You know it's a special time of the year when you see guard rails, catch fencing and stacks of tires appear on city streets near the Long Beach shoreline. For the most part people will come for the 41st Toyota Grand Prix, but for the sport compact car enthusiast and non-traditional racing fan the preparations mean the Formula D season opener is just around the bend. Every year the series hosts an exclusive media day in advance of Round 1 where journalists can talk to teams and even ride shotgun for a hot lap around the Long Beach Grand Prix drifting course, turns 9, 10 and 11. This year we chatted up a few of the pros as they prepared to do battle.
Old time fan favorite Tanner Foust is making his return to Formula D with a 900 horsepower Volkswagen Passat. We caught up with him before his driver's meeting.
"Over the last few years I've been watching the sport and I've been wanting to come back and experience the buzz you get in drifting," Foust said. "Drifting fans are really unique. These were the fans that changed my career. One, I owe them and two, they're die-hard fans, and it will be great to be in touch with them again. It was also like a reunion coming back with these competitors.".
We also asked the 2007 and 2008 champ if he sees any difference from when he was active four years ago versus now. "The sport has changed by its judging nature; speed is no longer a component. Where speed and commitment were primary in the past, now it's more about angle. The cars have a lot more angle now. So I will have a lot to learn and hopefully don't make a fool out of myself."
We also caught up with 2011 Formula D champ Dai Yoshihara. "Well, it's the season opener, so it's always exciting. More than anything, it's my first year doing my own team. To be honest, I've been lucky for the last 10 years to show up and drive for somebody. This year I have to do a lot more stuff, in a way it's tougher, but at the same time I have more freedom. I can do things the way I want to. Hopefully we can turn out and do the best ever. This year we modified the steering set up. It's still not complete yet, but it's getting there. Changing up the steering system almost makes it like a different car. Hopefully we nail it."
Also in attendance was last year's champion, Chris Forsberg. We wanted to know what was going through his mind with Round 1 just days away. "It's another year, another event. We are as ready as can be. We treat it like every other event regardless of any previous year or event; we need to come out swinging with our A game. The car [a Nissan 370Z] is very similar to last year just with the aspect of a full rebuild to make sure we go over every wire, every nut and bolt, every piece of suspension. We lost some weight in the process, putting us more at the target number we wanted to be at for our tire-to-weight class with Hankook."
Lastly is the man who needs no introduction, the Formula D rock star Vaughn Gittin Jr. "I'm excited," Vaughn begins. "Formula D is always something I love to do and the competition level has gotten insane. So I'm constantly looking forward to progress and be as competitive as possible. This year for me is about having fun and driving hard."
We asked Gittin what he thought about this specific Long Beach course. "Long Beach is dangerous. It's one of those double-edged-sword tracks. It's so much fun and you want to go hard on it, but it really rewards patience. This track is pretty simple if you're looking and doing the right things, but it's one of those tracks if you make a mistake it ruins your weekend and the whole beginning of the season. It's a good time here, especially in the city streets."
With the season opener just a few hours away, many are excited to see these high horsepowered cars get sideways. Let us know whom you are rooting for! We'll see you guys at the track!