If there were one word you couldn't call the 2016 Formula DRIFT season, it would be "predictable." While Vaughn Gittin, Jr. and Fredric Aasbo each won twice over the course of the past seven months, the only truly foreseeable thing was Chris Forsberg and podiums. For seven rounds, Forsberg never won but podiumed each time. This consistency would lead to his championship at Irwindale, though he would break that streak at Round Eight. Only one other driver won more than Forsberg this year, which is further proof that Matt Field is inching closer to becoming a threat to the championship in the very near future. If there was one thing that could be said for certain, it's that Round Eight of the '16 Formula D Championship was a tough battle for everyone.
"Consistency is key" - this is applied to many things in the world. The best results are always going to be ones that are the same and not bouncing from one extreme to the other. If that happened for the parts you buy for your car or truck, you would never trust that manufacturer. Yes, consistency is boring, but it brings money from trust, and championships in motorsports. You can be a champion and never take a first-place finish if your competitors aren't as unfailing as you are. Forsberg proved that this year and is quickly showing a championship program doesn't need wins; it needs performance. That fact shouldn't take away from the programs run by Steph Papadakis, Vaughn Gittin, Odi Bakchis, and Matt Field,as once these teams find their stability, they will be equal contenders.
Round Eight at Irwindale Events Center in Southern California turned out to be very irregular for a Formula D round. It wasn't unusual to see Papadakis Racing (or even one or two other teams) remove and replace an engine in the tC of 2015 champion Fredric Aasbo in a round before qualifying, but it is unusual to see as many teams have engine and car issues as we saw at this event. Jeff Jones, Dean Kearney, Kenny Moen, Chelsea DeNofa, Daijiro Yoshihara Faruk Kugay, Forrest Wang, and even eventual winner Matt Field all had trouble on Thursday night's paid practice. Most of these drivers were able to stay in their primary cars for the event, but DeNofa and Wang had to change cars. Forrest had brought out the S14 as a demo car for an event after the FD finale but wound up using it as his primary car instead.
Chelsea DeNofa, on the other hand, had to call on Odi Bakchis for a rental with his S14. Everything was looking up until fate showed up on Friday practice to slap him in the face just one more time. Coming into the inner bank the S14's right rear tire bumped into the k-rail that sat as a safety barrier before the permanent wall, launching the car up and picking up all four wheels off the ground while swinging the front end into the wall. Fortunately, the car didn't have the momentum to carry it into a roll but there was heavy damage done. Chelsea was also not hurt and made repairs but could only get out in time for a single qualifying run. Despite that hard work, he would not qualify due to straightening out just before the finish line. Just a few more feet, we would have had a field of at least 30 cars.
You're reading that right - only 29 cars qualified out of 31 that showed up. Jeff Jones attempted to qualify but engine issues appeared once again even after repairs late into Friday morning. Just like DeNofa, the issue that lead to him not making the show was straightening out just before the finish line. Engine issues and straightening out also caught out Alec Hohnadell on his first run but made it work on his second. Due to this, the top three qualifying drivers would get bye-runs into the Top 16.
Another reason that made this round so unusual was the low qualifying scores. It seemed the judges were harsh this round, as the number-one qualifier would only end up with 89 points. Perhaps it was the "slightly massaged" course, or just the fact these cars were tired thanks to one more round over last year, or maybe the judges were expecting better of the drivers. Without getting into their heads, there isn't really a great way to know why scores weren't all that great. However, if you were expecting the Top Three in the points chase to get the easy pass to the Top 16, you would have been very wrong.
While Chris Forsberg and the NOS Energy 370Z was your number one in points up to this round, he would qualify in the fourth seed, so he wasn't far off. Fredric Aasbo was second in points at the time of Round Eight, but he would only qualify into the 11th seed. Third place in points, Vaughn Gittin, qualified in 13 seed and would have met Forsberg in the Top 16 (more on that later). Finally, Odi Bakchis, who was in fourth place in the standings and the last driver theoretically within reach of Forsberg, qualified into the 14th seed.
Of your top-five qualifying drivers, only one ended up being in the championship fight. Fifth place went to Justin Pawlak in the Roush Performance Ford Mustang. Next was Forsberg, who we touched on earlier. Third seed went to Forrest Wang, proving that older S14 still has a lot left in it. Second seed went to Ryan Tuerck in the Gumout Scion FR-S. The number-one seed went to Daijiro Yoshihara in the Turn 14 Subaru BRZ. This was the first round that a ZN6 chassis qualified one-two, the sixth round that chassis qualified in the top three, and the fourth time Tuerck qualified in second seed in 2016. The 2016 season showed development on the car is finally paying off. Hopefully it will continue with Toyota taking over the name from Scion.
The first battle was a bye-run for Daijiro. Geoff Stoneback went next, who continued to show his talent by taking out Robbie Nishida, another driver who's had nothing but horrible luck in 2016. Michael Essa in the Loud Mouth Exhaust BMW M3 hasn't quite got the magic back he had in his previous M3, but is performing better than in the Camaro. It wouldn't be enough - even after two One More Times (OMT) - against Kristaps Bluss in the HGK Motorsports BMW M3. Kirstaps is coming off of his best year in Formula D, so it's not exactly a surprise to see him make it to Top 16. Matt Coffman in the Coffman Racing Nissan 240SX has moments of amazement. His lead run was proof of that, but when he had to follow the JR Motorsports Nissan 240SX of Juha Rintanen it showed he still needs more seat time at Irwindale. That's not to say he wasn't amazing to watch during qualifying and that lead run - in fact he was brilliant - just not knowing this track like the back of his hand probably caught him off and resulted in contact with the wall and Rintanen with the win.
Faruk Kugay in the MFR Enterprises 240SX was in a battle for Rookie of the Year with Alex Heilbrunn, but to continue that motion he would have to battle the points leader. Faruk, who hasn't had a great time in this car, would fail to beat Forsberg, who would move on to improve his chances at retaining the championship. In the unlikely event Faruk beat Forsberg, he would have possibly faced the guy who was currently sitting in third place in the championship, Gittin.
However, the weirdness that was Round Eight struck again. During his One-More-Time follow run against the Drift Paddock 350Z of Pat Mordaunt, Vaughn struck the outside wall of the outer bank. It was a hard enough hit that the Monster Energy Ford Mustang RTR was done for the 2016 season. It was later revealed that a front suspension component failed in the middle of the bank, causing the rear to grip up and drive him into the wall. Vaughn would still retain third place in the championship despite his Top-32 exit. Mordaunt, however, would be a potential lynch pin of Forsberg's championship.
Justin Pawlak facedoff against a wounded Hohnadell, but Alec didn't know the word "give-up." Alec would lose his drift on his follow run, which turned out to be a full engine failure, and gave the win to JTP. Kyle Mohan in the Built2Apex/GT Radial Mazda MX-5 tried to bring the rotary power to Alex Heilbrunn and his Nitto Tires BMW M3. Kyle looked to stop Heilbrunn's Rookie of the Year chances but an electrical issue forced Mohan to shut down on the inner bank, giving the win to Heilbrunn and giving him Rookie of the Year over Kugay.
Ryan Tuerck got a bye-run to the Top 16 but weirdness showed up to gift him for the Top 16, too, in the form of a collision between Ken Gushi in the GReddy Scion FR-S and Mike Whiddett in the Red Bull Mazda MX-5 during Top 32. Ken made contact with the wall earlier in the day during practice, and whatever the issue was it wasn't quite solved, showing up again in both primary runs and on his lead run in the OMT, but it was during his follow run where it took out both drivers. Ken was given fault for the impact between the two drivers so Mike was given 10 minutes to fix his car. If not completed in that time, Mad Mike could use the additional time from his five-minute Competition Timeout (provided one was available to be used).
Mike had both and drove to the line, barely beating the total time of 15 minutes, but the starter determined that Mike had not made complete repairs as water was gushing out of the rear of the car - the radiator on the Bull was located at the back like many Pro and Pro2 cars are doing. Just before Top 16, the team lodged a protest with the argument that the car made it to the line and could have made a pass; despite water pouring out of the radiator, the car was fully repaired for Top 16. Formula D ruled that since the repairs were not done in time, Mike would not be able to compete but would still get Top 16 points. This also meant that Tuerck would move on to the Great Eight with another bye-run.
While he didn't have a stellar start to his Pro career, Cameron Moore in the Nameless Performance Lexus SC showed he has some promise in his developing team. He faced off against Tyler McQuarrie in the Mobil 1/Safecraft Chevrolet Camaro and got a OMT, judged by all three judges. However, it was Tyler who moved on, Moore making a mistake on the inner bank during his lead run. The next battle was between Charles Ng in his Sogun Motorsports Infiniti G37 and Jhonnattan Castro in the Nexen Tire Scion FR-S. Jhonnattan is another driver who can show promise time and again but it's consistency that he lacks, while Ng's problems stem down to car issues. However, this time Ng's car held together and took the win into the Top 16.
Forrest Wang was the final driver to receive a bye-run to the Top 16, and Odi Bakchis in the ARK Hyundai Genesis had to face off against Pat Goodin in the Pennzoil/ISR Performance 240SX. Odi took the win, with the judges looking at the initiation into the outer bank being very late. The penultimate battle of the Top 32 was between Matt Field and Kenny Moen in the Achilles Radial/Gatebil.no BMW M3.
Matt picked up a brand new sponsor just for Irwindale with Gears of War 4 taking over the normally bright livery he sports on his 240SX. While Moen's runs were good against Matt, it was the straightening out just prior to the finish along with a wall tap on the inner bank during his lead that resulted in his loss. The final battle was between Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Scion tC and Dean Kearney in the Gas Monkey Energy Dodge Viper. Dean took it right to Aasbo's door but a spin on the inner bank took out the Viper driver, allowing Aasbo to continue his championship chase.
While you'd think Yoshihara would have an easy time with Stoneback, you would be wrong. Geoff has been coming out strong since partnering up with Chris Forsberg Racing. However, it would just not be enough and Daijiro moved on to the Great Eight. Bluss and Rintanen brought the best of Europe to this final American round with both drivers giving it all and then some, but Rintanen had the judges look his way and he moved on to face Dai.
As mentioned earlier, Mordaunt was the lynch pin for the 2016 championship. His run against Forsberg was no different. Pat looked very good against Forsberg in his follow run, but it seemed like the judges were on Chris' side for the moment. It came down to his lead run to see if he had enough or if Forsberg's consistent performance as both lead and follow would allow him the clinch the championship. Then the weird struck again - the usually steady Forsberg followed Pat as he went deep with too much speed into the inner bank. Pat was able to slow his car in time to drive through, Chris wouldn't catch it in time and he made hard impact with the wall. It was enough to lift the entire car into the air, but while Pat did slow down more than usual, it was deemed Chris' fault as that was a known slowing zone at Irwindale. Pat moved on and Chris' championship fate was now at the hands of Field and Aasbo.
Pawlak took on a very talented Heilbrunn, who drove to dominance in 2015's Pro2 season. While he proved he deserved the Rookie of the Year award for 2016 in Pro, it wasn't enough to overcome the talent and experience of JTP. Once again, Tuerck was in a bye-run thanks to the forced bowing out of Mad Mike. McQuarrie faced Ng, with T-Mac coming out on top and moving on to the Great Eight. Wang drove the final nail into the coffin of Odi's chances at potentially taking the Top Three in points. He moved on to face the winner between Field and Aasbo, the Norwegian driver needing to win here and one more to take the championship away from Forsberg.
To say this was the nail biter of the year is an understatement. While Forsberg would have taken the championship with Aasbo's loss in Top 16, Fredric would have to win here and win in the Great Eight to win the 2016 title outirght. The result of the effort that he and Papadakis Racing put out came down to beating Round Seven's winner, Matt Field. Matt, however, is well known for being a giant killer. His performance has been nearly as bright as his car normally is, but with the new sponsorship for Irwindale, Matt was here and with a purpose. You could see it in his driving, his attitude, and his team.
Matt and Aasbo drove off, with Field leading since he qualified in sixth whereas Aasbo was 11th. Coming into the final front clipping point, Aasbo went too aggressive and made contact with Matt's left rear wheel. The damage was visible and the wheel appeared to be bent, so the team took a timeout to try and fix it. However, Aasbo was deemed at fault and Matt was given 10 minutes to fix it. The damage didn't appear as bad as it had seemed and they went out once again, this time with Aasbo leading. Field stayed right with Fredric and what resulted was a third championship for Chris Forsberg. Matt moved on to the Great Eight while Aasbo was left to ponder what could have been.
While it was an unprecedented and momentous occasion for a third Formula Drift Pro Championship for Forsberg, there was still an event to finish out. Yoshihara and Rintanen started out the road to the finals but it was Dai coming out on top. Mordaunt and Pawlak, Falken Tire teammates, faced off next. What Pat showed off in 2015 appears to have returned as he took out JTP to move on to his first Final Four since Texas in 2013.
Tuerck had nothing but bye-runs all the way up to this point but would have a tough battle against Tyler "The Rock" McQuarrie. However, Tyler's stellar 2016 would end at the Great Eight as Tureck moved on to the Final Four, his first for 2016. Then it was Wang in the demo car against a dominating Field. His momentum from Texas and going up against Aasbo carried him on to the Final Four as Wang just didn't have enough, this time.
This was another Falken-on-Falken battle, which helped the brand to overcome Nexen Tire - who was dominating at this point - in the Tire Manufacturer Championship. Dai would lead first and started off strong on the outer bank but Pat began to pull him back in with a lower line. Pat lost that proximity from the clipping point on the oval's start finish line to the inner bank but at the entry of the inner bank to the final clipping point, Pat pulled right back in and was just about a car length away from Dai at the finish.
In his lead run, Pat pulled a gap at the start but Dai scarified angle to close up to the door at the end of the bank, even making some light contact. Pat skipped big angle on the front clip before the inner bank and pulled big angle on the inner bank, which again Dai shallowed up to get to Mordaunt's door. With Dai staying right at Pat's door and a better-looking lead run, Yoshihara moved on to the finals. This meant that Pat could not podium as he was the lowest qualifying driver of those who still had to run.
Then it was Tuerck and Field facing off. Well, it would have been - as Ryan was pulling up to the line, his engine began to not run right. The team called for a Time Out and diagnosed it to be a crank sensor that had gone bad. There was a spare in the trailer but there wasn't enough time to reach it and the team tried to get one off of Juha Rintanen's car. After struggling to try and remove it, they decided to just re-fire the 86 and hope for the best but the battery no longer had the power to crank the car and the five-minutes elapsed. After getting two bye-runs into the Great Eight, he now gave Matt Field a bye into the finals. However, Tuerck took home third place thanks to a higher qualifying position. If there was a battle for third still, Mordaunt would have had this position instead and his first ever podium, but that's not how the show goes anymore.
The last battle was set. It was Matt Field versus Daijiro Yoshihara. Falken against Falken. Hard driver versus technical driver. It was also the fourth time Dai and Matt have faced each other. At the start, Dai had a half-car length gap between himself and Matt, but Matt charged and was nearly at his door by the exit. Dai would gain ground but lost the proximity he gained when Matt carried more momentum into the inner bank. Matt would surge but stayed right at the door of Dai. However, at the final front clipping point, Matt made contact with the BRZ and spun. You would think this would give Yoshihara the win but as they always say: it's not over until it's over.
On Matt's lead run, Dai failed to start drifting on the outer bank. This failure to drift resulted in a OMT between them as both drivers received a zero run on their follows. What came next would be the final shocker of this entire mess of a Formula DRIFT weekend. Dai's team took a five-minute timeout to sort out the car and go into the battle in a much better position. Matt, from what he gathered from the judges, took what he learned from his primary runs and kept the proximity close in the OMT follow. Then the unthinkable happened: Daijiro Yoshihara crashed on the inner bank. The team revealed that it was a power steering failure that led to Dai going straight and suddenly into the wall. Without a timeout to use, Matt Field was given the win and took his second straight first place at the Final Round.
"Feels really good to get two in a row," said Matt Field at the podium, "We wanted to forget about Texas and move on to this event and I think we did just that. We tried really hard to drive smart; unfortunately we made one mistake against Dai but we were graced with a One More Time and it looked like he had a power steering problem and went into the wall. We finished our run and got the win."
With an unprecedented third Formula DRIFT Championship, Chris Forsberg writes new history for the series. "It feels great to win another championship," he said after learning about Aasbo's defeat, "I know it wasn't the way we wanted to win it after throwing our car into the wall after a small tap against Pat Mordaunt, but a championship is won in the entire season; it isn't won on one event." Proving regularity is greater than wins, Forsberg continued, "Even though this wasn't our best event, by far, we still had a great buildup and a great year that put us in the position we needed to be in the final round to win the championship regardless."
With the final round done and the first ever eight-round season in the books, Jim Liaw, President and Co-Founder of Formula Drift, had this to say about this wild weekend, "You know, Irwindale is always crazy, but I think it's crazy because it's the end of the year." Liaw continued, "I think everyone is just giving literally all they got and guys are charging really hard which resulted in crashes, mistakes, and just a lot of wear and tear that happened out here but you know, because of that, the intensity is there and it makes a great show for the fans."
The 2016 season is over and, while he didn't take a single win this year, his podium finishes at seven of the eight rounds allowed Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy 370Z to take home the championship. The performance of Falken Tire drivers in the final two rounds allowed the brand to take the Tire Manufacturer's Championship by just 100-points. At the end of the year, we celebrate not just a championship but a future champion contender in Matt Field, who continues to rise each year with one more win than last. Irwindale is always full of surprises and the buildup to the final round gets bigger each year. 2017 has a lot to live up to, but so did 2016, and look how it ended up.