The three of them have never been to Singapore before and were looking forward to see the Merlion. Professional drifters Daigo Saito, Kenshiro (Ken) Gushi and Robbie Nishida visited Singapore in June to participate in Formula Drift Singapore for their first time.
2008 D1GP champion Daigo competed and won the Malaysia round on his Formula Drift Asia debut last year, catching the attention of local workshop SPARK Motorsports (backed by Comfort DelGro Engineering) and hence was signed on to represent them in the 2011 season.
Formula Drift USA regulars Ken and Robbie were also signed on by Team SPARK Motorsports, alongside Daigo and their fourth team member Charles Ng of Hong Kong. Daigo and Robbie had their cars brought in from Japan, while Ken and Charles’s cars were kindly provided by local tyre distributor Binter & Co. Pte Ltd.
SPARK Motorsports’ substantial investment in the four-man foreign talent drift team paid off when Daigo expertly fought his way to the top of the battle bracket, with Ken finishing in third place. It was a pity that Daigo and Ken had to meet in the semi-finals, as a 1-2 finish would have been a sweeter victory.
Having watched Daigo drift in Kuala Lumpur last December and also his past videos on YouTube, I am aware of his fearless sideway moves on the track in extreme boldness and aggression. At Formula Drift Singapore last month, I was further impressed when Daigo displayed excellent control on the wet and slippery grounds due to afternoon showers on qualifying day.
Unable to converse in English, his team-mates Robbie and Ken – who can speak perfectly good English – helped to translate his replies for him as I engaged the only three Japanese drivers at Formula Drift Singapore in a three-way interview. It overwhelms me how these guys have been drifting from a very young age and they are such characters in and out of the car, on and off the track.
The most established drifter of the trio, Daigo’s family runs a kindergarten back home in Japan and he used to drive the kindergarten school bus. That’s a stark contrast to his crazy tyre-smoking antics that he performs on drift tracks.
The 31-year-old Japanese first learnt from his father how to ride a motorbike and attained his riding licence at the age of 16. Then he stumbled across some cars drifting at the touge and laid his eyes on a particular white Mercedes-Benz sedan. He liked watching the oversized car sliding gracefully around corners and decided to take up drifting. He later got his driving licence at the age of 18, but failed to get a drift-friendly car from his father and instead was given a MINI Cooper.
Undeterred, he still attempted to drift in it until he crashed it while trying. Saving up his money, he then bought a Nissan Silvia S13 without his parents’ knowledge and took it to the mountains to try drifting it. Eventually, the S13 was totalled when he crashed it into a tree.
Daigo won the first drift competition that he took part in at 24 years old and got a licence to go to D1GP, the highest level of competitive drifting. He entered D1GP in 2004 and finally won the championship in 2008.
Unlike Robbie and Ken, Daigo is quieter and more sombre, but it could be due to the communication and language barriers. Having had a hand in building the Toyota Altezza that he showed up in at Formula Drift Singapore, his car showed no mercy for the other competitors as he charged ahead when leading tandem battles, and came dangerously close when giving chase. I look forward to seeing Daigo at the next three rounds of the Formula Drift Asia season scheduled in the fourth quarter of the year!
Taking a joyride with him in his Toyota Chaser, I got an upclose experience with Ken Gushi at the wheel as he drifted round Turns 1, 2 and 3 of the Formula 1 Marina Bay street circuit. It’s hard to believe that he is the same age as me – I suddenly felt like my life was a lot duller when I sat in the passenger seat of his car.
Born in Okinawa, Japan, Ken was brought up in Southern California, which explains why he can speak very good English. He entered Formula Drift USA at a raw age of 16 years old, before he got his driving licence. His father Tsukasa Gushi was the one who inspired him into drifting and gave him his first taste of sliding when he was only 13.
Having achieved several podium finishes and some wins in Formula Drift USA across the years, Ken is a known name in the global drifting scene. Right now he is competing in the full season of Formula Drift USA in the first rear-wheel drive converted Toyota Scion tC that was made possible with the help of RS-R. Other than drifting, Ken also engages in time attack races, rallies, hill climbs and stunt driving.
Not expecting to finish on the podium at his Formula Drift Asia debut in Singapore, Ken was more than pleased with his third place result. Hopefully this result will be good enough for SPARK Motorsports to bring him back for the next three rounds!
With over a decade of drifting experience, Robbie Nishida has been drifting competitively since 1998 and first joined Formula Drift USA in 2005, which he is still competing in this season. Born to a half-American half-Japanese father, Robbie’s command of English is so good there isn’t a hint of a Japanese accent even.
32-year-old Robbie lives in Tokyo and takes the trouble to fly out to each round of Formula Drift USA. Back home he manages a garage and is capable of building his own cars too. Like Daigo, he also stumbled upon people drifting in the touge and found it way cooler than what he sees in videos. He started to e-brake his car everywhere and anywhere he went after that.
Long-time friends of each other, Robbie and Daigo are best buddies and they will travel across the world just to support each other. For example, Robbie was in Malaysia last year with Daigo and Daigo has flown all the way to the States for Robbie. Robbie is often seen helping Daigo as his translator at press conferences, media interviews or meetings conducted in non-Japanese.
Finishing in the Top 16 at Formula Drift Singapore, Robbie is slightly bummed by his performance but he is eager to come back the next round and do better!