When Formula DRIFT's Pro 2 farm league was on the Orlando Speed World short oval last year for Round 2 of 4, ex-pro Marc Landreville in the Perry Performance Nissan S14 was in the midst of bulldozing all comers on his way to convincingly winning the '16 championship. Fast-forward roughly 12 months and in some respects Pro 2 looks like a different beast; the event is now Round 1 on the calendar, and gone are seasoned veterans Landreville and Jeff Jones, who some believed skewed the grading curve with their advanced experience. Not that it was a completely clean slate of competitors in the season opener — returnees like Kevin Lawrence, Dirk Stratton, Trent Beechum, Kelsey Rowlings, and others were ready to take another crack at earning a coveted Formula D Pro license (and actually Stratton got his license last year but was back to collect more valuable seat time in his "DriftVette" before taking the leap).
We choose to cover the Pro 2 title chase because we love the unpredictability of these young guns as they pursue their own drifting dreams. And like FD Pro, we also dig the eclectic variety of cars, Orlando's grid including three generations of BMW 3-Series, a unicorn Nissan S15 Silvia, Mark 4 Toyota Supra, Ford Mustang, Chevy C6 Corvette, even a Holden Commodore "ute," the preferred platform of Australian hot shoe Josh Robinson.
Luis Lizardi, who finished 22nd out of 23 in '16, qualified atop the order in Orlando with his BMW E46, but his success was short lived; he faced and ultimately lost to 16 qualifier Brandon Schmidt in Top 16 behind the steering wheel of the Mast Motorsports S13. Schmidt was up for a scrap, going as deep as the semifinals, and in fact was the only driver in Round 1 to weather three One More Time tiebreakers throughout eliminations. Were it not for Lawrence in the Enjuku Racing S14.3 putting the brakes on Schmidt's run, this would be a completely different narrative.
The round of 16 peaked with Brody Goble's S15 trying to hump Austin Meeks' Committed Service Brand 240SX in the circuit's power alley. Apparently, Meeks in the lead car was at fault because he slowed too much in a deceleration zone, and Goble — lost in tire smoke and having nowhere to go — basically drove up onto the back of Meeks' Nissan.
In Great 8, Schmidt continued his upset spree by taking out number-8 qualifier Hungarian Szilveszter Gyorgy in his 240SX; Lawrence dispatched the Stratton C6; Robinson in the Magnuson Superchargers Commodore knocked off Randall Waters' IAS Performance S14; and Goble exited as dramatically as he began, his left rear de-beading against Travis Reeder's S13 (like we mentioned in our FD Orlando Pro coverage, rules mandate tires last at least two laps, and if you de-bead a tire — say from underinflating said tire for better grip — you cannot replace it and therefore have to forfeit the match; and no bead locks/lockers are allowed).
The Final 4 was arguably the contest's high point, with one side of the bracket going to extra innings and the other side putting on an amazing display of true grit. In Lawrence versus Schmidt, the pair needed two One More Times to shake out a winner, and we were really impressed with how tough Schmidt hung in there, missing the finale by just a hair's breadth. In Reeder versus Robinson, Travis was also not going down without a fight, losing a left rear tire in his chase lap, but instead of stopping he stayed in it to the bitter end — which actually wasn't all that bitter considering he ended up winning.
Robinson picked up a third-place podium spot for qualifying higher than Schmidt, and Lawrence claimed victory after nailing the chase with better proximity. He also now moves to the top of the driver table, with Round 2 coming up very quickly. Formula DRIFT Pro 2 travels next to Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., an engagement set for May 12 and 13 and also viewable live at FormulaD.com/live.