Masato Kawabato is a legendary name in drifting and has been around the drifting scene for almost 20 years. He’s usually found behind the wheel of a Nissan Sylvia S15, a GT-R or a new Toyota Supra. This February, however, Kawabata was back behind the wheel of a Lada 2102. We sat down with him to figure out what brought him to a freezing Siberia in the depths of winter.
What was the attraction of drifting in Russia for an experienced drifter such as yourself?
I had been paying close attention to drifting in Russia for a while now. I started noticing that the sport was growing bigger and bigger. When the Winter Drift Battle started, I was so excited about it and I really wanted to try it. When I met Gocha (Gregory Chivchyan) I knew I had to come to Russia in order to learn from him.
How did you meet Gocha and became close friends?
I met him when he came to Japan. He told me he was a big fan of mine which I thought was an honour. We spent some time drifting in Japan and we’ve competed against each other many times. We’ve a great mutual respect for each other.
You went from drifting a high-powered Toyota Supra to a Lada? What do you learn from drifting the small Lada on ice?
To be competitive in the Lada you have to keep the momentum going. It’s very easy to spin away all your power. The most important thing is to keep going forward even though you’re sliding. To be able to keep honing this skill in winter is a great way of training.
During the Winter Drift Battle, you run the car on a studded tyre. In Zimkhana you’re running a regular road tyre? Does that make it more challenging?
Yes, absolutely. The biggest challenge is the fact that the circuit goes upwards after the first corner. If you don’t have that forward momentum there’s a chance you won’t make it up the hill because you lose all grip. Also, the Winter Drift circuit is much more forgiving than Gocha’s track. At Gocha’s there’s a lot more things to hit. (Laughs)
Is there a winter drifting scene in Japan?
There are similar events, but most are with high-powered cars on race tyres. There’s nothing that comes close to this level of competition, though. The cars and tyres are all very similar giving you a really close battle. That’s usually lacking in the events back home.
Gocha has recreated a part of the Ebisu north course. How does it feel to be driving on it, albeit in different conditions?
He did a really good job recreating it. It really brings back the atmosphere of the original track. The best part is that with Zimkhana you combine this spectacular track with the original vibe of Siberia. That’s what makes this event so special.