If you are a follower of Southern California pro-am drifting, one of the most interesting phenomena to witness this year has been drivers defecting (if only temporarily) from Top Drift—the area's original Formula DRIFT sanctioned farm series—to The Drift League, the upstarts of the scene. For coverage of rounds 1 and 2 of the 2018 season, we tried to round up all the familiar faces, and again at round 3 still more hot shoes jumped ship. Susan Purkhiser and her S13, Margaritis Katsanidis in an E46 (he's known for drifting an Alfa Romeo 75), and Top Drift 2018 Round 4 winner AJ Muss in a second E46 all made their Drift League debuts at round 3, as did RJ Contreras in his Big Duck Club E36.
Formula D pro Jeff Jones was also on hand for this third of four rounds in '18, joining regulars Riley Cahill and Jesse Vargas as a guest judge. The trio would oversee competitors traversing yet another variation of the Irwindale Speedway-based course, which to us looked like the longest one yet. Like round 2's layout, cars shot down the bowl's backstretch and initiated into the big bank, dropping into the paved infield for a couple of inner clips and a couple of rear zones. This time, though, the final third or so of the layout broke to the western end of the oval (instead of the eastern end), where guys had to pin the throttle along the lower bank wall to the finish line.
Top Drift 2018 season champ Rome Charpentier settled atop the qualifying order, making him the only number-one qualifier in Drift League history (which is to say, he's three for three this year). The qualifying order shook out thusly:
1. Rome Charpentier, BMW E36
2. Daniel Stucke, Nissan S13
3. Micah Diaz, BMW E46
4. Amanda Sorensen, BMW E46
5. AJ Muss, BMW E46
6. Josh Mason, Ford Mustang
7. Mark Sanchez, Nissan S13
8. Don Boline, Nissan 350Z
9. Carlos Cano Estrella, Toyota AE86
10. George Kilada, Nissan S13
11. Pablo Cabrera, Nissan S13
12. Raz Naor, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
13. Alfa Ramirez, Nissan S12
14. Chris Jones, Nissan S13
15. RJ Contreras, BMW E36
16. Tony Cisneros, Nissan S14
In Top 16 tandem eliminations, both Tony Cisneros against Charpentier and round 1 winner Josh Mason against Pablo Cabrera had to concede before ever taking to the circuit, Cisneros due to a mechanical issue with his 240SX and Mason because of a gnarly wreck that knocked his LS V8 Mustang out of contention (the driver was a little sore but doing fine). Most of the higher seeds stuck to the script, advancing to the next eliminator, with exceptions being Carlos Cano Estrella in his 1UZ-swapped Corolla's minor upset of Don Boline in the Concept Builders 350Z and George Kilada in his S13 knocking off Mark Sanchez's 2JZ 240SX.
The Great 8 saw Charpentier move past Cano Estrella, while 15-year-old Amanda Sorensen was the better of the two E46s in her battle with Muss. On the other side of the elimination bracket, round 1 podium finisher Daniel Stucke in his 2JZ S13 stuck it to Kilada after judges called for a One More Time do-over, as Micah Diaz in his V8 E46 had no answer for Cabrera in his V8 S13. For the Final 4, judges again needed OMT to figure out who won between Charpentier and Sorensen (it was Charpentier), and Stucke made quick work of Cabrera.
All that was left to decide was the order of the podium, and to kick things off Sorensen lined up against Cabrera, who made huge mistakes both chasing and leading to give his opponent the win and her first podium finish for the year. The last pair was Charpentier and Stucke, and as he has all season long—regardless of series - Rome Charpentier looked unstoppable, putting on a clinic and securing the top step of the box.
Having now nabbed two Drift League podium results in 2018, including this win, and number-one qualifiers all along the way, Charpentier leads the driver standings with 249 points, followed by Stucke at 209 and Mason at 208. While a pro-am championship is nice and all, being one of the top three points earners at season's end to pick up a Formula DRIFT Pro 2 license wouldn't suck, either, and right now sure bets are that Charpentier and Stucke will get two of the three, while the receiver of the last license is a toss up among Mason, Sorensen, and Cabrera—each has finished top 4 twice this season. It all comes down to the final TDL event of the year, September 28th at nowhere else but the House of Drift, Irwindale Speedway.