Home > Video > VIDEO> Japan Cup Gymkhana Is Still King

VIDEO> Japan Cup Gymkhana Is Still King

A long time ago, in a country far, far away… long before drifting became mainstream; long before fake GAB wheels existed; long before energy drinks and MTV cared about motorsports… gymkhana was already going pretty strong in Japan. Even before I ever had a chance to see a Japanese gymkhana video on VHS tape, I used to go to the Japanese bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area (Kinokuniya in Japantown SF or Yaohan bookstore in Saratoga CA) and look at photos of all the amazing cars in the Japanese magazines that I couldn’t (and still can’t) read.

This is a YouTube video of the 1989 Japan Cup Gymkhana’s C3 Class, which features some pretty amazing looking cars! The Ken Block Invitational event at Irwindale was super fun, but I wish the cars in gymkhana competition today looked as incredible as the ones in this video! Vintage cars with period correct graphics, widebody AE86s that are actually used for racing, AW11 MR2s spinning around cones… I love it!

This Japan Cup video definitely brings it back to the roots for me, because of the amazing cars featured in the clips! To steal a quote from a friend of mine named Kero One, “innovation is useless if you forget the essence.” This statement definitely holds true when it comes to motorsports! Even before all the big sponsors and professional drifting existed, this is the type of motorsports activity that got me excited about driving! Traditional gymkhana is fun, skill-based, relatively low speed, and has a relatively low barrier to entry in terms of money.

In fact, what excited me most about seeing the old school gymkhana footage in Japanese magazines back in the days is the fact that it looked pretty similar to the SCCA Solo2 Autocross events that my friends and I were already participating in; the Japan Cup just had cooler looking cars. So lets take it back to the essence and enjoy this video! Let’s see what kinds of cars and cool wheels and sponsor logos everyone can point out!

Gymkhana looks fun for drivers! I wanna drive!

:: Antonio Alvendia

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24 Responses

  1. Dude! This is what I’m talking about. Everybody thinks I’m crazy when I tell them US gymkhana is nothing like the ones in Japan. I remember they used to hold gymkhana events at Yokota AB (close to the Tokyo area) with all the airmen and whatnot and the course layout was more technical. You’ve probably seen the video, but just YT it if you haven’t. It’s a must watch. Hopefully I can convince Geoff to run gymkhana events at Thunderhill, cause I’d be down..that is..if my s14 doesn’t kill a cone.

  2. Oh man, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of those classic teardrop flares on starlets and AE86’s…

    dope vid.

    Mike, you wanna run Gymkhana? We’ve dabbled with it during private drift events but I’ve never held a straight up Gymkhana-only event. Maybe we should?!?!

  3. Pingback : Tweets that mention VIDEO> Japan Cup Gymkhana Is Still King – MotorMavens | Car Culture x Motorsports Photography Blog -- Topsy.com

  4. jazz

    Good to see this kind of material being posted. Really that ken block, bro, energy drink stuff is lame. I dont know anyone that is really into racing and motorsports that is a fan of that nonsense. Hopefully ken block and his bro possy can make all the money they want already and leave motorsports.

  5. @Geoff: 2011 TD Sessions: Gymkhana. let’s do it! I’d give it a shot cause it looks hella fun. Plus, that’d be sick to see a more tighter and more technical course than the standard US gymkhana style.

  6. seaninc


    To be honest, the Gymkhana: GRID layout wasn’t too far removed from this. It’s just on a bigger and more showy scale. As long as Ken Block increases the mainstream appeal of motorsports, I’m cool with him. Nice guy as well.

  7. @Jazz: Thanks for your comment! I completely understand what you’re saying, but I think the Ken Block Gymkhana “show” aspect is kinda necessary when introducing a new motorsport to kids and to “non-endemic” people that aren’t your normal die-hard gearheads. It’s guys like Ken Block who can bridge gaps to an audience that your Rhys Millens and JR Gittins and Samuel Hubinettes might not be able to reach.

    It’s the mass-market reach of a guy like Ken Block that will be able to get more non-car people interested.

    However, for the DIE HARD car guys like you and me (and the rest of our readers)… I still think the Japanese gymkhana style will remain more popular… BECAUSE OF THE CARS.

    I think people will probably agree that the courses are relatively similar, consisting of a slalom/autoX style course, and some areas to do controlled donuts around pylons, etc… maybe a chicago box and some more style areas, but fundamentally, it’s very close.

    As much as some people dislike “big name” guys involved with motorsports, it IS kinda necessary. I personally have no problem with it.


    @ Geoff Pitts and Michael Cabuco: OOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I think a Grassroots Gymkhana event would be HELLA SICK! What would we call it, though?

    1) GymkhanaDay
    2) JustGymkhana
    3) Drift&Gymkhana Trials (DGTrials already coined it a long time ago)
    4) FormulaGym
    5) Gym1 Grand Prix
    6) HellaCones
    7) GymkhanaVentures
    8 ) Industry Gymkhana Day
    9) RAD Gym Experience
    10) Gym Class Heroes
    11) Gymkhanye West 8)
    12) Gym Star Bash 8)
    13) VegasGymkhana…

    … what else would be a good name? 😀

  8. Drift Mechaniks Gossip Girl Marathon And Some Gymkhana, oh wait, thats an east coast event.

    Either way I’d be Soooooooooo down to drive if you guys put one on!

  9. Joygasm! I love how the super-hot points of light streak across the frame, old-school real film style. Makes me want to get into video, forget stills ;D

    As for a name for a grassroots gymkhana event, I think just “RAD Gym” is good enough 8)

  10. Powaa!

    Umm….Antonio? I think you lost the history in our own neck of the woods. There were large gymkhana events in the early 80s down at Jack Murphy Stadium, and I would drive by and see it going on, and maybe 50-100 cars in line to run.

    1980s bro. California, not Japan. I know you love everything Japan, but trust me, the Sunshine State has held their own for a LONG time. Can-AM cars at Riverside International? F1 Grand Prix of Long Beach 1977-1979? 50 years+ of racing and SLIDING history in Gardena at Ascot Raceway?

    Spread the love Antonio! Looking that hard overseas is making you blind to whats around you :)

  11. @Powaa: wait… whaat??? There were large gymkhana events in the early 1980s? Damn, I had no idea! I was just barely playing with Tomica toy cars back then!

    Thanks for dropping some knowledge on us!

    Sadly, Riverside Raceway was before my time too. F1 in Long Beach? I missed that too! Sounds like some awesome fun though!

    Also, I’ve never even heard of Ascot Raceway! Sounds like I have some Googling to do!

  12. Powaa!

    :) no prob Antonio. The gymkhana then was Capris and B210s and little slot cars like that, if i remember correctly. Small, lightweight, turn-on-a-dime, just like now. Old Z’s were in it too.

    Riverside was awesome, out in the middle of nothing then, but big events came to town to race there. Can-Am cars were insane!

    Long Beach Grand Prix started in 1976 but wasn’t F1 until 1977, my father took me to it and I was only 7 years old. I remember standing next to Mario Andretti’s rear tires and they were MUCH bigger than I was!! Too bad it didn’t last though, they were trying to make it the American Monaco and the drivers loved it. I can still remember the howl/shriek from miles away when driving to it.

    Ascot was sprint cars and modifieds and many other forms of racing, and the track sadly was closed in late 80s/early 90s. Get this…after watching sprint cars drift the oval all night, you then could use your ticket stub to go next door to the oval “Slic-Trac” kart track and get a free race. 5000 drunk yahoos all wanted a piece after the main event lol! It was dusted with flour or something to make it even slipperier so YOU could drift the karts just like the sprinters!!!

    LA has motorsport history like nowhere in the world, man.

  13. Powaa!



    watch that and the other 3 parts in the cue….one of the Main Events at Ascot. The cars drift almost the entire race. Watch Dean Thompson, local legend, starting in 8th position in red #2 car. I attended this event and the end of the race had people going absolutely insane. I went to Ascot since the early 70s and my father went there when HE was a child.

    And….awesome that you are open about other motorsports!!

    By the way, side note, these are Shaver and Donovan all-aluminum block v8’s, about 600-800hp….guess what Tyler McQuarry has under the hood…..

  14. nismokid_5

    Seeing this makes me want to get a Nissan NX2000, convert it to AWD, and throw it around some cones!!!! Lol @Antonio in the first opening paragraph you sounded so bitter about modern-day motorsports, bro…I mean it’s no ProDrift, D1 or EDC but it’s still pretty legit imo

  15. @Nismokid_5: NO! you got it all wrong… I think sometimes the tone of how people READ things is different the tone of how it was MEANT when I was typing it out on the computer. The point of this post wasn’t to downplay current day gymkhana at all. I want gymkhana to grow as a motorsport (Cause I wanna drive! Looks super fun!) and I want to do whatever I can to help it get there.

    However, I’m just plain jocking the old school gymkhana cars! Those are SO BAD ASS!

    @Justin Shreeve: YOU WIN. You’re the best! hahahahaha

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