The smoke has cleared, the crowds long gone from the Irwindale Event Center, and most Formula DRIFT teams have already turned the page and begun mapping out plans for 2017. But we found one more photo gallery from the House of Drift season finale, and it got us thinking about how the ’16 championship played out over the last six-plus months. Like seemingly every season, it was replete with highs and lows, drama and disappointment, and when all was said and done we had a familiar champion reclaiming the title.
For the first time since 2005, Formula D added a new round to its Pro championship schedule, expanding to eight events what had been seven for over a decade. The competition year again kicked off in Long Beach, where the big news was Chelsea DeNofa earning his first overall victory in the BC Racing E46 after six years as an FD Pro. He was part of a strong BMW 3-Series mob that included cars for Michael Essa, Kristaps Bluss, Kenny Moen, and rookie Alex Heilbrunn.
The Bimmer crew flexed their muscle again at Round 3: Orlando, where Bluss willed himself onto the podium in the HGK Motorsports M3, taking second. Orlando was also the setting for “de-bead-gate,” but a round later at Wall Speedway (where Heilbrunn in the IMR BMW became the first rookie of the season to get on the podium, landing third) the overriding controversy emerged from a hard crash between Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab S15 and Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink 370Z – an incident that apparently caused Wang to initially announce he was leaving the series. It’s kind of a bummer that the contest will likely be remembered for that and not Vaughn Gittin, Jr.’s momentous accomplishment, picking up the win in the Monster Energy Drink Mustang RTR to equal Sam Hubinette’s longstanding record for most event victories.
Wang was convinced to return, and was back for the round at Autodrome Saint-Eustache in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, a new track on the calendar and an event won by ’15 champ Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Drink Scion tC. Aasbo, Gittin, and Forsberg basically earned the lion’s share of points in 2016, with JR picking up his fourth number-one qualifier at Round 7:Texas to go with his two victories earlier in the year. But Texas ‘16 will be known for Alec Hohnadell getting his first podium (for third) as an FD Pro in the Enjuku Racing S14, and more significantly Matt Field picking up his first FD win in the Driftcave Motorsports S14. Field kept that momentum and rode it all the way to the top step of the podium at the season closer, Irwindale, as well.
The year, however, belonged to Forsberg. In Atlanta for Round 2 he finished third, beginning an epic run of podium finishes that would last until Texas – an unprecedented series of six top-three results. Chris wouldn’t lead the point standings until the One-More-Time-athon of Round 6 at Evergreen Speedway in Washington, and probably thought he’d blown his chances for another title after crashing in Top 16 at Irwindale. But luck was on his side, as Aasbo, too, got more aggressive than he should’ve and got dinged for it, handing the 2016 title to Forsberg. With championships in ’09 and ’14, Chris is the first driver in Formula DRIFT history to earn three titles, and he did it this year without winning a single event – pretty remarkable, if you ask us.
Now comes the silly season, silly not least of all because we go a bit batty without our regular Formula D fix. Series news will come out of the SEMA Show in a couple weeks, and in the meantime we’ve got rumors and speculation galore to keep our imaginations on overdrive. 2017 can’t get here soon enough.