"No Room for Mistakes," Formula D's tagline for its season opener straddled that delicate line between creative and cheesy. However you want to refer to it, this is a rather appropriate description as the imposing concrete K rails of the Long Beach street circuit offer almost no margin for error. This made for a potentially disastrous situation with the large number of new drivers, and fresh and newly refreshed cars on hand. It always hurts to see a virgin car go into the wall at the very first event. Fortunately, the carnage was mostly limited to car-to-car contact, which means that overall skill level as well as aggressive tactics are on the rise. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we were deprived of seeing some of these new drivers and cars waging war on the tandem battlefield.
Be it lack of funding, lack of time, or just lack of effort, some teams couldn't get their new cars together in time for the first event of the season. Falken, with perhaps the strongest presence in the drift scene, may have finally bitten off more than it can chew as many of the team's new cars were reduced to display status. Hiro Sumida's 2JZ-GTE-powered IS 350, Ben Schwartz's LS V-8-powered Saturn Sky, and Seigo Yamamoto's jaw-dropping Speed Machine RX-8 did not debut on-track as expected. In addition to the cars not making the entry list, several high-profile drivers missed the cut for the sweet sixteen tandem pairings.
The Pacific Rim team, who shocked and amazed everyone when they announced the recent purchase of NOB Taniguchi's former HKS S15, showed up with Dai Yoshihara's dependable ride, the RHD S13, which continued to deliver up until the final round where he took Third place. HKS' Technical Support staff was on-hand to tune the S13 for the Long Beach track (part of the deal), and team owner Jerry Tsai says we can expect to see the debut of the S15 well before this issue even hits the stands; so sit tight. Chris Forsberg showed off his team spirit with a recent color change to his V-8 350Z, representing a big new sponsor for the year, Maxxis Tires.
Also big for this year's lineup was the large pool of Japanese (and former D1) competitors, like the '04 D1GP series champion, Ryuji Miki driving Yoichi Imamura's old A'PEXi RX-7 (now under the Team Bergenholtz banner and painted in the classic Bergenholtz CRX blue-white-yellow livery). Miki just missed the bubble tying for 17th spot with Ken Gushi. "Boney" Okubo, who drove the Signal R34 for the past couple of years, made the switch for Drift Speed's S15 Silvia, while Kazu Hayashida (formerly of Team RS*R Japan) stepped up to the plate for Mad K and his highly feared GT-R.
Other big names that didn't make it to the big game included our favorite Irish lad, Darren McNamara and his SR20-powered Levin (now colored in Falken's teal and turquoise), Calvin Wan, Taka Aono, Tony Angelo (in Rod Millen's former RX-8), and Stephan Papadakis. Tanner "Foxy Tan Tan" Foust was the top qualifier in the sweet sixteen, followed closely by Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Kazu Hayashida.
During the parade lap before the tandem action ensued Rich Rutherford lost the transfer case in his Tool Racing Evo and Samuel Hubinette destroyed the fuel pump on his Mopar Charger. Samuel's Nuformz crew was able to fix the Charger but Rich was SOL, which made him MIA for the first round.
Once the tandem got underway Ross Petty tagged Tan Tan's freshly refinished AEM/Memphis Audio 350Z and Tan Tan repaid the favor by sending Ross home early. Robbie Nishida put up a good fight against his Falken teammate JR, only succumbing to the Mustang after a tightly-contested One More Time. Japanese driver Mitsuru Haraguchi is a bit of a legend in underground drift circles but with only a handful of professional appearances he's also fairly unknown. In the Falken/Silk Road S13.5 Haraguchi made his intentions clear. He skimmed the wall on more than one occasion, never losing his composure or angle. At the end of the day there wasn't much remaining of Haraguchi's car, having left the bumper, taillights and rear wing on the circuit. It's hard to believe this was once an Import Tuner cover car, but then again, if one of our cars was on the cover of Tuner we'd drive it into a wall, also.
In Haraguchi's first match-up he met Forsberg, who forced a One More Time but struggled against Haraguchi's staccato style, handing the win to the Falken driver.
In the great eight, Tan Tan easily eliminated Tyler McQuarrie, and Haraguchi got past Hayashida. Dai may be one of the top FD drivers, having finished fifth in the '06 championship, but he had the unenviable task of taking on Rhys Millen. Rhys, arguably one of the best drifters in FD history, struggled with his Red Bull Solstice last season but at Long Beach it looked as if he shook the mechanical disease. Rhys had some of the fastest entry speeds of the weekend and the Solstice was transitioning Hachi-fast, making for a deadly combination. It was only Dai's high speeds and deep angles, and an uncharacteristic loss of angle by Rhys on Turn 10 that sent the Red Bull car home and Rockstar driver to the final four.
Another solid great eight battle was between JR and Samuel. These two domestic V-8 drivers have developed quite the rivalry over the years and this round will no doubt add to the conflict. It didn't seem as if anyone could follow a car as closely as Samuel followed JR on the first pass, but then JR put on a clinic, sticking his Mustang up against the Charger even on the tricky Turn 10-11 transition. It was one of the finest displays of tandem drifting we've seen in a long time and was more than enough to bring JR to the final four. From there things went horribly awry for the Falken Mustang.
In his battle against Haraguchi, JR spun, essentially giving up the round. Even after Tan Tan beat Dai, JR spun out again in the battle for Third against the Rockstar S13. Something was clearly not right with the Mustang. But even if JR had been able to bring his A game he would have had his hands full with either Tan Tan or Haraguchi. After the two passes, the final was too close to decide and a One More Time was called. However, Tan Tan was unable to continue because he made contact with the wall coming into Turn 9 as Haraguchi's stop-and-go style caught him off guard. The hit damaged a tie-rod on Tan Tan's Z and the win went to Haraguchi. Controversial? Possibly. Exciting? Shoe betcha!"
Drift @ Dromo
For the past three years, the Formula Drift has held its Drift @ Dromo event at Dromo One in Orange, California, near Disneyland. For the uninitiated, Dromo One allows you to unleash your inner racer behind the wheel of a real race kart in one of So Cal's premier indoor karting facilities. Drift @ Dromo allows Formula D fans to run head-to-head against their favorite drifters. In addition to Samuel Hubinette, PR flack Efrain Olivares also eliminated Nads in the first round (You suck, Nads! - staff). If you find yourself in Mickey's hood you should check out Dromo One. www.dromo1.com
FD Cherry popping
I've been to a couple of drag and Indy car races and, this being my first drift event, it's nice to see fresh blood pumping into the American car scene. Tarzan disappearing into a tornado of smoke inches from the wall and the macho spinouts of each car before they lined up for the tandem runs was everything I thought it would be, even when Sam Hubinette's pre-show maneuver broke something in the car and he had to be pushed off the track. It surprised me that, although everything looked clean and fresh from the stands (I didn't get a press pass, thanks, Primedia), a couple of the cars were really beat up when you got close to them. There's also a huge range in sponsorship support; the gargantuan Falken exhibit presented umbrella girls, swarms of mechanics and at least three different cars, all color-matched and cordoned off from the masses, while other cars limped to the back of the lot to park next to tore-up tires and spare trannys to regroup. It's good to see that small guys can still play with the big boys and I hope that charm doesn't get pushed out as the sport becomes more popular. All in all, seeing supercharged racecars do the dance not 30 feet from my face was a real blast, and although Chris Forsberg didn't catch the hint when I asked him why his car had two harnessed seats, I would still love to go drifting myself someday.Kate Petre
1. Mitsuru Haraguchi Falken 240SX
2. Tanner Foust AEM 350Z
3. Daijiro Yoshihhara Pacific Rim/RockstarS13