Before Formula D began its official championship season on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., it used to hold exhibitions during the grand prix weekend. The entire 11-turn course was fair game, and drivers at times would forgo pairs for tandem trains three or more cars deep. In 2006, Long Beach became Round 1 (held traditionally the weekend before the GP) and the demos kept coming, at one time developing into "Team Drift" but ultimately settling on what exists today: the Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge.
Super Drift began as a typical contest, with qualifying run on Friday night of the Long Beach Grand Prix and eliminations on Saturday night. That changed this year, with organizers eliminating qualifying altogether and opting instead for two nights of tandems, with pairings randomly selected by a computer. This shortened proceedings significantly, allowing organizers to squeeze in a Top 16 in just a little over an hour.
Speeding things along even more this year was a shortage of drivers for Super Drift; contending with an issue that also effected Formula D Long Beach a week earlier, only 14 drivers signed up to compete in the event, consisting of pros:
RAD Dan Burkett, RAD Industries Toyota Supra
Jhonnattan Castro, Gerdau Metaldom Toyota 86
Michael Essa, Essa Autosport BMW E46
Matt Field, Falken Tire Nissan 240SX
Nate Hamilton, Enjuku Racing Nissan 240SX
Alex Heilbrunn, IMR BMW E46
Jeff Jones, DOC Nissan 240SX
Dean Kearney, Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper
Kyle Mohan, MazdaTrix Mazda MX-5
Justin Pawlak, Roush Performance Ford Mustang
Juha Rintanen, Nissan Silvia
And pro-ams/former pros:
Forrest Wang, Get Nuts Lab Nissan Silvia
Ryan Litteral, Nissan 240SX
Trent Beechum, Ford Mustang
All 11 pros had just come off of Formula D Round 1, with Heilbrunn scoring a second-place finish in the season opener; turns out that result suits him well, because he also played runner up on both days of Super Drift. On Friday he was sandwiched by Matt Field in first and Forrest Wang in third, and Saturday Wang jumped to first while Dean Kearney muscled his Viper to the podium in third place. You'd think we would get tired of watching pro drifting on consecutive weekends in April every year, but we don't. For sure the setting is special (where else can you find this kind of action on city streets?), but the clincher is the time of day; while it's pretty common to find drifting under the lights in a variety of purpose-built tracks and other motorsports facilities, illumination is brought into the Grand Prix of Long Beach street circuit for one reason and one reason alone: Super Drift. Check out the gallery for a taste of the sideways action from the 2017 Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge.