The 2019 Formula DRIFT driver's championship was over before Round 8 was, the season finale, and in somewhat controversial fashion. At Irwindale Speedway on Saturday night, against fan-favorite Forrest Wang and his 2JZ-powered Get Nuts Lab Nissan Silvia in their Top 16 battle, two-time reigning series champ James Deane in his own 2J Worthouse Drift-backed S15 pushed the match to double One More Times after what looked like an opening set that could've (should've?) easily gone to Forrest. With the victory James advanced to Great 8, but more importantly made it impossible for the title's other suitors—2015 champ Fredric Aasbo, Deane's teammate Piotr Wiecek, and Falken Tire S14 driver Odi Bakchis—to have any chance of catching the young Irish hot-shoe in the points, thus locking up a third straight FD season drivers' championship for James Deane. He becomes only the second driver in series history to ever achieve that, and the first to do it as a three-peat (2017, 2018, 2019).
Deane was dominant as always at Irwindale. He qualified 6th out of 29 on Friday and drew Kevin Lawrence in his Enjuku Racing S13.4 for Top 32 Saturday, who put up a valiant fight but struggled with pace and angle in the chase. James had his hands full in Top 16 with Forrest, and then for Great 8 endured the always-threatening Ryan Tuerck in his Gumout Toyota 86, who bounced back from a bad wreck at Round 1 to land on the podium twice throughout the year. He couldn't put away Deane, though, who would ultimately submit to event winner Ken Gushi and the GReddy Performance 86 in the Final 4 (more on Gushi's night in a separate post); James still got on the podium, in third place, for qualifying higher than the semifinal's other loser, Odi Bakchis, locking up a sixth straight podium finish for 2019. James Deane has been on every 2019 FD podium this year since May.
It has been said that Deane knows how and when to peak, and his record this year may be the best example of that. After what would seem like uncharacteristically early exits at Rounds 1 and 2 in Long Beach and Orlando, respectively, (where Odi Bakchis looked like the early favorite for the title) he finished in third place twice in a row, then finished in second at Round 5, won Round 6 outright, then closed out the season with another second at Round 7, and a third bronze finish in Irwindale. Deane assumed the points lead after his runner-up finish in Round 7: Texas and finished 52 points ahead of Fredric Aasbo, who has to settle for bridesmaid for a fourth year in a row. James also helped sponsor Falken secure another tire championship in Formula D.
This is to say nothing of the fact that this is Deane's second title in as many months; in September, he clinched the 2019 Drift Masters European Championship in the Falken Tire BMW E92 Eurofighter. It is now abundantly incontrovertible—there is no denying, James Deane is the greatest drifter of this generation (yes, even greater than Daigo Saito—change my mind). His ability to, at will, turn on his immense talent, and continue cranking it up, should give pause to every pro driver looking to succeed in FD. This probably begins foremost with Chris Forsberg, the series' other three-time champ; should they both return to Formula DRIFT in 2020, and if protecting his legacy matters to him, fans can expect the heat to turn up between these two champions, and everyone else in the field for that matter. Can anyone stop James Deane? The short answer to that is: so far, not yet.