Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge Details:
- 2nd year of one-off nighttime 16-car invitational during Long Beach Grand Prix weekend
- Motegi Racing put up $25K in prize purse
- Field included ex-FD competitors Kado and Yoshioka and backup cars from Aasbo and Mohan
- Multi-series champ Saito won, Moen picked up 2nd runner-up in 8 days, and Wang finished 3rd
If you call Southern California your stomping grounds but somehow missed Round 1 of the Formula D Championship on Turns 9, 10 and 11 of the Long Beach Grand Prix street circuit, for the last nine years there's been something of a second chance opportunity during the following weekend. Historically, it's reserved for open-wheel race cars and touring/sports cars, but since about 2005 or so the grand prix has also hosted drifting, namely in demo form.
In 2013 that changed. The exhibition was moved to Sunday of the three-day shindig, while Friday and Saturday were earmarked for the Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge, a 16-car invitational that sees the wheel seller put up $25,000 in prize purse. Additionally the cars run at night under lights, adding a new twist to sliding on the city streets of DT LB.
The 2014 edition of the event was a banger, complete with packed house courtesy of the GP. As the competition got underway, there wasn't a free inch of space on any of the bleachers lining the three-turn course.
An impressive field took to the tarmac, led in qualifying on Friday by Forrest Wang, driver of the 2JZ-motivated Get Nuts Lab S14. FD, FD Asia and D1 GP champ Daigo Saito took the second seed in his Achilles SC430, while Round 1 podium finishers Kenneth Moen in the Achilles 240SX and Michael Essa in his 2013 championship-winning E46 qualified fourth and sixth, respectively.
Formula D 2014 challengers Odi Bakchis in the Feals Suspension S14, Dean Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Viper, Jeff Jones in the CX Racing 240SX, Kuniaki Takahashi in the APEX SC430 and Charles Ng in the CX Racing G Coupe also made qualifying passes in their primary rides, while drivers Fredric Aasbo and Kyle Mohan pressed into service their backup cars - Aasbo his Japan Auto Supra and Mohan his Energy X FC RX-7.
Robbie Nishida in the Achilles SC300, Brandon Wicknick in the Drift Motion S13 and Dennis Mertzanis in the ARK Performance Genesis Coupe earned goose eggs in qualifying for a variety of reasons, relegating them to the bottom of the order. Finally, the grid also included two past Formula D competitors not running this season - Toshiki Yoshioka, who was behind the wheel of the Retaks S14 once piloted by Ryan Tuerck, and Ryan Kado, in the DNA Motoring S14 for Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge. Yoshioka-san qualified eighth and Kado tenth.
Friday qualifying gave way to Saturday tandem eliminations, kicked off by Wang eliminating Mertzanis' 1,000-horsepower blown V8 Hyundai. From our vantage point, it looked like Jones put in more thrilling passes up against Yoshioka, but it was the J driver to advance. Aasbo in the Toyota he calls "Chucky" knocked off Ng, while Moen out-drove Mohan.
The other half of the opening bracket saw Bakchis dispatch Nishida and Essa do the same to Takahashi. Saito was too much for Wicknick, and the Top 16 closed with Kearney overwhelming Kado.
In the round of eight, Wang continued his winning ways against Yoshioka, and for the second Saturday in a row Norwegian countrymen Aasbo and Moen faced off, where again "Fast Kenny" took the victory. Saito made quick work of Kearney's long-wheelbase Dodge supercar, while in arguably the hardest-fought pair of the night, Essa and Bakchis drove to a One-More-Time (OMT) tiebreaker. The crowd seemed to think Bakchis aced the battle, but the judges gave it to Essa.
Wang and Moen's dueling S14 smoked out the place in the semifinals, but it was Moen who proved too strong. Saito and Essa did the same, with the J pilot earning the triumph to make up for a lackluster Round 1 in the 2014 Formula D Championship. For qualifying higher than Essa, Wang secured his place on the podium (remember, no more "consolation" rounds in FD anymore).
The Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge finale was an all Achilles Tire affair, teammates Saito and Moen lining up to rub fenders. Both were in top form, but it was Saito who looked more like his championship self, gapping his opponent in the lead and leaving no room between cars as he chased. We never envy the judges when there's such a tough call to make, but to them it seemed pretty cut and dried, as they awarded the triumph to Saito without asking for a OMT.
"Last weekend at Round 1 of Formula Drift was no good for me, but this week with a few modifications on the vehicle I was able to get the win," Saito commented after his success. "I am happy with the win and look to continue the momentum into the next round."
Not the next round of Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge (which is only a one-off deal, and a pretty cool one at that; we hope it stays on the LB GP schedule moving forward) but the next round of the Formula D series proper. That's set for May 9 and 10 at Road Atlanta, the site of the first of the first Formula D event ever some 11 years ago.