You won’t be blamed for thinking the race for points in the 2016 Formula DRIFT Championship was over after Round 5 at Autodrome Saint-Eustache in Canada last month. Going into Round 6 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., just outside of Seattle, a total of nine drivers bogarted the 15 podium spots up to that point, the three drivers at the top of the standings taking the lion’s share of wins, places and shows – with 2010 series champion Vaughn Gittin, Jr. in the Monster Energy Ford Mustang RTR earning two wins (at Road Atlanta and Wall Speedway), 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Scion tC claiming two wins (at Orlando Speed World and Saint-Eustache) and a runner up (at Long Beach), and 2009 and 2014 champ Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Nissan 370Z picking up two second-place finishes (at Wall and Saint Eustache) as well as two third-place finishes (in Atlanta and Orlando).
The beauty of the tandem eliminations bracket, though, is that anyone can win at anytime. It’s part of what makes competitive drifting so exciting to watch and keep up with. We’ve seen it before in Formula D, and it played out that way again at Evergreen.
Round 6 was a long, bruising affair, to say the least. There were no fewer than 10 One More Time (OMT) tiebreakers throughout eliminations, which began to get on some people’s nerves by the end. The event also saw five separate wrecks that required cars getting towed off. This was no sprint; it was in fact a marathon.
On Friday, Gittin secured the number-one qualifying spot in the most dramatic way possible, on the final lap of the session. The only way it could’ve been more epic is if he had gotten a perfect score. At that point it looked like the then-points leader was going to cruise deep into eliminations, but on Saturday JR surprisingly only got into the Round of 16 before his weekend came to an end at the hands of Dean Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper after a OMT.
Evergreen was a breakout event for Matt Coffman in the Coffman Racing S13. The pro in his sophomore season took down some stiff competition on his way to a fourth-place finish – Andrew Gray in the Drift Ebisu Toyota Mark II in Top 32; Alec Hohnadell in the Enjuku Racing S14 in Top 16; and Kearney in Top 8, another match that went to extra laps and got violent (as in cars smashing into each other, not people). He fell to Forsberg in the Top 4 but could still hold his head high knowing he had his best performance yet in FD.
On the other side of the bracket, third-place finisher Ken Gushi in the Greddy Performance 86 was on a tear, putting in some of the best chase runs of the event – as evidenced in his Top 16 matchup against friend Robbie Nishida in the Tilavo Infiniti G37, and again when Gushi faced off against Tyler McQuarrie in the Mobil 1 Chevy Camaro, a hotly contested pairing that went to OMT. Odi Bakchis in the ARK Performance Hyundai Genesis Coupe stopped Gushi’s forward progress through the bracket in the semis, but The Gush still walked away with third place for out-qualifying Coffman (6th vs. 8th).
It could be argued that Forsberg, of the top four finishers, had the easiest go of it in Washington, getting and beating Cameron Moore in the Nameless Performance Lexus SC300 for Top 32, 2011 champ Dai Yoshihara in the compromised Turn 14 Subaru BRZ (due to an incident with Alex Heilbrunn’s IMR E46 earlier in the day) for Top 16, and Tanner Foust in the Rockstar Energy Volkswagen Passat for Top 8, who has seen only very limited seat time in Formula D this year. The last duo still went to extra laps, though, before Forsberg emerged victorious and then dispatched Coffman in the Top 4.
His challenger for the grand finale was Bakchis, who got to the deciding round after toppling Chelsea DeNofa and the disabled BC Racing E46 in Top 32; Forrest Wang and the Get Nuts Lab S15 in Top 16; reigning champ Aasbo in Top 8; and finally Gushi in Top 4. The event closer was as nail biting as they come, with Bakchis appearing to finally unsettle the ever-cool Forsberg, who sailed way wide through the course’s Touch and Go section on the chase and then spun out at the end of the track in the lead.
Fans definitely got their money’s worth in Monroe. Ironically, though, the entire podium – Bakchis in first, Forsberg in second and Gushi in third – continues the trend of the same group of guys getting all the top-three spoils, Odi earning third in Canada and Ken earning his own bronze in Long Beach. Forsberg now replaces Gittin in first on the points table with 419, while JR slips to third with 404; Aasbo remains in second at 414.
With just two dates left on the Formula DRIFT 2016 calendar, the real question is who’s still in and who’s out of championship contention? Each round offers seven maximum points for qualifying and 100 maximum points for winning eliminations, which equates to 214 points total left on the table. Technically, everyone down to Hohnadell in 11th in the standings is viable, but realistically the top four – which includes Bakchis in fourth at 365 – are likely the ones to watch. The picture will become much clearer after the next round at Texas Motor Speedway, September 9 and 10 – and if you can’t be there, as always there’s the Formula D Livestream!