Formula Drift staged the seventh and final race of its 2013 racing season at Irwindale Speedway. The triumphant return to "The House of Drift" was a fitting end to the celebration of FD's 10th season, as spectators witnessed another sold-out crowd, and the largest yet with standing room only. Michael Essa in the GSR Autosport/Yokohama BMW M3 leads the points race by the slimmest of margins with only 17.5 points separating him and second place after six races.
Essa felt the championship in his grasp early on. He impressed the judges with an early qualifying run of 96.6 points, which was enough to give him the top spot going into eliminations with Vaughn Gitten Jr. in the Monster Energy/Nitto Tire Ford Mustang coming in Second with 93.6 points. Being the number one qualifier, Essa was automatically rewarded 12 points to add to his lead. With potential championship contentions on the line for the Top 10 competitors, it became a numbers game as Daigo Saito in the Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430 qualifying 16th, Justin Pawlak in the Falken Tire Ford Mustang coming in at 17, and Fredric Aasbo in the Hankook Tires/Motegi Racing Scion tC qualifying in 14th Place that had officially determined that Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy/Nissan 370Z who by mathematical calculations was still in contention to steal the championship away from Essa.
It wouldn't be an FD event if there wasn't some type of controversy, right? The opening round saw Luke Paluka in the FR Sport Toyota Corolla take on the number one qualifier, Essa. Paluka's car encountered steering problems on the first tandem run and requested a 5-minute ruling. Drama ensued as Essa also called his 5-minute after blowing the BMW engine during that same run. The controversy that would shape the course of this year's championship was who initially called the first time-out. That was the big question the fans wanted to know, including Chris Forsberg, the man standing in Second Place in the points race. Was Paluka "motivated" to throw in the towel early on and give the win to Essa which would ultimately pad his lead even further? Regardless of if this was in fact the truth, the win was given to the BMW as the team moved on to the Top 16.
Dai Yoshihara in the Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13 ended his valiant season on a disappointing run after losing his engine during practice a few days prior. The team worked into the night and was able to replace his current engine with his 2011 FD championship engine. With only 500 hp on tap, the engine was outdated and outgunned coming into competition. The team tried to make adjustments to the car using smaller sized tires and suspension adjustments, but it just wasn't enough. He qualified 25th and lost to opposing component Forsberg, who moved on to the next round. Others who would move on included a hard-hitting Dean Kearney, Ken Gushi, Fredrik Aasbo, Robbie Nishida, and crowd favorite Daigo Saito to name a few.
Upon hearing news of Essa unable to continue due to a blown motor, it immediately brought us back to the 2011 FD Round 7 championship when Yoshihara was leading the points race by the slimmest of margins and eliminated in the early rounds. The early exit reduced him to spectator status as he watched Gitten Jr. attempt to leapfrog over his points lead to take the championship. There was an eerie similarity to this year's finals with Essa sharing the same plight as Yoshihara, and relegated to sitting duck status as the doors were now wide open for Forsberg.
Some tense moments and surprising upsets, including the all-important tandem battle of Saito versus Forsberg in the Great 8 would determine the fate of Essa's championship. It was Forsberg's for the taking, but a critical error gave the win to Saito-and, more importantly, secured the championship for Essa. The win marked the first time a European vehicle has won the Formula Drift championship.
The consolation round saw the 2JZ engine battle of Robbie Nishida in the Bridges Racing/Achilles Tire Lexus SC300 against Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab/Achilles Nissan 240SX. The two drivers jockeyed for position, as the judges needed a one-more-time battle to determine the winner. Wang who knocked out former champion Gittin Jr. in the previous round proved to be the more consistent driver, earning Third Place for his first ever Formula Drift podium.
The final battle pitted Saito versus Tyler McQuarrie in the Mobil 1/GoPro Chevrolet Camaro. The first run looked to give McQuarrie the edge, as Saito bobbled coming out of the second clipping point. On the second run with Saito as the lead car, McQuarrie came into the turn too hot and hit the retaining wall in dramatic fashion, thus ending his run and giving Saito a First Place podium finish.
Formula Drift Professional Championship Finale
|1. Michael Essa||GSR Autosport/Yokohama BMW M3||555.50 Points|
|2. Chris Forsberg||NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z||538 Points|
|3. Daigo Saito||Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430||510.50 Points|
|4. Fredric Aasbo||Hankook Tire Scion Racing tC||487.50 Points|
|5. Vaughn Gittin Jr.||Monster Energy/Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR||481.00 Points|
|6. Justin Pawlak||Falken Tire Ford Mustang||425.00 Points|
|7. Matt Field||CX Racing/Maxxis/Blacktrax Nissan 240SX||407 Points|
|8. Darren McNamara||Falken Tire Nissan S14||388.50 Points|
|9. Robbie Nishida||Bridges Racing/Achilles Tire Lexus SC300||387.25 Points|
|10. Aurimas "Odi" Bakchis||Nexen Tire Nissan S14||379 Points|
|11. Daijiro Yoshihara||Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13||333.50 Points|
|12. Conrad Grunewald||Hankook Tire/Megan Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS||309.50 Points|
|13. Chelsea DeNofa||BC Racing BMW 3 Series||291.00 Points|
|13. Ryan Tuerck||Team Retaks/Maxxis Scion Racing FR-S||291.00 Points|
|15. Tyler McQuarrie||Mobil 1/GoPro Chevrolet Camaro||290.50 Points|
|16. Matt Powers||Fatlace/Nitto Tire Nissan 240SX||282.00 Points|
Round 7: Final Fight Event Results
|1. Daigo Saito||Achilles Tire/BridgesRacing Lexus SC430||First Place|
|2. Tyler McQuarrie||Mobil 1/GoPro Chevrolet Camaro||Second Place|
|3. Forrest Wang||Get Nuts Lab/Achilles Nissan 240SX||Third Place|
Manufacturers Championship Final Standings after Seven Rounds
|1. Hankook||1,053.50 Points|
|2. Falken||1,008 Points|
|3. Achilles||973.25 Points|
|4. Nitto||834.50 Points|
|5. Yokohama||788 Points|
Tire Final Championship Standsings After Seven Rounds
|1. Lexus||975.50 Points|
|2. Nissan||912.50 Points|
|3. Ford||906.00 Points|
|4. Scion||866.50 Points|
|5. BMW||846.00 Points|