Formula D Diaries: Las Vegas
There's hot, and then there's Vegas hot. Blistering oppressive, and sweltering temperatures at the Las Vegas Speedway during the month of July skyrocket up to 120 degrees F. Imagine touching your oili filler cap after 30 minutes of hard driving. Now imagine that kind of heat, but all over your body. It's like that; only with UVA and UVB rays.
Fortunately for eight of our Formula D Diaries drivers and the entire tow of our 2NR staff, this particular weekend was moderate, with temps in the upper 90s. But that doesn't mean our drifters didn't crank up the heat in the seasons halfway point at Round 4...well some of them did. A few crashed, some broke, and a couple were surprisingly knocked out early on, but two of our drivers landed in the top three. Who, may you ask? Read on.
The Formula D drifter-turned-judge traded in his gavel for a steering wheel, jumping into the seat of his personal S13 240SX. The first time in years Alex has competed in Formula D, we asked him to share what it's like to be back in the saddle again.
Wow, what a weekend that was. It was some of the most incredible driving I have seen in a long time.
Things started late for me; switching from being a Judge to a driver wasn't settled until shortly before this event, so I was under the gun to get myself and my car ready for Formula D. I was so excited to get behind the wheel again that I really didn't consider how bad of a car I have. It began acting up in the first session. The boost controller wasn't working right and it ended up spiking to 1.8 bar from the 1.2 bar it had been tuned to run-a minor detail, but one that destroyed all my spark plugs, and caused the car to lose it's power. We replaced the plugs and I was back in line with a lot less practice than needed.
During the last practice session, we realized the tires were too grippy, as I was unable to initiate into the first turn. A friend of mine hooked me up with a new set, so I could at least get the car sideways, but I still felt rusty behind the wheel and was having trouble connecting the whole course. Since there were only a few more laps before qualifying, I decided to give it hell and push the car as much as I could. ...Which may have been a bit hasty, as I ended up short on the last inner clipping point, and nailed a large plastic barrier that destroyed my intercooler and pushed me backwards into a wall. With about 30 minutes before I needed to be on the line to qualify, we all tried our best to get the car running, but just didn't have the parts.
In a season plagued with mechanical issues, Tyler and his crew finally got their Porsche dialed in at Jersey and took home Second Place. A skilled driver with years of track experience, it didn't come as a surprise for Tyler, all he needs to do now is keep his momentum...and his voodoo doll.
Our season had finally started with a Second Place finish in New Jersey and we rolled into Vegas ready to take the house down. I arrived at the track Thursday night for our Vegas-like late night practice at 10 p.m. and stayed until 1 a.m. Before we got started, I jumped on the track in my rental car and quickly realized that this track was pretty damn fast. It started with a 1,100 foot straight to a left hand corner into the first clipping point. Then it sent you to the outside clipping point by the judges' stands, which lead you into two tighter right-hand corners with a small left transition before the finish. On a map, it looked like a backwards question mark.
I used my first practice run as a sighting lap with no drifting. The second run I worked on the slower corners at the end. For my third, I worked on the entry and tying everything together. And at this point, I noticed that the motor was not running well at low rpm; at the starting line, the Porsche was bogging to the point that it was almost stalling. On the fourth run, I planned on running it at full throttle; my entry speed on this run ended up being close to the top speed for the entire weekend. The run was going well, and while hand braking into the third inner clipping point-the final right-hand corner-I was at full opposite lock to the left and my motor died! I tried popping the clutch, but the corner was so quick that the Porsche gripped and spun me around to the left. I locked down the brakes as fast as I could and the next thing I saw was what appeared to be a bright light calling me towards it. As I got closer, the bright light was actually a 5,000-pound K rail! Another two feet and I would have been good, but we ended up with some cosmetic damage to the front bumper and fender.
The next morning, the JIC Hankook team got to the track and the car would not start. After a long diagnosis we discovered the car had no fuel pressure; we determined that the fuel pump died on the last run. We called everyone in Vegas, and go figure, no one had a fuel pump for a 993 GT2. The team drove back to the shop in L.A., took the fuel pump off the other JIC Porsche GT2, drove straight back to Vegas, got the fuel pump on, and we had fuel pressure! I had my suit on, helmet in hand, and was ready to go, but the car had no boost. And when I say no boost, I'm mean zero! This was like the dealer getting three blackjacks in a row. The team was frantically tearing apart the car looking for the problem. They checked everything: turbos, intercooler, and still there was no boost. Practice came and went and so did qualifying. I've never had to bow out of an event without the opportunity to qualify. Vegas kicked our ass this time! I guess there's truth to the saying "the house always wins". What made it more difficult was our strong showing in Jersey and feeling that we couldn't duplicate that performance.
I left Vegas at 3 a.m. Sunday morning and drove to Willow Springs for Super Lap Battle qualifying, where I won overall and broke the track record in the C-West/BC/Hankook S2000 with a lap time of 1:23.141. At least some good came out of my weekend!
Like Tyler, the former D1GP champ in the A'PEXi RX-7 has been having a rough year; constant transmission failures have kept Ryuji far from the podium. After going off track in the Top 8 against Tanner Foust, Ryuji is in Vegas, hoping to get back on track.
Round 4 Las Vegas was a night event! Why? That is because during the daytime, temperatures will go over 100 degrees in Las Vegas, and I don't think vehicles or people are able to survive in such hot conditions.
I was able to drive "so-so" during Thursday night's practice. I wanted to run so badly during Friday's practice that I went way too fast and ended up hitting the tire barrier with the rear of the car so hard, it spun the car around and damaged the front section as well. The rear-suspension arm had serious damage and of course, both rear and front bumpers and the front fender shattered into pieces. With very hard work, the crew repaired the vehicle. I drove the vehicle at 50 percent power during practice on Saturday, to see how it would run after the crash. The vehicle was handling fine, but after driving it hard, I crashed into a wall with the rear of the car...again! And this time, it was the concrete wall! The car was still drivable, so I finished up practice and headed into the Top 16.
I babied the car through its first run, and the judges scored me an 80.33. I was shocked to hear when the official points were so low. That was the lowest score that I'd got in Formula D thus far. My second run had to be better, but since I hadn't been able to control the car well while drifting, I requested my crew lower the rear tire pressures, to give it some added grip. From the entrance of the first corner, I clutch kicked the car in Fourth gear.... But it didn't drift; pressure was a little too low, I guess.
I was not able to keep my position with the score I had received from the first run to qualify for the Top 16, and ended up with zero points. I felt terrible to put my team through this horrible situation. The rear of the vehicle is near-totaled, which requires professional frame damage repair...and it is entirely my fault! At the same time, I hope that the team understands that the balance of the vehicle was not perfect, and I believe that previous repairs made on the front end of the car from an old crash may have been the problem. The vehicle has been in competition for the past four years and it needs complete repair so that next time we can at least set it to the correct alignment specs, so I can drive it as I want.
Vaughn Gittin Jr.
After not being able to run in the Top 16 in New Jersey, thanks to the failing of a $3 part, the sole D1GP winner and his Mustang are in Vegas looking to "gitterdun."
Round 4 was an amazing event. The crowd was huge and the course was insanely dangerous and fast-just how I love it! The weekend can be summed up by a few clichs for me and the Falken Tire Ford Mustang: "When it rains it pours," or better yet, "If it wasn't for bad luck, we would have no luck at all."
After our minor issue in Jersey, the Ford Mustang went back to ASD where my crew fixed the freak power-steering problem and prepped the car for battle in Vegas. As the car was being loaded onto the Falken Tire rig, it started to backfire and sputter out of the ITBs. I am going to make this long story real short: The head was trashed. After three days of tireless work by my incredibly dedicated team and partners, the car showed up to the track on Saturday with 25 minutes left in practice. I got two runs in, and then went straight to qualifying, so I had no choice but to go for it. I had studied my competitors all weekend and picked Forsberg's brain enough that I felt I had run the course a hundred times. I jumped in the Mustang directly off the trailer and tossed into the first turn without hesitation and laid down a pretty solid run. I threw it in a bit in the second run and nailed it! Although I only had only pulled off two passes, I was confident I would qualify no problem. Some evil forces had other plans for my weekend however. On the exit of the course, the car started running real rough, so I shut it down. The Falken Tire/ASD crew rushed to get the car back to the pit to try and get us to qualify, but unfortunately we had to toss in the towel due to an unexplained timing-chain failure that resulted in bent valves.
We are pretty much officially out of the championship points chase for a Top 3 finish. However, due to the way the event worked out with so many non-seeded drivers making Top 16, I am still in 8th Place. We are going back to the drawing board and are discussing going with a more traditional Ford Racing crate engine as "reinventing of the wheel" with these insanely built naturally aspirated engines is not holding up to my right foot. Although we are having this ridiculous streak of stupid bad luck, my head is still up and I have full confidence that my extremely dedicated team and I will pull through this. I am all for being the "spoiler" for the series points leaders!
Still working out the kinks of his drift tC, Ken qualified 18th in Jersey, missing the Top 16 due to low speeds. Like Steve Urkel in a bar fight, all Ken needs now is some more power...
Honestly, I don't think our car has EVER run this good in its short life! For the first time, I had complete confidence while driving it. Hiro Sumida's mechanic, Koji, had the rear differential mounts fixed, since the old ones were cracked and vibrating. Another big improvement was horsepower-we have more of it! The RSR crew decided to shoot nitrous oxide in the lower- and mid-range to help produce more power between 2,000 to 4,500 rpm, helping the car take off much quicker than before. Up until this event, I was having a hard time getting the car up to speed. I love nitrous. It's the best creation ever.
Thursday's practice was a chance for all of the drivers, including myself, to learn the new track. After walking the course for the first time, I got to tell you-I was scared. The entry for this course was a blind 90mph left turn into a long right-hander. It was scary at first, but after a few runs, the line became like second nature. I felt good going into qualifying on Friday; and scored an 89 my first run, only three points behind the legendary Orido. During the second session, Robbie Nishida and I made a deal to place higher than Orido. Robbie got a 94 and I ended up with a 93! Woo-hoo!! So top Qualifying was Robbie, then me, then Orido; team Japan, with a 1-2-3 finish!!
Saturday's qualify session was much more strict. Even with a similar run from the previous Qualifying session, I only scored an 88. I qualified 14th for the Top 16 and was paired with Rhys Millen, going into competition. On our first run, I noticed his Solstice was much faster than the RSR Scion tC on the straight. As soon as I hit the entry, I pulled right up to his door and tried my best to keep up with him through the course. The score was 10-9, my lead! On my lead lap, everything was going smooth until the very last corner, when I lost all power, 7-0, Rhys. Ouch! What happened? The intercooler piping came apart and I lost boost. If it would've held together for another few meters, I would have been in a better place. But even with the early defeat in Vegas, we still remain in 14th Place overall and back into the seeded group. Please, let this be the last bug we need to fix in the tc.
Chris and his 350Z lost to Dai Yoshihara in the Top 8 at New Jersey, landing him Third overall and in a very tight points chase. Already having a second place win for the '07 season, Chris wants his drop top on the podium top.
Where do I even start for this one? Las Vegas Formula D events have much of the same feeling as the city itself: hot, fast, new faces, and new winners. The weekend started off good for our team; we were posting good entry speeds and clearing the course smoothly on Thursday. We decided not to run Friday morning practice due to track conditions-which turned out to be a good idea, since two of the 12 seeded drivers crashed during practice. Evening practice was snubbed by a freak storm, but by the end of the day, all of Drift Alliance had moved on to Saturday's competition.
Saturday came and we were all eager to get on the track to make a few passes. We wanted to see if we would still make our high entry speeds, despite skyrocketing track temps. After a few laps, our speeds were among the top 10 fastest. Reassured, we pulled off the track for a final prep before qualifying. Once it was my turn to run, I hit the straightaway with all the power I had, threw the 350Z into the first turn, stood on the gas all the way through in Fourth gear, and flipped 'er back for the second clipping point on the outside wall-for a moment there I thought I was gonna hit! Back in Third and on the throttle, I pulled away into the rest of the course; we had just earned our Top 16 spot.
After qualifying, I noticed that we were paired to follow Daijiro going into the tandem rounds. I've beaten Dai in the past, but not since he got in the GTO. Since its Rhys' car, I knew he wouldn't try any sneaky moves and I made sure to keep as close as possible to him during our first run. I hit the first turn with a clutch kick, but the car started to understeer. I quickly modulated the throttle to get the car to rotate, but crashed through the outside wall. Trying to regain control, I threw it into the second turn, but it was too late; the advantage came back 7 to 5, in Dai's favor. I knew that the understeer at the entry was the reason, and for my lead run, I had no choice but to go for broke to stay in the competition. We flew down the straightaway and I threw it in extra hard to make sure the car would rotate. It did and I stood on the throttle all the way into the second turn...probably a half a second too long. The wall was closing in fast, so I downshifted and started to add angle so the impact wouldn't hit the wheels or suspension. The back corner hit hard, and pulled the car almost back in line. I got back on the gas to maintain drift. I exited the course wondering if the car straightened out too much for the judges. It did. We lost the round.
It was a bit frustrating, but I am glad to have made Top 16 again. It definitely seems that our lack of horsepower is really catching up to us. Everyone is getting more and more and we are struggling to keep up. We'll see what we can pull off before the next round.
Nos Energy Drink
After going out in the Top 8 in Jersey against Tyler McQuarrie, the two-time Formula D champ is sitting in the number two spot for the '08 season behind Tanner Foust. Back in a Viper, sure as the Swedes love their meatballs, Sam's looking to close the lead in Vegas.
When I first heard that the Formula D event at Las Vegas was going to be on a parking lot, I was not too excited, but Andy Yen, with amazing support from the folks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, did an awesome job of setting up the track!
The hot weather in the middle of the summer in the Nevada desert was challenging. It definitely takes a lot out of you. But because we ran late in the evening, it was not too bad.
After being pretty conservative during Friday's practice, I felt I was ready to start pushing it. So I called out to my team, including Stina, my spotter, to check for a hard run. As I came in to the first left-hander at 94 mph I had too much side bite and I did not get the car to come out enough. That pushed my line further down and got me to the outer clipping zone too hard. I smacked the rear end and broke the rear knuckle and toe link and learned the hard way where that wall was. The great thing is that I got the best team out there; NuFormz Racing and Mopar. The car was ready to drive in 20 minutes!
Anyway, I ended up qualifying second and finishing Third over all. I got a good amount of points for the Championship chase and I can't wait for Seattle. I am too beat to type anything more! Drift Ya Later!
The number four is considered unlucky by the Japanese, so it's no wonder that it's been a curse for Dai. In the last two events, Dai and his GTO finished Fourth landing him for the season in spot number-you guessed it- four. Will his luck change in Round-pause for dramatics-4?
I love Vegas, but I don't think I love to drift in Vegas during the Summer. Rhys and I prepared to drive in crazy hot weather. But fortunately for all of us, freak storms, and nighttime competition meant the weekend wasn't that hot at all. Our other challenge: Vegas was another new track with a very difficult layout. Starting with a very high-speed entry and covered by concrete walls, the most difficult part was the main outside clipping zone; it was like transitioning towards the wall at a high speed-damn scary! I would say it was the most difficult Formula D track so far, and I was having a really hard time figuring out how to drive it. And all the adjustments the car needed kept me out of practice for most of the day on Friday...and they cancelled the second practice session because of the rain, so Saturday morning's practice session was the only time I had to learn the track. In the middle of the practice session, the fuel system broke! WTF?! My practice was over without having any solid runs, not even one good run.
My teammate Rhys's car was also having problems at the same time. The power steering belt was cut and we didn't have spare. With about an hour until the qualifying round would start, the whole team was kind of in panic mode; at that point, I became very anxious and paranoid. I wasn't even sure if they could fix my car, and I had no idea how I would do on a course I'd barely driven! Luckily, Rhys found the belt from a local parts shop and both cars came together at the last minute. Then, it was up to me to make it happen. After two runs, I qualified Seventh, overall. Yes, I know that isn't great, but considering how I felt before, it was a miracle. I was proud of myself for delivering in desperate times! Actually, I was happier than when I qualified First in New Jersey.
After the qualifying round, I regained confidence and began to feel more comfortable. Everyone made a mistake on their own throughout competition, which helped me move on to the finals. Maybe my confidence vibes hit them! The final round was myself against Toshiki Yoshioka, who-I think-was driving the fastest AE86 in the world. My plan was to go as fast as I could, but OMG he was fast! Too fast! He took off from the line, and seemed to pull away more and more after the first corner. The judges felt my angles were better, so I guess that's what gave us the "one more time" match. I kept my good angle in both of my lead runs, but he was on my ass, slightly tapping my bumper at one point! Following him, I just couldn't keep up. It was my defeat.
I got Second Place-my first podium finish with the Bridgestone GTO. Finally!!! And I couldn't have done it without my team, and some great mechanics that have a talent for working well under pressure (and heat)! ...Maybe now, I think I love to drift Vegas in the summer!
Rhys Millen Motors
'08 Scion XB: Vegas, Baby, Vegas
Map Provided By Google
Even at dusk, the twinkling lights of Las Vegas against the tan-colored desert is magnanimous. No matter how many times I've experienced it, words can't describe the sheer excitement that comes from rounding the last bend of the 15 highway, greeted by the embrace of Sin City's warm glow. Vegas, baby, Vegas.
For most Angelenos, our favorite weekend getaway is Las Vegas, NV. A city built for adults of the non-god-fearing kind, it's filled with gambling, partying and other 24/7 vices that puts our Hollywood to shame. But like any great adventure, it takes the crossing of a desert. The motivation for crossing 250 miles of parched plains is there, but the method is up to debate: Fly or drive?
On the flying side of the equation, there's ticket costs, fuel taxes, the airport itself, the not so wonderful people employed by the TSA, funky smelling passengers, toilets that spew blue liquids while vacuuming the air out of your ears, the chance that your mode of transportation can be used as a WMD, etc. Driving on the other hand, offers the flexibility to stop where you want, sit with who you want, and leave when you want. And without traffic, Vegas takes only about three and a half hours with the obligatory pee stops... stops with toilets that flush real water and won't suck the very soul out of you. Factoring in the time it takes to drive to the airport, park, take the shuttle, check into your flight, fly, use pressurized blue toilets, land, disembark, wait for your luggage, get a taxi; the utility that flying offers, saving of time, is completely negated.
But how about cost? With ever-increasing prices at the pump, would the price of a flight be about the same as driving? We wanted to test that theory, so we took two Scions, an xB and an xD, filled the tanks in Pasadena, CA, reset the trip odometer, and embarked on our test/journey.
In stark contrast to most SoCal driving, highway 15 is easy. The trick is leaving at an off time to avoid congestion, meaning never after 2pm on a Friday. But free of traffic, the two lane road past Barstow is gorgeous in its own barren right. The Mojave and its eroded mountain ranges are a spectacular sight, and, as long as you avoid the dreaded minivans (read page 16 for more), average highway speeds are in excess of 80 mph. For rest stops, there's Barstow, the world's tallest thermometer at Baker, and for the anxious, the border town of Primm, NV with its casinos and the world's most rickety roller coaster. But all of that is foreplay to Vegas and the sense of accomplishment that you get from reaching your journey's end. In this case a sin-filled destination.
Filling up the tank at a gas station off Flamingo Road, the xB took in 9.68 gallons totaling $41.04, and the xD a diminutive 8.64 gallons for a total of $36.64. The cheapest flight I found for the weekend was for Southwest at $126 for a one way or $134 for a round trip. Not only is driving the affordable alternative-especially if you round up the homies and divide up the petrol-you get to steer clear (literally) of the pressurized toilets.
'08 Scion XD: The Return Trip
When Carter informed me that we'd be driving to Vegas for the Formula D / BOTI event-as opposed to flying-I was excited. Having spent the first 26 years of my life living on the East Coast, I like any excuse to drive through the desert. There's something about the endless supply of nothingness that fascinates me. I'm sure that sounds crazy to all you Cali natives, but rest assured; we do have one thing in common-a talent for driving in traffic. And probably like a lot of you, I view it as a welcomed challenge; pass more people than can pass me, defend my position against lane jockeys...you know what I'm talking about. So, when Carter added that we'd be sporting a pair of press cars for the voyage, I was geeked! "EVO X? STI? GT-R?!" I asked. So many formidable weapons have been released this year, which one was I lucky enough to have scored?
"Oh, really? A Scion xD...." I mumbled. That's like being told you're going to run a marathon in a pair of loafers. "Oh, and what's that? We're going to make this a fuel mileage test?" ...Better make it a pair of flip-flops. One size too small, at that, because Carter was getting the more powerful xB, and he also shares my compulsion to remain ahead of the pack-meaning I would be facing a hell of a struggle in keeping up with him.
A sharply dualistic experience, the drive on Nevada/California's two-lane Interstate 15 ranges from a high-speed, sprint-paced competition, to idling in bumper-to-bumper traffic when it all goes wrong...with very little of anything else in between; not the best situation for metering any vehicle's ideal fuel economy, especially not a 128hp xD sporting heavy(ish) 17-inch alloys and a fully cranked A/C, battling 100+ degree desert heat and an impatient lead driver. Keeping up with Carter meant the "go" pedal had to be smashed to the floor at all times, was needed, and the transmission-a manual, thank God-had to be kept in the lowest gear allowed by the fuel-cut when tackling any incline.
Needless to say, I wasn't expecting the xD to post glorious numbers-especially after sitting in traffic for nearly two hours on the return trip-but it came through with a surprisingly economical 28.7 mpg average. That's better than rival cars could manage on their best day-and this xD had probably just been through its worst. Cutthroat, high-performance sports car with the ability to ambush any unsuspecting, over-tanned, Hawaiian shirt-clad tourist before they ever caught a glimpse of it in their mirrors, the xD is not. But a relentlessly economical commuter, it most certainly is. Log onto importtuner.com for the expanded review of the TRD-enhanced xD: what we love, what we hate, and some juicy pics, to boot!