One of the biggest bummers about this stupid pandemic has been dealing with the absence of Formula D's pro drifting championships (except FD Japan, they're holding events), which have been put on hold until September; the subsequent calendar will feature four doubleheader events in less than three months in an effort to get in a full 8-round season by the November 22nd finale. In the meantime, though, the series has something special up its sleeve for fans, a unique competition they've dreamed up called the Formula Drift Skills Battle presented by Turn 14 Distribution that you can view right now on FD's YouTube.
Like the title suggests, the contest focuses on drifting proficiency, in this case the skills of initiation, wall riding and (believe it or not) drag racing. Hosted by Formula D's pit lane reporter, Laurette Nicoll, the challenge was held at Irwindale Speedway and featured nine Formula D pros and their comp machinery: three-time champion and driver of the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z, Chris Forsberg; 2011 champ and driver of the Turn 14 Subaru BRZ, Dai Yoshihara; '13 champ and driver of the FCP Euro BMW E46, Mike Essa; Falken drivers Odi Bakchis in his Feal Suspension S15 Silvia and Justin Pawlak in his Roush Performance Ford Mustang; Ryan Tuerck and the new-to-him Papadakis Racing Gumout Toyota Corolla; Radical Daniel Burkett in the RAD Industries GearWrench A80 Supra; Ryan Litteral and his demo Power Stop S14; and last but not least, Dylan Hughes in the Royal Purple 2JZ E46 (which we hope to lock down in our studio soon for a photo shoot).
The two purely drift disciplines—those being initiation and wall riding—were subject to peer judging, where three randomly selected drivers at the event were asked to scrutinize whoever was going through course at the time. In contrast, the drag racing was more traditional, a heads-up format where both cars leave the starting line at the same time and the winner is whoever crosses the finish first.
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Drifting begins with the initiation, and in this game drivers had to get up a head of steam and pitch their cars around a cone set up on the Irwindale infield. Competitors were judged on early initiation, smoothness and degree of angle, as well as commitment, with points docked for spinning out or incomplete drifts, in addition to running into the course marker.
Part of the hurdle here was dealing with the very limited amount of practice laps every driver got, which was capped at only two; it also didn't help that most of these guys aren't used to running Irwindale this way. Nailing down how much speed was necessary to get through the turn seemed critical to success.
The best-looking entries came from hot shoes who sprinted toward the start line—which didn't necessarily always equate to good scores, but it looked insane (unfortunately, reverse entries were sorta frowned upon). In fact, both Chris Forsberg and Odi Bakchis, as well as others, threw caution to the wind in hucking their Nissans into the course, with Odi coming away the winner of that shootout.
Here, the object was to get as close as possible to a series of pool noodles sticking out of Irwindale's lower bank wall without actually hitting them. The pool toy idea is kind of brilliant, as it kept cars out of the wall primarily, but it also added a wrinkle of difficulty because these drivers are used to scraping their back bumpers along the very same wall (it's normally an Outer Clipping Zone for FD Irwindale).
Hitting the noodles or being too far away from them were grounds for points deduction. Judges were looking at entry aggressiveness, consistent angle, fluidity and vehicle control.
A lot of drivers ended up just clobbering the noodles, which if we're being honest was kind of what we expected. We heard that they were hard to see, too, but oddly enough this was an advantage for Dai Yoshihara, whose BRZ is right-hand drive, the only RHD car in the field in fact. Ultimately, though, this challenge too belonged to Odi, who appeared very comfortable piloting his brand-new V-8 S15.
The final challenge of the day took everyone to Irwindale's 1/8th-mile drag strip on the southeast corner of the property, a track we're pretty sure none of these cars has ever been on. In randomly selected pairs, Formula D put together a bracket, and whoever crossed the finish line first would advance to the next round until there was only one left standing.
Predictably, these high-horsepower cars meant for sliding sideways were having issues getting power to the ground to go straight; guys were complaining of wheel spin all the way down the track. To combat this, rear tire pressures were dropped, suspensions softened, and for those lucky enough to have them, wider rear footprints did better than narrower ones.
On an unprepped track and street tires, drivers were turning in times in the low 8s and high 7s, with some truly impressive reaction times coming from Odi and Ryan Litteral, but it was Ryan Tuerck who had the deck stacked in his favor for this challenge. For one, he had the widest tire out there, but he also had his team boss—sport compact drag racing legend Stephan Papadakis—in his corner. With counsel from Papadakis, Tuerck played the tree right, had the fastest times of the day (consistently in the mid 7s), and ended up beating Forsberg in the final to claim drag racing victory.
When the final points were tallied for the first ever Formula Drift Skills Battle, Odi Bakchis came away with the highest total, narrowly eclipsing Ryan Tuerck in second and Chris Forsberg in third. While we were there for the filming of it, everyone seemed pretty stoked on the event, and even though no spectators were in attendance, we have a strong feeling fans will be pleased with the video. We can't wait for the season proper to get underway in a couple weeks, but this was a satisfying appetizer before the real battles begin.