Formula Drift Final Fight Details:
- Michael Essa qualifies first and takes home the championship
- Largest motorsports event in venue's history
- Daigo Saito takes first place in Irwindale round
- Forrest Wang reaches his first podium
The smell of burnt rubber slapping you in the face, the sounds of roaring engines, the endlessly fascinating sight of a rear-wheel drive car kissing the wall: Formula Drift is nothing but sensory overload. Irwindale Speedway also known as the "House of Drift" is always an exciting round as the last event of the season and the crowning of the Formula D champion. This year was particularly important as it marks the 10th year in Formula D history. Despite the intense energy in the sold out crowd, these premier drift drivers were able to retain razor sharp focus and push the boundaries between car control and wrecking out.
Like every Formula D event, the day before was the qualifying round. Qualifying first was privateer Michael Essa in the GSR Autosports BMW M3 with a speed of 70.6mph and a score of 96.6,. Vaughn Gittin Jr. landed second piloting the Nitto Tire/Monster Energy Ford Mustang, and third was Ryan Tuerck in his 2JZ-powered Retaks/Maxxis/Enjuku Scion FR-S.
On the big day the Top 32 was set and all eyes were on track to see who would advance. The tables can turn quickly in the world of drifting competition and Michael Bay couldn't have written a more climactic series of events when points leader Michael Essa blew a motor and could not move onto the Top 16.
"I went out there and was able to do it, qualifying first and gaining another 12 points. That put us far enough ahead that even though we had a motor blow up in Top 32 and couldn't move past Top 16 we were able to sit on the sidelines to watch it unfold," said Essa. He continued, offering more insight to the failed engine.
"Our motor blew up. I don't think it was the bottom end - the bottom end is solid with CP pistons and Carrillo rods. We're a privateer team with a small budget so our top end was all stock and I think we just lost a valve and a valve ate a piston and that was it."
The Great Eight was a mix of past champions such as Gittin, Saito, and Forsberg, as well as new faces including Forrest Wang, Robbie Nishida, and Dean Kearney. With Essa's car down, Forsberg had the opportunity to become champion only to be edged out by Saito ultimately securing Essa's championship.
After driving exceptionally well this season, a disappointed Forsberg offered us a few words about his round protest and what to look out for next year,
"Next year we're going to try to bring it bigger and better as always. I'm super proud of my team for giving me the best car I've ever had and the best shot we had to win the championship this year. And we were super happy to bring that chance to Hankook Tire and a second win to NOS Energy drink. However, it's a real disappointment to see the championship decided over a technicality as per a disregard of clearly stated rules in the Formula Drift rulebook - rules that state if you are unable to fix your car in 5 minutes than you forfeit," said Forsberg.
Going into the Final Four the consolation round was the battle of Japanese muscle: the 2JZ with Forrest Wang in in his Nissan 240SX and Robbie Nishida's Lexus SC300 both powered by the inline-six motor. After a mistake from Nishida, Wang was able to land a podium spot in third. The final match pitted Daigo Saito in his beast 1200hp Lexus SC430 and Tyler McQuarrie's monster Chevrolet Camaro SS. Going into turn three McQuarrie pushed too hard and made contact with the wall giving Saito first place.
"To tell the truth I was not really feeling it in practice, but when the battles began and the lights turned on I was able to pull it together when it counted and am happy for the win to end the season," said Daigo Saito, winner of Round 7: Final Fight. "I had a lot of issues with the car this year and I feel we weren't able to get the car to the condition I really needed to be more competitive, but coming in third overall is something I am proud and happy about."
The Final Standings of the year had Michael Essa in 1st place with a total of 555.50 points, Chris Forsberg in 2nd with 538 points, and Daigo Saito with 510.50 points.
"Coming into this event I wanted to prove that this season wasn't a fluke and sitting on the sideline wasn't how I wanted the event to go down, but unfortunately that is what happened tonight," said Michael Essa, 2013 Formula DRIFT champion. "The Formula DRIFT championship has always been my goal and I am extremely excited. There are so many amazing drivers and teams in the Series and being able to just compete with them is an honor. We are hoping to carry this momentum into the next season and earn more wins."
For the first time in Formula D history Essa managed to pilot a European car into a championship. Also new for the 10th season of Formula D were the tire championships and the manufacturer championships. Lexus managed to win the bespoke manufacturer championship, and Hankook takes the first ever tire championship.
"What a way to complete the tenth season with the biggest crowd and probably the biggest motorsport event ever in Irwindale Speedway history," said Jim Liaw, president and co-founder of Formula DRIFT. "We are extremely grateful for the fans, sponsors and drivers that have helped grow the series over the ten years and we look forward to many more seasons to come."
Ten years and still sliding? Sign us up for another ten! And with Essa's BMW victory, can we expect to see more Euros in drifting? You'll just have to stay tuned next year and find out.