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Formula DRIFT Texas 2019

Action-filled Round 7 puts Chelsea DeNofa on top of the box and James Deane in control of his next title heading to the season finale

Bob Hernandez
Sep 19, 2019
Photographer: Caitlin Ting

Since Formula DRIFT has included Texas Motor Speedway on its calendar, it has used the same section of the track's infield road course, the first year going counterclockwise, then in subsequent years flipping the start and end points. Since that flip, the layout's one and only wall that could possibly get hit has been—repeatedly, violently, often spectacularly. The most famous was Vaughn Gittin's backwards entry (we're teasing) into what used to be just concrete K-rail in his Monster Energy Drink Ford Mustang all the way back in 2015, an incident that destroyed the car and ended a season (Vaughn came out battered but ok). Since then, Formula D and track staff have placed a row of tire barriers in front of the low wall, but the segment is still an important Outer Zone on the course, meaning guys are going to necessarily tempt fate by sliding as close as they can to it.

If that wall hadn't eaten so many cars, it might actually be a little funny. But as we learned at Round 7 of 8 of the 2019 FD campaign, it is TMS's heartbreaker. It crushed dreams in Pro 2 (we'll have our race report from there shortly), and had Matt Field not stuffed his Falken C6 into the tires leading reigning two-time champion James Deane's Worthouse Drift S15 during Top 16, he likely would have beat him (and THAT is no easy feat). But now arguably the wildest wreck precipitated by that silly barrier might be the one that occurred in Great 8, when 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo in the lead in his Rockstar Energy Corolla got bumped into the tires by a very closely trailing Piotr Wiecek in the other Worthouse S15, triggering death spins that seemingly destroyed both machines; thankfully the drivers were no worse the wear, and as many observers smarter than us noted, never have we seen a tandem so close through that section, which is likely why it ended in the biggest yard sale ever (parts EVERYWHERE).

Formula DRIFT Texas 2019 2019 course map Photo 110/110   |   Formula DRIFT Texas 2019
Formula DRIFT Texas 2019 2018 course map Photo 110/110   |   Formula DRIFT Texas 2019

Teams showed up to Texas and Round 7 faced with a layout that was the same but different, with Clipping Zones and Points updated. For context, we included last year's map above, but the differences boil down to the addition of Zone 1, exclusion of Clip 1, and turning the Touch & Go into a full-blown outer zone; this made for consistently closer tandems and less inner-clip disruption on a course that is considered by many to be one of Formula D's fastest.

Formula DRIFT Texas 2019 TMS Rockstar Corolla Photo 110/110   |   Formula DRIFT Texas 2019

In single-car qualifying, the story Friday was Deane's perfect lap, a 100-point run, James only the second to do so this year after Justin Pawlak did the same at Round 4 in New Jersey. Remarkably, he was backing up a 99-point first lap, and his efforts landed him atop the order followed immediately by Wiecek and Odi Bakchis in the Falken S14 in P2 and P3, respectively, who both earned 97s. A perfect qualifying lap is extremely rare, so nothing should be lost on the fact that it has now happened twice in 2019 (and we still have one round to go).

Make no mistake; FD Texas was a rough one. As well as the carnage outlined in the intro, we had both Wiecek and Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab S15, and others, have tussles with the tires during practice, which required serious teamwork and tons of spares to get the cars back up to competition snuff. In Top 32, Rad Dan Burkett used his Supra to punt Kazuya Taguchi's UpGarage! S15 into the Zone 1 runoff, and earlier in the session Jeff Jones in the DOC 370Z had his own pre-Zone 4 decel debacle and knocked around three-time champ Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Z34 (Seattle rematch!), which Jones wasn't able to return from. Both Taguchi and Forsberg appeared to be a little cursed at TMS, with Kazuya incurring contact from Aasbo after the J driver botched the line at Clip 1 and slowed where he shouldn't have, and Chris getting a friendly hip check from Ryan Tuerck's Gumout Toyota 86 in Great 8; Forsberg advanced, Taguchi did not.

Formula DRIFT Texas 2019 NOS 370Z Photo 110/110   |   Formula DRIFT Texas 2019

If you were lucky enough to avoid contact with the wall and other cars, mechanical challenges may have been your Achilles heel (no pun intended); both Field and Gittin in his current Mustang RTR had to make engine swaps in Texas, with Matt's squad successfully getting him out to the grid and Vaughn's falling just short, thus giving Brazilian Joao Barion and his C7 Corvette his first pass into an FD Top 16 (and also avoiding the first ever Monster-on-Monster sponsored driver battle in the series). Ultimately, tandem eliminations for Formula D Texas turned into a long, grueling Saturday night, featuring a half dozen One More Time rematches throughout and a 3.5-hour main event.

Formula DRIFT Texas 2019 Silvia 350Z Photo 110/110   |   Formula DRIFT Texas 2019

By the time Great 8 rolled around, we had what was essentially the top eight in 2019 points; the set began with Deane dispatching no. 9 qualifier and 2011 champ Dai Yoshihara in the Turn 14 BRZ, who had the lesser of the chase laps according to judges, followed by Forsberg's elimination of Tuerck. On the other side of the eliminations bracket, Bakchis and Gittin's RTR teammate, Chelsea DeNofa, lined up for their first runs, and then after two less-than-stellar chases they went again, which ended with Odi on the chase taking the shallow line past Zone 4, a wonky route that sent the cars together twice, the second contact resulting in Odi driving up the right front fender of Chelsea's Mustang. S14 wheelies are amazing, but DeNofa took that win. The round of eight finished with Aasbo-Wiecek, which ended in misery and Fredric needing a small miracle from his Papadakis Racing team in order to return to the grid for the Final 4.

Formula DRIFT Texas 2019 DeNofa Aasbo Photo 110/110   |   Formula DRIFT Texas 2019

In the event's semifinal, Deane's chase could not be beat, and so Forsberg had to settle for third place; Chris earned bronze because Fredric Aasbo had little to contest DeNofa and thus lost, and because he qualified lower than Forsberg, Chris ended up on the podium. Fredric said later he takes all the blame for not doing better against Chelsea, but we have to wonder if he had a healthier car (and not one that was slapped together after a major collision) if he might've done better.

Deane was in his third final of 2019, while DeNofa was in his first (though he's been in the spot before plenty of times). In their first laps, there was lots of great mimic and fantastic proximity, judges needing a second set to separate out the true winner. In their second pair, James's luck finally ran out, as he totally missed the course's last outer zone while chasing Chelsea. The trio on the box in Texas were DeNofa, Deane, and Forsberg, in that order, Chelsea in the process getting his first overall W of the season and James pocketing a staggering fifth straight podium.

Formula DRIFT Texas 2019 podium Photo 110/110   |   Formula DRIFT Texas 2019

As he's done the past two years, reigning Formula DRIFT drivers champion James Deane will be entering the month of October in the title catbird seat. He's currently 19 points ahead of Fredric Aasbo in second, and 67 markers up on teammate Piotr Wiecek, followed by Odi Bakchis at 68 behind and Chris Forsberg at 94 behind. There are 106 points in play at the Irwindale Speedway season finale, and if we're being realistic, leveraging all of our years watching this sport and especially Formula D, we have to think there is no one left who can stop Deane—except Aasbo, and that seems like an extreme long shot at this point. We will leave the armchair quarterbacking of potential scenarios to the nerds, but we do know one thing; if James succeeds, he will be FD's second three-time champ, and the first to do it in consecutive years (Chris Forsberg's were earned in 2009, '14, and '16). We'll be there in Irwindale to capture the entire drama unravel October 18th and 19th.

By Bob Hernandez
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