A lone honda makes the field at formula d's season opener in long beach, and is summarily dispatched before the round of 16. Fans of pro h badge sliding could be in for a long, long season.
In America, it's tough being a Honda-lover and a fan of the spectacle of drifting. The only readily viable slider in the OEM's stable is the front-engine, rear-driven S2000, and even that's designed for road race grip, not going sideways at speed in full lock. Competitively, the limits of the S2K's torque-challenged F-series four-banger also become exposed by the motorsport. It's enough to make any sane person wonder why you'd want to use the machine to drift in the first place.
In light of these oversteering deficiencies, no fewer than three teams campaigned the celebrated roadster in the Formula Drift series last year to varying degrees of accomplishment, most successful among them was Tyler McQuarrie and his RS*R AP1.
Fast forward to the '07 opening round in Long Beach, Calif., April 6-7, where only one S2000 made the competition roster, the AEM-backed ride of Steph Papadakis. With just a single H badge in the field, one can't help but think that support for the platform in this discipline has eroded even further, threatening the automaker's place in the sport. Sigh.
So where were the other teams? Through the grapevine, we learned that RS*R is still working out its driver situation, while the Cali stop was a tad too far away for Honda R&D to schlep out its Element from Ohio (although we also heard it got a workout in front of the fans at the St. Pete GP in Florida weeks before). As for RealTime Racing and its supercharged convertible, that may be the saddest story of all: after preparing for this season much of 2006, it appears their commitments to World Challenge will preclude them from competing at any of the FD stops this year. Damn!
With just one Honda to pin our hopes on, we returned to the famous street course to see how deep Steph could take his roadster. Just as last year, the drivers would be employing turns 9 (a.k.a. the Bridgestone Turn), 10, and 11 of the Champ Car circuit. That is, a 90-degree right, which leads to a sweeping left, and ultimately to a tight hairpin right that dumps to the main straight of the race course. Different from last year, the track was widened about 10 feet on each shoulder. Additionally, tires were removed from the entrance to turn 11 mid-day on Saturday for more room.
The good news is that Steph managed to keep his AP out of walls, tires and other vehicles through the entire event. The bad news is he seemed to struggle to get the car pitched during his two Top 16 qualifying runs. The judges were not kind, and eliminated Papadakis in the first half of Saturday.
We hope Papadakis, and anyone else gutsy enough to compete with a Honda, soldiers on and continues to drift. But we won't be totally surprised if by season's end the only H badges at FD events are the ones in the parking lot.