It's an exciting time for the crew at East10 Drift. After hosting grassroots events since March of 2012, the series received the blessing of Formula DRIFT to form a new pro-am series, with a new group of drivers battling it out to earn their Pro 2 licenses.
Louie Garza, head of operations at East10 Drift, said this series wasn't an overnight development.
"The road to put this together has been interesting," he said. "I can't say we've rushed it. We definitely have a well-organized team to be able to take that next step up. For the program itself, there's definitely some business mentality behind it, but we don't want to lose the aspect of having fun with why we love drifting. We'll never lose that character with our organization, but now that we're in this spot, at this level, we have to step it up a notch."
The four event series will span three states, with each layout doing its best to replicate Formula D courses. For round one, around 25 drivers navigated a Long Beach street circuit-inspired design on the freshly paved parking lot at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.
Instead of a traditional qualifying format, drivers are seeded based on their performance during practice, and there are no run groups as is common with other competition series. After a practice session and driver's meeting, a second practice session is held and is when seeding is determined. With the number of drivers at this round, eight got an automatic pass into the second round, while 16 drivers battled it out to earn the other eight spots to round out a Top 16. The drivers will be re-seeded at each event.
Dmitriy Brutskiy in his unique Z4 platform impressed the judges enough to find himself ranked the top seed, with Warren Allen in the Boostane S14 and Tyler Garlatz and the Misfits Motorsports S13 coupe earning the third spot.
Rain was looming in the forecast, and the clouds let forth a shower after seeding had been determined. Event staff made the call to let drivers get some practice in the wet conditions should they linger through competition, but when the sun reappeared and started cooking the asphalt, it was back to dry, smoky slides when the first pair of drivers lined up for battle.
Due to his number one seed, Brutskiy got a pass into Top 16, and with a win over Jeff Baird's Mustang, went head to head with number nine seed Justin Bauer. With a spin by the Z4 on his follow run, Bauer found himself in the semifinals.
Cory Talaska and his red E36 also got a pass into the Top 16 with a number five ranking, defeating Bryan Schiraldi and Ethan Parnell for his spot in the final four.
Marc Rose and the sole C5 entry battled his way to a great eight battle against Stephen White, where contact between the two caused the Corvette's oil cooler to release its contents on part of the course, prompting a hold in the action while crews cleaned up the mess.
Long time pro-am level competitor Matt Lynch defeated Jake Elliot in Top 16 before falling to Garlatz in the Great 8.
All of this set up a semifinal bracket where Bauer and Talaska did battle in the first half, with White and Garlatz rounding out the second. Bauer and White would get their respective wins, with Garlatz taking his S13 to a bronze finish in a battle with Talaska for third.
"I've been personally driving for this moment since I was 13," Garlatz said. "My dad took me out to FD Long Beach in 2009 and ever since then it's been my dream. To finally take that step in that direction and move forward to actually see that dream on the horizon, it's just absolutely insane to me. To get my foot in the door with such a great group of guys (my team), they've got my back and I've got theirs, and we just work so well together."
A one-more-time was called in the final pairing of White and Bauer, with White clinching the inaugural win after almost a year and a half not driving.
"It feels good to be competing again," White said. "It's been about a year and a half since I wrecked it, so all the hard work and dedication paid off."
In his "off season," White's car has undergone a few changes. New intercooler piping, a tubed front end, FEAL coilovers and a Wisefab kit make up some of the enhancements, with Chris Burgunder of HOON Performance helping the car get dialed in.
As far as White's goals for the rest of the season, he said he'd like to pursue a Pro 2 license, if for no other reason than the opportunity to drive Road Atlanta.
"Right now I'm just competing to compete because I don't really make the money to go to Pro 2, but I do have a dream of maybe eventually charging the hill at Atlanta," White added. "I'm from Atlanta originally, it's just my dream track. If I get my Pro 2 license, I want to make at least one round of Pro 2."
Bauer indicated the new series helped him bridge the gap to the competition aspect of the sport.
"I've been drifting about five or six years and I've always been doing it for fun, and it just clicked last year that I felt it'd be even more fun to run comp so that's why we decided to jump in and go for it," Bauer said. "I'm glad East10 came up with a pro-am series."
His S13 hatch, sporting a 6.0 LQ4 with LS6 intake and T56 six-speed, was reliable throughout the competition, save for a slightly slipping clutch he said he'd have sorted out by round two. "The event was a blast," Bauer added. "We're ready for rounds two and three already."
Garza deemed the first event of the new series a success.
"It's so awesome to be able to bring together all these friends and colleagues that we've known throughout these seven seasons and really put together an awesome first round," Garza said. "It really is just a matter of reaching out to our friends in the community who are at different levels to see what they can help us out with to make this really work and make it effective for drivers."
Rounds two and three will be held back-to-back on July 28th and 29th at Bristol Dragway, in Bristol, Tenn., while the season will conclude at Lanier Raceplex in Braselton, Ga., on September 29th.