Formula Drift kicked off the 10th championship season at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach street course--its eighth consecutive year at the famous street course. With a nail-biting ending to last year's Formula Drift championship at Irwindale Speedway, the anticipation for this year's season opener was met with open arms-advanced ticket sales sold out. Round 1 has always been of interest for fans as well as drift competitors, since FD begins with the debut of many new vehicles and drivers. This year, plenty of hype and anticipation surrounded a growing cast of V-8-powered drift machines entering the championship chase. Among many of the changes was top contender Vaughn Gittin Jr. in the RTR Mustang changing title sponsors from Falken to Nitto Tire. Need For Speed was surprisingly absent from the Matt Powers S14 with Fatlace stepping up to the plate as a new sponsor. Among the cast of new cars comprised a number of Scion FR-S's, including last year's competitor Ken Gushi in his GPP/Scion Racing machine, as well as the newly debuted Scion Racing-sponsored FR-S of Tony Angelo. Ryan Tuerck also debuted an FR-S, but a hybrid of sorts--the boxer engine was removed in favor of a 700hp stroked 2JZ powerplant.
Top 32 Qualifying
Utilizing Turns 9, 10, and 11 of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach street course, FD welcomed last year's returning competitors as well as a host of 15 rookie drivers and teams. Daigo Saito, last year's champion, was back and ready to lay down plenty of smoke to defend his title. As drift competition progressed throughout the day, many of the Top 32 competitors--well-known drivers and manufacturer-sponsored cars--were eliminated from competition, including Justin Pawlak who lost control coming out of the first clipping point and careened into the retaining wall head first. The car was severely damaged, but was able to be repaired in time to qualify at a commendable 23rd Place. Matt Fields paid homage to the Long Beach wall with a spectacular smash of his own. Tyler McQuarrie managed to qualify 32nd with his Camaro, despite encountering power steering gremlins throughout the entire day. Rounding out Friday's Top 32 was top qualifier Daijiro Yoshihara with a score of 87.8, Second Place Darren McNamara (86.9 points), and Third position belonging to Michael Essa (85.8 points).
Just a few minutes prior to the Great Eight competition, fans were treated to a nail-biting performance from the two top competitors in the Top 16; they went toe-to-toe in an epic battle. Saito in the Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430 squared off against Fredric "The Norwegian Hammer" Aasbo in the Hankook Scion Racing Scion tC. Both drivers were on their A game, as they mirrored each other though the entire course. The judges needed an OMT to determine a winner. Aasbo proved to be the more dominant figure as he smoked his way past Saito and moved onto the next round.
Yoshihara vs. Aasbo
The first of two battles in the Great Eight witnessed the Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S14 of Yoshihara diving into the first turn, but bobbling the wheels ever so slightly. Aasbo in the Scion Racing/Hankook Tire Scion tC doesn't take advantage of the mistake, and makes a minor mistake of his own. The second run witnesses Aasbo smoking the tires and showing exceptional speed and angle, but Yoshihara follows closely without missing a beat. The judges decide that Yoshihara claims the unanimous victory to move onto the Final Four.
Denofa vs. Moen
Up next, Chelsea Denofa wastes no time; he throws the BC Racing/Nitto Tire BMW E46 M3 into Turn 9 with Kenneth Moen in the Lutz Performance 350Z playing chase. The round ended as quickly as it began with Moen miscalculating the first turn and crashing straight into the wall. The initial cause was a steering problem, but regardless, the damage to the 350Z was severe enough to automatically award Denofa the green light to move onto the Final Four.
Forsberg vs. Tuerck
Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z battled it out with Drift Alliance teammate Ryan Tuerck in the Team Retax/Maxxis Tires Scion FR-S in the Great Eight. Tuerck enters the back straight with plenty of speed, as his 2JZ machine powers his way around the track. Tuerck taps the rear bumper against the wall but maintains a consistent drift line. Forsberg, however, maintains an ultra-consistent line of his own; he stays within inches of Tuerck's door. Forsberg executes a solid second run, as he takes advantage of Tuerck's surprising bobble through the final turn to take a unanimous decision.
Gushi vs. Gittin
The final pairing of the Nitto Tire/Monster Energy Drink Ford Mustang of Gittin Jr. and Gushi in the GPP Scion Racing Scion FR-S rounded out the Great Eight. Gittin Jr. began the round by slapping the wall, but remained in complete control as Gushi followed in close pursuit. Gushi leads for the second round with both cars going wheel to wheel. The turbocharged boxer of Gushi put up a good fight, but was no match for the V-8 power of the Mustang, so the crowd witnessed Gittin moving on.
Yoshihara vs. Denofa
Denofa was decidedly the underdog coming into the Final Four. He found himself paired against former 2011 FD champion and number-one qualifier Yoshihara. With Yoshihara taking the lead in the first of two runs, Denofa was forced to play catch-up, as he drifts a shallow line, which was evident from the judge's initial reaction. Yoshihara shows a more consistent run as Denofa straightens out, which ultimately causes him to lose the round.
Gittin Jr. vs. Forsberg
The battle of Drift Alliance teammates and two former Formula D champions immediately brought the crowd to their feet. Gittin Jr. smoked the rear tires on the RTR Mustang as Forsberg struggled to keep up in the first run. With Forsberg taking the lead in the second run, it was evident that the 350Z had to execute a perfect round in order to take the win. Forsberg put together a great run; both cars smoke their tires with super-consistent runs. The judges decided that the '13 Ford Mustang of 2010 champion Gittin Jr. held the advantage; he moves onto the championship round. Forsberg's day wasn't over just yet. He was staged to run against Denofa in the battle for Third Place.
Denofa vs. Forsberg
In the battle for Third Place, Denofa puts together one of his most consistent runs of the weekend with good angle and speed throughout the course. But stumbled on his second run as he corrected coming out of Turn 10, which swayed the judges' decision to give the Third Place podium to Forsberg.
Gittin Jr. vs. Yoshihara
Last year's FD runner-up Gittin Jr. had a score to settle with 2011 reigning champion Yoshihara as the crowds rose to their feet to witness the final battle. Past FD battles revealed that Yoshihara had won 8 of the 11 matches against Gittin Jr. Yoshihara, as the lead car, ran quickly through the course, but it was Gittin Jr. who flinched first as he cooked the final clipping point, which caused a major correction and point deduction from the judges. The final chase run had Gittin Jr. pushing hard for the win and to make up for his prior mistake, but it was too little too late. Yoshihara knew he only had to play it safe to take the win. It only took a few seconds before the judges quickly announced Yoshihara their 2013 Round 1 winner. Be sure to check out FD Round 2 in Atlanta and FormulaD.com for their upcoming schedule of events and dates for the 2013 drift season.
Formula Drift Professional Championship 2013 Point Standings After 1 Event
|1 Daijiro Yoshihara||Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13||112 Points|
|2 Vaughn Gittin Jr.||Nitto Tire/Monster Energy Drink Ford Mustang||92 Points|
|3 Chris Forsberg||NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z||79 Points|
|4 Chelsea Denofa||BC Racing/Nitto Tire BMW E46 M3||75 Points|
|5 Kenneth Moen||Lutz Performance 350Z||65 Points|
|6 Darren McNamara||Falken Tire Nissan S14||64 Points|
|7 Ryan Tuerck||Team Retax/Maxxis Tires Scion FR-S||64 Points|
|8 Fredric Aasbo||Scion Racing/Hankook Tire Scion tC||63 Points|
|9 Michael Essa||GSR Autosports BMW M3||62 Points|
|10 Ken Gushi||GPP/Scion Racing Scion FR-S||62 Points|