No one expected the 2007 Formula D points race would leave three competitors jockeying for position all year, eventually to be deadlocked with each other coming into the final battle. But that's exactly what happened as Chris Forsberg, Daijiro Yoshihara and Tanner Foust marched their way into the "House of Drift", Irwindale Speedway, for round 7 of 7 of Formula Drift, with a mere 30 points difference from one another.
If mounting pressure to win the last race in the series wasn't enough to send each drift competitor to the brink of insanity, Mother Nature threw in a wrench of her own as SoCal experienced an untimely downpour the night before the event was to commence. Uncertainty loomed Saturday morning, with dark clouds and sprinkling rains looking to put a damper on the weekend drift festivities. But as the California track's gates opened at 11 a.m. and top 32 qualifying began, the storm clouds didn't seem to affect the 8,000 fans standing in attendance; the anticipation of what would surely be some of the best drifting the world had to offer overwhelmed their senses. Spectator lining the grandstands and walking along "vendor alley" came to the event with as much uncertainty as the drivers themselves as to who would emerge victorious to take home the championship. As the top 32 finally took shape after two hours of grueling competition, it was Foust who qualified in First place with a judge's score of 96.83, with Forsberg a close Second, chalking up 95.83 out of 100 points possible. Rhys Millen scored a 95.50 to take Third in qualifying, while Yoshihara who had sat in Second place coming into competition landed in Sixth place with a score of 94.17. Never in Formula D history have the top three competitors in the points chase made it to the semifinals-a truly remarkable feat, but only one could claim victory in the end.
Formula D officially kicked off its opening ceremony at 5 p.m. as the top 16 competitors aligned their vehicles, starting with number one qualifying Foust, in the AEM/Memphis Car Audio Nissan 350Z, going head-to-head with Tony Brakohiapa driving the Team X Ford Mustang. Bowing to the pressure of competition, Brakohiapa spun out and received zero points from the judges while Foust took the easy win come the second round. Last year's champion, Samuel Hbinette in the BFGoodrich Mopar Dodge Charger, looked strong coming into the large sweeper as he pitched his car with plenty of smoke and speed. His competitor, Kenji Yamanaka in the Hankook JIC Nissan S15, kept his composure with a near flawless run as both competitors scored almost identical, with Hbinette squeaking out a marginal one-point lead in the first of two runs. With Hbinette chasing behind Yamanaka in the second, it was the Charger that fell victim to the wall as the S15 moved on to the next round. Vaughn Gittin, Jr., who has made a strong presence all year long, faced off with Mitsuru Haruguchi driving the Silk Road USA Falken Nissan Silvia backup car. Gittin scored the easy win when Haruguchi's car showed obvious problems on the track, refusing to drift with a blown clutch. As the night's excitement continued at a furious pace, we found ourselves clutching our chests in dismay when Robbie Nishida, piloting the Falken Nissan 240SX, a shoe-in to take the win over Bill Sherman's Enjuku Racing Nissan 240SX, came out of the last corner and uncharacteristically spun out, earning no points and sending his team packing up early.
Motorsports and controversy seem to always go hand-in-hand and Formula D round six in New Jersey was no exception. Millen received a 17-point deduction and $500 fine when his Pontiac Solstice's brake lights failed to pass a post-race inspection. With the deduction in points, it was systematically impossible for Millen to take home the championship, even if he placed First in the final round. Taking to the staging lanes to battle against longtime nemesis Ken Gushi in the Toyo Ford Mustang, both drivers took off in a hail of smoke but it was Gushi who initiated the plum; Millen slowly coasted around the track. Driving at a slow pace, the car rolled past fellow competitors and made its way back to the pits. As he exited and sat against the walls with a look of frustration, the crowd sat silent and wondered what had happened to Millen and his vehicle. Was he protesting the docking of points from the previous event or were mechanical problems to blame? Perhaps only Millen will ever know.
The best of eight came down to a classic showdown of the top competitors, starting with Foust challenging Ryuji Miki's hard-charging RX-7. Miki showcased some of the exceptional drifting skills that crowned him D1 Champion of 2004 as he fought toe-to-toe with Foust leading to not one but two "one more times" ordered by the judges. Too close to call by spectators, the judges rewarded Foust the somewhat controversial win. Next up was Gittin who charged through the bank with Yamanaka in pursuit. As Gittin tagged the wall, pieces of his rear bumper flew into the pathway of Yamanaka, causing him to perform some evasive driving maneuvers. The Irwindale track got the best of Gittin during the second run, as he bobbled through the embankment and ended up spinning, giving the easy win to Yamanaka. Sherman was in the groove as he made his way though the field of competitors throughout the day but was stopped dead in his tracks when he came face-to-face with top points leader Forsberg in the Maxxis Nissan 350Z. Forsberg made quick work of his competitor as he set his sights on moving into the semifinals. Yoshihara earned a reputation of chewing up and spitting out competition with his newly campaigned S15 during the 2007 season and his match-up with Ken Gushi in round 7 proved no different. The pressure was too much for Gushi to handle, as he hit the barriers in the second run, leaving Yoshihara to battle into the semifinals.
The crowds roared and rose to their feet as the drivers prepared for one of the most memorable Formula D semifinals to date. Foust, who had never won First place in any 2007 Formula D round, stayed within striking distance of the championship but would have to hurdle over Yamanaka to get a step closer. Both competitors showed no signs of weakness as they charged the sweeper at full speed. Foust recorded the fastest trap speed of the day during his run at 89 mph while Yamanaka, looking able to pull off a spectacular run, collided with the barrier and damaged his car beyond repair. With the win, and Forsberg beating Yoshihara in the semifinals, Foust secured himself a shot at the 2007 title.
The finals had come down to a 350Z battle; Foust versus Forsberg, turbo V-6 verses n/a V-8. As both vehicles took off in the first run, Forsberg's driving errors gave Foust the advantage. In the next round both vehicle's fenders were within inches of each other but the previous runs point deficit was too much for Forsberg to overcome. Foust took home his first 2007 Formula D win, along with the title of 2007 Formula Drift Champion. But all was not lost for Forsberg-his consistent driving and high level of competition that had gotten the best of so many challengers along his way to the championship run earned him the title of 2007 Tires.com Triple Crown Champion and a hefty $10K check to boot.