When it gets down to this time of year, it's all about staying alive. After Formula DRIFT's Round 6 in August, set at Gateway Motorsports Park just outside of St. Louis, Mo., nine drivers were within the realm of being mathematically viable (however remote their chances) to win the season championship. With Round 7 of 8 now in the books, run at Texas Motor Speedway, that list narrows to just three - meaning guys like Odi Bakchis in the Falken Tires S14, Kristaps Bluss in the HGK Racing E92 "Eurofighter," and three-time champ Chris Forsberg in his NOS Energy Drink 370Z, among others, have now been eliminated from title contention.
With just the Irwindale closer remaining on the FD calendar, the only pilots left with a fighting chance to take the cup are reigning champ James Deane in the Worthouse Drift S15, his teammate Piotr Wiecek in an almost identical Silvia, and 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo, driver of the Rockstar Energy Drink Corolla. And they find themselves there by surviving more than challenges from other drivers; over the last two events, all of Formula D had to endure some crazy weather, to boot.
On-and-off rain was present throughout the contest in Texas, at one point dumping on Pro qualifying about halfway through everyone's second lap. And then moments later a lightning storm rolled through, and out of an abundance of caution event organizers decided to halt the session and evacuate the bleachers and judges'/spotters' tower. Luckily it was only a short suspension, nothing like what Pro 2 had to go through at the end of their event (you can read about it in our separate Pro 2 coverage).
The Pros began qualifying in the dry Friday afternoon, with 2010 champ Vaughn Gittin, Jr., in the Monster Energy Drink Mustang the first to break into the 90-point range (out of 100 possible) with a 91. He led a group of 11 hot shoes (in excess of a third of the field) to crack the 90s in their first qualifying lap, and Deane bested them all with a 97 score on his orbit. Then the aforesaid precipitation dumped on lap 2 and those who were left to make a qualifying pass had to do so on a wet circuit - not optimal for most, but remarkably Deane's wet lap beat his score in the dry, netting a 98! The Irishman emerged from the session as your number-one qualifier.
The next afternoon eliminations got underway, starting with Deane's bye run; Deane and Alec Hohnadell, driver of the Rain-X S14, both received byes for qualifying one and two (there were only 30 entries for Top 32). Highlights from the round of 32 include a collision between Bakchis and Taylor Hull's Comp Cams ATS-V, which Hull was credited with causing; the cars came together just past initiation, Hull probably getting after it a little too aggressively in the chase position. Still, his lead run was the best lap by Hull we've seen since he started driving the Cadillac.
2011 champ Dai Yoshihara in the Turn 14 BRZ and Bluss in the borrowed Link Engine Management 370Z (loaned to him by driver George Kiriakopoulos; apparently the E92 was unable to compete) wasn't much of a battle, and then the front bumper came off of the Z34 when it was in the lead, getting jammed up into the front right wheel well and preventing Bluss from being able to control the vehicle's steering, causing him to spin out exiting Clipping Zone 2. A couple battles later more excitement with a 370Z, this time Forsberg's; in the lead against 2013 champ Michael Essa in the Essa Autosport E46, Essa somehow ended up in the grass to track left just past Zone 1, getting an incomplete from the judges for going 4 wheels off. With the roles reversed, Forsberg didn't need to drive hard but did anyway, staying on top of his opponent at the Touch & Go, Inner Clip 2, and Zone 2 - basically the second half of the course.
Ryan Tuerck in the Gumout 86 got into Austin Meeks's Galp S14 when Meeks leading over-rotated past the exit to Zone 2, pinching off the Toyota and giving Tuerck nowhere to go; the 86 suffered a broken tie rod due to the hit (deemed Meeks's fault for slowing in a non-deceleration zone) but was fixed in enough time for Top 16. In the next tandem, RAD Dan Burkett's Mk4 Supra slammed into Jeff Jones's 370Z in almost the same spot as Meeks and Tuerck's wreck, Burkett on the chase this time misjudged the closing rate of his Toyota after getting lost in Jones's smoke and took an unusual line through the last section of track. The collision sent both cars spinning off the road surface, and since it was Dan's fault Jones got to move on. Finally, in Top 32's only One More Time (OMT) tiebreaker, Wiecek and Kevin Lawrence in the Enjuku Racing S14.3 exchanged fast lead laps and big gaps in proximity, but it wasn't until Lawrence's second time in front, when he essentially missed every clipping point on the course, that we learned Wiecek would move on.
Top 16 action started with Deane and Ken Gushi in the GReddy Performance 86 - somewhat prophetic since Gushi just a few days earlier claimed on Instagram (we imagine half jokingly) that he would "f**k up the championship points." He gave it his best shot, too; as he chased, proximity it seemed could not be closer, until it was Deane's turn. The driver leading in said points proved us wrong, sticking to Gushi's door in a duel we feel could've easily gone OMT but instead went to the Worthouse pilot.
Super-close drifting continued through the next matchup between Dai's BRZ and Odi's S14, triggering a OMT, which to us seemed again inconclusive but judges saw differently and gave the advancement to Yoshihara. Aasbo versus Forsberg was a hoot in Top 16 as well, with Chris on the chase losing his way through the tire smoke in front of the Touch & Go and way overshooting Clip 2, going 4 off and getting an incomplete - a deficit too steep to overcome.
Ryan Litteral in the Koruworks 350Z had luck on his side against Hohnadell, as Alec threw excessive angle at the Touch & Go (reverse entry but not quite), scrubbing all sorts of speed and choking up the flow of the run. Ryan followed up with a killer lead lap and made the decision easy for judges. Chelsea DeNofa in the BC Racing Mustang RTR knocked off Justin Pawlak in the Falken Mustang after doing a better job mimicking the leader. Wiecek going against Matt Field in the Falken Wish C6 also makes our Top 16 highlight reel, mostly for going One More Time where Piotr had both the better lead and chase.
Deane dispatched Yoshihara to kickoff the Great 8, followed by the battle between Aasbo and Tuerck; the two Toyota drivers drove to a OMT, and in the bonus Ryan in the lead made some line compromises that Fredric didn't, so the Norwegian Hammer picked up the W. DeNofa ended Litteral's Cinderella run in the quarterfinals, and the Great 8 closed with Wiecek sending Gittin to the showers after JR stayed on a shallower line from Clip 2 to Zone 2.
The first tandem of the semis was a biggie; if Deane won, he would further pad his lead in the driver points with just one 2018 event to go, but if Aasbo came out the victor he would take a substantial bite out of Deane's advantage. Run for run, James had the better chase, and as he did in Texas last season Deane eliminated Aasbo. On the other side of the bracket, Wiecek stopped DeNofa's progress with a superior (but not by much) chase, and the Final was set. For out-qualifying DeNofa, Aasbo secured third place.
For the second or third time this year (honestly, we've lost track), the Worthouse boys had an all 2JZ S15 party out on the track. They teased with a fantastic lap with Deane in the lead, but it was much less fantastic when he chased, as he possibly had an issue and shut down the car just past initiation. Wiecek won the pairing and the overall event; Deane locked in second.
And that was it. The three drivers on the box in Texas - Wiecek, Deane, and Aasbo - are now the only guys with any hope of securing a 2018 championship. With 556 points, James is the man to beat, and Fredric is in the best position to do that, currently in second with 507. Wiecek is third at 469, a distant 87 markers off of Deane's pace, and at the season finale just 107 points are left on the table. We won't entertain all the possible scenarios here, but as you might imagine there is a handful of ways this could go - all the more reason to tune into the Irwindale Speedway 2018 closer. It all goes down at the House of Drift, Oct. 12th and 13th.