Round 2: Wall, NJ
Last year, after Wall Speedway closed their gates, Formula D changed their New Jersey venue to Raceway Park. But with Wall Speedway re-opening their grounds, Round 3 is back again at "The Gauntlet", and our six drifters-plus guest-find themselves on an oval course with 30-degree banks, bumpy track conditions and ominous weather. And in diary fashion, we have the drivers tell you, in their words, what went down over the race weekend.
The X Games gold medalist started off the season with a bang in his new tC, with a podium finish in Round 1 and a Top 16 performance in Round 2. With back-to-back titles, Tanner's looking to do the unprecedented, by taking his Scion for a straight third season win.
New Jersey was a shot of reality for teams with new cars that are still in development. We knew that there were a few issues with steering that needed to be dealt with, but we planned on working on them back in L.A., between the Jersey and Vegas rounds.
After damp NJ track conditions on Thursday, it wasn't until the first few runs of Saturday's qualifying, where we started to see a dry track. In my first qualifying run, I was laying down a fairly aggressive pass, but over the bumpy transition, I went into a Samuel Hubinette-esque 360 (only he does it on purpose). The spin caught me by surprise but I thought it was due to a correction I made at the wrong time (when the car was airborne) that caused it. On run two, I was a bit tentative. On the bank, I was very close to the wall and on the transition to the infield, I was feeling good about my line. This was going to be a decent run! But then I hit the bump, which I took with minimal angle, and on landing, the car snapped into a spin. Crap!
I couldn't believe it. I was pissed at myself for: 1) not identifying the issue by that point in the series, and 2) not being able drive around it for two short runs.
Essentially, when I landed from the bank, the suspension travel on the front tire caused it to hit the fender and frame so hard that the tire was locking up . . . at the worst possible time. After four years of qualifying no lower than Fourth, we failed to make the show in NJ. I'm bummed, but Steph and the Rockstar drift crew are cranking over the next few weeks to make the car better than ever. I still believe that the Scion has the potential to be better than the Z ever was, and NJ was just part of the learning process to get it there.
On a positive note, I had a huge amount of time to hang with the fans at Jersey-they rocked. I had long conversations with several of them and was amazed at the distance many traveled for the event. It was great to shake the hands and meet the enthusiasts who write our checks! See you guys next year!
Everyone loves that new car smell. Well, everyone except for maybe Dai. His new-for-the-season IS350 has had some steering issues due to a custom rack, and the world's second best drifter has found himself knocked out before the Top 16 in the first two rounds. The crew diligently at work, was the downtime before Jersey enough time to fix the problem?
To be honest, Wall Speedway is not my favorite track; it's not high-speed and is very bumpy. But I won here in 2007, so I know the track well and had a decent amount of confidence.
After Atlanta, Team Falken put all their effort into making the Discount Tire IS350 work better. Because there were only four weeks between Round 2 and 3, and both events were on the East Coast, there wasn't very much time to make changes to the car. However, we were still able to make some major improvements-we modified the steering rack and changed the whole steering column. That made steering smoother and more responsive, which was the problem I was having.
It rained all day Friday, so we couldn't drive at all. During the practice session Saturday morning, the rain stopped, but the surface was still wet. I was doing well and felt pretty comfortable. I was going to run some tandem practice since I haven't had any with the new setup. To be safe, everyone asked to make some space because the surface was still wet and they didn't want to cause any accidents. Because of this, I didn't have any good practice runs, which was a concern.
I ended up qualifying Eighth and in the Top 32 round I was up against Taka Aono. I haven't been matched with Taka-san in a long time-he's been very consistent this year and would not be easy to beat. I was leading first and I had a pretty good solid run. When I was following, I was doing well in the beginning . . . but I spun out at the third corner. WTF?! I couldn't control the speed and the line to match with Taka-san. I almost cried at that moment.
Man, I got knocked out in the Top 32 round . . . again! I'm very disappointed at my spin. But with more adjustments to the car and no more mistakes from me: no more spin! Team Falken, however, completed its first top-three sweep! It was amazing! I'm very happy for them and it was very well deserved. I super wish that I was one of them. As the IS and I keep improving, watch for the next round!
A discrepancy with the technical steward kept the reigning Red Bull World and 2005 Formula D champ from advancing further than the Top 16 in Atlanta. With the issues in his Genesis Coupe resolved, how far will Rhys be able to take his new Hyundai?
Every time I drive the Genesis Coupe, the smile on my face gets bigger and bigger. The funny thing is the smile on the competitions' becomes smaller and smaller. After an intense Qualifying session, Team RMR received the second highest score-after a tied First Place between Ken Gushi and Tyler McQuarrie-placing us Third. Big props to Toyo Tires for placing First and Third after Qualifying! Qualifying was proof that the Genesis Coupe had the natural balance, handling and power to compete with the crazy 600-700 hp beasts on the field.
The weekend was a balancing act of chasing the setup, as a rained-out day reduced track time and forced qualifying and race day to be compiled into one. The team had to be patient and wait for the track to come around and change to the set-up the crew thought would be right for each pass.
Competition was crazy and after several runs, the team was awarded Ninth place for the weekend. A disappointing engine misfire developed and I was forced to pull off track. After examining our data, the engine was perfect-the only hint of a question we saw was an over-boost situation, which was causing the AEM EMS to pull back timing to save the engine. Vegas is the next stop, and then it's straight onto Colorado for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Based on how well the Genesis Coupe is running, I see another World-Record-breaking run in our sights.
After a heated final battle against Darren McNamara in the last chapter at Atlanta, Chris found himself on top of the FD podium with a First Place finish, leaving him Second in the Championship chase. A veteran, car-wise, years of seat time in his tried-and-true 350Z is starting to pay off.
We arrived Thursday with plans to get some good practice in for the weekend. Kevin and Sergio got the car ready and I jumped in. The first few runs were pretty good-I was decently high on the bank, trying to find the line through the lower section. Then the rain came. It started coming down pretty hard, so we headed back to our trailer to check the weather-it was supposed to rain for the rest of the day, and all day Friday. We went back out on track to switch the car to a rain setup, since we were going to have to qualify in the wet. This was the most I had ever driven my car in the rain to date. We were doing fine on the course and the car was adapting to the wet conditions, thanks to the Maxxis Z1 tires.
Friday morning, we arrived at the track to torrential downpours! All the drivers started talking as we watched two cars go out on the course. There was standing water everywhere, and a thunderstorm headed right for us. The cars could barely make it around the track-the pools of water literally broke front bumpers in half. After a few rescheduled driver meetings, Formula D made the decision to postpone all driving until Saturday, as the outlook said it was going to be sunny then. That meant we had to qualify and run Top 32 tandems in one day!
Saturday morning . . . sunshine! We had a long day ahead of us, so we started nice and early. Because of the changes, we only had one practice session scheduled before Qualifying. The track officials had just started trying to dry the infield, but there was still standing water and the course was wet. Our practice session was a wash, literally! Qualifying started, and as we were going through the ranks, the rubber started to lay down and the drivers started to make some smoke. When it came time for my run, I went back to my line from Thursday morning and tried to stick it on the first try! I pulled up onto the steep bank and waited for the signal-First, Second, Third, flick! I grabbed the handbrake over the big dip and got back on the throttle, driving high up on the bank. I backed off the gas, prepping for the big transition-full throttle! I threw the Z back and forth across the Start/Finish line down into the first corner and got super wide. I got back on the throttle and pushed for the inner clipping point, transferred across the infield where the car started jumping up and down. I got through it and into the last corner, but with the dry conditions, I gained too much speed! My rear tire hopped up on the steep bank and when I tried to pull off, the car spun. I got a zero. I needed a score-any score-to get back in the game. I tried my best to not let it get to my head during the hour-long wait before my next run. Second run came around, and it was time to focus. 'Nice and easy, don't push too hard,' I told myself. I ran through the course about a foot or two off the outside clipping points and got nice and tight on the inners. That landed me in 10th place!
It was time for head-to-head battle at Wall Speedway. My first match-up was against Doug Van Den Brink. His car was fast through the course, so I made sure to remember that for my chase run. I was the lead car for the first pass, which was an advantage. I ran through the course, super high on the bank, and actually scraped the bumper on the outside wall! I flipped through the infield, hit all the clips, and felt great. Off the start on my turn to chase, I gave him one to two car lengths. By the time we were coming off the bank, we were side by side! Transferring through the infield, I stuck to his car in every corner and got the win!
Our next match-up in the Top 16 was against my Drift Alliance buddy, Justin Pawlak. He was driving a brand-new RX-8, and doing a phenomenal job! For the first run, I had to follow. I jumped off the line with him, tore down the straight and threw it into the first corner-our initiations were identical. We ran through the course together, side-by-side, as if we were putting on a demo. For my lead lap, I ran through the course as I would for Qualifying. I could hear that three-rotor monster behind me, but when the judges made the call, we moved onto the Great 8!
For the next round, it was an Atlanta rematch against Tyler McQuarrie. His car was great on this course, so it was going to be tough. Chasing again on the first lap, I ran down the straight as close as I could, trying to not let him get away. As we rounded the bank, the smoke from his car was so thick I couldn't see! As I transferred off the bank for the first inner clipping point, I got through the smoke and realized that I was headed straight for a cone! I tried to correct and get around it, but that caused my car to understeer. I couldn't regain control fast enough and Tyler pulled almost five car lengths. Unless something serious happened on his chase run, our weekend was over. No slip-ups from Tyler; he had a smooth run and moved on to the Final 4.
Overall, it was a great weekend for our team-we're still in the Top 3 in the Championship and Las Vegas is next!
Nos Energy Drink
Ken's been suffering from the same new-car flu Dai's been having, only his tC's been wheezing for more than a year. But after a revamped setup from '08 that lead to last round's Great 8 performance, it seems as though the RS-R team has finally kicked the bug.
When practice began at Wall Speedway, I was a bit scared of the guardrail at Turn 1. Two years ago, I went into the guardrail and totaled my car. I didn't want to see another wrecked car, so I was cautious. After a few runs, I began to feel comfortable and I pushed harder to see if I could get any faster and closer to the wall. My tire set up was good-I set my Toyo R1Rs to about 30 psi cold. I wanted to raise it to put out more smoke, even if I would lose bite. Thursday's practice ended with a blown dog box. My dad and the rest of the RS-R Scion team stayed up and swapped out the transmission.
Friday came and it was pouring rain. Some drivers grumbled, but I wanted to drive in the rain-all I needed was a decent run to qualify and the rain made it easier for me. Robbie Nishida and Eric O'Sullivan went out to test the track (they missed Thursday's practice due to technical issues with their transporter), and once the rest of the competition saw their runs, we came to the conclusion that it would be nearly impossible to hold a Qualifying session-the track was pretty much a toilet bowl.
Come Saturday, the rain stopped and the track started to dry up. This track was my least favorite, but ironically, we qualified First with 95.9 points! Tandem began and I started to worry about the traction issues we'd been facing.
In the Top 32, I was placed against Gary Lang. During my lead run, I just tried to mimic my qualifying run. On my following lap, Gary spun out in front of me through the first transition coming off the bank. I got lucky. In Top 16, I had to go against Ross Petty. During my lead lap, Ross lost power and could not start his car. Unfortunately, the competition was cut short because of the Five Minute rule-sucks, because it would've been a great battle. Taka Aono was my Top 8 battle. Taka was running strong all weekend so I knew I could not lose focus. I tried to stay consistent with my runs and during the lead lap, I pulled away from him slightly. It was close and I thought there was going to be a One More Time, but I moved on.
My next run was against Darren McNamara. During my lead lap, he was really close to me. I could not shake him, so I knew he had the advantage. If I didn't stick my car to his door on my follow pass, I would lose the round. The second run started and just as I expected, his tiny V-8-powered Sky pulled away from me. Darren's car is stupid fast. For the Third Place match, I was against Tyler McQuarrie-another V-8-powered car. We went One More Time, but on my follow lap, I could not keep up with him because: 1) the ridiculous amount of tire smoke limiting my sight, and 2) his car is also stupid fast. I finished Fourth, but it was not enough to dramatically shift my championship ranking-I only moved up one spot! At least our team did well this weekend. From here on out, we hope to continue to move up the grid!
With a new team and a newly-built 350Z, the 2009 season is finally beginning to show what Tyler McQuarrie is made of. From Top 32 in the first round to a Great 8 finish in the last, Tyler is slowly fighting his way to the podium.
I love New Jersey. Every time Formula D stops there, I have an awesome event. In 2006, I qualified the RS-R S2K Third and got into the Great 8. In 2007, I qualified the Porsche First and got to the Final 4 before the motor broke, and in '08, we took home a Second. So you can imagine how excited I was to head back to Wall Speedway in my new Falken Tire Nissan 350Z.
We had practice on Thursday and the ASD guys made a few changes to the rear end of the 350Z. After a few practice runs, the changes to the setup proved to be for the better, so we focused on the shocks, to help get over the bumps at Wall Speedway.
I woke up Friday and looked out the window of my hotel room-it was raining hard! When we got to the track, it looked even worse. The track was flooded. Long story short, Formula D decided to cancel the day.
Saturday's weather was much better, but the track was still pretty wet. I decided to wait until the end of practice in hopes of a dry track to simulate the conditions for Qualifying. I ran two laps and was ready. When Qualifying was all said and done, I had a great run and scored a 95.9. I was tied for first with Ken Gushi, but his speed was one mph faster, so I technically placed Second.
Because of the tight schedule, we went straight into Top 32 and my first match-up was Chris Kregorian. Early battles can be very hard because of the difference in vehicle speed. I had a clean first run and pulled a gap on Chris. He broke on the second run, so I moved on to the Top 16. My next battle was against my old teammate, Kenji Yamanaka. I knew this would be a close battle and it was. I lead on the first run and pulled a gap, while Kenji made a few small mistakes. On the second run, the lights went green and Kenji took off, creating a very big gap. I drove into the bank harder than ever to try and catch up, but I brought in so much speed that I grazed the wall, causing me to come off the bank late, which made for a late setup for the infield section. The run looked ugly so the judges called for One More Time. My OMT runs were clean and Kenji made a couple of mistakes, so I advanced on to the Great 8.
My next round was the same as my Top 8 battle in Atlanta: the battle of the convertible 350Zs, against Chris Forsberg. I lead during the first pass and had a clean run. Chris made a minor correction coming off the bank, which caused him to straighten up a bit. On the next run, I followed him and stuck to his bumper with no mistakes. This was an interesting battle, since we went up against him in Atlanta and he beat us no problem, but the roles were reversed at Wall, which is a testament to the work and development that ASD and the team have done to our Z. On to the Final 4!
The next battle against my teammate JR was a Falken win-win with one of us moving on to the Finals. I lead the first run, and was slowly able to pull two to three car lengths by the end of the run. When I followed, I was able to stay within a car length through the infield section, so going into the last corner, I was going to try and suck up on him. But at this point, the smoke was already heavy in my cockpit, and once you added JR's smoke, I couldn't see anything. I was going off muscle memory to get into the last corner, which caused me to go wide and straighten up. My mistake-JR advanced to the "Falken Finals" against Darren McNamara.
By now, Ken Gushi was the last guy standing in the way of a Falken podium sweep. No pressure! On our first run, I stuck to his bumper and started to close in on him going into the last corner, but I made the same small correction from the last battle-only not as bad. On the next run, I pulled away big time and Ken made a few mistakes and they called for a One More Time. I needed to finish this, so I stuck to him like crazy. I pulled up alongside him in the last corner and my right front tire touched his door! On the next run, I pulled away and won! Third Place was mine and the Falken podium sweep was complete!
Getting on the podium in Formula D is hard enough, but sweeping it is amazing! This was so big on so many levels. All three Falken cars on the podium were built by ASD, which says a lot about their work. Falken brought me on this year to help them get results, so to get on the podium in a new car after three events was unreal. I'm so proud to be part of Team Falken and what better way to thank them for bringing me onboard than to help round out the top three!
Guest Diary 1st
This chapter's guest hails all the way from Ireland. A former Jedi knight in the AE86 Corolla, Darren's now in Falken Tire's Saturn Sky. GM bankruptcy aside, Darren's been cranking his Saturn's tach deep into the red, lighting the tires in his high-hp, low-weight drift machine.
First off, I'd like to say congrats to my teammates for the most amazing dominant performance by any team in the history of drifting. I'm so proud to be part of Falken Tire!
Looking at the season so far, we're on the up and up. Round 1 in Long Beach was a major disappointment, after qualifying Second overall and spinning out in the Top 16. I wasn't 100-percent happy with the car that weekend and couldn't quite put my finger on why. The guys from ASD got it back to the workshop and soon figured out the problem and made the changes for Atlanta, and it showed. We were very competitive in Atlanta and came away with Second Place, but it could have easily been First. I started thinking of what I had to do to get a win. We learned heaps in Atlanta and the guys from ASD again went about changing the car for the better. And when we practiced at Wall Speedway, it showed-the car felt better than it ever had before.
I love the rain, so I was extremely confident about a wet event. But when we got to practice, I wasn't very happy with the car. We thought that it wasn't going to rain, so we stayed on our dry setup, even though the track was wet. This messed with my head for a while, but as soon as Qualifying came around, the track completely dried up and my confidence was back. We ended up qualifying the Falken Tire/Sears Auto Center Saturn Sky in Fourth Place, which gained us valuable Championship points over Forsberg and Tuerck.
When we received the Top 32 layout, I remember Nick Fousekis from Falken saying that the bracket looked great for the team . . . little did we know what lay ahead. In the "make it or break it" Great 8 round against Sam Hubinette, I was feeling really confident. I led against Sam in the first run and he was about a car length behind for the entire course. We knew "The Bullet", as it's been named by the guys at ASD, had more speed at Wall-my crew chief, Ian Stewart, ordered a last-minute rear tire pressure change and rear shock adjustment. We were all over Sam for run two and stuck to his door for the whole course, even nudging him going into Turn 3. It was a clear victory. From that moment on, I knew this event was mine.
We proceeded to the Final Four, where we met number-one-qualifier Ken Gushi . . . but his Scion couldn't keep up with our Sky. For the first time, I felt completely comfortable in the Saturn. I could go all-out while leading, and put the car wherever I wanted while following. I haven't had that feeling since 2007 in my AE86, and it's great to have it back!
In the final match, I lined up against my teammate JR. I felt great and unbelievably confident. My other teammate, Tyler McQuarrie, had just clinched Third, so it was a Falken Tire First-through-Third sweep no matter what. I remember lining up and punching the air-we had all dreamed about this and only three events into the 2009 season, Team Falken Tire and ASD's engineering had swept the podium!
I still had JR left to defeat, but in my mind, there was already no doubt. I led in the first run and seemed to pull away. If I could stay with him in the second, it was mine. I didn't hold back one bit all weekend and I put every opponent away without a single One More Time-it was time to complete an emphatic victory. I chased JR into Turn 1 and gave him a little bit of room. I knew he would e-brake going in, so I clutch kicked and sure enough, I closed right up on him. I stuck my Azenis RT615s to his door at every opportunity and matched his every move . . . there was no doubt I had finally got this monkey off my back.
I now lead the Formula D Championship and have no intention of giving it up. The Falken Tire/Sears Saturn Sky is about to undergo some more changes at ASD to make it even more competitive for Vegas. Round 4, here I come!
Sears Auto Center
Rd 3. Results
WALL, NJ Podium
1. Darren McNamara
2. Vaughn Gittin jr.
3. Tyler McQuarrie