Formula Drift prepares to finish off its eighth season and final competition for 2011 at the “House of Drift”, Toyota Speedway at Irwindale CA. The championship race has come down to the narrowest of margins with the Top 5 drivers coming all within striking distance to take home the championship. Follow along as we recap both Round 5 and 6, leading to the final FD Irwindale event while we wait to see who emerges the Formula D 2011 champ.
After a delayed practice due to torrential rains, both drivers and teams were left wondering if weather would affect their strategy going into the weekend’s competition. The fear quickly subsided the next day during qualifying as the sky cleared, offering ideal track conditions. Rounding out the Top 5 qualifiers, Tyler McQuarrie landed himself on top with a score of 94.5 points, followed by Justin Pawlak (93.5), Rhys Millen (89.6), Daijiro Yoshihara (86.9), and Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (86).
Pawlak was the championship points leader entering Round 5. With a renewed mid-season vigor, he propelled his Falken Tires Ford Mustang up the leaderboards with a 57-point lead going into Seattle. Destined to drift his way onto the podium once again, Pawlak was unexpectedly knocked out in the Top 32 due to clutch failure, leaving his closest championship points competitors Yoshihara, Darren McNamara, and Chris Forsberg the perfect opportunity to narrow the margin. Coming off a Third Place podium finish at Round 4 in New Jersey, this was the big break that Yoshihara had been looking for, as a big win at Seattle combined with Pawlak’s early exit would set the stage for a shuffling at the top of the leaderboard. Yoshihara in the Discount Tire/Falken Nissan S13 defeated Jeff Jones in his 1JZ-powered CX Racing S13, followed by Matt Powers in the Need for Speed/Nitto Nissan S14 in the next round—Powers lost control and spun his way to elimination. Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z needed a one-more-time round to squeak by South Africa’s own Otto Graven and his Monstermob V-8–powered 350Z, while McNamara in the Falken Tire Saturn Sky made quick work of disposing Walker Wilkerson in his Fatlace/Intec Racing–sponsored S13, only to be eliminated in the Top 16 by Millen in the Red Bull/Hankook Hyundai Genesis coupe.
McQuarrie, driver of the Falken Tires Nissan 350Z, matched up against Fredric Aasbo in the Need For Speed/Scion Racing tC in the Great 8 as both drivers showed the Seattle crowd why they are professional drifters. A series of perfect tandem drifts sent both drivers into consecutive one-more-time battles but it was Aasbo who proved to be too much for McQuarrie to handle as he moved into the Final 4. Yoshihara defeated Vaughn Gittin Jr., while the battle between Forsberg and Ryan Tuerck ended when a driving error eliminated Tuerck in the Gardella Racing Mobil 1/Red Bull Camaro. Kyle Mohan in the Nexen Tire/Mazdatrix RX-8 was undermatched against Millen as the Hyundai moved on to the Final 4.
The Final 4 pitted Yoshihara versus Aasbo in a too-close-to-call battle with Yoshihara narrowly defeating Aasbo. Forsberg met Millen with Forsberg earning an automatic podium as Millen spun on his chase run and once again lost control when facing Aasbo in the consolation round. The Finals matched up the 2009 champion, Forsberg, versus Yoshihara. Yoshihara drew first blood as he drifted his way to victory over Forsberg and took over the points lead, dropping Pawlak to second in the standings.
Round 5 Results
1st Place Daijiro Yoshihara
2nd Place Chris Forsberg
3rd Place Fredric Aasbo
Las Vegas, NV
Round 6 of the Formula D championship found competitors preparing for the most competitive finals in the history of the series. Five of the top drivers have a chance for the championship, staying within striking distance of one another as they prepared for Round 6 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With temperatures soaring into the triple-digit marker, the event kicked off with some interesting turn of events unraveling within the Falken pits.
Pawlak, driver of the Falken Mustang, experienced catastrophic engine damage during practice. With the team unable to make repairs before competition, the powers that be determined that rather than face an automatic DQ, Pawlak would compete in the Falken 350Z of teammate McQuarrie, leaving McQuarrie who currently sits in Sixth Place to compete with the Falken S15 Silvia backup car previously driven by Calvin Wan and James Deane.
Powers dominated Friday night qualifying. In the Need for Speed/Nitto Nissan S14, Powers led the pack with a score of 96.9 points, followed by Millen (93), Robbie Nishida (89.8), Forsberg (89.5), and Gitten Jr. (89.5) rounding out the Top 5.
With visions of a championship title on every driver’s mind, something was clearly amiss when the competition began as many of the Top 16 competitors witnessed major upsets including an early exit for Yoshihara, Pawlak, and Forsberg—shaking up the points standing. With the eliminations of the top three out of five drivers in the championship chase, only Powers and McNamara advanced into the Great 8.
With tandem battles pushing past the Vegas night and into 1 a.m., the Great 8 pitted the first battle of Powers versus Ken Gushi in the RSR/Hankook/Scion Racing tC. Powers LS7–powered S14 drifted his way to an easy win over Gushi. The battle of Tuerck and McNamara in the Falken Tire Saturn Sky was too close to call, as the judges needed two one-more-times to determine the winner. Both drivers were laying down thick plumes of smoke with Tuerck’s Camaro showcasing more drift angle through the sweeper but to the crowd’s surprise, the judges awarded McNamara to move into the semifinals. Millen pushed his Red Bull/Hankook Hyundai Genesis coupe past Mike Essa’s Z4 while underdog and current leader for “Rookie of the Year,” Bakchis, in the Forged Racing Nissan 240SX pulled out a surprising victory over Toshiki Yoshioka in the Retaks Nissan S13.
In the finals, Powers and McNamara went head-to-head in a V-8–powered battle. Powers took himself out of First Place contention as he hit McNamara’s rear bumper while playing chase—automatically giving the win to the Saturn Sky. In a rookie versus seasoned veteran competition, Bakchis faced off against Millen. Nerves seemed to unravel Bakchis as judges found Millen as the stronger of both competitors with Bakchis sent to the eliminations to compete with Powers for Third Place honors. After a hard fought battle Powers took Third Place and secured his chances to have a shot at the title. The Finals pitted McNamara in the Falken Tire Saturn Sky against Millen in the Red Bull/Hankook Hyundai Genesis coupe. With consistent driving throughout the weekend and recent competition, Millen took the win and his first victory of the season.
Round 6 Results
1st Place Rhys Millen
2nd Place Darren McNamara
3rd Place Matt Powers