Round 6: Irwindale, CA
It was back to southern California for the last powerslides of the Formula D season. Round Seven took place at the "House of Drift," otherwise known as the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. This is where the American drift scene really took off, so it was only fitting that the venue should see make-or-break, foot-to-the-floor, Hail Mary passes in the final chance to grab some glory, all in front of a record-breaking, 12,000-strong crowd.
With the tire smoke dissipating and mechanics finally scrubbing all that oil from under their fingernails, it's time to reflect on what was and what might have been. There's no doubt that Rhys Millen has the skills, but his new platform was unproven in motorsport coming into the season. So perhaps the learning curve was the toughest bend to negotiate in 2009.
Well, another year has come to an end, and with it, a lot of learning and a lot to ponder. The Hyundai Genesis ran fantastically at the final round. No complaints at all, other than the driver missing a gear. This year has been a tough one, but not without its promises for podiums. The team and I have a great foundation to work from.
With the off-season now upon us, we are expecting great results to kick off 2010. I'm still as hungry as ever for another championship. And if the world record we set this year at Pikes Peak is any indication of the season to come, I bet it will be a good one. Big props to Red Bull, Toyo Tires, Infinity, and the great folks and new friends at Hyundai. Thanks for all the support this season.
The words "Ken Gushi" and "headgasket" always seem to coincide on this page. And, sadly, out on the track as well. Which is a shame, because The Gush can't put on a rush when his engine misbehaves. But ever the optimist, our Ken sees the positive side, thus re-fuelling his ambition for next year.
I wanted to finish the season with a bang, especially after proving the RS-R Scion tC can kick ass with a podium finish at Sonoma. I really wanted to win at Irwindale, since it's my home course and because I failed to qualify last year due to engine problems. This year, I hoped there would be no similar issues. Unfortunately, things didn't go according to plan.
First, we blew a fresh motor on media day, two weeks prior to the main event. I had a bad feeling about Irwindale already. Maybe it's a curse. I didn't get to break in the new motor for Thursday's practice, so we decided to do it at the track. This time, we were running on E85. I was skeptical about this. First, we did not have sufficient data to tell us that the motor was reliable-we had an E85-powered 3SGE blow up on us at the Vegas round. Secondly, the E85-powered 3SGE was powerful in the mid-range, but not at the top end. For a track like Irwindale, top-end power is more important than anything, especially when the judges ask for extreme lines.
It turned out the powerband was not so bad compared to our C16-fueled motor. But after practice, chief mechanic Koji found air bubbles in the coolant lines. Not a good sign. After a brief meeting, Team RS-R decided to split the motor open to check for damage to the block. Fortunately, it was just a blown headgasket, so they decided to use a thicker one. A thicker headgasket means lower compression, which in turn means lower horsepower. It was so much slower that I was having a hard time during practice before Friday's qualifying. Something was not right. We kept turning up the boost, but the gauge only read 1.4 bar max. With the settings we had, it should have been close to 1.7 or 1.8. We didn't have time to diagnose the problem, so I ran qualifying with what I had. I ended up in 15th with a score of 73.9 and a match-up in the Top 32 against 18th-place qualifier, Taka Aono.
To be honest, I don't like going against Corollas. They are much faster in the technical areas of the tracks, but slower in the open areas. I went up against Taka in New Jersey and I remember his car being pretty quick. After qualifying, we got ready for the last practice session of the day. After running a few laps, Koji checked for bubbles. I sat in the car, waiting for him to close the hood, but it was taking a long time. I was getting worried. When I saw his face, it confirmed my suspicions. 'Again?' I thought to myself. This time, we were certain the motor was toast.
By then, I was over it. After all, we had been using this same 3SGE for two seasons and it still gave us problems in the final rounds. The only spare engine we had left was made up of salvaged parts from previously damaged motors. To use that one was a risk, but was a better option than running a motor that was already done. The other change was fuel. No more E85. We went back to C16. Woo-hoo, top-end power!
The tC ran strong in Saturday's practice session. It felt like a brand-new car. And with more top-end power, it was much easier drifting the Irwindale bank. Thank you, RS-R and Nate, for working such late hours. As the Top 32 tandem battles began, we made some last-minute changes before I was up. Since track temperature was still high, we altered the tire pressure to compensate. I was getting nervous, but then I thought, 'This is the last event of the year. Just have fun.'
My match against Taka was exactly that. I took the lead first, so I knew I had to leave him in the dust. While we utilized the pace cone to keep it fair, as soon as I entered the bank I was only focused on keeping my speeds high and hitting every clip out there. On my following lap, I had to be extra cautious not to stay too close on the straight, because I knew the tC would catch up on the bank. Luckily, we made it past the 32 into the Top 16. Thank you, Taka, for a good run.
Next up was Ryan Tuerck. Track temperature was dropping fast, so it was critical to adjust the rear tire pressure. This is where I made my mistake. I set the rear tire pressure too low, which made it hard to keep the high line on the bank. I knew Tuerck had been staying in the middle of the bank all day, so my strategy was to force him to run a line he would be uncomfortable with. But he ended up beating me and the rest of the field.
Overall, this event was rough for us. We were overwhelmed with engine problems. But I am extremely happy with the team. They worked super hard to keep the car running to the end. We finished the 2009 Formula D Season in 10th Place. To me, that counts as a success, considering we started the season at 33, not even qualifying at Long Beach. Also, 10th is not so bad for a team that has had transmission and engine problems all year long. On a positive note, we did have one podium finish, a First-place qualifying, a Fourth-place finish, and a car that's still in one piece. It was one of the best seasons I've had in a long time.
Special thanks to Team RS-R, Scion, Toyo, Rogue Status, Pioneer, BASF, Eneos, RAYS, TRD, Alpinestars, my fans and my family for supporting me. For 2010, to the top we go!
The 2009 Formula D season has been one long, out-of-control, chaotic slide for Daijiro-san. So, he was hoping it would be seventh-time's-the-charm at Irwindale. He didn't want everyone's final memory of his racing year to be a negative one. And then there was that little issue of a mislaid mojo . . .
I've had a tough season; no great results and a bad crash. This round was the last chance for me to get my confidence back.
I wasn't really comfortable in practice. To be honest, I was kinda scared. I wasn't sure if it was the car or me. I think it was both. The bank reminded me of the crash I had in Seattle. We kept changing the front suspension setup and I became more comfortable by the end of the session. I tried 100 percent and was able to qualify Sixth.
In the Top 32 round, I went against Ross Petty. When I was leading, I think I had my best run so far. I was scraping my rear bumper on the bank wall. When I was following, he made a lot of smoke and I couldn't see very well at the first transition and I hit the clipping cone, so I thought it was going to be a One More Time, but the judges gave it to me. I guess my leading run was really good.
In Top 16, I faced Darren McNamara. He is my teammate, but his main sponsor is Sears. So it was Discount Tire versus Sears. Since I haven't been able to provide Discount Tire with any good results yet, I had to win this battle at least. I was pumped. When was leading, I did another best run. After this, I proved to myself that I can drive well. I felt my confidence return. I was in game-face mode for the first time since last year. On the following run, he was fast, but he touched the wall and that made him slow down a bit. I was able to suck into the side of his car to take the win. It was my first time moving on to the Great 8 round in 2009 and the first time ever for Discount Tire. I was so happy.
I went against Tanner Foust in the Great 8. I felt really good and thought I was going to win! He took the lead first. He is one of the quickest guys, so I focused on going as fast as I could and stuck with him. I was doing well until we were coming out of the bank. He made so much tire smoke that I couldn't see much just before the transition. I lost him for a second and that made a little gap, but I was still able to follow him. At the last corner, he made tons of smoke again and I absolutely couldn't see a thing. But I didn't want to back off, so I stayed on the gas anyway. Then, unfortunately, I hit the K-rail. WTF?! I broke the front bumper! I tried my best when I was leading, but I couldn't beat him.
I finished in Sixth Place. It wasn't the greatest result, but the most important thing was that I definitely got my mojo back. At last, my worst season is over . . . too bad it ended right when it started getting good! But I think everything happens for a reason. I have been through a lot and learned so much this year.
Thanks to everyone who supported me through 2009. Also, I want to thank Team Falken Tire, Discount Tire and all the sponsors. I will be stronger and back in the fight for the championship in 2010!
The good Mister Foust is one of the giants of the scene who can always be relied upon to give good drift. This diary gives a fine insight into the mind of a man who drives sideways for a living. Turns out he's not afraid of commitment.
There are only two real options when choosing a line for the Irwindale circuit. Option one: slow down while making the main transition, allowing the car to cut back further up toward the judges, then simply drive by the judging wall. This line allows the bumper to stay close to the inner oval wall as long as possible, but compromises speed, racing line, and in my opinion, impact.
The other option is to stay on full throttle through the transition, cut back toward the judges as long as you dare at this higher speed, then transition hard back to the left and brake as late as possible before crashing. Here the impact spot on the wall is a good 15 feet further down, but you can get bigger angle (always bigger potential under braking) and achieve awesome speed going straight at the wall. It takes some commitment. Whenever I watched Ryan Tuerck attack the track with this method, I was sure he was going to crash into the wall just before he'd smoke through the inner oval to the finish. I tried both methods and thought the latter was much more aggressive, so I stuck with it.
When leading, this aggressive line was great. When following, it was important to allow space for the guys who slowed early. Or in Tony Brakohiapa's case, guys with engine problems who never got up to speed. In that first round, we entered the bank at 45 mph instead of 85 mph. He did a great job of working through his car's issues, but I was able to move on. Against Michael Essa in the second round, there were problems again. He hit the wall hard while I was on his bumper. That was a close call, but Essa mitigated the situation and luckily we didn't crash.
The next round with Dai was great. We agreed to surf the next week, regardless of who won, and went to work. The lead run was one of my most aggressive. Following, I gave him a car-length on the bank to account for the handbrake correction his lower-powered car sometimes needs on the grippy section halfway through. He made the fix and I was locked on through the rest of the run. What an awesome feeling of commitment, being close to another car, sideways, under hard braking. We were at the mercy of momentum and I expected some sort of contact, but it all worked out great. How much fun was that?
Running against Ryan, I was following first. On the acceleration out, I wasn't attacking him enough and let him get a small lead before entry. We had a pretty evenly matched run, but I think my slightly shallow line on the bank gave him the round. He ended up winning overall, and with the crazy speeds he was hitting (thanks to the latter of the two methods), I think he deserved it. For the podium fight, I faced a future champion, Mr. Powers, and was able to take him out. But we'll be seeing much more of that green Nissan.
Chances are that the former Knicks basketball star and current Democratic Senator for New Jersey, Bill Bradley, wasn't thinking of Formula D or Tyler McQuarrie when he said: "Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in." But it's uncanny how McQuarrie has ambition, persistence, and a vehicle.
Going into Irwindale, I stood Fifth in the points chase and had a realistic shot at getting Third or even Second for the 2009 Formula D Championship. I had nothing to lose but a lot to gain and I was ready to wring the neck of the Falken Tire 350Z. I was either going to win or bring the car back in pieces, but all I could do was try.
For Qualifying, my plan was to get in a solid first run, so I could lay it all on the line for the second run, since points are so important. My first run put me 16th, but on my second run, I pushed a little too hard and hit the third clipping point. Unfortunately, this meant I had to settle for 16th and my first match-up for Top 32 was with Rhys Millen.
Before the Top 32, Rhys tried to pull a Tonya Harding and take me out at the legs as I was coming out of the bathroom, but I wasn't having any of that. On my lead run, I pulled out a gap and Rhys also missed a shift on the infield, so I had the advantage. When I followed him, I had to left-foot brake on the bank to avoid hitting him. I took it easy on the rest of the run, but was still able to sit on his rear quarter panel and the judges called me the winner.
For the Top 16, I was matched up with the number-one qualifier, Justin Pawlak. I knew this was going to be tough for a couple of reasons. First, he had been killing it all weekend. Second, I kicked his butt at the Formula D K1 karting event the night before and he was looking for revenge. On my follow run, I was able to stay close throughout the bank and infield. Going into the last corner, I tried to get under him, but ran out of room and clipped one of the barriers. I thought I might be done with that move, so on my lead run I knew I needed to go all-out. I got a pretty good gap on him then, so I knew it was going to be a tough call for the judges. They came down in my favor and that moved me up to Fourth in the championship.
The Great Eight was bitter-sweet. I was matched up with Samuel Hubinette driving the Shaun Carlson Tribute Viper. Shaun was an awesome guy and very good to me. I will miss him very much. I think everyone wanted to see his Viper do well this weekend, but Sam was four points ahead of me and I wanted that Third spot. I beat Sam in Seattle, so I knew what to expect. He was fast in a straight line, but I was able to close up over the rest of the track. On my lead run, he was all over me going into the bank, but the Falken 350Z checked out on the bank and helped me create a big gap. I moved on to the Final Four and also took Third in the championship. Wheelz, who had been Shaun's long-time crew guy, came up to me after the run. He told me if Sam couldn't win, Shaun would have wanted me to win and that he always thought very highly of me. That meant so much and truly gave me the strength to push harder.
Matt Powers was the only guy between me and the Finals. Even though he had the best Top 16 driver introduction of all time, with a life-size '80s rocker stuck in his trunk, I had to take him down. Powers had been driving the crap out of his car, but it was on the slow side. We stayed together going into the bank, but I soon pulled out a sizable gap. I knew following him would be a little tricky because of the difference in speed. I used a lot of handbrake and left-foot braking to stay on his bumper. In the end, Powers had an awesome event, but I moved on.
At this point I had the podium locked up, so I held nothing back. Ryan Tuerck and I would be fighting for a win at the "House of Drift" and the biggest drift event ever. Our cars are similar in performance, so I tried to stay close and drive as hard as I could. My follow run was good, but to win this event, I knew I needed to lay down my best run of the weekend. I went through the bank as hard as possible and brought in more speed to the inner oval than I had all weekend. I knew I was going to hit the wall with the rear of the Z. I got on the gas to prevent the front from being sucked in, but I didn't hit as hard as I thought. Getting on the gas caused me to spin. I could see the smile on Ryan's face as he passed. So close to my first win and so close to victory in Formula D's biggest event! But I have no regrets for pushing as hard as I did. Congrats to Ryan for the win.
2009 was an awesome year and I owe it all to Team Falken and the ASD crew. Four times I made it to the Final Four, standing on the podium three of those times. All this was done with my first year in the Falken 350Z and I finished Third in the Formula D championship. I'm now the highest-ranked driver Falken's ever had. Thanks to all my sponsors: Falken Tire, GoPro Cameras, BC, Enkei, and Sparco. I can't wait for 2010!
We would like to thank all our diarists for their excellent contributions, which made the 2009 series even more enjoyable. And it's with great pleasure that we grant the final word to one of Formula Drift's principal architects, Ryan Sage.
As I sit in the judging tower and prepare to go out on track and meet up with Jim Liaw (partner) and Andy Luk (director of operations) for one last Top 16 driver introduction, it's hard not to reminisce about the 2009 series and look back at the event that the FD team, drivers, sponsors, and-most importantly-friends (fans) have created.
It's the close of another season. And a great one at that. Since none of us are old enough to have experienced the Great Depression, this recent and ongoing poor economy might be as close as we all get to it. I admit, it's definitely been a scary experience. There we were, coming off our greatest year yet in 2008 with record attendance numbers, the Red Bull Drifting World Championship, and an amazingly competitive regular season-then as soon as that year ends, the economy takes a dump.
So many companies tied to this industry went under, along with many more around the world. One would think that a small concern like ours might have been damaged irreparably and that Formula D, though strong, may even have sunk. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. In the past six years FD has been around, many things have changed. Hundreds of people are now employed predominantly for drifting. So many have made a big jump to support this amazing sport wholeheartedly, from drivers and team managers, to mechanics and sponsors whose primary involvement is in this sport. Indeed these great folks have created a mini-economy. This has been achieved through their combined efforts, as well as by those who have provided further support, such as websites and magazines.
If there were any year when FD could have had an excuse to have been subpar, this would have been the one. But we didn't have to prepare those excuses, because in almost every way, this sport has grown from the previous year. Right now, peering down the straight at Irwindale Speedway and looking at the biggest-attended drifting event in its history, I get the feeling that this sport will stick around for a long, long time.
2009 Overall Winner
It's all very well going into the final event with a points cushion and being touted as the clear favorite. But that kind of pressure can mess with a man's head; many a possible champ has choked at the last hurdle. It might even make him think of '80s pop stars. How weird is that?
I cannot even begin to explain what I'm feeling right now. WE JUST WON THE FORMULA D CHAMPIONSHIP! I had been so nervous and stressed out the past seven weeks, waiting for the final round to come. We came close to winning a championship a few times in the past, but with the points lead after Sonoma, all we needed to do was get into Top 32, and win the first head-to-head battle to settle it.
So with that on my mind during our big break and the car ready to go, I had to occupy my myself with small projects here and there to keep from going crazy. The few days before the event were the most agonizing. I started getting stomach aches and sweaty palms just thinking about the upcoming weekend. Thursday's practice session was just what I needed to get my focus back on driving. I did a few laps of practice on Friday, and the team was good to go. At the same time, we noticed that Tuerck seemed to be on a mission; a Top 32 finish would not be enough for us to take it if he won. And I could see in his eyes that he was going to.
Friday's qualifying session went great. I posted a Seventh-spot run on the first lap. But Tuerck's second run put him in Second Place. If we were knocked out in Top 32 and Tuerck won the event, we would be tied for the championship. What's even crazier, the tie breaker would be based on our podium finishes, which would put us in a tie again, with two First-place finishes and one Third-place finish each. Tuerck is one of my best friends, so when we got to the track Saturday morning, we talked about the crazy situation we might find ourselves in later that day. We both had the same idea in our heads: if it came down to a tie, we wanted to run for it. Who knows if Formula D would have gone down that route, but in our minds, that was the only true way to decide a clear-cut winner.
Saturday morning was probably the best I'd felt in two months. I had already clinched the Second-place champ spot at the very least, and the car was running fantastically well in practice. Our Top 32 pairing was with Doug Van Den Brink. I had watched him practice all Friday night, which helped me feel ready to run against him. My lead lap was great, so the crew told me to just give him a good chase and we should get the win. On the chase run, as we headed down the straightaway, the car hiccupped in Third, and Doug pulled a big lead before we reached the bank. The run was solid, but I think the judges may have thought I left a gap to play it safe, so they ran us one more time. I called for five minutes and headed to the pits.
We checked everything, but the car looked fine. Because we had the same issue last season, I was terrified it was going to happen again in the next run. Kevin said everything was good, so I pulled back up to the line. Another great lead run and no hesitations from the car. On the chase lap, I stayed with him and closed the gap off the bank through the infield. When I reached the start line again, everyone was jumping up and down and screaming. Before I even heard on the radio that we had won, I was ripped out of the car by my friends and crew, and thrown into the air. It was one of the greatest feelings of my life.
From there we went into the Top 16 against Robbie Nishida. I had a great chase run with him, but I rotated too soon at the last corner and punted a couple of barriers. The judges gave Robbie the win, but at the same time I felt instant relief that our season was over and we had won. I spent the rest of the night cheering on Tuerck. He took it all the way to the finals and not only won the event, but took Second in the championship. It was perfect.
Here is where I get a little sappy: I seriously cannot believe how lucky I have been to have the best crew, family, sponsors, and friends who have all supported me every step of the way. As Hall & Oates would say: "You make-a my dreams come true." But seriously, thank you, guys. I love you all so much.
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