The final round of the 2015 Formula D (FD) Championship was significant for a multitude of reasons. For starters, many believe the season-ender is likely the last major drifting event for the so-called "House of Drift," Irwindale Events Center, the site of the first big drifting events in the United States. The short oval facility's ownership has made it pretty clear it aims to level and repurpose the property for retail, which as you might imagine has broken the hearts of many a local drifting fan.
Papadakis Racing pilot Fredric Aasbo not only stood atop the podium at the end of Saturday night after a stellar performance in his Rockstar Energy Scion tC, he also picked up the first Pro drivers title of his six-year FD career earlier in the day by surviving a Top-32 matchup against Kristaps Bluss in the HGK Racing BMW E46. Aasbo also secured the series' first World Championship title, and delivered to Scion Racing its first championship.
Irwindale capped off a dominant year for Scion Racing, which saw its drivers finish one-two in points (Ken Gushi in the Greddy Performance FR-S is runner-up, some 99 points off the pace). It's also been a good year for Hankook Tire, which locked up the top three spots in the Pro title chase with Aasbo, Gushi, and 2014 champ Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Nissan 370Z in third.
But maybe the biggest winner of the night was the lowly four-cylinder engine, which is a staple among the grassroots of the sport but virtually non-existent at its highest echelons. In a field of V-8s and inline-6s, and with a history of the same winning FD's highest honors (plus a V-10 in there, too), the Papdakis Racing camp went outside the box with its turbocharged 2AR-FE in Aasbo's RWD-converted tC to prove a point: you don't need six or eight cylinders to win. You just need a team as good as Papadakis Racing, an engine builder as savvy as Stephan Papadakis, and a driver as talented as Aasbo.
The weekend was an oppressively hot one, with temps topping out at over 100 degrees and many regulars reckoning this was the hottest it had ever been for any season finale. In addition to the Formula D Pro and World series championships that were decided, the league's Pro2 titlist was also announced Friday night. On the merits of a truly commanding season, where he was number-one qualifier AND victor of three out of the season's four events, Alex Heilbrunn in the Inca Madness Racing E46 could not be stopped.
Likely knowing he had already locked up the championship before Irwindale, Heilbrunn eased off of the throttle a bit to qualify third and got eliminated in the Great 8. In addition to the title, he's now earned his Pro license, so expect him to make waves next year with the big boys. Friday night's Pro2 Top 16 ended with Juha Rintanen in first in his S14, Cameron Moore in second in his Lexus SC300, and Kevin Lawrence in third in his S13.
Saturday's action culminated in a pretty unlikely way, with Aasbo facing off against his Scion Racing teammate Gushi. By the time they tandemed, Aasbo already knew he had won his title, but that prevented neither hot shoe from going full force. From the chase spot Aasbo was unrelenting, tucked up on Gushi the entire lap, while out in front he simply left the FR-S in his tC's smoke. It was a fitting end to another great year.
Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab S15 rounded out the podium in third place, but the night - and arguably the season - belonged to Aasbo, who had a contingent of family and fans from Norway in the Irwindale grandstands and couldn't help but be emotional about his amazing run. At the end of it all, the handsome, young driver pieced together four wins (Long Beach, Wall, Evergreen, and Irwindale) and one top qualifier (Texas) out of seven rounds to accomplish what he just barely missed a year earlier. And call us biased, but frankly it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Kudos to Aasbo, Papadakis, and Scion on a fantastic year - bring on the next!