Ken Gushi is one of the world’s top drifters. From a young age, he has been sliding cars for fun. But now he’s on a mission to take the top spot in the Formula Drift Championship. This year, he’s piloting a Gazoo Racing Toyota Supra, prepared by GReddy Performance. Here, he tells us about the build, why the AE86 is such a great learner car, and how he became the youngest-ever pro driver in D1GP.
How did you get into drifting, Ken?
When I was about 11 years old, I was watching a very popular Japanese anime street racing series known as Initial D. I was instantly hooked and begged my dad to take me to a dry lakebed so I could try. The first car I was able to drift was the widely popular Toyota AE86. Before that, I was actually helping my dad at local rally races! So, I’ve always been sliding cars around.
Was the AE86 a good car to practice in?
It was a great learner car! It’s severely underpowered so it forces the user to really learn vehicle dynamics to get it to drift. I’ve always believed that if you can drift an AE86, you can pretty much drift any car. Even as a pro-drifter, I learn something new every time I get behind the wheel of an AE86.
You were the youngest competitor in US drifting (at 16) without having passed your driving test. Can you tell me the story around that?
Yes! So, my license story goes back a few years to before I even began competing as a pro. I was an underage, unlicensed driver at the age of 15, competing in D1GP Driver’s Search in 2003. At the time, I forged my way into the registration process using my father’s friend's license number. I never would have thought I would make it to the top three of that event, gaining an opportunity to go pro. From there, I was the youngest pro driver in the D1GP series at the age of 16. In between, I’ve also had a few run-ins with the local law enforcement, which eventually took my normal driving privilege away until the age of 21.
Have you been able to get out drifting or has coronavirus got in the way? Is it starting to get back to normal?
Covid-19 has definitely slammed the brakes on my drifting in 2020. We were scheduled to start competing in the Formula Drift series back in April. But in March, the world pretty much stopped, and everything was put on hold. More recently, some venues have begun opening up, but being as careful as I have been, I’ve yet to take any car sideways since early March. I’ve been itching to take my brand new Supra drifting!
Can you tell me about the Supra build? How do you go about converting a road car to a drift one? What are some of the key changes you made?
Our 2020 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Supra was built in-house at GReddy Performance based out of Orange County, California. We took delivery of the production vehicle back in December 2019, and have been wrenching away ever since. The power-plant is the original B58, turbo inline-6, powered by a RUN BC stroker kit. It uses Supertech Performance valve-train parts built at BlueMoon. Building a purpose-built competitive drift car is no easy task, since we have to take a production vehicle down to its bare metal. From there, we will prep the chassis for a roll-cage as well as strengthen the seams with additional spot welds. Some of the biggest modifications to the car include a fully customizable suspension system, designed and built for drifting. We’ve also applied everything we learned with our old GT86 into this build. That includes focusing on building a car that's reliable, easy to work on, and good looking.
What’s the connection with Motul and what difference does a good oil make to the reliability of an engine?
Ever since I began competing, I have used Motul products in my vehicles. I grew up watching my father use the same. From my faithful road cars to the rev-limit-banging screamer of a drift car, Motul 300V has provided us with protection and performance that has been second to none. Drifting is a sport where we are constantly pushing the limits of our machinery and equipment. Although our runs may be as short as 45-seconds a pass, we are hard on the rev-limiter, full-load, going sideways, with little to no air flow to the front radiator or oil cooler. That means we need to rely on proper fluid protection. And that’s why I trust Motul.
What’s the secret to being a good drifter and what advice would you give an aspiring drifter?
There really is no secret to being a good drifter. However, the secret to success is the importance of having fun during the process. I’ve learned to enjoy the process as much as the feeling of success. Both go hand-in-hand and you can’t have one without the other. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time and money!
Drifting is becoming more of a mainstream sport. What are your thoughts on that?
It was inevitable that we’d see drifting as big as it has become today. If you were to ask me 20 years ago what I had thought about drifting, I would have said it was some crazy street ruckus trend. Boy, was I wrong. I’m extremely proud to be a part of a growing sport as I have seen everything from the start.