As Ron put it so perfectly last year, “one of the very best reasons to head along to any car event, is to enjoy the vibe with friends and fellow enthusiasts.” After spending a day at Sportsland Yamanashi (SLY) for the 2023 SLY Summit, I can confirm that this is still very much the case.
This year, however, I’m kicking off the coverage at 3:00am on a highway somewhere between Tokyo and Yamanashi.
The idea of starting your day in the middle of the night may sound insane to most people, and that’s because it is. But for Ryohei and others from the Low Brain Drift Team, there’s no time left wasted on their annual pilgrimage to Sportsland Yamanashi.
Meeting at a local 7-Eleven, we enjoyed our third coffee for the day whilst waiting for a few of the stragglers to catch up.
Even at 5:00am, everyone was already in high spirits, including a few unexpected festive mascots.
If you’ve seen any of my other event coverage, you’ll know that my favourite part of any track day is capturing the early mornings and late afternoons in the pits. And Sportsland Yamanashi is one of my favourite tracks to do this at. As cars continued to roll in throughout the morning, it was obvious that the 2023 Summit was going to be another packed event.
If there’s one thing that Ryohei does so well, year on year, it’s curating a rich variety of styles, makes and models for the SLY Summit. This year saw a few familiar faces, but also welcomed plenty of new ones. There was a noticeable increase in big-body cars, mostly JZXs, but also a few tasteful Nissan Laurels, including this C33 on classic RS Watanabe wheels.
If you hadn’t yet noticed, everybody wearing Hawaiian shirts wasn’t just a fashionable coincidence. Ryohei had set a strict dress code for the day, requesting everyone to crack out their best floral button ups. Impressively, almost everybody complied, even spectators.
As SLY Summit isn’t a competitive event, sessions are broken up into either teams or friend groups. This in itself makes for some pretty heated driving, and kicking things off in the opening run were these two Silvias running neck to neck into the first corner.
Track time was shortlived, however, with one of the cars losing an oil cooler sandwich plate mid-lap, painting the course in engine lubrication. Oil spills like this have become an almost annual ritual at SLY Summit events. Luckily, Sportsland Yamanashi’s recent investment in around 30 new brooms made light work for everyone to clean up and get back out there.
The unfortunate sandwich plate victim may have cost everyone a session of driving, but for the owner it looked like the misfortune came at the price of his SR20.
Back on course, things quickly heated back up. SLY is known to have a strict rule on limiting trains to two cars – hardly a train, I know – but evidently the memo was missed by most, making for some of best driving I’ve seen at Sportsland Yamanashi. Four, five and sometimes six drivers came flying into the first corner together, Keisuke in his purple S15 – who made the trip up from Osaka for the day – being a notable one of them.
Shooting from the tower in the middle of SLY creates such a unique vantage spot to cover the drifting.
With many in attendance having being awake for almost 12 hours by lunchtime, a quick mid-day siesta and break was well earned and appreciated. Some used the 30 minutes of silence to their advantage.
Japan’s grassroots drift community is still very much self-supported. Without proactive enthusiasts like Ryohei and Takuya-san – Low Brain’s founder – events like SLY Summit simply would not happen. Spending a day out in the sun taking photos can be tough, but watching these guys run and marshal their event whilst simultaneously driving in it is nothing short of admirable.
On the topic of Low Brain, it is worth shining some light on Genki-san’s CL1 Honda Accord Euro R drift car. You don’t often see ‘Honda Accord’ and ‘drift car’ together in a sentence, but for Genki-san, this is just a more comfortable alternative to his EG Civic drift car that we’ve covered a few times before. Genki-san has no problem keeping the Accord sideways on tight circuits like SLY, and even manji’d down the main straight.
As the day wraps up, there’s never an immediate rush to leave the venue. People hang around for a chat, which isn’t surprising given this is as much a social get together as it is a drift event.
It’s always bittersweet heading home after an SLY Summit. Because even after being awake for the better part of 24 hours, you know it’ll be another 12 months till the next one.