If fans of Formula DRIFT learned anything in the first half of the 2018 championship, it's that driving phenom and reigning series champ James Deane is indeed fallible. The Worthouse Drift ace didn't bulldoze his competition as we feared at the start of the campaign—but he hasn't been sitting idly by, either, picking up a runner-up trophy at Round 2: Orlando and winning outright at Round 4: New Jersey behind the wheel of his 2JZ-GTE S15 Silvia. For context, consider the pilot started his rookie run last season on a greater trajectory, pocketing two Ws by midway through the year. So while his pace is not as feverish, he's still in a really good spot to possibly close in on another driver's title.
At least it's been more interesting this time around. Wheelmen like three-time series champion Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink 370Z and 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Drink Corolla, each also collecting a pair of podiums this season, have kept Deane in their sights. And there are others who have made things interesting—Round 3 winner Kristaps Bluss in the E92 "EuroFighter," and Deane's Worthouse teammate Piotr Wiecek in his own Silvia, to name just two.
Round 5 of 8 took Formula D and teams back to Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., about a half hour outside of Seattle. The course was unchanged from previous years; cars enter on a long, low bank, transition momentarily to a Touch & Go on the infield before flicking back the other way for the Power Alley and Outside Zone 2. The final two turns and Clipping Points are tight and technical.
Deane qualified in fourth on the first day of the contest, his best lap fetching a 94 score out of 100 points possible. Justin Pawlak in the Falken Tire Roush Performance Mustang and Bluss nabbed higher spots in the order, both getting 95s, but it was Wiecek who stood atop the pile, for a second time in 2018 (he also qualified tops in Long Beach ), laying claim to a 96. Surprisingly, Forrest Wang and the Vapetasia S15 did not make the cut for Day 2 tandem eliminations; he landed on the podium at Round 1 but has since seemingly struggled to match his performance early on in the year.
Top 32 on Day 2 was a doozy, with all the drama that comes with an emerging championship points chase. Things heated up quickly, as the first battle of the afternoon between 2013 champ Mike Essa in the Essa Autosport E46 and Jeff Jones in the DOC Energy Drink 370Z went to a One More Time (OMT) tiebreaker. The showdown was remarkable primarily because Essa's BMW was having valvetrain issues, its S54 inline-6 only running on 5 cylinders, but the E46 ended up dropping two tires going into the Touch & Go, enough of a gaffe to net Jones the victory—his first Top 16 passport of the 2018 season.
In other Top 32 highlights, Dirk Stratton in the Stratton Racing C6 "Driftvette" had trouble keeping the Chevy sports car at angle against Alex Heilbrunn in the IMR E46, the cars exchanging contact and body parts throughout their runs. It may have been related to the electrical gremlins in the car Stratton's team was chasing all throughout the weekend, but whatever the reason the match ended with Stratton in the lead spinning out in the Power Alley after, like Essa, going too deep off the bank and Heilbrunn getting the win. The rubbing continued when Ken Gushi in the GReddy Performance 86 and RAD Dan Burkett in the RAD Industries Mk4 Supra were up, with Burkett from the chase position trying to cozy up to Gushi as they came off the bank—trying maybe too hard, as the cars bumped, the 86 bunny hopped from the aggressive encounter, and then both came to a stop. Judges faulted RAD Dan for causing the incident and Gushi moved on.
The biggest spectacles in Top 32 arguably came from the second half of the bracket, starting with the duel between Jhonnattan Castro in the Jhonnattan Castro Racing 86 and Cameron Moore in the Cameron Moore Drift 86. With great proximity all over the track, judges asked for a OMT only to realize after the bonus laps the score still wasn't settled. In the second set of extra frames, Castro wound up looping his car in front of Clip 1—a clear advantage for Moore had he not also over-rotated on his lead lap and parked it in nearly the same place as Castro. But after closer scrutiny, judges awarded the victory to Moore, realizing Castro's spin was an unforced error while Moore's was not. The opening salvo of eliminations ended with a stunner, as Forsberg's Z34—also struggling with electrical—shut down on both laps versus Matt Coffman in the Coffman Racing S13, leading to an early exit for Chris and hurting his chase for the title.
After the contest's halftime break, Top 16 kicked off with Wiecek and Jones going to war, and Jones continued to hang tough, forcing a OMT. In the tiebreaking orbits, Jones chasing backed his ass up one too many times on the bank wall, which caused him to fall off the pace and basically messed up his line through the course, the judges awarding the win to Wiecek. Then came debatably the nuttiest chase of the entire weekend; after a banger opening lap between Chelsea DeNofa and the RTR Mustang in the lead and Heilbrunn chasing, DeNofa knew he had to put in a perfect trailing run to make up for going three off temporarily as he slid into the Touch & Go. DeNofa stalked Heilbrunn, sticking to him like static cling, but it wasn't enough to force an error or convince the judges Chelsea deserved to win, so Alex moved on.
The standings were shaken up again in Top 16 as Aasbo succumbed to Matt Field in the Falken Wish C6 after the Norwegian Hammer was found at fault for leading Field off track going into the Touch & Go (if you're keeping track, that's now multiple cars that overshot the entry into the Power Alley). Ryan Tuerck in the Gumout 86 and 2011 champ Dai Yoshihara in the Turn 14 BRZ was another fantastic dustup that went to extra laps, the OMT by our estimation too close to call but judges gave the nod to Tuerck.
Toward the end of Top 16, Vaughn Gittin, Jr., in the Monster Energy Drink Mustang was up against Pawlak, and JR on the chase got into the lead car at the end of the lap, breaking a tie rod and almost taking down a sign on the side of the track past the finish line. The RTR Motorsports crew thrashed on the car to make it back to the track in five minutes but unfortunately time ran out and JTP advanced to the next round. The round of 16 ended with another shocker, as Coffman dispatched Odi Bakchis in the Falken S14 with a superior lead run.
Great 8 action commenced with Wiecek and Heilbrunn, Piotr putting down a flawless lead and Alex unable to match it. Next Deane took out Field with lots of angle and speed, followed by Tuerck eliminating Bluss after Kristaps was unable to equal or better the brilliance of Ryan's chase. Lastly, Pawlak knocked out Coffman with a better chase run and by staying on course through the transition from bank to Power Alley.
Reprising their meeting from Round 4, teammates and best friends Wiecek and Deane met in the event semifinal, but again Deane came out on top after Wiecek went wide into the Power Alley and dropped tires—it didn't stop him from nosing into his bro's car on the bank, though, the two bouncing off of each other like they were in bumper cars. This left Tuerck and Pawlak to battle it out for the last spot in the finale, which Ryan won with the better lead lap.
And then there were two, the dominant Deane and resurgent Tuerck. From the word go Tuerck was in a hole trying to sacrifice line to keep pace with Deane. With the roles switched, Deane was still in his element, James on top of his opponent on the bank. When the decision ultimately came down, it was for Deane. Tuerck was obviously in second, and Wiecek—for qualifying highest among the Final 4—took home the trophy for third place.
Deane's lead in the point standings after Round 4 was just 17 over Aasbo, but has jumped to 85 after Round 5. Wiecek moves up a spot to third, Forsberg drops to fourth, but the biggest winner is Tuerck, who moved from tenth to sixth. We're hoping this season doesn't turn into just a battle for second, as Deane's domination may just be ramping up. More pieces to the puzzle will surely materialize at the next round, a new addition to the Formula DRIFT schedule, set for August 10th and 11th at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill.