It cannot be stressed enough how much of a crazy friggin' track Willow Springs' Horse Thief Mile is in Southern California. When WSIR broke ground on the addition in the early 2000s, people using the motorsports facility's other courses would look up the hill bordering the northern edge of the property to see a relatively thin ribbon of tarmac being laid down. You wouldn't be blamed if you initially thought it was some sort of access road—seriously, what the hell could possibly run up there?
As it turns out, HTM was originally meant to be a motorcycle circuit, but you know drifters—they'll put their cars anywhere they're allowed (karting tracks included). Before long it wasn't uncommon to find drift teams shaking down cars on the snaking mile-long road course, likening it to a touge. Then Top Drift and All Star Bash organizers Just Drift started employing HTM for ASB and for one round of the TD championship, and now drift cars on Horse Thief is no big deal, in spite of the fact that the track seems barely wide enough to accommodate pairs of cars. Add to the treacherous nature of the course the lack of paved runoff (six-inch drop offs everywhere) and pretty radical elevation change throughout and you have the setting for a seemingly endless stream of cars doing dirt drops and going off in general.
You'll find a lot of that in our photo gallery. Through practice and qualifying, the guys (and one lady) were putting one, two, three and all wheels off, incurring untold damages—like Matt Piercey, who very likely broke a tie rod end on his Nissan 240SX as he went off around Turn 1 of the three-turn segment (he was able to return). At one point in practice, Israel Silva in the P&B Tires S13 was dropping the rears over the edge of the track heading into Turn 2, doing what looked like wheelies.
Eric Hille in his S13 was your number-one qualifier, one of six Nissan S chassis to make it into Top 16 tandem eliminations. A couple 350Z also made the cut—one of those Z belonging to YouTube sensation TJ Hunt—as did a trio of BMW E36 and one each E46, E30, Mazda FD3S RX-7, Toyota AE86 Corolla, and the late-model Chevy Camaro of Alex Grimm. All qualifiers seemed pretty evenly matched, too, with just 42 points separating the top score and Brandon Contreras's in 16th.
With the opening round of eliminations came a continuing litany of cars ending up in the gravel, a fate that befell top qualifier Hille and his 240SX as he chased, letting Contreras pull the major upset in his supercharged LS-powered S14. Joe Pasco also went off-roading in his E36 in his loss to Shaun Doom in the Deep's S13, and while he dropped his rear two, Rome Charpentier in one of two We Are Lions E36 was still able to knock off Abe Cruz and his hachiroku.
In Great 8, Contreras had a major straightening when he was chasing down Dom Martinez's S14, allowing Martinez to advance, while Grimm knocked off Pablo Cabrera's V's Performance V8 S13. Charpentier did away with number-two qualifier Doom, and Brian Page-Howell in his E46 got past Amir Falahi's E30.
The semifinals had Martinez and Grimm facing off, with Grimm's Camaro emerging victorious, and on the other side of the bracket Page-Howell and Falahi engaged in an all-BMW battle, with Page-Howell taking the spoils. This led to Falahi and Martinez facing off for third place, a bout that went to Dom, leaving just the final to sort out. Grimm's Camaro and Page-Howell's E46 put on a pretty evenly matched tandem until the BMW on the chase ended up off-roading in the turn-2 runoff area, making Grimm the clear winner.
With his victory at Round 1, Martinez takes a 14-point lead in the Top Drift 2018 championship standings, followed by Charpentier and Cabrera, while Grimm breaks into the top 10 in points after his victory on Horse Thief Mile, landing ninth. The next event for Top Drift will be Round 3, June 2nd and 3rd in the Walt James Oval at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, Calif.