Formula Drift returned to the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, CA, for the final event of the 2011 season in front of a sold-out venue that eclipsed previous attendance records. The jam-packed event forced fans to park their cars and walk more than a mile away from the speedway to witness history in the making. This year’s finals marked the closest and most competitive chase for the championship in Formula Drift history. Each of the five top competitors had a statistical chance to win the championship going into Irwindale—the top three drivers were separated by a mere 34.5 points.
The qualifying round ended with Sam Hubinette in the SHR Dodge Challenger with a top score of 92.7 followed by Justin Pawlak in the Falken/Ford Racing Mustang with a 90.4, Tyler McQuarrie in the Falken Tire Nissan 350Z scoring an 88.4, Ryan Tuerck in the Gardella Racing Mobil 1/Red Bull Chevrolet Camaro with an 86.1 and Rhys Millen in the Red Bull/Hankook Hyundai Genesis with an 85.9 to round out the Top 5.
The Top 32 went as planned for the championship contending drivers. They easily picked off their competitors and made their way into the Top 16 without a hitch. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t have been said about the Top 16.
All eyes were on Daijiro Yoshihara in the Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13 to clinch his first championship as he entered Round 7 with the point lead. Finishing off the season in dramatic fashion wasn’t exactly what Yoshihara had planned, but he put the crowd, along with competitors, in a frenzy during Top 16 competition when he tapped the rear bumper of Ken Gushi’s RSR Scion tC coming out of the final turn. The hit ended Yoshihara’s day and possible championship dreams with an automatic disqualification. With the points leader eliminated and such a close gap in the point standings, the Formula D staff immediately scrambled to calculate all possible scenarios for the top contenders. Within minutes of crunching numbers, either Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z or Darren McNamara in the Falken Saturn Sky would need to win the event in order to have a chance to overtake Yoshihara in the points, while Pawlak only needed to outlast McNamara to earn his first championship.
After eight years of driving it finally paid off.
As the drama continued to unfold in front of the raucous crowd, Pawlak and McNamara faced off in the Top 8. The pressure to win was insurmountable for both competitors. Pawlak made a crucial error and handed the win to McNamara along with his chance for a championship. A title was still a possible reality for Yoshihara as it was McNamara’s championship to either win or lose, depending on the outcome of his matchup versus teammate McQuarrie. Both drivers put on a smoke-filled show, but it was McQuarrie who took the win. The elimination of McNamara confirmed that Yoshihara had won his first Formula D championship.
With the championship decided in the Final 4 competition, Forsberg defeated McNamara in the consolation round to secure Third Place, which also moved him up into Third Place points standings. The final battle of the evening pitted Millen against McQuarrie. McQuarrie mentioned that the previous Round 6 event in Las Vegas was the most odd and frustrating race weekend of his career. He went into Irwindale with a chip on his shoulder and a point to make regarding decisions that were made in Vegas. He went out with guns blazing, knowing he had nothing to lose, as this would be his last Formula D event with Falken Tire. His immense concentration and go-for-broke mentality earned him his first 2011 win, automatically moving him up the ladder into Fifth Place in the standing for the season. This was Millen’s farewell event, as we received news that he would be retiring from FD following this season.
After the event Yoshihara spoke to the media. “It’s a great feeling and a dream come true,” he says. “After eight years of driving it finally paid off. I owe a lot to my team and sponsors. My new goal will be to defend the championship and win it outright during the event.” To add to his 2011 championship, Yoshihara also hit pay dirt with a $10K bonus prize check from Tires.com Triple Crown win.