As temperatures continue to rise this summer, so does the action for the Formula Drift series. Floating well around the 90-something degree mark (with humidity in the same zone), this competition would prove to be challenging for all the drivers, race teams and fans in attendance. You simply couldn't hide from the sun. And if you weren't drinking enough water, you were done for. Taking over a high-speed section leading to an uphill portion of the Summit Point Raceway, this particular arrangement tested every driver's skill. Any slips on the entry, and you could kill the rest of your performance; room for error was minimal.
Since this is the third round, we're glad to finally see some of the long-awaited debuts of our biggest stars' new cars. Hiro Sumida and Ben Schwartz, both of whom represent Team Falken, came ultra-correct, working the bugs on a 2JZ-powered IS350 and the Sears-sponsored Saturn Sky, which is powered with a torque-heavy LS1 engine. Hiro did manage to qualify for the Top 16, but didn't advance to the Top 8. Meanwhile, Ben took a huge hit during open practice when he lost control of his car, smashing it into a wall and damaging the driver's side suspension. Then Daijiro Yoshihara finally had his chance to take the old HKS S15 onto the track (a car that was formerly driven by Nobuteru Taniguchi), sporting fresh Rock Star graphics. HKS was also present to provide technical support for the car and dialed it in beautifully for Dai to advance to the Top 8, although he was eliminated after tapping the rear wheel of Mitsuru Haraguchi's Falken Sileighty.
A steady stream of Formula D newbies continued to bring their own form of heat to the game. Especially Joon Maeng, who took a hard hit at the Long Beach Formula D, but came back strong. As a privateer, he travels on his own, without any major support and has really stepped up. While he didn't qualify for the Top 16, he did squeeze into the Top 32 with his black Sileighty. We only expect greater things from Joon in the events ahead. The Bergenholtz team came determined to win. They almost had a shot at taking things to the semis, but driver Ryuji Miki turned the J-fury up, bumping into Signal Auto's Hayashida during the second tandem run as Miki was trying to overtake him. Had they not collided, Miki would have easily moved onto the next round. Remember, it's not about passing your opponent, but maintaing a consistent and flawless line instead.
Others had trouble getting their groove back, like JR Gittin, one of our favorite Drift Alliance drivers. With mechanical problems keeping his Mustang out of service, he was forced to borrow a car from MA Motorsports. And while he was able to make it to the Top 16, unfamiliarity with the borrowed S13 caused spin-outs and therefore, an automatic zero. We're hoping JR gets his Mustang sorted out by the Seattle event, so he can get his points-standings back on track. As a word of caution, don't ever tease the guy after a long night of partying. You will be attacked, pummeled to the ground and shoved into a face full of weeds. Or if you're his dad, worse, a broken car door mirror.
HKS gave drift fans yet another wonderful gift: bringing top drifter Nobuteru Taniguchi out to perform a few exhibition runs in the HKS Altezza. Only a driver with finesse such as his could slide the red sedan with such ease and speed through a course that few could come close to replicating; it was easily one of the biggest highlights of the weekend. If you're lucky enough, you and other Formula D fans across the country will also get a chance to see NOB on their home turf, as HKS is planning to bring him out for a few more events throughout the rest of the season.
The semi-finals wound up becoming a battle between two Japanese and two American cars. On one hand, there were the two Nissans- the AEM 350Z driven by Tanner Foust and the JIC S15 Silvia controlled by Tyler McQuarrie; coming up hard on the American muscle was Sam Hubinette in the Mopar Charger and Rhys Millen in the Red Bull Solstice. Both Tyler and Rhys were knocked down to the consolation round, where Rhys took the win even though his Solstice had been experiencing wiring problems all weekend. The big victory went to Sam after Tanner spun out during the final battle, moving him into eighth place overall in the points standings, with a total of 167.25.
Mopar Dodge Charger
AEM Nissan 350Z
Red Bull Pontiac Solstice