It used to be professional drifting was just about JDM cars and their Japanese pilots, but that’s no longer the case. Among the top ranks of the motorsport the entries are just as diverse as their pilots, and one need only look at a series like Formula DRIFT to see how far things have come. At its season opener, set as it has been for the last 11 years on Turns 9, 10, and 11 of the Grand Prix of Long Beach street circuit, no fewer than five of the top 32 cars in tandem eliminations wore the badge of a European brand – BMW, to be precise – and drove against machinery from Japan and the U.S. in a knock-down-drag-out battle for survival.
In the opening round of eliminations, Peruvian Alex Heilbrunn made his debut in the Formula D Pro Championship driving the Team IMR E46 M3, cinching the series’ Pro2 title a year earlier in the same vehicle. Equipped with a blown General Motors LS V-8 under the hood of his Bimmer, Heilbrunn ended up falling to Odi Bakchis’ Hyundai Genesis Coupe after tagging the outside wall with the ass-end of his car heading into the slow-speed Turn 11 hairpin in his chase lap and falling out of drift. Also in the same round, Norwegian Kenny Moen called it a day in the Boost Lock E46 after struggling to outperform 2013 champ Michael Essa in the Loud Mouth Exhaust M3.
Essa, who returned to a BMW after a season in a Camaro, was bolstered by his first-round win but unfortunately would advance no deeper into the bracket; in Top 16 he faced the always-tough Forrest Wang in his Get Nuts Lab Nissan Silvia and couldn’t better his challenger. Latvian Kristaps Bluss in the HGK Motorsports E46, who made news in Long Beach by calling all the drivers “pussies” during the drivers meeting after it was announced qualifying would be cancelled due to rain, also exited in the second round of eliminations, losing to Matt Field in his 240SX after beating upstart Alec Hohndell in the first round.
Chelsea DeNofa in the BC Racing E46 3-Series was the ultimate victor of Formula DRIFT Long Beach, leaving in his wake a trail of past series champions. He began by dispatching Geoff Stoneback and his 370Z, and then took out 2009 and 2014 champion Chris Forsberg in his Z, 2010 champ Vaughn Gittin, Jr., in his Mustang, last year’s runner up in the points Ken Gushi in his Toyota 86, and finally 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo in a Scion tC. It was DeNofa’s first Formula D event win in six years of trying.
Check out the gallery for a further look into the European cars on the circuit and in the vendor village in Long Beach. For more about Round 1 of the 2016 Formula D Championship, make sure to check out our qualifying and final results reports.