Tyler McQuarrie's been having one crap of a season. Mind you, this isn't due to lack of ability-rather, one mechanical issue after another. Think Michael Phelps trying to swim strapped with an astronaut helmet for goggles and Capri shorts for Speedos...with a zipper that keeps breaking during Qualifications.
A short introduction to my entry this month: I've been an instructor at the Jim Russell Racing School at Infineon for the past 11 years. I grew up, and still live, close to the track. So when I say I hate drifting this track - it's for good reason. The entry requires near-100 mph speed, and leads directly into a 400 foot long e-brake initiation. Sounds good, unless you're driving a Porsche with a motor hanging off the rear.
I'm at the track almost every day, but never with the Hankook JIC Porsche. Come race day, we had only gotten in eight practice runs; four of which were pretty solid, but the car stalled during the other four. For some reason, whenever I turned the steering wheel full-lock to the left, the power steering would jam and kill the engine! With virtually no time to fix the problem, we crossed our fingers and went for it. The entry speed for my first qualifying run was close to 100 mph. I grabbed the e-brake and nailed the line that the judges were looking for. The first corner tightens as you work your way down to the main inside clipping point, which means you need to hit it in full lock, with a downshift into 2nd gear. So guess what happened on my first run? The engine stalled! I tried popping the clutch, but by that point, the car straightened out. I still had one more run, and planned to hit the clipping point with less angle, to keep from stalling out again.
I began my second run with similar entry speed and a little less angle... things were looking good. But as I went for the downshift to 2nd, the shifter came off in my hand! Are you freaking kidding me?! There I was, looking at the shifter - which was entirely in my hand - in total disbelief, when I should've been qualifying for competition and on my way to winning this thing. What else could possibly go wrong?
I've been racing for 15 years and have had three podiums in Formula D, with too many Fourth place finished to count - not to mention road race championships, time attack records... I have never had such a disappointing and frustrating season in my entire career. I can't wait for this season to end. Irwindale is the last race of the season and I'm going to go out with a bang. In fact, I think I might wear my HANS device for that event.
With a dead clutch, Ken managed to squeak into the Top 16 in Seattle, landing him in the seeded group at Sonoma. With a completely custom RWD tC, a season full of mechanical woes and an upbeat attitude, a quitter Ken is not.
After the last four Formula D events, we've given ourselves the nickname "DK". Not for "Drift King" but for "Drama King"; little, unseen problems always seem to come up that keep us off the podium, so we headed to Sonoma ready for anything.
Friday's practice went well. The RS-R Scion tC was running the best it ever had. I spent all my practice time figuring out how to approach Turn 1 without sacrificing speed or angle. And then the unthinkable happened: my transmission would not shift into 2nd or 4th gear, mid-drift. Fortunately, Koji-san prepared a spare for us, and he and the crew stayed at the track Friday night and swapped it in. Our first qualifying run on Saturday was smooth until I came to the exit of the hairpin and tried to shift into 3rd gear: it didn't go in! I straightened out and scored a big fat zero! Not good. On the second run, instead of shifting into 3rd at the exit of the hairpin, I stayed in 2nd gear through the left-hand sweeper, and qualified Ninth with a score of 93.67, with 91 mph entry speeds. Very good!
My first Top 16 run was to follow Ryan Tuerck. On the first lap, I followed too close and I hit the side of his car, damaging suspension components on my Scion that put it way out of alignment. It was toed out so bad that I went off course on my lead lap, which gave the advance to Ryan. I feel that my luck keeps washing away! With only one race left in the series, I hope to prove different.
The former D1GP champ spun out his RX-7 in the last event's Top 8 round against Sam Hubinette in the Seattle rain. Guess what? He get's a second crack at him in Sonoma. Can he win without the water?
At the end of Round 5 in Seattle, my total points for the season were 183.5, putting me in Eleventh overall. I want to at least finish within the Top 10 at the end of the season; therefore, I could not afford to lose at Sonoma. But conditions were not so good for us, beginning with practice on Friday. Every time I would try to enter the first corner with maximum angle, the car would spin out; grip was very low. We adjusted the rear shocks, switched to wider tread rear tires... the car responded better, but was not ideal for qualifying.
I ran a little too wide towards the outer edge of the course on my first qualifying run, which is why I believe the judges scored me only 86 points. What I did not understand, was that all of the other competitors were running a very similar line, but were scoring higher. I concentrated on a less aggressive line for my second run, and got 90.8 points... barely qualifying for Top 16 in 16th place. I could not understand why I wasn't able to get more points, but I was told that my line was a little different compared to the others. I was driving 'Japanese style' and I guess the judges could not understand. Either way, I switched to a more conservative style heading into competition.
My first round of Tsuiso was against Samuel Hubinette, the driver I lost to in Seattle. This time however, the course condition was dry, so I was looking forward to a better match up. He led the first run, and I kept up with him in the straightaway, into the turns, and across the finish line. I was on his tail - almost hitting his rear the entire time - so I could not believe that he scored eight points to my seven! I ran an equally clean lead run, which resulted in a One More Time run. I ran my second following run exactly the same as my first run; no mistakes and I stayed on his tail so close that his rear tire actually rubbed against my front bumper... but I still ended up losing by 1 point! I cannot understand the judging! One good thing: many fans called out to me when I lost, saying that it was a great run - I think they were disappointed in the judging, too.
I finished in Sixteenth Place for the event, but am still in Eleventh for the season. In order for me to finish within the Top 10, I must stand on the podium in the final round.
A solid season has left Chris and his 350Z solidly in Fifth Place--a decent ranking for most, but not for a driver who finished Second last season. After misfiring issues knocked Chris out in the Top 16 against Miki in the last event, it's up to his crew to try and get the problem fixed for Sonoma.
Sonoma has always been an up and down track for us. In 2004, my car broke and I had to run a backup, yet 2005 was a good finish. In 2006, my car broke again but in 2007, we came out as the champion. According to our Sonoma calendar, we were due for another broken car. We had a serious ignition issue with the Z in Seattle that we couldn't figure out, but our crew chief, Kevin, was not going to let that end our weekend. Our ECU was verified to be in good order, and after two days spent with the Z strapped to the dyno, we finally figured out that the crank trigger inside the junkyard motor we installed in Seattle was about .005-inch off. It's unbelievable to think that such a fraction of an inch can be so important!
We got to the track late, unloaded the trailer and prepped for practice. After some minor suspension tuning, we were putting down near-perfect runs. It felt so good to be back in our car again, without the problems! I dedicated spare time on Friday to helping teammate Tony Angelo with repairs to his car, slept a little, then put down few practice laps on Saturday morning to set the mood before qualifying.
I tore down the hill for our first qualifying run: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, clutch-kick! We posted an 88 mph entry speed, and initiated the drift almost 50 feet before anyone else! The run was clean and landed us tied for Second Place! After our second run, we ended up sitting in Sixth; a huge improvement from previous events. Our first competitor in the tandem rounds was Kyle Mohan. We ran against him in the past while he was in a broken car, so I was interested to see what would happen this time. I was the lead car on our first run, so I hauled down the hill and threw it in as hard as I could. We were both on the steering lock all the way to the first outer clip, but Kyle straightened out and received zero points. I came back for our chase run, knowing all that I needed was a nice clean pass. Going down the hill, I kept a one to two car gap between us for the braking zone. As we approached the main clip, I was closing in pretty hard to Kyle's car. I got nervous that I was too close, but as we rotated around the main clip his car came around to a stop. I hit the brakes and stopped inches away. We won the first round!
Moving into the Great 8, we were paired up with Bill Sherman, a NOPI champ and new competitor to this season of Formula D. After some practice laps, we found that he was lightning fast down the hill, but I was faster through the corners. On our first run, I tried to keep up down the straight and as I initiated into the first turn. There was a four car gap between us, which quickly turned into a zero car gap; I was hard on the brakes trying not to hit Bill, and under-steered a little before I could regain control of the car. We were awarded two points... and there's almost no coming back from that. Our next lap was my lead, so all I could do was throw down a clean run and hope for Bill to make a mistake. He didn't. Bill moved on to the semi-finals and we ended the event with a Sixth Place finish, and in solid position to finish within the Top 5 for the season.
Nos Energy Drink
In First Place, Sam is on the cusp of adding a third Formula D title to his name. With Tanner trailing behind, Sam and his Viper need every point to maintain his lead.
The whole season, I have been in First or Second Place in the points standings, and after the Seattle event, I held a 12-point lead over Tanner. I knew it was nothing to be comfortable with, but still had a nice feeling, arriving in Sonoma for Round 6 of Formula D.
Infineon Raceway is one of the most amazing racetracks in the country, but the track's drift course is my least favorite of them all. It is too short and too much of an e-brake layout. Because I was the number one seeded driver, I was the last to qualify, so I really took my time to study what the other 31 drivers were doing, and what the judges were looking for. I saw that they were really putting a lot of emphasis on speed and how deep you were going down in the corner - two things I concentrated on during my runs, and ended up qualifying First, and was starting to feel that this could be the day I wrap up the entire season!
I faced former D1 champion Ryuji Miki in my first tandem run. I eventually moved on, despite having to run One More Time, and some very close scoring. I knew after that round that I had to get more angle and change my line a little. At least, that was the word from the judges. So when I faced Ryan Tuerck in the Great 8, as I was coming down the straightway into the first corner, I pulled the e-brake just a little harder than before; too much, as it turned out, because the car over-rotated and I lost the line. I couldn't make up the points with my second run, so my successful day quickly changed to a very unwanted ending because of one little mistake. The support for Mopar/BFG team from the Northern Cali fans made the loss bearable, though, especially the forty-something Viper fans from the Northern California Viper Club of America that came out! We are now 26 points behind the number one spot, going into the finals at Irwindale. It is going to be an exciting event for sure!
Inching his way up the ladder, Dai made it to Third Place in a new-for-the-season GTO. With scant points separating him from the top two, Sonoma is his make-it-or-break-it round. Do or Dai? Read on.
Going into Round 5 at Seattle, I was in Third Place for the season, and really close to Second or even First. But because I was knocked out at Seattle in the Top 16, those differences in points grew considerably. I knew I had to finish strong in Sonoma to pick up the pace.
To be honest, I don't like this track. It's a very short layout, and all about diving into the first corner; something I had a difficult time with in the GTO. In the last practice session, I changed my initiation from clutch kicking 4th gear, to e-brake and using 3rd gear. It worked out better and I was able to qualify Seventh. In the Top 16 round, I went against Vaughn Gittin Jr. I knew he took Second Placed last year, so he is strong at this track. We both ran consistently, but I was having difficulty keeping up with him after the main clipping point, and was eventually defeated after a One More Time run.
After I lost, I drove back to my pit, to tons of fans who were waiting to encourage me, even though the rest of the race was still going on! I cannot explain how much this meant to me and how it lifted my spirits. It was the shining moment of the weekend. Unfortunately, my ranking has now dropped to Fourth Place and my boss, Rhys has risen to Third Place. WTF?! Although it will be difficult for me to win the championship, at least I am still close enough to beat my boss in the final round!
Rhys Millen Motors
Vaughn Gittin Jr
Zero points in the last two events has left the sole US D1GP winner out of top three contention. But if you think that's going to pull the wind out of JR and his Mustang, you'd be sorely mistaken. Besides being the only driver who finds Sonoma fun, JR loves to put on a good show and muck things up.
If you haven't noticed, my '08 Formula D season has been one plagued with dumb luck. Because we are out of the points chase, our goal for the rest of the season is to just go out there and put on a good show for the fans, continue to collect data for '09, and make the points chase harder for those in contention.
We rolled into Sonoma early, so a couple of the drift guys and I went to a shooting range where we proceeded to let off some steam with a hundred or so rounds fired from a large array of powerful weaponry. Drift Style, the show that follows our series, made targets for us that looked like our judges. It felt kind of wrong, but we shot the shit out of them!
After a few changes in practice the next day, the Mustang was dialed in with great traction and lots of smoke, and I was ready to hit the course hard! Sonoma is not a very technical track, but the first turn is fast and lots of fun. I was averaging 95 mph entries, feeling on point and really good about the weekend; there's almost no greater feeling than sliding sideways, at nearly 100 mph, for a few hundred feet! I had a lot of fun running tandem with my Drift Alliance bros and putting some pressure on my competitors. In fact, the judges mentioned I was 'raping' people during practice as they discussed tandem techniques.
After a short practice Saturday morning, it was time for Qualifying. On my first pass, I ran a conservative run that I thought was sure to get us in the Top 16. Unfortunately, the judges decided otherwise. On my second run, I let it all hang out. A 95 mph entry and a flawless line scored me a Tenth Place spot. In Top 16, I was paired against Dai in his GTO. After a bit of friendly smack talk to one another, we went to battle. The judges couldn't decide the winner after the first pair of runs, so a One More Time run was called. For the second pair of runs, I'll say it: I whooped up on Dai a bit. During his lead run, I kept my tire in his door, showing dominance. I threw down a killer run during the second pass, pulling away from him and scoring nine points!
The next bracket paired me with Tanner Foust. I was excited because I beat him here last year and was ready to do it again. The first run was a close battle, but he pulled on me pretty hard after the first clip, and left with a three-point advantage. I tossed the car into the first turn a bit harder than normal, and according to the judges and replay, dropped three tires over the yellow boundary line. Tanner actually stalled his car on the entry and went straight off course. We were both handed zero points, but he moved on. In all honesty, this is the first event in a long time where I was happy with a Top 8 finish. I drove hard and consistent all weekend, and can't be mad at that... although I would love to have taken some wind out of Tanner's sail! Irwindale, here we come: that's my house!
After losing the points lead to Sam in Seattle, Tanner and his 350Z are in it to win his second Formula D title. With a repeat within grasp, Tanner needs to be in top gear to take the championship.
If I were a betting man, I would not have bet that we'd win Round 6 of Formula D in Sonoma. First of all, I'm not a fan of the track. It's one big breaking zone and that's about it. Secondly, it starts out with a huge drag race and the Rockstar Z is not the fastest car in a straight line. But at the end of the day, once the tandem runs start, Sonoma's track makes for a pretty awesome show!
After making several changes to its setup in practice, the Z was ready for qualifying. Apparently, I was still day dreaming about the Maxim photos of Megan Fox I saw at the airport, 'cause I flat out hit the breaks too late for the first turn. We were on the bubble after the first qualifying run and the pressure was on to improve the second run. Some unholy thoughts about Margaret Thatcher canceled out the Fox issue and I laid down a strong run; good enough for Second.
My strategy when leading in the tandem runs was simple: haul ass into the breaking zone and force the second driver to match my speed, and then get a good line through the hairpin to carry momentum away from said chase driver. When following, I'd be careful about breaking too late into Turn 1, while trying to stay in Third gear through the hairpin (avoiding an extra shift) to stay very close through the finish of the track. This strategy would be enough against Takatori and Sherman, but a little more luck was needed with JR.
After I gained an advantage on JR and his Mustang in my lead run, JR made a mistake in front of me on his lead and barely went three tires off-course. His wide line threw me off a little, and I just plain dropped the ball and lost my drift behind him. JR really got the short end of that three-tires-off rule and we both got no points for the run. Since I already had the advantage from our first run, I swiped the brow and moved on. That was close!
I went back to my game plan in the finals with Rhys, knowing that he wasn't going to try anything tricky. He'd rely on his car's outright speed and I'd rely on the grip from mine. In the first run, he shadowed my line but I pulled away slightly on the second half of the course. When following, I remained 100% committed. I dove hard into the braking zone and was lucky enough to stick on his bumper all the way through the finish. I knew after the run that I had the win; it was an awesome feeling.
The next stop is the most committal track in the series, Irwindale, where the Rockstar/AEM team will get a chance to make Formula D history by backing up a title championship.