Round 1: Long Beach, CA
With the 2009 season underway, Formula D Diaries is back. The roster has changed a bit from last year and now we have six drifters, all rocking imports, telling in their words what really went down during Formula D weekend. Every breakage, mishap, accident, beef, and all the toils of competing on the pro circuit are fully divulged. And with the top four from last season--Tanner Foust, Sam Hubinette, Rhys Millen and Dai Yoshihara (in respective order)--all in new rides this year, it's going to be an extra tumultuous one.
New for Diaries this time around, is a guest seventh spot. With the cast of six firmly cemented, the revolving spot is open for a variety of contributors to share their experience of going through the Formula D circuit. And to start off Chapter 1, we have senior judge Andy Yen to go over the new judging format.
Don't judge a judge by his cover. The senior-ranking judge of FD, Andy Yen isn't just an armchair drifter perched on some ivory judging tower--he's a drifter at heart. Andy actually competed in the first two years of FD and even won Options' first drift event in the States, placed second at the RS-R drift festival, and was one of the first U.S. drifters to break into the JDM drift bible, Drift Tengoku.
I'm usually a little apprehensive before the season, but this year was especially worse. First off, there's a new judging system for single qualifying runs. In the past, each judge determined a driver's individual score, which was then averaged with the other two judges' scores. But there have been complaints whether one judge can focus on four categories (speed, angle, line, and overall excitement). So with 2009, a new system was formed where each judge focuses on one criteria.
"But hey, there are four criteria and three judges?" you ask. Here's the breakdown: there is a speed judge, angle judge, and a line judge. Overall excitement has been changed to "style" points, which are divided up evenly between the three judges. The speed judge can give up to 20 points for speed, and another 10 points for style. The angle judge is allowed up to 25 points for angle and 10 points for style. Lastly, the line judge is allowed a max of 25 points for line score and 10 for style. If you add them all up, this gives a maximum of 100 points. As for why speed is only allotted 20 points (compared to 25 for angle and line), it's more important to hold your angle and line rather than go for a high-speed pass with low angle and shallow line.
That's the rundown of the new Qualifying system. At first, I didn't like it, but after judging speed in Round 1, it makes sense and is a lot faster to combine all of the scores.
The second cause for concern was the new judge on deck: Tony Angelo. The only thing going through my mind in big, bold letters was "DA". As in, Drift Alliance. I thought he would favor his DA brothers, go wild on the judges' stand, and run naked after the event. I was wrong, again. Not only did Tony--and judge Ernie Fixmer for that matter--put in his own time to help with Tech, he kept his head on straight, treating all of the drivers with quality. Wow. Most impressively, he got along with the FD staff and when he spoke over the mic explaining a call, the crowd seemed to appreciate it. All the causes for concern in 2009 just bit me in the ass and proved otherwise.
So with all of my negative thoughts out of the way, all that was left was the new Top 32 tandem format. It was used for the Red Bull event last year, and the results were great. Instead of the Top 16 only getting camera time and action, now you have 32 drivers battling it out. As for tandem judging, the format is idiot proof. There are no points, advantages or disadvantages. Just good old fashion "majority wins." After the drivers make their run, each of the three judges have only three options to choose from: Driver A, Driver B or OMT (One More Time). So if the board reads Driver A, Driver A, Driver B, that means Driver A moves on. In the case of Driver A, Driver B, OMT, that means the results were inconclusive, leading to an OMT.
With Fridays set for solo qualifying runs, Saturdays are dedicated for Top 32 tandem. The drivers are now more focused on tandem, and that's how it should be. Eighty percent of the drivers can lay down a simple qualifying run, but they need to do it in tandem. With the 32 format, for a driver to move on, they will have to be ready for anything. Under the old rules, if you could win three tandem battles in a row, you're already in Fourth. But now, you have to push extra hard to get to the Top 4. And a lot of the top drivers are a little timid when it comes to a new face in the series and will hold back, not following too close to the new guys--playing it safe, as I would call it. But in all respect, if that new driver chases down one of the top drivers with everything he or she's got, the top drivers should give the same effort and respect when they are following.
Ending the day with no driver or team manager yelling or bitching at me about something was a great way to start the season. Now, let's see how much we can push the drivers to get closer during tandem battles! Next stop: The Waffle House in the ATL!
Converting an FF car to FR is no easy task. Just ask Ken Gushi about his custom-built tC. Last season saw the "Gush" plagued worse than the Bubonic with mechanical woes. But with the car entering its second year of service and with Ken's never-give-up attitude, can 2009 be the year he makes his comeback?
I didn't even make it into the points roster. Great. What a way to kick off the '09 season. I don't want to sound negative or anything, but I feel that my car or our team is haunted with bad spirits.
During testing and practice, the RS-R Scion tC ran great, and I felt confident. As soon as the car got to Long Beach, however, it did not feel the same. Perhaps it was from all the pressure I felt from what everyone expected of my performance. That, and I had not competed the car since November of 2008 at the Red Bull World Championships. Actually, the last time I actually drifted the car sideways was October of 2008--at Red Bull, the motor was broken. So a long off-season with no drifting hurt big time. This game is all about seat time and practice. Whoever had the most testing sessions during the off-season was bound to do well.
To make matters worse, we changed quite a bit of stuff around in our car. We added bars to the front to make it stiffer, so technically, the front end of the car should have felt better. But because I didn't have sufficient time getting familiar with it, I was feeling nervous. I was jumping into a fresh car on a track with concrete walls on both sides. And guess what? During Tuesday's media ride-along, I crashed. I broke the lower control arm, a few parts on the steering knuckle, and bent a rotor. My team did a great job repairing what I had damaged and thankfully, John, Koji and Scott from SPD had spares ready.
The format for Qualifying is different from the previous year. Everyone must qualify to make the Top 32 cut. Seeds don't exist any more. On my first run to qualify, I spun out the same exact way I did when I crashed the car on Tuesday, but this time, I was able to recover from the last experience. I saved it. My second run was much more solid until the last hairpin. All of a sudden, I lost power and could not throttle out of the final corner. I ended up in 32nd place and my hope was to stay there. However, Ryuji Miki and Ryan Tuerck had not made their passes yet. Unfortunately, I was beat by Ryan and I ended up in 33rd place.
I had never qualified so low in my career. What a disappointment. I can already see what improvements need to be made before Atlanta, but I also need practice. It was evident that I lacked seat time. You can only blame mechanical problems for so long. Sooner or later, people will begin to question the driver's ability to drive. I must save myself! And to do that, I need to practice.
The current Red Bull World and 2005 Formula D champ finished Third last year without contributing to Diaries or making it to the first round in Long Beach. Guess what? He's in a brand spankin' new Hyundai Genesis Coupe, in Diaries, and he made it to the LBC. Hear that? That's the sound of the competition quivering to the Kiwi.
You know that feeling you get when you are super busy, and before you know it, your day has ended? Try substituting that day for weeks with what seemingly started on January 19th and ended April 10th with Round 1 of Formula D!
With only three days of testing prior to Long Beach, I knew that this was going to be an uphill battle of on-track tweaks and tuning after every lap. My weapon of choice for the 2009 Championship chase is the new Hyundai Genesis Coupe. With nothing off-the-shelf to simply bolt on, and no prior racing efforts to draw from, we had just time and tools . . . and the clock had already started ticking. After driving the new Genesis Coupe for Hyundai's Super Bowl commercial, I did know a few things about the new car. The Genesis Coupe is fun, affordable and a great starting point to build from.
Qualifying would prove to be a little disappointing, placing 11th after the first lap and 17th after the second. This was also my first time running on the Toyo Proxes R1R tire, and to be honest, I never gave the tire the respect for the grip that it has, and Long Beach wasn't the place to start testing limits. To add to my disappointment, I was knocked out in the first round--not what we were looking for. But, we did get 48.5 points! We finished Third in the championship last year with zero points at Round 1, so don't count us out!
If you could sum up Tyler McQuarrie's 2008 season in one word it would be "breakage." Issue upon issue, it culminated with a shifter coming out in his hand during competition in one round, and the motor going out in the next. This year, Tyler's in a whole new team and a whole new 350Z. It's about damn time.
Thank God 2009 is finally here, so I can officially put last season behind me. What I love most about the First round in the championship is that every driver is tied for first in points. It doesn't matter what happened last year, everyone has a clean slate. This season is a fresh start for me on so many levels: new team, tire, and car. I'm very excited to be on Team Falken Tire, and in the Nissan 350Z built by ASD. One look at the car up close, and you know it's an amazing machine.
We took a couple test days at the ASD base in Charlotte and were pleased, but not content. We are bringing a new car that still has development work left, to an event in which many drivers are returning with their already-developed cars. The odds were against us, but we still had hope for a good result.
We only had one hour of practice before Qualifying, which is nothing for a newly built car. After a couple runs, it was apparent that our setup was off. We lacked lateral grip, which was never a problem when we tested the car, but Long Beach is also very different from our test track. The ASD guys changed as much as they could in the six runs we got in for practice.
Now that we were qualifying for Top 32, the pressure we felt in years past was gone. Because of that, I think I was a little too conservative and completed a run that I thought would put me around 10-14th place--the judges thought otherwise and put me in 21st. Up to that point, I wasn't really worried---I was in the Top 32. Then I saw my first round match up: Sam Hubinette in the Viper. He is not easy, but he is beatable, and I knew that because I beat him in New Jersey last year in the Porsche.
Going into battle, I knew the only way around Sam Hubinette was to be all over him. He got a good jump off the line and I did what I could to catch him through Turn 9. I slowly closed the gap to a car length by the time we were transitioning into Turn 10 and was on his fender by the outer clipping point. Normally at this part of the track, you would be hard on the gas, but Sam did otherwise and abruptly slowed down well before the hairpin. My first reaction was to avoid hitting him and that caused me to spin. I was in shock at what just happened! I got on the team radio and said "Sorry, but Sam just parked it in the middle of the track! I had nowhere to go!" My next run was flawless and I had a two car gap between me and Sam, but the spin on the first run sealed my fate. Did Sam intentionally make me spin? Who knows, but I do know that my teammate, Vaughn Gittin Jr., hit him in the same spot where I spun because Sam abruptly slowed down again. Oddly still, Robbie Nishida also spun in the same spot as me when following Sam in the Final 4. I will have to store this in my very small memory bank for the future.
Round 1 did not go as planned, but I'm very excited for this season. Every run the car got better and I felt more comfortable. Best of all, my car ran the entire weekend and didn't break once! The voodoo doll worked!!
2008 saw Dai in many a heated battle against his boss at the time, Rhys Millen. Dai ended up Fourth for the season and placed Second at the historic Red Bull World Championship, both behind Rhys. Now in a different team and ride--an IS350--and without a boss to battle against, will 2009 be the year of the Dai?
The 2009 season finally started--I was very excited about my new car, a Lexus IS350, and my brand new team, Falken Tire! Before Round 1, I had only a few test sessions with my new car. Unfortunately, we finished building the car later than we wanted and didn't have enough time to really set it up the way we wanted. The car has great potential, but at the moment, only a small window of drivability.
In the practice session, I was doing pretty bad. I couldn't link the course even one time. Honestly, I was almost going to give up. But I tried to relax and reset my mentality. I kept telling myself that I could do it while I was waiting for my Qualifying run.
In the end, I did pretty good and qualified 11th! That was the first time I was able to link the course, and it felt like I had put the thread through the needle. It was a freaking miracle, and just goes to show that it's important to keep positive thinking in any situation!
In the Top 32, I went against Jeff Jones. He is a new driver for Formula D, and I'd never really seen him run, so I had no idea how he was going to drive. In any case, I didn't have any extra room in my head to think about anything other than my own driving. My first run leading went pretty well. I entered hard, had good angle, and tons of smoke. When I was following, Jeff had awesome angle at the first turn, which made him very slow into the next transition. I was trying to slow my car down to match his speed but I couldn't. I ended up spinning. LBC was over.
This was not exactly the best way to start the season. At least I got some points, thanks to the new Top 32 points system. That's good! Now, I have to work hard with my team to expand the driveability of my Lexus IS. I'm confident as the season progresses and as we develop the car, I will be able to do battle with the best of them!
Wrapping last season in Fifth overall, Chris Forsberg is back in his tried-and-true 350Z. Putting it down in the big, bad LBC in '08, Chris took the first round win a year ago. Can he repeat his performance and get the year off on the right foot?
In the weeks before Long Beach, my team and I noticed that we were not freaking out. We usually spend a lot of time before the first event trying to finish the car, test, load our gear, but this year, we were ready. It was surreal.
For Friday morning's practice, our plan was to run through the course a few times, check out the surface changes (there were about six), and make sure the car felt comfortable. By the time Qualifying started, we were feeling great--the new judging format seemed to give drivers much more feedback on exactly what they lacked in their run (i.e. speed, line, angle, and style). When it was time for us to run, I walked over to the car, stretched, and climbed in. We won here at Long Beach a year before, and we were here to show them why. Down the straightaway, I handbraked into the first turn (Turn Nine), and held Fourth gear the whole way around. Coming out, I rolled the pedal to the floor in Fourth and held it all the way down the shoot, transferring to the left for the main sweeper up against the wall, carrying as much speed as possible through Turn 10, and pushing for the wall again, with the throttle never leaving the floor. As soon as the Nissan got out to the second wall, I downshifted, added angle, and ran past the first inside clip at full-lock, transfering back to the right in the hairpin and downshifting again, then rolling back on the throttle. I waited to hear my score on the radio . . . 88.4! We were in First Place! What a relief! There was still a round of Qualifying left, but just knowing that you put down a good run takes all the weight off your shoulders.
For the second round of Qualifying, I wasn't going to just cruise through the course. I pushed even harder than my first, carrying more speed! As I transferred back to the left for the main sweeper, my foot was through the floor, pushing me out towards the walls where my rear bumper painted an orange stripe across the entire outer clipping zone! As I continued pushing towards the second outside clip, I grazed the wall again! Clearing the course, I heard my spotter, Blair, yelling at what an amazing run it was! We scored a 93.1--five points higher than Second Place and the only score in the 90s, earning us the top qualifying spot for the second time.
I was the first driver to run in the new Top 32 format. The 32nd-ranked qualifier was a friend of mine, Matt Waldin. He runs Import Intelligence, which sponsored my S15 back in 2005. For the head-to-head match, my qualifying rank earned me the lead run first, where I pushed as hard as I normally would. On my follow run, as we took off down the straight, I dropped back about two car lengths to allow him to get in front and get set in a drift. Once we flipped sideways, I jumped on the throttle and closed the gap to one car length. We transferred across for the left turn and I jumped on the throttle and closed the gap a little more, and got the thumbs up to move on to the next round.
Next on the ladder was Stephan Verdier. He's a long-time veteran of rally racing and has been seeded in Formula D for years, so there was no holding back. We lined up, and I lead first. I drove hard and got through the course with great speed and angle. We turned around and I chased on the second pass. I gave a small gap at the start like I did with Waldin, but Verdier's car was a little quicker out of the hole and we were a good car length or two apart for the entire run. The judges wanted to see more and called for a One More Time. So for the next pass, it was time to really lay it down. I ran through the course with much more speed than my earlier runs, but it was too much. When I flipped in for the hairpin, my car over rotated and almost slid to a stop, running over a cone in the process. There was almost no way to come back from that. During the fourth pass, I was out to try and fight for another chance. When we hit the first corner, I was right on top of his car, and as we transferred through the left corner I never backed off--we were within a car length for the entire course, as close as inches in some parts! But it was too little, too late. I lost the round.
I was still very happy with our finish, despite the stupid mistake I made in the hairpin. We finished Ninth overall and are currently Sixth in points, based off of our First Place qualifying position! I will learn from this, and will be back for more!
Nos Energy Drink
The "Golden Boy" of drift holds the claim as the only Formula D competitor to hold back-to-back championship titles, not to mention an X Games gold for rally. In a freshly-built Scion tC converted to RWD, Tanner Foust's abilities will be pushed if he wants to take home a third championship. After all, "three-peat" does just roll right off the tongue.
By Tuesday, I was very proud of how the Rockstar/Scion team had delivered a running beast of a car in such a short time, but I was also scared shitless that I wouldn't get comfortable and competitive in the tC by the weekend. On Wednesday and Thursday, the guys at Papadakis Racing went back to the shop with my laundry list of adjustments and emerged with a totally different machine that was ready for battle. We made very minor changes throughout Friday and Saturday's festivities, mainly to learn the characteristics of the Hankook RS3 Tire.
We tried to build the car to feel like the Z, to minimize the time it would take me to get comfortable. The seating position was carefully measured with respect to the wheelbase, the spring rates and track widths were applied. All of this worked . . . to an extent, but it didn't answer the question of what set-up works best with the Scion. With some more seat time, I'll get my head around this car.
Holy crap was Saturday a long day! With five One More Times called, we did 18 tandem runs in competition! Awesome! It was great practice for me and an amazing opportunity to size the Scion up against some of the best drifters around. Ultimately, Ryan threw out some sick runs and had the consistency to put his team on top. I had a blast battling him, Robbie, Ueo, and of course, Taka.
To walk away from the event with a podium spot on the Rockstar/Scion tC's maiden voyage is a huge success. The guys in the shop worked so hard. I'm just glad they didn't slash my tires after giving them the list of changes after Tuesday. We're all very happy--and relieved!
Formula D Snapshots
Rd 1. Results
Long Beach Podium