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21 October 2019

Drifting in the new Supra with the 'Drift King' himself - Keiichi Tsuchiya

By Tom WhiteTom White
Who better to show us the limits of the new Supra?

For JDM fans, or even just motorsport fans in general, Keiichi Tsuchiya should need no introduction.

The illegal street racer  turned legit motorsport legend, the man who popularised drifting, made the AE86 Corolla famous outside the underground scene, and the 'Drift King' himself, Tsuchiya seems a natural fit for Toyota’s new rear-drive Supra.

So, it really is major bucket-list stuff when Toyota offers you a two-lap drift ride-along with him at Sydney Motorsport Park.

Naturally, the car on offer was a Toyota Supra, but there was nothing special about it at all. This is a road-going, road-registered Supra, with no modifications other than aftermarket wheels and drift tyres.

The Supra was one of the more popular cars people were ogling at in the pit lane, despite being completely stock. The Supra was one of the more popular cars people were ogling at in the pit lane, despite being completely stock.

The event? It was the quiet before the automotive storm that is the World Time Attack Challenge. The world renowned event that draws teams from far and wide to see how much they can extract from some of the world's favourite tuning cars before they start losing pistons through the bonnet.

While it was relatively tame on the day before, our Supras were still easily the quietest cars in the paddock, dwarfed by even modded-up MX-5s undergoing shakedowns.

But this was a unique opportunity to see the new Supra pushed to its limits, and to see what a man so familiar with Toyota performance cars past and present really thinks of it.

Once suited up (for the unlikely event where our road-going Supra burst into flame) the lap started off with no words, just thumbs up and sudden acceleration out of the pit lane.

The Supra is quiet, but composed, and that BMW-straight six is silky smooth, Tsuchiya taking it almost to the red line with each shift.

Those familiar with SMSP will know the very first hairpin lends itself to drift, and Tsuchiya immediately puts his credentials on show, waiting till the very last second to hammer the brakes, tilt the car, and promptly mash the throttle.

For what felt like a full minute (but still somehow over too quickly…) the Supra was in a glorious, tyre-torturing, almost 90-degree-to-the-corner slide.

The man doesn’t give up. To him, even the smallest, mildest kink in the track is an opportunity to test the car. To see if he can flick it just enough to break traction and sneak in a little slide.

KT doesn't disappoint, living up to his 'Drift King' legend with ease. KT doesn't disappoint, living up to his 'Drift King' legend with ease.

By the second lap, the Supra was protesting. The brakes were hot, and even from the passenger seat, you could tell the pedal had become long. Couple that with the fact that the tyres had endured 11-ish corners of sliding or attempted sliding, and the heat (and subsequently, grip) had built up.

No worries, according to Tsuchiya, who simply made best use of the rumble strips, or the drop-off at the very edge of the track to force the sticky rear rubber to leave the ground for just long enough to get the car’s gravity to shift.

“Very balanced!” was his only remark during the drive.

Thankfully we had a brief moment to hit Keiichi with some questions before he had to rush of to set up a drift stage.

KT had just a moment to chat before needing to set up a drift stage. KT had just a moment to chat before needing to set up a drift stage.

TW: Having driven both, how does the new Supra compare to the previous one?

KT: The previous Supra, the A80, is lower. You can start sliding it at a lower speed. The new one has a lot more grip. This means you can drift at much higher speeds. It’s a better balanced platform.

TW: Did it throw you any surprises you didn’t expect?

KT: Since grip is much higher, you get a lot more feedback from this car, it’s not as scary as the previous Supra. The balance lets you keep control at much higher speeds.

TW: I’ve heard a manual prototype A90 Supra exists. Have Toyota given you the chance to drive it?

KT: I haven’t seen it yet. But a manual would be much better, with a handbrake. That would be a lot of fun!

TW: If you were talking to someone who wanted to learn to drift, what car would you recommend they start with?

KT: Hachi-Roku [this needed no translation…]. AE86 is the best but starting with a 2.0L rear-drive is necessary. From there, you want to move to a turbo before you take on a straight-six.

Tsuchiya noted the 2.0-litre turbo version of the new Supra, available in Japan, was a good stepping stone, too, as it was light and agile. Much more so than the straight-six available in Australia. Easier to learn on and understand the principles of the chassis.

If our drift lap and the chat with Tsuchiya left us with anything, it was a strong desire to try it for ourselves… Maybe next time!