Formula D returned from a five-week summer break to Round 5 of 8 and the receptive fans at Autodrome St-Eustache, not far from Montreal's city center in Quebec, Canada. We mentioned in our Round 4 coverage the brutal nature of the prior Wall Speedway event in New Jersey and were holding our collective breath that Round 5 might be a little less savage without losing the excitement — but it didn't really work out that way. Just ask Piotr Wiecek, Matt Field, Ryan Tuerck, Chelsea DeNofa, Ken Gushi — really, the list of drivers and their respective cars that got beat up in Canada goes on and on.
The issue, as far as we could tell, was climate related, but not what you might think. Ok, sure, it rained right before Friday qualifying, which made for wildly unpredictable wet-dry conditions that kept every team guessing. The precipitation prompted FD officials to allow drivers to take a "recon" lap before putting down a lap that counted, but even so some drivers — especially those who went first in the order — still had to tiptoe through the course out of an abundance of caution, hoping not to ball up their rides. No, the apparent issue for Saturday tandems was really all about dropping track temperatures, and the havoc that came with cars gripping up as the night wore on.
Qualifying had just 24 entries vying for 32 spots, the lowest amount of cars so far this season; this was even with 2016 FD Pro 2 champ and local hot shoe Marc Landreville making a special Round 5 appearance in his 2JZ-motivated Perry Performance S14 (he hasn't competed this year due to a new baby at home). Landreville qualified 12th, while points leader James Deane in the Worthouse Silvia had the benefit of an essentially dry track by the time he took his passes, and wound up claiming top qualifier. Deane was one of eight drivers to get a Top 32-bye (because of said driver shortfall) alongside Kristaps Bluss in the HGK E46, Justin Pawlak in the Roush Performance Mustang, 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Drink Corolla iM, DeNofa in the BC Racing Mustang, Tuerck in the Gumout 86, Field in the Falken S14, and Wiecek in the second Worthouse S15.
Even getting a bye run was no guarantee of smooth sailing, though, as Wiecek found out; while practicing before his first eliminator, he ended up in the wall at Outer Zone 1 just minutes before tandems started. The suspension on his S15 was damaged beyond repair in the short amount of time he had to fix it, and so he had to throw in the towel. The same stretch of track also sucked in Mike Essa in the Essa Autosport E46 when he battled Nate Hamilton in the Enjuku Racing S13.4 in Top 32; the ass end of Essa's BMW made hard contact twice by the looks of it, but he kept his foot buried in the throttle, and even though he ended up completely losing the left rear tire, he finished out the lap. He may not have won the round, but the crowd went nuts over the display of commitment.
Apart from Essa's wall drag, the roughest tandems in Top 32 went to a trio of duos. The weirdest one probably belonged to Odi Bakchis in the second Falken Tire 240SX versus Robbie Nishida in the Jerry Yang Racing GT-R; as Nishida chased Bakchis around the circuit's final inner clip, the nose of the R35 appeared to clip the tail of the S14 before the GT-R went off course shy of the finish line, but after review judges found Odi at fault for decelerating in an on-throttle area, a scoring deficit he was unable to recover from (his team even filed a protest, to no avail). Matt Coffman in the Coffman Racing S13 and Alec Hohnadell in the Urban Air S14 went hard, and at the end of his chase Hohnadell dropped a couple wheels past the finish and incurred damage significant enough to knock him out of competition. Then there was the fight between Jhonnattan Castro in the Gerdau Metaldom 86 and 2010 champ Vaughn Gittin, Jr. in the Monster Energy Drink Mustang RTR; Castro was getting after it in the chase spot, but got a little too aggressive near the Touch-and-Go and Outer Zone 2, knocking the Mustang around and handing the victory to JR.
Top 32 also saw champs Dai Yoshihara in the Turn 14 BRZ and Chris Forsberg in the now-V6 NOS Energy Drink 370Z go toe to toe, with Dai coming out on top thanks to a better chase. Two of the battles went to One-More-Time (OMT) tiebreakers, Landreville versus Kyle Mohan in the Top 1 MazdaTrix MX-5, a decision that went to Landreville; and Ken Gushi in the Greddy Performance 86 against Pat Goodin in the Huddy Racing S13, which went to Gushi.
For as brutal as the round of 32 was, the round of 16 seemed even crueler. Twice in Top 16 the Zone 1 wall claimed victims — for DeNofa's battle against Landreville, DeNofa's Mustang crashed out; and then for Tuerck's turn against Gushi, Tuerck's 86 understeered into the barrier, collecting with it Gushi's trailing Toyota. DeNofa, Tuerck, and Gushi called it quits after their respective wrecks — which made the tandem between Dean Kearney's Oracle Lighting Viper and Field's 240SX all the more remarkable. As Field led past the first inner clipping point, Kearney's Viper looked like it straightened, and since this was a high-speed, full-commitment part of the course, the Dodge ended up plowing into back quarter of the Nissan as it was flicking to prepare for the Touch and Go. Unable to swing its ass end around, Field's 240 carried all its momentum into the wall past inner clip 1 — a head-on collision that thankfully looked far worse than it actually was.
Both drivers emerged ok but both cars looked beat, especially Field's, which not only had a damaged nose and tail but also apparently fell off the flatbed tow truck as it was being dropped off in the paddock. Miraculously, both cars made it back out to finish the fight, and despite the missile look completed the laps to have Field advance to Great 8. The rest of Top 16 stuck to the script, with most of the higher qualifiers — Deane, Aasbo, and Bluss — advancing. The only exceptions were Nishida, who was supposed to face Wiecek but instead got a bye, and Gittin, who dispatched Pawlak after JTP's Mustang was unable to keep it sideways around the final clipping point.
Higher seeds persisted through Great 8, with Deane knocking out Nishida, Aasbo defeating Landreville (much to the home crowd's disappointment), and Bluss getting past Field. Gittin would've faced Gushi had the Greddy driver a vehicle after his collision with Tuerck, but instead took his bye lap and wound up bowing out of competition after his pony car apparently ran wide open for over 10 seconds without oil pressure. Rather than risk engine failure, Gittin called it a day.
This brings us to the semifinals, and first up were Deane and Aasbo; the pairing was incredibly close, but the deciding factor was Deane going two off in Zone 2. For being the highest qualifier, however, Deane still took home third place; that left Bluss versus Gittin — but with Gittin pulling out Bluss needed only to take a single lap to move onto the finale. The last tandem of the night was a rematch of the Round 2 closer and no less contentious — but we expected as much. Bluss leading flubbed the transition to Clip 3 and both cars ended up stopping on course, Aasbo doing a great job to prevent contact with his opponent's vehicle. Bluss was faulted with the gaffe and needed a miracle to beat Aasbo but didn't get one, as the E46 in the next run was a tad too aggressive chasing the iM and ended up knocking the Toyota hatchback into a spin. That's how Aasbo picked up his second overall victory of the 2017 season.
In his triumph, Aasbo also achieved another remarkable milestone: becoming the first Formula DRIFT driver to net 10 event wins. For some time he had been tied with Gittin and 2004/2006 champ Sam Hubinette at 9, but in Canada the Norwegian Hammer finally made it over the hump.
Deane still leads in driver points but Aasbo is quickly moving up the order, now in second and just 34 markers adrift with three more rounds on the FD calendar. Something tells us it's going to get a lot tighter before we ultimately crown a champion; the next event is set for August 4th and 5th at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington. If you can't make it to Round 6, there's always the Formula DRIFT live stream and alternately the Network A version of the same live stream (sometimes more reliable than FD's). You can also download the Formula D app from your app store, and in it is live stream functionality as well.