Words like ‘the best’ get thrown around fairly loosely, and everyone has varying opinions on who the best at anything is, but when it comes to drifting, practically everyone is in agreement that there is a standout name among us mere mortals — Naoki Nakamura.
The 35-year-old from Nara Prefecture, Sakurai City, is known as the fearless leader of Team Burst; proprietor of drift-car–building shop N-Style; and for his incredibly aggressive, fast-paced driving style. It was this driving style that drew Adam and Joel Hedges of C’s Garage fame to attend one of his driving schools at Meihan Circuit, Japan, some years ago, and subsequently embark on a mission to bring that same style to our shores.
Thanks to a combination effort between C’s Garage, D-Club, and Shane from Stacked Inc, this desire culminated in the most Japanese-style drift gathering to ever have taken place here, and Nakamura-san even brought Miki Takagi — Ladies League champ of 2014 and 2016 — with him, too.
The Pink Style GP consisted of a two-day weekend, with the Saturday taking over Meremere Sportsland for a private driver training day where those who had entered could lay out their driving skill for the masters that are Nakamura-san and Takagi-san to view and critique.
The message was clear. New Zealanders “[try] real hard, the driving is confident, but the car set-ups need work” — a comment that no one could argue with. After all, he has been doing it since the ripe age of 17, and has picked up a trick or two in that time. This saw drivers lifting their ride heights back to near-factory specification and tweaking their toe settings to those never seen on an alignment machine here.
In fact, Nakamura-san was so sure of his set-up that, upon first viewing the C’s Garage shop car built here for him to drive, he had it up on the hoist adjusting the steering to his own preferences ...
Anyway, back to the event. Nakamura-san hopped in and out of the shop car all day to demonstrate exactly how to do things, with the drivers eagerly soaking it all up. He even went as far as to borrow Ross McKay’s R31 to produce the cleanest set of wall rides we’ve seen at Meremere, ever — and in the wet, no less!
Once everyone had picked up a thing or two, Sunday rolled over for the mainstay of the weekend to begin. Shifting over to the Hampton Downs Club Circuit, 35 drivers were pumped out onto the track alongside our Japanese guests. While we don’t like to go on about the weather, heavy hits of rain made for tricky business which challenged drivers for the better part of the morning. Both Nakamura-san and Takagi-san took up driving duties to school us on how to lay down speed and angle, even when the track resembled a paddling pool.
Local talent John O’Gorman volunteered to have the passenger door of his Link Engine Management S15 abused by Nakamura-san while Club Auto driver Andrew Redward jumped on the chase to punish the C’s Garage shop car a little, too.
And, as if two Japanese drivers weren’t enough awesome already, Ryota Hirawaka of Cutting Works Splash flew out to pilot the Hageshi Standing S14 Silvia, sporting a livery specially designed and applied by Ryota himself. Unfortunately, mechanical issues meant it would not be driven, missing out on the crucial ‘shakedown’ that he was looking forward to, and the S14 was confined to hardparking in the pits. However, he did manage to bum a few drives in Zac Barlass’ D1NZ-spec S14 for tandems at Meremere on Saturday, and again at Hampton Downs on Sunday.
Atsushi Kumekawa also came down under and shipped his very own S13 Silvia over from Japan with the help of Autohub, and his car-mad kids also made impressions on the locals, running around the pits and helping drivers pull their cars back together. Christchurch-based Shannon Redmond made sure our guest had someone to play with by showing off the serious amount of lock his bright pink S14 has on tap, and clearly showed a bit of Nakamura-san’s influence in his set-up, too.
2013–14 D1NZ Pro-Am champ Vinny Langhorn rocked up in his re-shelled C33 Laurel and laid down three-car tandems alongside Kieran Stewart’s Mazda MX-5, and the Downtime Entertainment C33 piloted by David Hunter.
Australian Matty Hill, who competed in the local series last season, was perhaps the most targeted by Nakamura-san’s aggressive proximity and speed, which would see his 4.Mance S15 ping-ponged between the shop car and Troy Jenkins’ Brian Roberts Towing S15 on multiple runs.
Benjamin Baker’s SR20DET-powered R31 Skyline proved to be a popular player over the weekend, with Ben battling on after copping a faceful of boiling coolant on Saturday, to putting down a series of decent-angle entries on the first corner.
Of course the lads from C’s Garage weren’t going to miss their chance to drive with Nakamura-san, and the three pushed each other until the entries became so far gone that we weren’t even sure the cars could be pulled back on each. But, like some kind of dark magic, the noses would pull back around and keep going, time and again.
When all was said and done, and Nakamura-san and Takagi-san had finished up taking photos with the fans and signing miscellaneous items, the crew were able to take a step back and breathe a sigh of relief. It had been a huge weekend, with an even bigger run-up building the shop car and getting everything ticked off the lists. The real reward, no doubt, was the hundreds of stoked fans and Nakamura-san later telling the team that the shop car was the best internationally-prepped vehicle he has ever driven — a true testament to the efforts of the C’s Garage lads and Graeme Smyth of SMS Fabrication.
The Pink Style GP was a true masterclass in Japanese driving courtesy of Naoki Nakamura and Miki Takagi — showing us how to mix big speed and revs with aggressive proximity and angle. Roars were heard from the crowd as each car passed, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that didn’t have a smile on their face — we hope to see both return real soon.
Catch the next issue of NZ Performance Car magazine (Issue No. 249) for full event coverage, including an exclusive interview with Nakamura-san and Takagi-san, along with a feature on the C’s Garage shop car, and a huge selection of photos!