The trick to drifting Road Atlanta is not overcooking it—to exercise a little chill and keep your car on the asphalt and off the grass and dirt. As we've seen over Formula DRIFT's 16 seasons at the world-famous road course, it seems easy to come down the hill too hot into Inner Clipping Point 1 and end up in the so-called "kitty litter" on the outside of the turn; or overshoot Rear Zone 2, drop two, and send a rooster-tail of red Georgia clay onto nearby spectators; or even botch the exit to the course's "Keyhole" and wind up swapping ends. All of these are places on Road Atlanta where drivers can get in trouble, and they get that much harder to drive when Mother Nature decides to throw rain into the mix. But it's also in these conditions the best behind the wheel really get a chance to rise to the occasion, and we saw a lot of that during Round 3 of the 2019 FD championship.
The event started off dry, with a forecast of showers for Saturday tandem eliminations (meaning little to a series like Formula D because they go rain or shine anyway). Friday qualifying saw many scores push into the 90s (out of 100 points possible), starting with Jeff Jones's first lap in the DOC Nissan 370Z, Jeff picking up a 91; from there, 90-point scores were going around like measles at an anti-vax party—2015 series drivers champion Fredric "The Norwegian Hammer" Aasbo, behind the wheel of the Rockstar Energy Drink Toyota Corolla, put in a robotically-precise lap (he'd do it all weekend) and nabbed the highest total of the first orbit, a 97. Then with Ryan Tuerck, driver of the Gumout 86, also turning in a 97 on his first go round, Freddie cranked it up a notch and lay down a damn near perfect second lap, a 99—just like he did a round earlier in Orlando. Points leader Odi Bakchis in the Falken Tire Nissan S14.5 240SX got into the show at P5 with a 93, while just above him sat reigning two-time series champ, James Deane, in his Worthouse Drift S15. Fully half the 32 field got in with a score of 90 or higher.
For a while during Top 32 on Saturday, it looked like the event would be spared from rain, but three quarters of the way through the eliminator the heavens opened up—lightly at first, then ebbing and flowing in intensity, but persistent. With no practice in the slippery stuff up to that point, and as per FD practice, drivers were given sighting laps after it started raining to gauge the slickness of the track surface. Speeds dropped dramatically; tire smoke was replaced by spray and mist.
Top 32 tandems between Tuerck and Brazilian Joao Barion's Chevy Corvette; Irishman Dean Kearney's Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper and Matt Coffman's S13 240SX from the PNW; Piotr Wiecek's Worthouse S15 from Poland and Italian Federico Sceriffo's FFF Drifting Dept. Ferrari 599 GTB; and Japan's Kazuya Taguchi in the UP Garage S15 versus Jhonnattan Castro's Gerdau Metaldom 86 from the Dominican Republic (as well as a One More Time tiebreaker between the BMW E46 of Michael Essa and Peruvian Alex Heilburnn) were all decided in the rain. Arguably the plotline everyone was talking about from 32 was how rookie Dylan Hughes in his Huddy Racing E46 punted Dirk Stratton's "Drift-Vette" off the track; the two were coming down the hill to initiate when Dylan waited maybe a split second too long before trying to get his car sideways and plowed right into the rear of Stratton, sending the C6 into the kitty litter (oops).
The skies kept pelting Round 3 with precipitation for Top 16, but Ryan Tuerck was on a roll and feeling good; debuting his new 86 chassis two weeks earlier in Orlando after totaling his previous one in Long Beach, Tuerck took on Kearney after Barion, moving past Dean after he threw too much angle in the chase spot at Clip 1 and momentarily lost proximity. In the Great 8, Wiecek made a correction up the hill to Zone 1, handing the win to his challenger, and in the Final 4 Tuerck met up with Essa, who had a weird initiation and judges say sacrificed too much angle to maintain his pace.
Aasbo ruled the other side of the elimination bracket, like Tuerck, taking advantage of his opponents' struggles in the rain when he could; in his Top 16 bout against Matt Field's Falken Corvette, Field couldn't get the initiation right and wound up spinning all the way around. In his Great 8 pairing with FD's only three-time champ, Chris Forsberg and the NOS Energy Drink 370Z, Fredric filled the outer zones better, while in the Final 4 James Deane fell to the Hammer after Aasbo put in a much cleaner run. James still landed the podium for qualifying higher than Essa.
Amid continuing rain, mud all along the shoulders of the track that was now being kicked up onto the cars, and windshields that were severely fogging over from the inside, Aasbo and Tuerck managed to outlast everyone else to get to the deciding tandem. Both drivers turned in fantastic lead laps, but chase for chase Fredric Aasbo had the clear advantage, able to maintain better proximity for more of the lap. That's how the judges scored it, but despite getting silver Tuerck mentioned post event he viewed this success as a "W"—after balling up his previous comp car, he was clearly happy to land on the box so soon after getting his new car up and running. This is Aasbo's first outright triumph at Road Atlanta, Fredric only getting as high as second place three prior times (2012, '14, and '18), while Ryan was last on the RA podium in 2008 and '09, both times for third.
After the event, the cars left standing looked like they had been through a gravel rally stage in the rain, not a drift event—mud caked all over their noses. This was the first event of the year where neither Odi Bakchis nor Chris Forsberg got on the podium, and the point standings reflect as much; Odi's lead has now been cut to 47, and Fredric Aasbo skips over a couple drivers to slot into second place in the table, followed by Forsberg, Forrest Wang, and Piotr Wiecek. Three rounds out of eight are now in the books for the 2019 season, and Formula DRIFT heads next to New Jersey and Wall Speedway for Round 4, set for June 7th and 8th.