Round 5: Seattle, WA
Two things Seattle is famous for: rain and coffee. Last year's Formula D round at the Evergreen Speedway was run in the sopping wet. This time around, the weather held up and the fans didn't need caffeine to keep them awake, not with crashes and parts failures keeping everyone on their toes. For the drivers and mechanics with subpar performance, unlike Milli Vanilli, they couldn't blame it on the rain. Cheesy, lip-syncing references from the '80s aside, here's what went down in Seattle, straight from the horses' mouths.
Formula D President
Our guest diarist this month is Jim Liaw, President and co-founder of Formula D, whose mission is to spread the sideways gospel throughout the land. Mission accomplished? We'd say so.
I can't believe we're almost done with the sixth season of Formula D. Every year has had its challenges and 2009 has been no different. One of the biggest obstacles is the economy. How can FD provide a good show for the fans as well as provide a great return for sponsors and teams? I think we've answered that issue.
Formula D is one of the few, if not the only, motorsport series pulling in the same or more fan attendance than in its previous year. Baseball, basketball, hockey-even NASCAR-have all been down this year. This emerging sport called drifting is beating the odds, thanks to all the fans. So naysayers and pessimists: wake up! Drifting is here to stay.
As for this last round in Seattle, it was another awesome event. I love the Pacific Northwest and its scenery, and the drifting fans out there packed Evergreen Speedway. Thursday, we were at the track at 8 a.m. (we're always at the track early) to help the production team finish setting up. We parked displays while the teams hung up banners, laid fencing, marked the track, reviewed security and ticketing plans, etc. We opened the doors to fans on Friday and Saturday, and the Pro and Pro Am competitions were super-exciting all weekend long.
Friday was also practice and qualifying for the pro competitions, as well as the autograph session. Saturday was the main event and the JTuned Auto Gallery car show. Chris Forsberg won and is leading the championship chase and the Tire.com Triple Crown bonus prize.
This time of year is always exciting for me, as we have only two more rounds before crowning another FD champion. It's also exciting because, of the current Top 10 drivers, six of them have no traditional racing/driving experience, one of whom has a real shot at becoming champion. It seems so long ago when we saw a young, beardless Chris Forsberg come out from Pennsylvania with his SR20-powered 350Z, or found Ryan Tuerck sleeping in the parking lot of Soldier Field in his S13. We've come a long way, and there's a lot more in store from Formula D!
Daijiro Yoshihara is having a rough year in his new ride. After disappointing early knockouts in tandem battles, one might wish the Second-ranked Red Bull World Champion drifter scrap his IS and start afresh.
After the disappointing result in Vegas, I was fired up going into this Seattle round. In the practice session, I was doing well. Because there was understeer, my initiation wasn't stable, but overall, I qualified Fifth. Fifth Place is OK, but I always do well up to qualifying. The actual competition starts from there and I really wanted to go further. However, the nightmare became a reality.
During practice before the Top 32 competition, I hit the wall hard. I think I hit it going about 85 mph. I realized how bad the accident was when I got out of the car. The left front was gone and the front subframe was pushed right into the firewall. The IS was totaled . . . I was in despair. I wished it was a bad dream or something.
It was the worst accident I've ever had. However, I wasn't hurt. My neck was pretty sore, but that's it. I was protected by the Sparco five-point harness and the solid roll cage made by Scott at SPD. If those things hadn't been well constructed, I could have been seriously injured.
Right after the accident, I really didn't know what to say to my chief mechanic, Scott. I just killed his baby. But he didn't say much about the accident, he already started to talk about the next car for me, same as the other crew members.
I made a huge mistake. Thinking about how much money and time Team Falken Tire had put into the IS, I really don't know what to say other than an apology. It was the worst day ever. It's been the worst season for me. I was so bummed out the past couple of days. But it doesn't help anything, so I must move on.
Everyone's looking forward to the next round. I really, really appreciate how the team treats me. I must confront this difficult situation and figure out what I should do to rise out of it. I'll be one of the top-ranking drivers again in the near future. I'm so sorry, everyone.
What's going on with the former FD Champ? Props and all for the Pikes Peak triumph, but for someone ranked the best drifter in the world not to break into the Top 10 this year, well, it brings a tear to the eye.
Hot off a new world record at Pikes Peak Hill Climb and busting out a sweet video listed on YouTube called "Climb Attack", it was time to return to my favorite track for the Formula D series.
Evergreen Speedway has a high-speed, sustained, on-power drift that leads into a high-grip transition for the infield. I won there in the rain last year and was excited to get the Genesis out on track for a thrashing. With the Phase One RMR Lambda engine upgrade kit giving us some additional power, it was sure to be a tire-smoking fun time.
The Genesis coupe ran great all weekend, never skipped a beat and we had the highest radar speed in qualifying. The car is a treat to drive, we are making sick power from the 3.8-liter V-6, and we now have the steering dialed and working great. The event didn't go as planned-heck, the whole drifting year hasn't gone as planned-but we won't give up yet.
Foust has a bee in his sponsor-supplied baseball cap. Could it be because he got stung by the judges? Or perhaps he has a serious point the Formula D organizers would do well to heed.
Seattle is the land of kick-ass drift fans-rain, shine or anything in between. Over 12,000 Seattle fans shook the stands at Evergreen Speedway. We lucked out on the weather this year, but we weren't so fortunate in the event itself.
Setting up the Rockstar Scion tC on practice day was pretty straightforward. We tried a few gear options to harness the somewhat narrow (but stout) powerband of the TRD V-8 and found a gear that seemed to get the job done. Some suspension tweaks and pressure changes, and I was happy. Off to the bar we went.
On Friday, we confirmed our settings as the grip increased, and found the gearing to be a bit low. Stephan brought the rev limit up to 8,800-still well within the engine's safe zone-and we were ready for qualifying. I laid down a run that would have scored mid- to high-90s in previous years, but this year received only a 73. Low scores were the trend, though, and the number-one qualifier (Ryan Tuerck) only barely broke into the 80s. As the eighth seed, we closed shop and off to the bar we went.
Saturday was rough. I was paired against Tommy Suell, who had been killing it in practice. His little nitrous-injected, turbocharged Corolla was fast everywhere on the track. During the run, however, he hit the wall on the bank and arched back toward the inside concrete at a car-totaling pace. Luckily for him, I was there to soften his impact. My car was only slightly damaged (first time I've thanked Steph for building such a heavy car) but Suell's ride was mangled.
After that, we went against J.R. and he was going for it. I stuck to him as well as possible after he was unable to keep up with me on the bank, but I took one of the corners too wide on my lead run. Andy voted for me overall, because I chased closer, but the remaining two judges went the other way. And off to the bar we went, again.
Judging is an aspect we have to deal with in drifting and these guys are trying their hardest to do the right thing. In the last five years, I have both benefited and paid for judging discrepancies. But generally, I think the three guys up there do a great job. However, Formula D could fade away if the sport's judging procedure and technical regulations don't continue to evolve.
Other judged sports have been successful. How do they do it without hitting the same cap we have? Part of the reason why virtually every X Game sport thrives is because of a clear judging procedure that minimizes controversy. They generally have five judges from the industry who are separated from each other during the whole process. We don't know their names, we don't hear them talk on the mic and they are certainly not part of the show. The score appears after the computer has taken the averages. I'd love to see FD take notice of these sports' successes and begin to adopt their model of judging. I'm not looking to change things up in a crazy way, I just want to keep the sport moving forward.
Bad vibes. Ken Gushi has been feeling them. Fresh from an overheating engine in the Nevada desert, Gushi goes to a wobble in Washington State. Ironic, given that he loves the place.
It seems I never have luck at Seattle. Last year, our slave cylinder gave out. This year, we had tons of drivetrain problems. Where should I begin?
Let's start with Thursday's practice. Everything was going extremely smooth. I was focused on getting tire pressures right and counting how many laps we could do with a brand-new set of Toyo R1-Rs. It came down to four laps at about 45psi cold. After a few practice laps, I began to notice a vibration coming from behind me, specifically the passenger-side rear.
I did a few more laps and then the transmission started acting weird. I initiated the bank in Fourth gear, but midway through I noticed I was in Third. Maybe I forgot to shift? I don't know. So I decided to go again. This time, I made sure I was in Fourth gear. I held on to the shifter and kicked the clutch. This time, it was fine. The gearbox stayed in Fourth and I was able to clear the course.
I went again, thinking everything was OK. As soon as I kicked the clutch, I saw the shifter in my peripheral vision slam itself back into Third gear. "A-ha, I gotcha," I said to myself. So, along with the vibrations (which were coming from the passenger-side axle shaft) and the faulty dog-ring, I called it a day and parked. Gearbox and axle swaps were on their way.
Friday morning, the air was nice outside-Seattle has good, clean air. With a fresh gearbox and a new axle, I had a great feeling that this was going to be a good qualifying session. My first run, I scored a 66. WTF? A 66? Yes, the judges were being strict because my speed was low. I believe my exit speed off the bank was 69 mph. For my second run, I scored a 67.9. That put me in 14th place. Not bad, I guess. That matched me up with Rhys, who was 19th. I wasn't too happy with the result, but it was bearable.
After qualifying, I wanted to practice with Rhys, so we both agreed to run with each other and alternate leads. According to Ben, my spotter, it would be a battle of many One More Times.
This is where the drama began. During practice, the vibrations seemed to be getting worse. This time, it wasn't the left or the right. It was from the back, somewhere. I ran a few laps and went in thinking it was the axle again. We determined that it was the driver-side axle this time. After swapping that part, we called it a day and went back to the hotel. I was still a little worried that it might have been the driveshaft instead of the axle.
Saturday. Once again, another beautiful, fresh morning. I'm starting to love the clean air Seattle has to offer. On the way to the track, I kept thinking: "What if it isn't the axle? What if it's something else? What if the transmission wasn't bolted in all the way?" I couldn't help but question everything.
With a practice session before the Top 32, I knew I could test the car again to see if the vibrations were gone. On the start line, waiting for practice to begin, I had a bad feeling. As soon as the light turned green, I accelerated up to the bank, ready to kick the clutch, when the vibrations became 10 times worse, coming all the way to the shifter now. I knew it wasn't the axle, but something far worse. It turned out that the driveshaft had a crack in one of its welds. To make matters worse, we didn't have a spare. The only option was to weld it back together and hope it would hold through the event. Stephan Papadakis from the Rockstar team kindly helped us.
Top 32 tandem. First run was my advantage, as Rhys made a small correction on the bank. Second run, I followed Rhys with about a car-length gap between us. I could have been closer, but just to play safe for the Top 32 round, I kept a small gap. I took advantage once again and moved on to the Top 16 against Sam. At this point, I had no idea how the driveshaft looked and didn't want to think about it. Unfortunately, as I was following Sam, the shaft snapped as soon as I kicked the clutch on initiation. My race day ended.
Not a good turnout for RS-R/Scion/Toyo team, but I learned a lot from this event. For one thing, spare parts are always a must. Even if you doubt it will break, you should always carry a spare. Thanks to every single Seattle fan out there, I wasn't as upset as I could have been. Sonoma, here we come!
Funny how the championship standings are a lot like the act of drifting. Once a driver gets some momentum, he rides the slide and appears almost unstoppable. That's what's happening with Tyler McQuarrie. He's already had a sniff of the podium, got close in Vegas and has become a major contender. If only that darned Forsberg wouldn't keep getting in his way.
I had been looking forward to Seattle the whole year. The track is super-fast and a lot of a run is spent riding the wall, which I love. The crowd is awesome, and to top it off, the Falken Tire 350Z is dialed in.
We spent most of Thursday's practice getting the gearing sorted out. It's pretty easy to try many different gears, since we have a quick-change rear end. After I found a gear I liked, we spent a little time adjusting the shocks and tire pressures to the track. The car was dialed in everywhere except for straight lines. I struggled to put the power down leaving the start line and got pulled by everyone. We realized we couldn't fix the issue at this event. It's all part of developing a new car, and I knew to be patient with it. I qualified Sixth and my first match-up for Top 32 was Ron Ewerth. Although his speed entering the oval was much slower than mine, his speed off the oval and into the hairpin was pretty good. I led first and pulled out a large gap. The trick was following him. I needed to gap him just enough so I could be on his door coming off the bank. I timed it right and was able to get on his door in the infield and pull alongside at the finish. I moved on to the Top 16 to face Yasu Kondo in his AE86.
Yasu had been looking fast all weekend, so I knew this wouldn't be an easy win. I had a clean run and was able to pull out a few car lengths; I just needed to be close to him in the follow run. As we entered the oval, his bumper flew off and went over my head, followed by his hatch. It was like he had a switch he could flip to jettison body parts and throw other drivers off. After dodging the parts, I was able to reel him in and get the win.
Onto the Great 8, where things started to get tough and interesting at the same time. I was matched with Samuel Hubinette in the Viper. Sam led first, got a really good jump and took off. It was such a helpless feeling, watching his car get smaller and smaller as he pulled out an eight-car lead. All I could do at that point was to try and catch him. I got to within one car length by the end. On my lead run, I went all-out and did one of my best runs of the weekend. I wasn't sure if it was enough, so all I was thinking was OMT. Then my crew chief, Ian, came over the radio and said I'd won. I guess the judges didn't like how he took off, but liked how I caught him.
My match-up in the semi-finals was Chris Forsberg, the fourth time this year he and I have met in competition. Whoever won this battle would win the event, since O'Sullivan had advanced to the Finals, but his car couldn't continue. Chris and I talked before, and agreed to use the pace cone. On my lead run, I struggled to get the power down, so Chris had to wait a bit for me. But as we entered the oval, I drove as hard as I could and pulled out a pretty big gap. Following Chris on the next run, my plan was to stick with him and victory would be mine. Charging into the oval, I was on his right rear throughout the bank. Chris was a little slower coming off the bank, but I was too close to just ease off. I grabbed some e-brake to avoid hitting him, which caused me to stall out a bit. Victory went to Chris.
Next came the consolation round for Third Place against my Falken teammate, J.R. At this point, Falken was guaranteed a podium spot, but this was an important run for us both. J.R. was Fourth in the championship and I was half a point behind him. I led the first run and pulled out a gap on the bank, but he closed it back down to a car length on the infield. On my follow run, I stuck to him and came within inches of his rear bumper coming off the bank. I was then able to get up alongside his driver's door on the infield. It was a hard-fought battle with my teammate, but the judges awarded me the third step on the podium.
What an amazing event. My second podium of the year and I've moved up to Third in the championship with two events to go. I'm having so much fun this year! Thanks to Team Falken and ASD for giving me a car to contest the championship. Bring it, Sonoma!
The drift gods taketh away and the drift gods giveth. If the likes of Millen and Yoshihara are wondering where all their luck has gone, they ought to ask Chris Forsberg. The bearded one is riding the crest of a wave right now. There's a lot to be said for raw talent, but the more someone prepares and practices, the luckier they get.
Seriously, did that just happen? What an unbelievable weekend. We came to Seattle this year hoping to make it through a couple of rounds and keep in the top three. Given our past years of bad luck at Evergreen, that seemed to be asking for a lot. We made no big changes to the car from Las Vegas, focusing mainly on the reliability aspect, to avoid another engine failure. Another major concern was the weather. We had to be prepared to run in the rain, if necessary.
The weekend started out pretty good. I had the chance to go to Microsoft and test out the new Forza 3 game that will debut soon. The team at Turn 10 took us around the office and showed us all the efforts that go into making a new video game. The game play is excellent, and with more than 400 cars, it could take years to drive every one.
To business. I felt I had a lot of weight on my shoulders going into this event. I had never led the championship this far into the year. I was nervous about what could happen, or if we didn't qualify, and dozens of other scenarios. I always get a little jittery before qualifying, especially before the Top 32 field, but this time my nervousness was tenfold. I tried not to think about it as the day went on, but as certain people moved on or got knocked out, I could calculate the points in my head, even up to my Top 16 match with Darren.
I knew Darren's car was working well and it would be a tough fight to get past him. My mechanic, Kevin, and I had a long discussion before the Top 16, how to make the car a little faster to keep up with him. But when it came time to make a decision, we opted to run with our current setup and see what would happen. There was no point in trying to make a last-minute change and hope it would work. On our first run, Darren was in the chase position. He hit my door on the infield and spun to a stop, giving me a clear advantage. My chase run was clean, giving me the win.
From there I felt more confident, I had made the Top 8 and now it was going to be anyone's day. Top 8 led us to Ross Petty, who was cranking out so much smoke when he was leading that I couldn't even see the blinding strobe lights on his car. I stayed in the throttle and followed the smoke until he slowed down and I could see him again. I dumped the car down into Third gear and dived in for his door. I followed closely through the infield and came out with the win, putting me in the semi-finals. This was where things got a little confusing.
J.R. and Eric O'Sullivan were the first two drivers to pair off in the semis. Word came back to the pits that there was a serious crash in the bank. After about 10 minutes, we heard the judges rule that J.R. had been at fault and Eric O'Sullivan would move to the finals. Here's the twist: Eric's car was inoperable, which meant the winner of my upcoming semi-final run with Tyler would therefore clinch the whole event. As that idea started to set in, so did the pressure.
On my chase lap, I jumped off the line and ran down the straight as fast as I could, hoping not to get left behind. Tyler's car was at my rear bumper as he fought for traction down the straight, so I lifted off momentarily to let him get back in the lead, he rocketed by and feint-drifted right across my front bumper. I got back on the throttle and initiated as well, but he had a large gap at the beginning of the bank. I tried to make up ground as best as I could as we drifted through the infield, but there was still a decent gap.
My lead lap had to be all or nothing. I threw the car up toward the wall and held it all the way around the bank, but Tyler was closing in fast. I cranked in as much angle as I could as we slowed to enter the infield. This is where I got lucky. Tyler over-rotated his car, causing him to lose speed and create a big gap between us. I cleared through the rest of the course with no corrections and was then declared the winner. After the consolation round for Third Place, I drifted through the course and took my victory lap. I'm so pumped and grateful to have had such an amazing weekend!
Nos Energy Drink