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Formula D Irwindale 2019 - The Battles

The House of Drift's walls exact their pound of flesh in season finale's rough and tumble tandem eliminations

Bob Hernandez
Oct 24, 2019
Photographers: Caitlin Ting, Paul Martinez

Running the wall at any drift track will always be a game of inches. It looks spectacular when a driver can toss a car at speed into a rear outer zone and float its ass—sometimes scraping it—along a barrier. It can be equally spectacular when the entry is too deep or botched in some other way and the miscalculation causes chaos—specifically, contact that can lead to a crunched vehicle or more. On the course Formula DRIFT fashions out of Irwindale Speedway's 1/2-mile outer and 1/3-mile infield ovals for its season finale, there are two long zones that can make or break your lap.

It just so happened most of the carnage in 2019's Round 8 of 8 was split along a chronological line, most of the contact with the "big bank" wall (or Outside Zone 1) coming in Top 32 Saturday afternoon, and brushes with the inner bank wall (Outside Zone 2) occurring from Top 16 until the end of eliminations in the evening (which is to say nothing of the bumps and bruises from practice sessions and qualifying earlier in the event).

Formula D Irwindale 2019 track map Photo 76/76   |   Formula D Irwindale 2019 - The Battles

Chasing Chris Forsberg's VR-powered NOS Energy Drink 370Z, Joao Barion from Brazil in his Monster Energy C7 Corvette was unable to prevent a second bout of wall love after suffering similar in practice. The same could be said about Jeff Jones and the DOC Z34 as he pursued Odi Bakchis's Falken Tire S14.5 in their Top 32 One More Time, but got into the Zone 1 rubber marbles and, ultimately, into the big bank barrier. Both Ryan Litteral in his KoruWorks PowerStop 350Z and Rookie of the Year Travis Reeder in his S13 tailing him got up into the wall, one after the other, and Rad Dan Burkett couldn't stop his Big Blue A80 Supra from hip-checking the same embankment as he went after Piotr Wiecek's Worthouse Drift S15.

The wildest impact, however, happened near the end of the opening eliminator, when Jhonnattan Castro in the Gerdau Metaldom 86 appeared to slow-roll his initiation and Dean Kearney speared the front of the Toyota with his Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper. The damage to both cars was somewhat substantial, and a majority of event judges deemed Kearney at fault, which meant Castro's team would have 10 minutes to fix his car while Kearney's got only 5. As it turned out, Kearney's crew could not make the repairs in time, but Castro's did, allowing the Dominican driver to take a bye lap and advance to Top 16.

Formula D Irwindale 2019 DeNofa Photo 76/76   |   Formula D Irwindale 2019 - The Battles
Formula D Irwindale 2019 Yoshihara DeNofa Photo 76/76   |   Formula D Irwindale 2019 - The Battles

Drivers continued to flirt with (and plain invite) disaster in Top 16. Chelsea DeNofa in the RTR BC Racing Mustang was having a pretty good lead lap against 2011 champ Dai Yoshihara's Turn 14 Subaru BRZ until he slid too deeply into Zone 2 and wound up dragging the Ford against the wall for almost the entire zone; Dai was also towed off, the chase driver following the lead, but he appeared to suffer far less damage. When they returned to the grid with their roles switched, Chelsea would again smack the wall with his pony car, this time staying in the throttle and finishing the lap, but the damage was done. After two collisions that resulted in straightening for DeNofa, Yoshihara got the win. Forsberg tagged a lot less of the low-bank wall in his bout chasing Drift Alliance mate, 2010 champ, and Chelsea's team boss, Vaughn Gittin, and the Monster Energy Mustang; he was on the wrong line entering the section and took a hit for it, which sent him to the showers early.

Concrete walls weren't the only influencers on FD's season finale. Very little came easy for any driver hoping to finish well at Irwindale, which necessarily meant plenty of One-More-Time tiebreakers played out. They began in Top 32, when 2013 champ and eventual Round 8 runner-up Mike Essa in the Essa Autosport BMW E46 came together with S bastien Gauthier's ACT Clutch S14 as they came off the big bank to Inside Clip 1, Gauthier not giving Essa enough room to transition freely to the clip. Essa was then slapped with an inactive chase on the next lap, possibly because his car was dealing with gremlins all weekend long, which meant the two would go again. On the OMT, Essa cleaned up his chase a lot, both mimic and proximity, and was awarded advancement.

Formula D Irwindale 2019 Wang Deane Photo 76/76   |   Formula D Irwindale 2019 - The Battles

As described earlier in our piece on James Deane locking up a third straight title at the House of Drift, the Worthouse S15-Get Nuts Lab S15 battle was a doozy. A repeat of last year's fight between Deane and Forrest Wang, this time Deane snuffed out the upset, but again the decision required multiple OMT. If you watch video of the fight, it does very much look as though Deane was unable to match Wang's angle in the chase, but according to judges both drivers had errors. After their second do-over, James got the win and secured the championship, but the crowd also erupted in boos as many obviously though Forrest was robbed.

Soon-to-be event winner Ken Gushi in the GReddy Racing 86 first had to get by Wiecek in the Great 8, a battle that featured both barrier love and extra frames. After a couple of subpar chase laps to kick off the tandem, Piotr began the OMT by rubbing front fenders with Ken on the big bank; perhaps a little too overzealously, as the pair set up for Zone 2 Wiecek's Silvia was a hair too deep and wound up tagging the wall (and destroying a perfectly good set of tail lights) as well as spinning out. Ken claimed the win via Piotr's incomplete chase.

Formula D Irwindale 2019 Odi 1 Photo 76/76   |   Formula D Irwindale 2019 - The Battles

The low bank wall would strike again in the semifinals; as in Wiecek's chase of Gushi in Great 8, Bakchis had a nearly identical hit in almost the same spot chasing Essa, backing his S14.5 into the Zone 2 wall and knocking himself out of the event. This left Gushi and Deane to see who the other finalist of the night would be; with a fresh bottle of nitrous plugged in, Ken's chase was higher on the big bank than James's and Gushi also had better proximity and mimic from Zone 2 to the finish.

Formula D Irwindale 2019 Aasbo Bakchis Photo 76/76   |   Formula D Irwindale 2019 - The Battles

In the final, Essa spun on his lead at the entrance to Zone 2 all on his own, essentially handing the event win to Gushi, Ken's first in 14 years. Entering the Irwindale closer, FD driver points had Deane ahead of Fredric Aasbo by 19 points, as well as 67 markers up on teammate Wiecek, followed by Bakchis at 68 behind and Forsberg at 94 behind; the final official tally sees James finish 2019 with 565, Fredric in second with 513, and Odi in third with 497. We now watch and wait, specifically for the Formula DRIFT press conference from the 2019 SEMA Show in Las Vegas this November, to see what new and improved will come for the 2020 championship.

By Bob Hernandez
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