A lot of drifting talent comes out of Southern California, arguably as much as any other region on the planet. There is very fertile ground here; the Los Angeles-area alone must average at least a couple drift events a month, and there are two Formula DRIFT-sanctioned pro-am championships that service the area, which you can't say about anywhere else. Heck, look at FD's Pro 2 standings right now and you have a Top Drift champ (Trent Beechum) and a Drift League champ (Rome Charpentier) 1-2 in the points.
With so many capable drivers and their crews calling SoCal (or adjacent) home, you would think it makes putting on drift events a little less stressful in terms of car counts—even when it's the end of the season for a pro-am championship and few drivers have anything to gain from competing other than seat time. It's true; a lot of teams who start a pro-am campaign often will pull out mid-season when expectations don't materialize, in an effort to save resources, and this can lead to some pretty thin grids in the bottom half of the year (exhibit A: The Drift League 2019 Round 3).
So, for the second in as many events, The Drift League had to sally forth with an entry list that couldn't fill a Top 16 - but it didn't really matter. The dozen or so cars they did have at Irwindale Speedway for their 2019 season finale represented some of the best of the West, and put on a fantastic show that concluded with the year's three top point getters earning licenses for next year's Formula D Pro 2 championship.
Unfortunately, Jon Shaffer was not on that short list. We had our eye on Jon and his LS S14 this year after he did well in the rainy slop of Round 1 and almost went perfect in Round 2. But then an unfortunate steering failure at Round 3 sent his car into the wall and Jon's season into a tailspin; if you follow him on social media, you saw the near-heroic effort he made to rebuild his car and try to make a run at one of the three Pro 2 licenses up for grabs at Round 4. Alas, this comeback story came tantalizingly close to a happy ending, as he brought the resurrected Nissan to Round 4 and took a half dozen laps around the course before the steering started to crap out again. It would have been an amazing rebound, and while we were seriously bummed he came so close only to fall short, we can't wait to see what's next for Shaffer and his Spacious Garage team.
With Jerald Hernandez's spectacular clutch failure in his Cadillac CTS-V and Meliton Villamor unable to get a score in his S14, a total of 10 cars qualified for the first round of eliminations, which meant all but 4 drivers had to take a single-car bye to advance to the Great 8. Among tandems, RJ Contreras in the Big Duck Club BMW E36 overwhelmed Don Boline in the G2 Wraps 350Z in the 8-9 battle, while on the other side of the bracket Carlos Cano Estrella in his A80 Supra dispatched upstart Nicholas Balcerzak and his lime S13 (who, by the way, seems to somehow get free passes to do gnarly burnouts before he leaves the track, a la Micah Diaz).
Keoni Rodrigues is another young gun we can't ignore, especially after the Hawaiian drove his 1.5JZ (we mistakenly identified it as a 2J previously) powered S13 to first place last round. That guy is always hauling ass, a frenzied delivery that helped him nab top qualifier and knock off Contreras in Great 8, but also got him in trouble in the Final 4 against Margaritis Katsanidis. In the lead, as he entered into the low bank flying, his 13 tapped the wall a little too hard, which knocked him off his line momentarily; Keoni still finished the lap but not without a deficit in scoring. He ended up losing to Margaritis's Essa Autosport E46 but found triumph against Pablo Cabrera's V's Performance V8 S13 to lay claim to third place for the night.
Point leader Tony Cisneros was pretty much assured the title entering Round 4, considering he had a massive edge in points, but it didn't slow him down an ounce. In a Round-3 rematch during the Great 8 that was much shorter than last time, Cisneros proved again he is better than Carlos Cano Estrella in his A80 Supra, then sent Cabrera to the loser's battle in the Final 4. He faced off against Katsanidis in the evening closer, who himself had to get past Aaron Velazquez's S14 and Rodrigues. After the first pair of laps, judges asked for another - and then another, after complaining of poor chases. The third time around, the pair finally got in scores that gave us a winner - and that winner was Margaritis Katsanidis, picking up his first career Drift League victory.
Katsanidis shared the Saturday night spotlight with Contreras, who ended up winning the Drift League's second ever season title with 364 points unofficially, thanks to two wins, a runner up, and never finishing lower than fourth place. Tony also was awarded a Formula D Pro 2 license, as were Keoni Rodrigues and Pablo Cabrera, who finished second and third in points, respectively; each now has the option to compete with FD's farm league starting next year. And speaking of 2020 - we anxiously await what TDL has in store for us next season. If it's anything like the last two years, we're in for a real treat.