No drifting tournament of champions would be complete without representation from New Zealand, the small volcanic rock nation southeast of Australia, the inhabitants of which have a reputation for modifying and sliding Japanese cars better than most. Gaz Whiter not only holds the 2008 D1NZ Champion crown, but also the 2006 and 2007 Runner Up titles; simply put, he's one to watch out for.
After months of fundraising and working our ass off, we were ready to head off to the USA for the Red Bull DWC. We arrived a week early to prep the car and see as much as we could of LA, which is another story in itself... Come race day, the first few laps were very important to us because we had only driven our car twice before in New Zealand, and also had never drifted on the stickier Toyo R1R tyres, which we can't get in NZ. The practice and qualifying days went well--the plan was not to push it too hard, so we would get the chance to do battle no matter what. After seeing so many cars eat the wall, this approach was the best for us. After driving with the others for a while, we found our car was very much up to the task of competing against the top-level cars, which gave us a huge confidence boost.
When it came time to battle, we were up against the American Chris Forsberg, whom we knew nothing about. In the first pass, I gave it everything, leaving no gap between us. In the lead pass, I had great speed and line, leaving Chris a long way behind. After the judges had incorporated their US taxes on our points, only one gave me the win and two called for a One More Time round! Our second run was very much the same, yet the win was given to Forsberg! Needless to say, we were a bit unsettled with the decision. We came too long a way to get our undies ripped off with a call like that! Even worse, after the event, we were approached by many international judges expressing their disapproval with the result.
Apart from the disappointment of a call, we had a great time in LA and Long Beach. The Red Bull event was well enjoyable, and the coordination of so many international drivers went more smoothly that many had expected, I think. If funds allow, we will be back to represent New Zealand in '09. Congratulations to Rhys Millen with a well deserved victory. Go Kiwi!
What was an unknown, characteristically Irish-sounding name only a year ago has now become household among drifting fans, as Ireland/SoCal transplant Darren McNamara has been killing entry speeds, cars, and opponents' best efforts since joining Formula D ranks after trumping European ProDrift competitors since the ripe young age of 15. Will one part D-Mac and 720 parts horsepower equal a recipe for success in Long Beach?
The Long Beach course featured a long straight into a huge right hander that demanded speed, but was also guarded by a wall that killed more than a few cars earlier on. With each practice run I increased my speed from mid- to high-nineties, then triple digits. The Sky was handling the best it had all season, which put me at ease heading into qualifying. I was determined to put on a good show and finish ahead of the rest of the European drivers; no doubt their plan was to outperform me. My first Qualifying run put me in Second Place with an entry speed of 101 mph. All the pressure was off and I was determined to go all-out in my second run. I knew my entry speed was going to be high as I kept throttle pedal on the 720 hp Saturn Sky nailed longer than usual. It rode the wall beautifully and I knew we had improved, jumping to Fifth overall with a 103mph entry speed--the joint fastest of the day.
My good qualifying result was not matched by the rest of the European drivers and the inevitable happened... two Europeans would face each other in the Top 32. I was paired with Bon Bon, a European driver with an 82mph entry speed. I thought to myself, "How would I enter at 20mph less than I'm used to?" We devised a plan to take a little bit of grip out of our setup, and run with some slow guys in practice. It was some of the most challenging tandem I had ever run.
Going into Sunday's competition, I felt as though I couldn't lose to another European. I lined up in the Top 32 against Broke-Smith in positive form; I was to lead first, and held a good one throughout the run. When I followed, by mid corner, I was all over the UK driver, following him throughout the course, and moving on. It was then revealed that we would face Tanner Foust in the Top 16. To be honest, I felt it was a little early to be meeting Tanner, but because of his below-par (for Tanner) Qualifying runs, knew the match up could go either way. I led our first run and my game plan was just to put down a solid run and hope something happened to Tanner that would take the pressure off, but he rarely makes mistakes and kept with me all the way. I was determined not to let him get away on his lead run, and entered Turn One fast, which left me right up on his 350Z's rear bumper; which was great, until I tried to slow down not to hit his and my momentum carried me into a half spin. The dream was over.......
We all agreed that the Red Bull DWC came a year too early for our team and the Sky. 2008 was our development year and 2009 will be a completely different year for the beast, with a whole new suspension layout, aero and a full pre-season test programme. I'd like to thank my fantastic team at Falken Tire and all my sponsors. Save my space in 2009!!
Vaughn Gittin Jr.
If ever there was a perfect course for JR and his adrenaline-fueled, no-bullshit style of drifting, the one at the Red Bull DWC was it. A long entry leading into a sweeping, triple-digit-speed Turn One is something the East Coast native had been begging for all year. With his `Stang dialed in and First Place finish at Formula D's Finals at Irwindale in short-term memory, would JR pull through in Long Beach?
With a field of drivers as diverse as the one comprising the Red Bull DWC, the hardest part of the competition was adjusting to the different styles of driving from each country. All weekend I felt on-point. I was extremely comfortable and was loving the high speed entry, but wasn't sure what to expect from the other guys. My first run of Top 32 tandems was against Marcos Santos of Canada. In practice, I was having a hard time not running him over. I knew I was going to have to give him a huge gap if I was going to be able to withstand smashing into him before the end of the course. When leading, I just ran my line as fast as I normally would and was pretty flawless. When following, I gave him a six-car gap off the starting line, closed in on him by the first clipping point, and was granted the win. My next competitor was Bill Sherman, who'd been murdering it all weekend, and is a driver I knew I could look forward to a couple of no-games runs against. Our first two earned a One More Time round, so I made sure to turn it up to "awesome" for the second round. It was a good battle but he made some mistakes trying to keep up, and I moved on to the Great 8 against Rhys. I knew it was going to be a tough battle to beat his tiny car's huge weight advantage, not to mention Rhys was the number one qualifier, extremely fast, and had been on fire all weekend. We decided it was "all or nothing" time, so before I left the line I vowed to stay on his bumper all the way. We entered at 103.7 mph--unfortunately just a little too hot to slow down in time, and I got into the wall pretty good, taking the `Stang out of competition. I immediately jumped on the roof and threw my hands in the air. The crowd went crazy and gave me a standing ovation; it was incredible! I couldn't have thought of a better way to retire ol' "Besty".
I am extremely proud of how I and Team Falken performed all weekend. We were running flawless, and I have absolutely no regrets at all. I am confident entering hard was the only way to beat Rhys, but unfortunately, physics won the fight. Hats off to Rhys for an incredible accomplishment that no one can ever take away. I'll be looking forward to coming out swinging with a faster, lighter '10 Falken Tire Ford Mustang next year!
Finishing within the Top 5 for the 2008 Formula D season is no easy task. Even less so, is winning the first event of the season, on a course of dilapidated city streets, guarded by cement walls with little or no buffer. But seeing as how our man Forsberg pulled through for the win at FD's Round 1 at Long Beach earlier this year, the Red Bull event should be a breeze... right?
The Red Bull World Championship was maybe the most challenging drift competition I have ever entered: a drivers' roster full of champions from all over the world, a very fast and difficult course, and rumors of 110-mph shakedown runs made us realize the value of coming prepared. We rebuilt our 350Z's shifter to utilize Fifth gear--since our Fourth tops out at only 104 mph--and also made a few changes to get more traction in the corners.
On Saturday's first practice lap, I blew the diff mounts right out of the car on entry. After repairs, we were heading straight into qualifying with no warm-up. I threw down the best run I could, and qualified in 12th Place.
Gaz Whiter was our opponent for Top 32, so I made sure to read through our spotter and fellow drifter Joon Maeng's notes to get a good idea of what to expect from him in tandem. Gaz is fast and a great driver, so I knew to just run as hard as I could. I scraped the Z's rear bumper along the main wall along Turn One, transferred back to the left and tagged the other side of the bumper on the next wall--close calls, but I think we earned some bonus points! As I entered the course following Gary, his car was much faster than I expected, and the gap between us was just too much. A One More Time round was called for, so I concentrated on maintaining the same lead pass as before, only without touching the walls. On the chase lap, I threw it in much closer. I was able to close in and keep a one-car gap between us the whole run. We won the round!
Our second matchup was against Robbie "Bushido Blade" Nishida, who we also knew would not be easy to defeat. Leading him down the straight, I felt a slight bump as he mis-judged his speed and plowed into the Z. I stayed on course and ran through the corners, and on the exit, Robbie plowed his front bumper through a line of the plastic barriers, hitting our back wheel with his front. Our Z was cool, but Robbie's car was leaking water everywhere, eventually draining its entire cooling system. Regardless, we took our second runs. He put some distance on me down the straightaway, but I slowly closed in on him in the main corner, and as we transferred to the left corner, his car ran wide and hit the outside wall. I got on the handbrake as he came off the wall, then got back on the gas and squeezed right by! Close, but we moved onto Top 8.
The next round was not as exciting. I was paired to follow Samuel, and as soon as Catherine Kluthe's flag dropped, my car stalled! I re-fired the car as Sam was shifting into second gear, and saw a Formula D official give me the "STOP" signal. I stayed at the start line as Sam ran through the course, thinking to myself that it will get redone, since this has happened in the past. But after the run ended, the officials counted the run against me... only because we were running out of light, I think. For my lead, run I threw down the best that I could, hoping that Sam would mess up and we'd get a One More Time round, but he played it safe and we finished Seventh in the Championships. I was happy to have gotten that far, but discouraged for losing the way we did. We have great plans for the off-season and our car will come back better than ever for next year!
Nos Energy Drink
One of five drivers representing Japan in the battle for World Championship status, Katsuhiro Ueo was the only who had never competed in a Formula D event. With no firsthand experience driving against big-power American-tuned drift cars, would his S15 Silvia and long-time experience in Japan be enough to carry him to the podium in America?
I was amazed by this big-scaled event in America. As a long-time D1GP driver, this was my first Formula D event and I was impressed by how fast they have grown into a legitimate drifting organization. I was honored to have been invited by Formula D and Red Bull to compete.
In many Japanese drifting events, each car's performance is very similar, leaving the main difference between each competitor their technique and driving skills. This event was a challenge for me, not only to see how my driving compared to the others', but also how my SR20 engine could compete against other big-power American engines. Seeing the big American drift cars attack the course at such high speeds showed me how big-scaled American drifting is, compared to Japan. But I wasn't intimidated. This event fired up my Kyushu danji bushido spirit, and got me wanting to challenge the best! If I could have one request, it would be to drive against Rhys, Tanner and Sam--they are the biggest competition!
Many have said my best runs during the competition were against Daijiro. I competed with him only once, in 2002, the year I became D1GP champion. He was challenging then, but I could see how much his driving has grown since coming to America. The way he takes his lines and his speed seems to catch the audience's heart! Overall, I was amazed at the skill of the US drifters... I want to ask how they are so good without any places to practice like touges and street races. As for other international drivers, I don't have much experience competing against them, but I can see they understand their cars' characteristics and capabilities very well. Their performance is quite unconventional, compared to Japan style, and very aggressive. They will catch on fast.
As international drivers, we all faced a similar challenge: the time and ability to adjust our cars for the track was very limited. Even with our best parts brought from home, we didn't always have the resources the US-based drivers did, many of whom had their shop's full staff on hand to assist. I would be honored to compete in next year's event, if it is being held. But I would ask fellow Japanese drifters to accompany me, to make the competition even stronger! I'll be looking forward to next year.
In just a few short years, American drifting has progressed from amateur, outlaw obscurity, to--dare we say it--the standard by which the sport is measured. And if anyone sits atop the American drifting thrown, it's the import world's own Golden Boy, Tanner Foust. With back-to-back 2007/2008 Formula D Championship wins riding shotgun in his 350Z, would his drifting reign grow to world-wide status with a win at the Red Bull DWC?
I'm sure by now you have in your mind a description of the track, or at least a concept of how friggin ballsy it was... so I'll get right to the event. Day Two was almost the end of the road for my 350Z. On one pass, I initiated a fraction of a second later than usual and got into some marbles at 99 mph. Long story short, I clipped the plastic barriers on the outside of Turn One and piled into the tire wall on the driver's side. The damage was mostly cosmetic, but after repairs were made, the car was without its front bumper. Stephan said since we hadn't broken one in three years, they stopped bringing spares to the track (or painting them for that matter). Shawn went back to the shop and retrieved a black bumper that gave the car a new look, and I had a new mission: Save it until tandem!
Tandem battling would turn out to be anything but predictable. Our first-round opponent was an 88-mph BMW with a Ferrari Testerrosa body kit. Second round, a 103-mph Darren McNamara in a Saturn Sky. Third round was against four-rotor-powered Mad Mike--who does not have his name for PR reasons--and finally, against Rhys "this is my event" Millen.
The highlight for me was sticking on Rhys's bumper like glue in my trusty ol' Rockstar/AEM 350Z. Midway through the run I was so impressed with the old girl, that the weight of this being the Z's last event hit me. Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked to get into our all-new Scion for '09, but Steph and I have put so much effort into the Rockstar Z, and I was very proud to have her bring us all the way to the Red Bull party, to experience the fruits of our labor on the world-wide stage.
My fatal mistake was entering the first turn a bit shallow, and the judges saw fit to award the advance to Rhys, who qualified First for the weekend and had been killing it ever since. We were out of the competition, but I was still reveling in how fun it was to chase down a hardened competitor and friend on the ports of Long Beach, and watch him take the Champion crown. Good times.
In the end, I was surprisingly happy with Third. Maybe it's because I felt like I was crashing a wedding by bringing Rockstar to Red Bull's event... and taking home a bridesmaid by standing on the podium! Either way, it was an epic event for a one-off exhibition match, and I'd like to thank the thousands of fans that drove through the falling ash of the LA wild fires to spectate. I'm looking forward to putting our new Scion on the world stage next year, and I hope to see you there!
After attacking the Long Beach course faster and more aggressive with each run, and initiating into the massive Turn One earlier than nearly everyone else, Daijiro seemed unstoppable as the Red Bull competition progressed. After surviving four rounds with Ueo--and some of the closest, door-to-door tandems we've seen from anyone all year--if there was anyone who looked right to steal the thrown from Rhys, it was Dai ...So what happened?
This was to be the last event for the RMR/Bridgestone GTO, so we did everything we could to prep the car to go all-out! I had been battling traction issues in the GTO all year, and since we knew we needed maximum grip to hold such high speeds, we took a risk and modified its suspension from the ground up, and re-worked alignment settings. It worked so well I was able to qualify Sixth--much better than anticipated!
Unlike other Formula D events, tandem battling started at Top 32 instead of Top 16. My first opponent was Robbie Bolger, an Australian driver in a borrowed car. He seemed uncomfortable with it, and I moved on. His regular car is a Holden Monaro, which is pretty much a right hand drive GTO... What a match-up that would've been! My Top 16 opponent was Leighton Fine, another Australian driver in a borrowed car... but he is the 2008 Drift Australia series champion! Our battle was really close, but somehow I managed to beat him.
In the Top 8 round, I went against Ueo. I knew it was going be tough to beat him since his strength is initiating early, with deep angle... which is also my strength! He went super sideways right after the initiation, so I concentrated on doing the same thing. I made a stupid mistake early on, so our battle went to a One More Time round, where I eventually won. I was so relieved! Actually, he was my first opponent at my first competition ever, which was D1GP in 2003. I lost that time and he went on to win the entire series, so this was my big revenge after five years!
I was paired with Sam in the Final 4, a great driver that I've battled more than five times before, but have only beaten once. But after the great battle with Ueo, I didn't feel that I could lose, so I threw everything I had at him and moved on!
Like I said, this was gonna be my last day with the GTO, so I wanted to make it as memorable as possible. And I didn't want to see the sorrowful face that my chief mechanic T.J. has whenever I get eliminated. But our final opponent was also one of our own--Rhys. OMG! I was so happy to be there with Rhys; to meet at the final competition was our team dream of the year... but at the end of my dream, I get First Place, so I gave everything I had to beat him. He was so fast that I couldn't get close to him when following, so I tried a little too hard when it was my time to lead and spun out. WTF! After the event, a lot of people thought Red Bull paid me to spin or something. No way! I wish I could say that! It was just my mistake. I was too excited...
I want to thank Red Bull for holding such a great event! Please, please, do this again next year!
Rhys Millen Motors
Since its inception in 2003, Formula D has become respected as a mainstay within the motorsports community, and along with it, the names of its most winning competitors. And possibly the most recognizable name among them might very well be Rhys Millen's. Winner of the 2005 Forumla D Championship title, the 2006 Formula D Triple Crown, and more than a few First and Second Place wins scattered throughout, Rhys has rightfully earned his name's ranking among the world's top drifters; a list, as of the Red Bull DWC closing ceremonies, it now tops.
To win the title of "World Champion" as the Red Bull Team owner and driver is nothing short of the perfect feeling. To enter two cars in the event, and have your teammate finish Second and stand tall on the podium is a credit to the strength of team RMR (Rhys Millen Racing). This was an event I wanted to win for several reasons, the obvious being that winning the Red Bull Drifting World Championship with a Red Bull carwould be the best way to go out in style. Second, we fell short of our own personal goal as a team this year: to win the Formula D season championship.
Long Beach was a new venue for all 32 drivers. There was no pre-testing, no private rental; it was a clean canvas on which to paint history. More unique, the paved lot had a distinctive two- to three-degree fall-off on either side from the center of the track (to allow for rain run-off). Adding to this, the pavement had a natural grain that ran parallel to the approach of Turn One, but once you flicked sideways and started to ride the wall, you were not only going up and over a crest, but against pavement that gained and lost grip throughout the slide. And that was only half the battle.
We clocked the highest speed and score during our first round of qualifying. Still, I tried to improve on my second round, and hit an entry speed of 105 mph--too fast, as I clipped the outside barriers and just nicked the last stack of tires of the tire wall.
As the Top 32 tandem runs began on Sunday, Ken Gushi's engine had blown in the Scion tC, so we got a bye-run. I made the most of it and ran just to feel the grip change of the track. Top 16 pitted me against my friend Stephan Verdier in a car we helped prepare at RMR. We defeated Stephan, but not as easily as I thought we would've. Top 8 was against Vaughn Gittin Jr., and we knew it was going to be tricky. He's aggressive, fast and this was seemingly the perfect course for him. The only thing I had on my side was a little more speed, and a lighter car. My plan was to lead him in fast and hope that momentum would force him into an error--a tactic that worked. As I powered down after the initiation into Turn One, I heard Eric on the radio, "Vaughn's in the wall, Vaughn's in the wall!" Potentially my biggest challenger, and the 2007 D1GP World Champion had taken himself out of the event.
Semi finals would be against my friend, current and two-time Formula Drift Champion Tanner Foust. I led the first battle, hard and fast into Turn One and riding the wall the entire course. But he stuck with me the entire way. After the first round, with Tanner being real close and no advantage announced, I knew I had to push the limits. Tanner led the next run, and to my disappointment, he played a "check-up" game on the entry into initiation--the only driver to do so all weekend--stalling his acceleration for a split second to try to gain a gap. It didn't help enough, and I moved on.
Just before the start of the Final round, word comes in that we'll be up against Dai. My first thought was, regardless who would win the round, Rhys Millen Racing will be world champions. I was never so proud of my crew.
From my years driving the GTO, I knew it well, and had matched up against Dai twice this season. Dai drove amazingly well and it was a pleasure to battle against him--no games, just pure speed and precision. After the first round Dai was yelling in the radio at me "WTF Boss, you are so fast!" I could only laugh. Round Two, the final battle, would see Dai making a costly mistake and gifting me the title of "World Champion". Thanks Dai, for making it a win for both of us. And congrats to everyone of team RMR!