Before Animal Style and all the slide crews we've come to love today, there was from the East Coast team Drift Alliance, a bunch of oversteering riffraff who were set to leave their mark on the drifting universe. The squad began in the early-2000s as a loose collective of friends that, over time, grew to become a grassroots brand promoted by its members and some of pro drift's most elite drivers (for the curious, go check out DA's videos "Bad As Hell" and "Stay Hungry"), guys like three-time Formula Drift champ Chris Forsberg, 2010 champ Vaughn Gittin, and perpetual ripper Ryan Tuerck. DA's legacy lives on today with those three hot shoes, and at Formula D Texas the team had a weekend unmatched in its storied past.
Texas Motor Speedway was the stage for Rounds 5 and 6 of the Pro championship and Round 3 of the Pro 2 series. The facility was not originally on the calendar this year, but after all the lockdowns and cancellations came from the pandemic, FD had to replan its season and TMS was willing and able to host a weekend. In fact, under normal circumstances the season would be over by now, but as of the beginning of the event, FD was through only half its rounds.
The section of TMS's infield road course usually used for Formula D was flipped from last year's layout, similar to the setup the series employed in 2014 and prior. Many drivers confessed this was a tough track, but the series suggested it was deliberately so because not every circuit should be a cakewalk. A very short runup had cars hauling ass out of the hole and initiating into Outer Zone 1 before quickly flicking their cars to set up for the layout's only inner clipping point and Zone 2 beyond that. Cars would then book through the course's "power alley," transitioning for an Outer Zone 3 and decel area before finishing with a very long sweeping lefthander that concluded with the Outer Zone 4.
Friday: Pro 2 Round 3
With only 22 Pro 2 drivers making the event start, Top 32 for Formula D's development series went lightning fast, featuring only 10 tandems and a finish to the session well before the alloted time. It quickly became apparent one of the trickiest parts of the course would be the sweeper at the end, where the slightest wrong move could send cars off into the weeds, or in this case, a drop off to a dusty gravel shoulder.
In Top 16, both Blake Olsen in his Koru Works BMW E92 and Andy Hateley in his E30 ended up in the dirt at different points in their battle that eventually went to One More Time (OMT), as did Daniel Stuke in the Mspek Performance Nissan S14 trailing Chase Schmidt's E36; Joe Lin in his E36 pursuing Jonathan Hurst's Cash Racing Infiniti G37; and Kelsey Rowlings in her Top 1 Oil S14 trying to chase down Micah Diaz's Hold Fast E46. Austin Matta in his Tire Stacks S14 took a dirt bath from the lead spot driving against Mike Power and his Power Racing S15, illustrating it wasn't just chase drivers flying off course on the way to the layout's last Outer Zone.
Pro 2's Final 4 had only one repeat visitor from the season's first two rounds, Round 1's second-place finisher, Jonathan Hurst, who outmuscled Diaz in Great 8 in addition to beating Lin in 16. The semifinal's other drivers included Hurst's opponent, Derek Madison in the Inertia Garage S14—who eliminated both Round 1 winner Josh Love in T16 and Round 2 winner, Dmitriy Brutskiy, in a thrilling, extended G8 fight—and the left side of the eliminations bracket, made up of Blake Olsen and Mike Power. Olsen got to the semis knocking off Hateley and, later in G8, Joshua C Reynolds in his Drift Force F22, while Power's path took him past Matta to Chase Schmidt, who had his bout with the outside of the sweeper going after Power, costing Schmidt the match.
In the F4, Olsen beat Power with a better lead run, judges wanting to see Mike go deeper into Zone 2 in addition to greater angle overall in general, and Hurst nabbed his second Finals invite of the year by overwhelming Madison. This set up a Hurst-Olsen deciding match, but not before third place was ironed out, and it was a fairly straightforward decision after Power, like so many before him, got a little too aggressive through the circuit's "power alley" and wound up in the dirt. Derek Madison thus picked up his first podium of the season.
The Pro 2 Round 3 climax was unfortunately a tough one for Olsen, who also floated off track in the sweeper in the chase and then had what was essentially an un-chaseable lead lap. It was all good news for Hurst, though, who bagged his second podium and first win of 2020. Jonathan now leads the Pro 2 title chase in the point standings ahead of the Irwindale season finale.
Saturday: Pro Round 5
In the first ever Formula Drift event on a Halloween, Justin Pawlak started off his Round 5 the wrong way, windowing the block in his Roush Performance Falken Tire Ford Mustang during practice; he switched to the backup mill but missed his Top 32 call against Jonathan Nerren because the swap took some time to complete. No surprises in 32, save for Kazuya Taguchi's upset win in his UP Garage Silvia over the much more seasoned Ken Gushi in his Greddy Performance KGM GR Supra, and the elimination round ended with a weird one as Dylan Hughes in the 2JZ Royal Purple E46 at first had a false start in the lead that was called an incomplete lap, and then slid right into the side of Jhonnattan Castro's Gerdau Metaldom 86 on the chase, basically right at initiation. Everyone at first suspected he was acting out of frustration on the second lap, but then we later found out he was struggling with a busted gearbox and was trying to drive without first or second gears (yikes).
Things started getting rowdy in Top 16, at first when Dean "Karnage" Kearney hucked his Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper into the first turn and couldn't get it back around for Inner Clip 1, giving chase driver Adam LZ nowhere to go in his Enjuku Racing S15; the collision—which was deemed Kearney's fault and gave LZ the advantage—was hard enough to bust the Viper's upper control arm, spindle and shock, and knock it out of Round 5, as well as leave a nice-sized dent in the JDM Silvia's driver-side door. Later, Taguchi blew an advantage when Nerren had a sloppy chase in the ISR Performance S14; on the J driver's chase, he found himself in the Zone 4 runoff, completely off course, when he could have secured the easy win by just turning in a basic chase. Fredric Aasbo's Rockstar Energy Drink GR Supra also ended up in the same gravel after Chelsea DeNofa's BC Racing Mustang put him there with a considerable hip check; it was DeNofa's bad, as he was playing catchup for nearly the whole course and was just too aggressive closing the gap at the end.
By the time we got to the Final 4, there were three names we are used to seeing this deep into an event (especially pre-Worthouse Drift days) and one decidedly fresh face: Jeff Jones's. The persistent, likable driver of the Doc X 370Z seems to continue to improve and in Texas kicked things off in 32 by shutting down Faruk Kugay in the SGK Performance S14; he then had what could have been the fight of his event in Top 16 against the always-lethal Odi Bakchis in the Feal Suspension Falken S15. Odi on the chase got into the side of Jones's Z34 in the sweeper, coming in too hot and forcing a huge mistake that ultimately cost Odi the win. Jones couldn't take too long to celebrate his rare Great 8 appearance, though, because his next foe was 2015 champ Aasbo; against all odds, lightning struck twice, Aasbo in the chase position closing too fast in Zone 3 and colliding with Jones just beyond it. Aasbo was assigned fault, Jones phoned in his chase, and the miraculous happened, as Jones advanced to the first Final 4 of his pro drift career.
He faced Ryan Tuerck in the Gumout Corolla Hatchback, who got to the semifinals through Kyle Mohan and the American Ethanol Mazda RX-8 in T32 (making a late debut to the '20 season); 2011 champ Dai Yoshihara and the Turn 14 Subaru BRZ in T16 (in a match that went to a OMT); and a hot Taylor Hull in the Comp Cams Cadillac ATS-V in G8, who is having a breakout year. On the other side of the bracket it was Chris Forsberg in his NOS Energy Drink Z34 and Vaughn Gittin in his Monster Energy Drink Mustang. Forsberg got there with an opening round bye, a win over Mike Essa in the FCP Euro E46 in 16 via better proximity and mimic from behind, and a hard-fought triumph over Adam LZ in 8 that went to OMT and was decided when LZ in the chase went off course. For his part, Gittin's journey eliminated Tyler Nelson's Shelby Mustang, Matt Field's Falken Drift Cave C6 Corvette, and Nerren, who himself had a banner Round 5 getting all the way to Great 8.
In their semi's matchup, Forsberg had the better chase with Gittin; Jones meanwhile just didn't seem to have enough for Tuerck in either the lead or chase, and so Ryan advanced to the gold match. Jones continued to struggle in the consolation battle with Gittin, unable to keep proximity tight from the chase spot. Vaughn ended up with the W, got third place for the event, and picked up a third straight podium, but Jeff had his first Final 4 feather to put in his cap.
The last fight of Round 5 kinda fell into Ryan Tuerck's lap; Forsberg was on a tear through the course in the lead and did not piece together the best-looking lap. Tureck pretty much dotted his i's and crossed his t's, and the judges dinged Chris for his wild-man lead, thus Ryan scored the first event win of his 2020, as well as the fourth podium of his season. For the moment, he was in the points lead, too.
We would argue what was more historical about the end of Round 5 was the all-Drift Alliance podium, the first time that's ever happened. Those guys have been drifting together forever, and while not every DA member who has been in FD is still there, to see the remaining squad mob the box like that more than 15 years after they came on the scene was a sight to behold (Super Street's old-school drift fans on staff maybe even got a little teary eyed watching it).
Sunday: Pro Round 6
By the last day of Formula D Texas, all the Pros seemed to have the course down (with a few exceptions) and there were sort of no surprises getting through Top 32—well, maybe one surprise. After picking up his first F4 birth the day before, Jeff Jones had a bye to start his Sunday competition but mysteriously went off course at Outer Zone 2 drifting by himself and had to be towed back to the pits. When his team took a look at the car, they realized the LS in Jones's 370Z had completely let go—broken crankshaft—and their weekend was done. That's motorsport, though—the highest of highs can sometimes be followed by some really shitty luck.
On the other end of the spectrum, YouTube sensation Adam LZ and his S15 had the best event of his FD Pro career. The rookie had a bye to start, then was gifted the win in T16 against Mike Essa when the 2013 series champ's E46 in the trailing spot went off in the dreaded sweeper. Next LZ faced the previous round's winner, Ryan Tuerck, in the Great 8 in a wild pairing; Tuerck had a terrible chase, ultimately bumping LZ right before flying off course, much like Essa, at the entry to the last turn. Tuerck's Corolla was badly banged up—broken knuckle, bent wheels, missing body panels—and his team didn't have enough time to patch it back together and send it out, but it mattered little as Ryan would have had a huge deficit to recover from.
LZ's opponent in the semis was Chris Forsberg and the NOS Z, whose route sent him first through Kyle Mohan's RX-8 in the round of 32, then Odi Bakchis's S15 in 16; the Odi fight initially looked like a bit of a head scratcher after contact right at the start of Chris's lead lap, but afterward Odi owned up to the touch, admitting he was too close and didn't give Forsberg enough room to initiate unimpeded (which is really a bummer for Odi because it looked like Chris may have hucked it too hard into the first turn and may have over rotated). Forsberg earned his F4 ticket by eliminating Dai Yoshihara's BRZ in G8 with a masterful chase.
The other side of the bracket boiled down to Team RTR boss, Vaughn Gittin, and his number two, Chelsea DeNofa. To get to the semis, Chelsea displaced Rome Charpentier's Garagastic E36 in Top 32 and Jonathan Nerren's Mustang in Top 16; in Great 8, DeNofa went up against Fredric Aasbo and his GR Supra, and on their first lap with Freddie in the lead, the Norwegian Hammer dropped both rears off the track in the sweeper and came to a stop, with DeNofa right next to him doing the same; Aasbo was found at fault for leading Chelsea out into no-man's land and Chelsea got the win. For his part, Gittin had a bye run in 32, beat Matt Field in 16 when Field's C6 went off course at (where else) the sweeper, and kept his composure in the lead against Kazuya Taguchi in 8 (they both had awful chases) to get to the Final 4.
Maybe it was jitters over facing RTR's HMIC in the semis, but DeNofa appeared to give away the win in the F4, with an error-filled lead and chase ending in a spinout in the sweeper. Gittin advanced to the final battle to go against the same dude he faced in the Final 4 a day earlier, his Drift Alliance bro Forsberg; Chris almost didn't make it, too, with his hands full with the LZ rematch in the semis. Judges gave LZ the better lead and Forsberg the better chase their first time out, but they needed extra laps to figure out a true winner, so they called for a OMT.
In the bonus, LZ trying to run down Forsberg got too deep in Zone 3 and went off course at the entry to the sweeper, in the process sliding into Chris's car and triggering a momentary fire on the Z34. It turned out to be nothing, but with LZ's incomplete for going off, Forsberg picked up the win. LZ's battle with DeNofa was his last chance to make the Round 6 podium, and he got super close; judges again asked for a One More Time after the first laps didn't reveal a clear victor. Proving just how hard the last bit of track was, LZ again blew it in the chase spot, going completely off course at the end of the infernal sweeper and right before the finish line. LZ was given a zero for his chase and DeNofa bagged his second podium of 2020.
The last battle went to extra laps as well, both Forsberg and Gittin making compromises in their chase runs. Without knowing the final score, if you had blindly guessed that the last stretch of track—the left turn where Zone 4 is located, the troublesome sweeper we've been talking about for this entire story—would affect the final outcome of Round 6, you'd be totally right. Slowing to avoid hitting a leading Forsberg in Zone 3, Gittin's Mustang wound up being carried off course by its momentum right at the entry to—all together now—the sweeper, and his chase was over, as were his chances for another victory. Chris Forsberg got the win—his first since 2018—and his second podium in as many days.
Vaughn Gittin took second place, which was his third podium of 2020, and now sits atop the driver leaderboard in points at 428. Eight points behind him is Ryan Tuerck and in third is Forsberg sitting on 364 markers. Only one event remains on the Formula D calendar, Irwindale Speedway, where the last Pro 2 round and the last two Pro rounds of the year will get sorted out Nov. 20th to the 22nd. At this point it appears that the series and the track will have spectators for this event after initially indicating they would not, but from the looks of it seating will be capped at a quarter of the venue's capacity. It's been a crazy year so far, for so many reasons, and we hope to bring you all the highs and lows from the season finale in our wrap-up coverage following the event.