounds. Points are awarded based on placing with the D1GP title awarded to the highest point winner. The rounds are held at a number of venues, including Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit. Competing vehicles must be based on production vehicles and can only be two-wheel drive. Drivetrain modification is allowed to enable FWD and AWD vehicles to be converted to RWD. Original chassis and commercially available tires must also be used.
Beginning in 2006, a Street Legal (SL) title was added to the series to help keep costs down. This was meant for more novice racers and added significant regulations. In comparison with the D1GP cars, D1SL vehicles have to have the original engine, trim, body panels, fuel tank and stereo. Drivers are allowed to swap in new engines if needed, however, they need to be engines specific to the model of car in question. For instance, if your car came with a 2.0L four cylinder engine, you can not swap in a six cylinder engine. SL cars also require a Japanese motor-vehicle inspection certificate, meaning they are road worthy. The D1SL winner receives a D1 licence qualifying him or her for the D1GP the next year. In both of these competitions certain cars are dominating the field. Here are the top five:
T4. Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86, 1 Title
Like a fine wine, the AE86 has apparently improved with age – at least in the drift world. Initially, the AE86 variants were popular rally and race vehicles thanks to their simple construction and RWD. Being relatively inexpensive, along with readily available aftermarket support, this car continued to be utilized long after it was first unveiled in 1983. Toyota stopped production of the AE86 in 1987, yet the car continues to be a force in D1GP over 20 years later. Popularized by ‘Drift King’ Keiichi Tsuchiya and the Initial D comic book series, the AE86 is a favorite of many drivers. Over the last decade, this car has won several rounds of competition and a single D1GP title. Given its continuing popularity, the AE86 is likely to remain a fixture within the drifting world for many years to come.
T4. Mazda RX-7 FD3S, 1 Title
Wankel; that’s a funny word. Yet the wankel rotary engine used by the Mazda RX-7 makes it unique on this list because it’s the only car which doesn’t use a tradition cylinder motor. It also boasts the lowest engine displacement at 1.3L. All jokes aside, the third-generation Mazda RX-7 has become a force in the D1GP. In the first 10 years, Mazda’s sports car won 15 rounds and managed a D1GP title. Followers of the sport will easily identify the A’PEXi sponsored vehicle which was driven to the title in 2003 by Youichi Imamura. Production of the vehicle ceased in 2002 with over 800,000 RX-7s being manufactured. It was named to Car and Driver’s top 10 cars list, 5 times over its lifetime. Many used RX-7s can be found for sale and Japanese versions can be imported as well.
3. Toyota Chaser/Mark II JZX100, 2 Titles
The JZX100 is the only car on this list that doesn’t look sporty in its road-going form. Don’t let that fool you. Depending upon trim level, these cars are powered by Toyota’s legendary 2.5L or 3.0L turbocharged engines belonging to the JZ series. No, these have nothing to do with the famous rapper and record producer. These same engines are found in the Supra, Toyota’s iconic contribution to the JGTC. Race-proven, these engines can handle massive horsepower, as demonstrated by Daigo Saito’s 800hp Chaser. Like the Supra, the JZX100 is RWD which makes it perfect for the D1GP. These cars have won one D1GP and one D1SL title to date. Production for the Chaser ended in 2000 and the Mark II in 2004. Neither car was sold in the North American market but they are available for import. They may not be sexiest looking vehicles out on the circuit, but the two titles prove they are worthy drift cars.
2. Nissan Silvia S13/180sx, 6 Titles
One of the icons of the drift world, the Silvia combined decent power with excellent handling and weight to make it an ideal drift car. In Japan, the Silvia S13 came with either a 1.8L or 2.0L turbocharged engine, depending on the year of manufacturing. All of the cars of this type used the same chassis, however, and body styles varied to include fastbacks and coupes with a variety of trims and headlight types. In the D1GP, the Silvia S13 continues to be one of the most popular and successful vehicles. Used in both the GP and SL series, the S13 has won 1 and 5 titles respectively. The success on the track and coverage in the Fast and Furious films made the S13 a very popular car in North America. Unfortunately, North American S13s, better known as the 240SX, came with a 2.4L naturally aspirated engine putting out substantially less power than its Japanese cousin. This has led many owners and enthusiasts to swap in Japanese engines or import their own Silvia from Japan.
1. Nissan Silvia S15, 8 Titles
The final generation of Nissan’s popular Silvia line, the S15 has become the winningest D1GP car to date. Between 2001 and 2011, the S15 claimed 7 GP and 1 SL title with 5 different drivers. Utilizing the famous 2.0L SR20DET motorset, S15s running in the D1GP produced approximately 530-560hp. This is a substantial gain considering stock power on the same engine is 247hp. With such potential and performance, it’s no surprise that this car is also used in the Super-GT. Nobuteru Taniguchi, a D1GP champion with the S15 also drove a version of the Silvia in the Super-GT series. Unfortunately, the Silvia line ended with the S15 as Nissan sought to reduce the number of platforms on offer and cut costs. The S15 was never shipped to North America. If you want one you’ll have to import it. Built between 1999 and 2002, models are just now becoming eligible for import for around $15-$20,000 depending on condition and modification.
Normally when a car starts sliding on a racetrack it means the driver has lost control or has experienced some malfunction. Yet, in the D1 Grand Prix all the smoke, noise and sliding is normal, expected and necessary. While the cars may look out of control, drifting requires some of the highest levels of control to keep the car sliding through the turns properly. This challenge makes it attractive to many fans. The popularity of D1 and drifting was significantly boosted by the video game industry and the Fast and Furious movies, especially Tokyo Drift. The availability and price of RWD Japanese sports cars has only helped the popularity of drifting further. That said, before you go changing the drive train of your family car into a RWD setup, I suggest consulting with your significant other first.
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