Round 1 of Formula D in Long Beach debuted new vehicles and drivers. There was plenty of hype and anticipation for the new season with a growing cast of V-8–powered drift machines entering this year’s championship chase. Regardless of whether you love ’em or hate ’em, V-8 power has taken over the sport and is here to stay. Formula D made history during their first event of this eighth season of competition, as this year’s Long Beach opener became the most attended drift competition ever for the series. Over 16,000 fans came to the near-capacity event, outdrawing the previous ’10 Formula Drift season finale, Red Bull Drifting World Championship, and even the original D1 Exhibition Match held back in February of 2004.
As drift competition progressed throughout the day, many of the top 32 competitors—well-known drivers and manufacturer-sponsored cars—were eliminated from competition, including Rhys Millen, Sam Hubinette, Tyler McQuarrie, and Ken Gushi.
A crowd favorite and top contender in previous years’ Formula D events, Tanner Foust has officially retired his drift suit to focus on his rally and television careers. Replacing Foust was the 2010 FD Rookie of the Year Fredric Aasbo of Norway, taking the wheel of the Papadakis Racing–built Scion Racing/Team Need For Speed/Hankook Tire ’11 tC. Aasbo showed tremendous poise in his new car as he drifted his way to the Great Eight before falling victim to Chris Forsberg in the ’11 NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z.
Team Need For Speed driver Matt Powers entered the Long Beach competition with his signature S14, only this year powered by a V-8. His decision to go with a 600-whp Chevy LS7 powerplant for 2011 paid big dividends as he muscled his way through the competitors.
Rhys Millen, in his Hyundai Genesis Coupe, managed to make it into the quarterfinals before he was dispatched by Dean Kearney in the Sam Hubinette Racing/VLEDS/Federal Tire Dodge Viper SRT10. Coincidently, Kearney’s boss and teammate, Sam Hubinette with his new Dodge Challenger, was eliminated due to engine failure. But the surprise of the day was the Monster Energy/Falken/Ford Racing Mustang, driven by Vaughn Gittin Jr. Last year’s champion, J.R. failed to qualify for Saturday’s eliminations, scoring only 41 out of 100 points. His second run resulted in an uncharacteristic spin through the Turn 11 hairpin, which abruptly ended his day. In the pits, a disappointed J.R. said he had no one to blame but himself for the mishap, and promised to redeem himself in the next round.
In a nail-biting Final Four showdown, Chris Forsberg, Daijiro Yoshihara, Justin Pawlak, and Matt Powers battled for a podium. Pawlak, in the Falken Tire Ford Mustang, fought a hard battle against Powers to take First after a One More Time rematch in the semis. Powers, in the Need for Speed Nissan S14, took Second Place, with Yoshihara in the Discount Tire/Falken/Nissan S13 rounding out the podium in Third. This was Yoshihara’s first Long Beach podium.