To be fair, even though the deck above only references the trials of driver Odi Bakchis and his Falken Tire Nissan 240SX during Round 4 of the 2017 Formula DRIFT Championship, his wasn't the only entry at Wall Speedway to suffer technical issues; there was plenty of that to go around. There was also a ton of insane driving in New Jersey, with the inter-webs buzzing afterward about the seemingly never-ending stream of unbelievably close tandems. A bunch of drivers clearly found their balls at Round 4, taking so-called "chase craft" to remarkable new heights.
The event got underway Friday with qualifying, as Chelsea DeNofa in the BC Racing Mustang RTR laid down an impressive 96-point pass out of 100, shooting to the top of the order — probably the best he's done thus far in his new-for-2017 ride. DeNofa, Ryan Tuerck in the Gumout Nameless Performance 86, Justin Pawlak in the Roush Performance Mustang, Kristaps Bluss in the HGK Racing E46, and James Deane in the Worthouse Drift S15 all earned Top-32 byes due to qualifying so highly (meaning the event only had 27 entries for the 32 cut).
Friday qualifications gave way to Saturday eliminations, and battles were fierce from the get go. After a collision in practice with Juha Rintanen's JR Motorsport Silvia, Vaughn Gittin, Jr., in the Monster Energy Mustang RTR faced off against Dean Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Viper, and again there was contact, this time Kearney running into Gittin and precipitating a spin, netting JR the victory and Kearney an early trip to the showers. In an S13 battle, Nate Hamilton in the Enjuku Racing machine drove to a One More Time (OMT) tiebreaker against Pat Goodin in the Huddy Racing 240SX, where Hamilton ultimately emerged the winner after extra laps. Also in Top 32, Bakchis — whose team was up most of the previous night thrashing on his S14 after it sheared the left rear lug studs as well as needed an engine swap — faced the up-and-coming Piotr Wiecek in the second Worthouse S15, and in Wiecek's chase the Polish hot shoe shut down the car just before the finish line; turns out he had some driveline issues his team wasn't able to repair within a five-minute competition timeout.
Other Top 32 highlights include the debut of three-time champion Chris Forsberg's turbo V6-powered NOS Energy 370Z, which immediately fell to 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo's Rockstar Energy Corolla iM. Matt Field in the second Falken S14 unexpectedly had to bow out after a tire de-bead on his lead lap (tires need to last two laps, period, per the FD rule set), handing the W to Jeff Jones in the DOC 240SX. And in a final upset of the first eliminator, Robbie Nishida in the Jerry Yang Racing GT-R got past Alec Hohnadell in the Urban Air Initiative S14 after Hohnadell's car suffered from steering issues and could not mount a competitive fight.
After a 90-minute "halftime," Top 16 got rolling with number-17 qualifying Dai Yoshihara in the Turn 14 BRZ upsetting top qualifier DeNofa, who spun out in his chase near inside clip 1. Later we saw Hamilton go hard into the Armco lining the top of Wall's bank as he chased Bluss, incurring enough damage to end his day. In a Top 16 barnburner, Deane took on Alex Heilbrunn in the IMR E46, a rematch of a Round 1 pairing; again Deane got the win when Heilbrunn overcooked it in the lead, sporting a bit too much angle at clip 1 and eventually going off course at the entrance to zone 2.
In the longest battle of Round 4, Bakchis and Tuerck squared off, with judges at first awarding the win to the Falken pilot. But after a protest by Tuerck's crew — one where miraculously the judging panel reversed their earlier decision — the two went at it again, and again the driving was so good, and drivers so equally matched, we needed still one more OMT. In the end, Odi put together an insane chase to finally dispatch his opponent. Top 16 ended with another bout that required extra frames, Pawlak against Jones; in the unlikeliest of twists, JTP ended up parking his pony car in front of clip 1 as he chased Jones, getting an "incomplete" from the judges and allowing Jeff to move on to the first Great 8 of his Formula D Pro career.
Wall's quarterfinals — known as the Great 8 in FD vernacular — started with a battle of past champions, 2013 titlist Mike Essa in the Essa Autosport E46 taking on 2011 champ Yoshihara; Dai decided this one, straightening as he came off the bank and handing the advancement to Essa. No less titanic was the Bluss-Deane matchup; in it, Kristaps attacked with tons of angle everywhere he went, stamping his ticket for the Final 4.
The other side of the bracket saw Aasbo and Bakchis slide to a OMT, and in the bonus laps Fredric's iM straightened on the chase exiting zone 2 and had to re-initiate, enough of a gaffe to hand Odi the victory. Matt Coffman in the Coffman Racing S13 and Jones were the final pair of the Great 8, with Jeff seeming to lose composure, falling out of drift on his chase and then clobbering a clip or two in the lead, allowing Matt to move on.
An E46 fight set the semis in motion, with better angle in the chase position being the difference between Essa and Bluss, Essa earning the trip to the grand finale. The only Final 4 score left to settle was between Coffman and Bakchis, but it turned out to be Odi's easiest drive of the New Jersey round as Coffman had to call a five-minute timeout to address some engine issues and missed making it back to the track in the allotted time — advantage Odi.
Round 4 boiled down to Essa in his Bimmer versus Odi in his Falken-liveried S14, who essentially willed himself to this point, surviving more mechanical failures and One More Times than any man should reasonably face. Surprisingly (even though it probably shouldn't be), Essa was bit by the same section of track that claimed a handful of others over the course of tandem eliminations, the transition from the banked zone 1 to the flat clip 1; as the E46 compressed and got sideways, it was pretty clear something had broken, Essa parking the car just shy of clip 1 — and by doing so picking up the incomplete, thus handing the win to Bakchis.
And it's a good thing, too, because if the round had gone to One More Time, neither car likely would've made it to the start line; Bakchis admitted after the event his just-swapped engine had blown up as his tandem with Essa concluded, and was bleeding fluids all over the track. For hanging in there, though, Odi picked up his first podium and first overall event win of the season, as Essa came in second (his second silver of 2017), and Bluss third (also his second podium of the year) for being the higher qualifier between himself and fellow semifinal loser Coffman.
We're almost out of breath considering how nuts the FD 2017 season has been so far. Deane continues to lead in driver points, but Kearney falls to seventh, while Essa replaces him in second place. We'll get a few weeks to reset before Round 5 is upon us, marking the start of the second half of the season, which will be held July 14 to 15 in Montreal, Quebec at the Autodrome St-Eustache. If you can't make it to Canada, there's always the Formula DRIFT live stream and alternately the Network A version of the same live stream (ironically, sometimes more reliable than FD's). Finally, if all else fails, download the Formula D app from your app store — in it is live stream functionality as well.