It's beyond clear now that Chris Forsberg, 2009 Formula D champ and current driver of the NOS Energy Hankook Tire Nissan 370Z, is hell bent on a second title. He hasn't finished an event this year lower than third place. In 2014's three rounds so far, he's qualified no lower than seventh.
And yet he's also a driver without a proper title sponsorship for his program. It seems NOS rolled back its support this season, which is why Forsberg has ditched his customary branded livery for one heavy on carbon-fiber menace and light on anything else. It's a shame, really, that no one has stepped up to back one of Formula D's most talented and likable hot shoes, but he continues to fight hard to prove he deserves it.
Every competitor was looking at a tough fight entering Round 3 of the 2014 Formula D Championship. It was the series' first time traveling to Homestead-Miami Speedway about an hour south of Florida's most populous city, an event that replaced the round held the past two years at Palm Beach International Raceway. The drift circuit employed turns 2 through 4 of Homestead's infield road course, a fast section with some 30 feet of elevation change and three inside clipping points (no rear clips).
Remarkably, Forsberg and Drift Alliance brother Vaughn Gittin, Jr., 2010 champ and driver of the Monster Energy Nitto Ford Mustang, had equal scores at the end of Friday qualifying on May 30, the tiebreaker being points ranking; since Forsberg was higher up on the table (first, to JR's second place), he claimed number-one qualifier. Kenny Moen in the Achilles Radial Bridges Racing 240SX rounded out the top three qualifiers, while several Pro 2 challengers - which ran for the first time in Miami - also made the Top 32, including Dan Savage in the Sikky Manufacturing Mazda RX-8, Dave Briggs in the Achilles Turbo by Garrett S14, Matt Coffman in the Coffman Racing PSI S13, Carl Rydquist in the Road Race Engineering Berk 350Z, and Pro 2 Round 1 winner Geoff Stoneback in the GSR S14.
Surprising absentees from Top 32 included past champions Dai Yoshihara in the Falken Discount Tire Subaru BRZ and Daigo Saito in the Achilles Lexus SC430.
We witnessed few shockers during the opening stage of tandem eliminations on Saturday, with Forsberg unopposed, Ryan Tuerck in the Retaks FR-S taking out Savage and Justin Pawlak in the Falken Mustang defeating Jeff Jones in the CX Racing S14. Matt Field in his CX Racing 240SX knocked off Mike Essa in his Essa Autosport Yokohama M3, who continues to struggle this year, Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab S14 got the best of Dennis Mertzanis in the ARK Performance Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and Gittin sent home Danny George in the Team 'Murica Mazda Miata. Other favorites to advance included Jhonnattan Castro in the Progreso 370Z, Fredric Aasbo in the Hankook Scion Racing tC (fresh off a motor swap), Moen, Tyler McQuarrie in the GoPro Mobil 1 Chevy Camaro and Chelsea DeNofa in the BC Racing Nitto BMW.
Then there were the upsets, like 24th qualifying Robbie Nishida in the Achilles SC300 - via an excellent chase lap - taking down number nine Ken Gushi in the Greddy FR-S in a 2JZ power battle. Domestic titans clashed when Conrad Grunewald in the Megan Racing Top 1 Oil Camaro faced Dean Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper, with the much lower seeded Kearney claiming victory after a One More Time decider.
Having competed a day earlier, a few of the Pro 2 guys used that momentum and experience to mount impressive runs in Pro 1. Briggs put the hurt on Charles Ng in the Maximum Attack Infiniti G37 Coupe, Rydquist got past Alec Hohnadell in the Enjuku Racing 240 after Hohnadell suffered a steering issue, and leading rookie Stoneback took out Odi Bakchis in the Feal Suspension S14, pulling out a sizable gap in his lead lap.
The most thrilling pair of the second round of eliminations - and probably the event -was actually the last to take to the course, McQuarrie versus DeNofa. It began with TMac in the lead spot and Chelsea having to back off after an overzealous initiation; then as the two cars came down the hill, contact - but not just a little fender rubbing. The BMW went airborne, as DeNofa out-JR'ed Gittin (see Formula D Atlanta 2013), rolling up on the side of his competitor's Camaro, knocking both cars out of drift, and leaving a field of debris on the track.
DeNofa was found at fault and saddled with a big fat zero score. But the twists and turns didn't end there; chasing this time, McQuarrie went way wide in Turn 2, putting three wheels off, earning himself a goose egg and prompting a One More Time (OMT). In the extra frame, DeNofa in chase mode again hit McQuarrie, this time with much less force, but it mattered little in the grand scheme of things. As the BMW headed for the finish line it erupted in flames, and while DeNofa emerged unscathed, his BMW was pretty much done for the weekend.
The rest of the battles in Top 16 weren't nearly as dramatic. Forsberg made quick work of Tuerck, Nishida beat Pawlak after a OMT, and Field got past Kearney after the Irishman's Dodge suffered steering rack issues. Stoneback out-drag raced Wang, JR did the same to Castro, Aasbo put on an angle clinic to oust Rydquist, and Moen did the same to Briggs to advance to the round of eight.
Forsberg and Nishida opened up Round 3's quarterfinals with some amazing drifting, the Z found to be the better performer against the SC. Then in the Field/Stoneback matchup, we saw more of the same, judges ultimately asking for a OMT. In the bonus, Stoneback cut it a little too close chasing the CX Racing machine, bumping Field's car and getting a zero score for the incursion.
Gittin and Aasbo met in a rematch of the Road Atlanta final just a few weeks prior, with the Mustang driver again pulling out the W. Finally, "Fast Kenny" Moen toppled McQuarrie's beat Camaro to move on to the semis.
If you want to see how competitive Formula D is these days, you need look no further than Miami's semifinals; the top three drivers in 2014 points all made it to the round, plus both battles wound up as OMTs.
In another Round 2 rematch, Gittin and Moen faced off, throwing down killer angle but lacking in proximity. Moen was the one to not make up the gap in the tiebreaker, though, giving the victory to Gittin.
Field had an incredible chase run, at one point magically emerging from Forsberg's tire smoke to literally come within inches of the 370Z. He tried the same for the OMT but wound up spinning out the second time. Since Moen was the higher qualifier, and therefore claimed third, Field had to settle for a fourth-place finish.
The closing tandem was a little more cut and dried compared to the semis. Forsberg, tailed closely by JR, took his Nissan wide through the course's final turn. Gittin followed that in the lead pulling out a big gap. That was all judges needed to see to award the victory to the driver of the Mustang.
This Formula D season now seems to be turning into a three-horse race. Gittin picked up a second win in a row, Forsberg a third podium of 2014 (he was first in Long Beach and third in Atlanta), and Moen a second podium (he finished second in Long Beach as well). Not surprisingly, all three are also atop the standings table, Forsberg in first a thin 10 points ahead of Gittin. The campaign reaches its fever-pitched halfway point later in June, the 20th and 21st, when competitors roll to Wall Speedway in New Jersey for Round 4.