In 2005, in just Formula DRIFT's second-ever championship chase, in a Ford Mustang GT on a street course in Houston, Texas, that no longer exists, driver Ken Gushi, who has been in the series since the beginning, nabbed his very first overall event win. It took almost a decade and a half for him to bag another W, and in that time a lot has changed about FD and his program, but after Saturday night's triumph in a thrilling 2019 season finale under the lights at the House of Drift, one thing is clear: the fight in Gushi has never been stronger.
Those who watched Ken in the 2JZ-motivated GReddy Racing Toyota 86 all weekend knew something big was on the horizon. He was a driver possessed and would have been Round 8's number-one qualifier on Friday with a 95 score on his second flier had Chelsea DeNofa in the BC Racing RTR Mustang not also registered the same, and with a higher score on his first lap he took the top spot. Gushi still benefited from P2 with a Top-32 bye run to start Saturday (there were only 29 competitors).
In Top 16, Ken faced a tough Travis Reeder in his V8 S13 and won with better proximity in the chase, advancing to go against first Piotr Wiecek in the Worthouse Drift 2JZ Silvia in Great 8, and then his teammate in the Final 4, reigning champ James Deane in the second Worthouse S15. Paired with Wiecek, both drivers made mistakes in the chase, enough to prompt a One More Time; on their OMT runs, Ken drifted high on the bank in Outside Zone 1 as Piotr accelerated hard to close ranks. Making minor contact with Gushi's door, Wiecek was then fighting the car as he transitioned off the banking and found himself too deep through Inside Clip 1. Throwing the car sideways, Piotr was lucky to escape with nothing more than amputated tail lights and returned to the starting line for run two after a brief check. However, Gushi decided to take his only Competition Time Out at this point in order to refill his nitrous bottle. Wiecek wasn't about to make it easy and again set a blistering pace, but Gushi did enough to finish the run and was awarded the win.
The second Worthouse boss took less work surprisingly, but Ken was on a mission; with an in-sane chase, he put James's Nissan and the Final 4 behind him to face his old friend and 2013 series champion, Mike Essa and his Essa Autosport BMW E46, in the Finals. In their first heat, with Gushi leading, Essa dug deep to keep it close and interesting; then with Mike out front, Ken had to modulate for the slower E46, making light contact on the banking and then having to back off through Clip 1 to avoid more contact. As the cars drifted deep through Zone 2, Essa's BMW spun without receiving any outside assistance, and while Gushi had to take evasive action, Essa's run was judged incomplete.
It was an emotional ending for Ken after the smoke cleared. In addition to the thrill of this victory, the season ender marked the close of Gushi's first year as team owner, and while he readily admits his is a small operation, in the same breath he will tell you about their fight and grit and heart. Their 2019 was a learning year, as Ken and the team managed to qualify every round and go as deep as Great 8 a couple times this year, in New Jersey and Washington—not too shabby; with the Irwindale win, Gushi finishes just outside of the top 10 in points, not his best season but not disappointing, either, given the transition. And now he turns his attention to 2020 and how to build from this season.
"This is the first year I took over the entire motorsports operations for GReddy Racing, which brought a lot of challenges figuring out logistics, scheduling, prioritizing car development and more," Ken said after Round 8. "There's so many factors that can prevent me from being 100 percent focused on driving, so to be here at the last round of 2019, after overcoming all those challenges, and to be able to celebrate the win with my fans, friends, family and the entire team, is a huge bonus. It was an incredibly challenging year but hopefully we're going into 2020 with some momentum. I'm very excited today—it's a day I'll never forget."