The growing support of drifting Stateside by deep-pocketed O.E.'s and aftermarket companies has done much to alter the parity that once existed in the motorsport. One needs only look to the faster, more powerful machines drivers had to tangle with on the Formula D tour in 2006 to understand the effect. Increased numbers of 6-, 8-, and 10-cylinder vehicles competing (versus previous years) continually drove up lap speeds. Meaning to stay viable, the 4-cylinders would have to take a lot more chances.
Unfortunately, this year's small clan of Honda drifters summarily eliminated themselves from promising finishes early on, having accumulated zero points in 3 of the first 5 events of the championship series. For round 6 at Wall Speedway, N.J., guys sporting the H badge really needed to step up their games if they had any hope of closing out the season in respectable fashion.
Laying down some promising runs in practice, we hoped New Jersey would provide Steph Papdakis and the AEM/DriverFX.com S2000 with an opportunity to take home his first points of the year. Misfortune was met early in qualifying, though, when he lost traction too close to a wall, causing damage that barred any further competition. Upon realizing the event was a total loss, Steph dedicated the remainder of the day to his fans, autographing sections of his damaged bumper that were cut into pieces by his crew and tossing them into the crowd.
The situation was decidedly better for Tyler McQuarrie and the RS*R S2K. Despite accumulating no points in either of the first two rounds, McQuarrie's 3rd place finish in round 3 at Chicago propelled him to a top-ten spot in the standings. Another solid finish in round 4 at Infineon gave hope to Honda fans that they might again see one of their own emerge as a prominent force.
Fully recovered from misfortune in round 5 at Evergreen Speedway, a strong finish from McQuarrie at this event seemed a sure bet before two undecided runs between him and Rob Fleming in the Cooper Tires/Enjuku Racing 240SX in early eliminations put Tyler's chances in jeopardy. The RS*R driver was able to pull ahead in a tie-breaking run, advancing to Top 8 where he met Vaughn Gittin Jr. in the Falken Tire Mustang.
Impressively, Tyler held off the 'Stang for most of the first run until spinning out. Luckily, the unavoidable collision caused only cosmetic damage, and after a 5-minute break the two battled again, only this time the Mustang held the lead and advanced. Gittin would also be eliminated, though, and the event's ultimate champ was Crazy Swede Sam Hubinette in his Mopar Dodge Viper.
The conclusion of round 6 brought with it the disappointing realization that there would be no spectacular top-3 finish in the standings by the driver of a Honda. With the right combination of circumstance and skill at the next and final round, however, which we've seen from McQuarrie in the past, a top ten was certainly more realistic.
One lesson Honda pilots have gleaned from the tribulations of 2006 is that to stay competitive among the big-power bruisers, they are going to need to make up for their machines' lack of power with aggressiveness and tenacity. We've seen this strategy work in the past (think Ueo Katsuhiro and his Corolla GT-S) and are crossing our fingers we'll see it again, only this time from a Honda guy.