Formula D Championship returned to New Jersey’s legendary Wall Speedway for Round 4: The Gauntlet in front of another sold-out crowd. The short course, with its 16-degree banked oval followed immediately by a straightaway and 30-degree incline on the turns, proves to be one of the more difficult courses for many Formula D drivers. The short oval’s technical track configuration didn’t disappoint as the weekend event was filled with dramatic crashes, controversial calls, and stellar upsets.
During the early hours of qualifying, the track was blanketed with rain; drivers were forced to deal with slippery track conditions and traction issues. The unforgiving weather punished drivers with many vehicles coming in contact with the guardrail. The weather cleared up later in the day, but not before claiming crowd favorite Walker Wilkerson and his Garage Autohero/Fatlace S13. This was Wilkerson’s first time driving the Jersey course—an event that was sure to leave a lasting impression. Wilkerson tagged the wall and scored a zero during his first qualifying run. His second qualifying run was suddenly cut short when his hood flew up, forcing him to stop mid track. Wilkerson immediately backed up to the starting line thinking he would be able to re-grid the car, but the judges determined his start and stop session was grounds for a big fat doughnut in qualifying points. Rounding out the Top 5 qualifiers, Chelsea DeNofa in the BC Racing E36 BMW squeaked his way into the Top 32 for the very first time by qualifying in Fifth Place and the Discount Tire Nissan S13 of Dai Yoshihara came in Fourth with a score of 92 points. Fredric Aasbo drifted his Need for Speed Scion tC to Third with 93.5 points, while Vaughn Gitten Jr. and his Monster Energy Drink ’13 Ford Mustang propelled into Second when he landed a score of 96. The top qualifying spot belonged to 2011 Rookie of the Year Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis in the M7 Drive Energy Drink/Nexen Tire Nissan S14. Bakchis threw down a killer second run even after hitting the guardrail. The judges were thoroughly impressed, giving him a score of 97—his highest score and qualifying to date in Formula D.
As the day’s competition progressed, the group of 32 drivers went to work, slowly chipping the competitors down to the Great Eight consisting of Daigo Saito, Justin Pawlak, Conrad Grunewald, Tyler McQuarrie, Gittin Jr., Matt Powers, Yoshihara, and Chris Forsberg.
Daigo Saito vs. Conrad Grunewald
The first of four battles in the Great Eight began late into the afternoon. Grunewald piloting the Hankook Tire Chevy Camaro took the lead lap in the first of two battles. Saito in the Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430 took out the first clipping point cone but stayed within close proximity of Grunewald’s door. Saito continued his shaky run as he took out a second clipping point cone while running a shallow line in an attempt to keep up with the Camaro. The second run had both cars laying down tons of smoke. Grunewald was quickly lost in the smoke as he failed to keep a close distance to Saito’s 1,200hp 2JZ-powered SC430. Fans immediately assumed Grunewald would advance due to Saito’s costly errors in the first round, but were surprised when the judges announced a one-more-time. Both drivers were given a quick 5-minute rule to replace tires and repair damage to the car before battling once again. Saito was much improved the second time around; the judges awarded him to move on into the Final Four round.
Tyler McQuarrie vs. Daijiro Yoshihara
Yoshihara in the Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13 began his tandem run as the lead car. Both V-8–powered machines executed textbook drifting through the initial bank. The first run was too close to call with Yoshihara developing a slight advantage as he managed to pull a slight gap from McQuarrie and the Mobil 1 Camaro. The second run had McQuarrie executing good smoke and angle but Yoshihara refused to concede; he remained in close proximity of the Camaro throughout the entire course. After a quick deliberation among the judges, the unanimous decision was made that Yoshihara would be moving on to the next round.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. vs. Matt Powers
Up next, Gitten wastes no time as he threw the Monster Energy/Falken Ford Mustang into the first turn, tagging the guardrail as it violently ripped off the rear bumper coming out of the bank. Gitten quickly recovered to keep control of his Mustang; he powered his way though the course. Powers in the Need for Speed/Nitto Nissan S14 was immediately recognized as exhibiting a shallow drift line. With Powers leading the second run, his line was once again pointed out as shallow in comparison to Gitten. The judges quickly decided that Gitten was the stronger of the two and rewarded him the win.
Justin Pawlak vs. Chris Forsberg
The final pairing of the Falken Tire Ford Mustang of Pawlak and Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z rounded out the Top 8. Pawlak was determined to maintain his championship points lead as he laid down some super-aggressive drifting while staying within inches of Forsberg’s 370Z’s rear bumper. The second run witnessed Forsberg bobble his car through the second horseshoe as he almost comes in contact with JTP. The judges found faults in both drivers on separate occasions and demanded a one-more-time. The final battle sealed the deal for Pawlak; his exit speeds coming out of the second horseshoe were too hot and made front end tire contact with the 370Z’s door causing damage to the Mustang’s tie rod. Pawlak called 5 minutes to fix the damage before lining up once again, but it was apparent the damage was too severe. A midcourse spinout by Pawlak gave Forsberg the green light to move on to the Final Four.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. vs. Chris Forsberg
Gittin Jr. piloting the Monster Energy/Falken Ford Mustang versus Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z was well fought. Both V-8–powered machines drove aggressively while making sure to hit every clipping zone. The competition looked to be Forsberg’s for the win, but a major bobble at the end of the course ended his day.
Dai Yoshihara vs. Daigo Saito
The favorite to win Rookie of the Year Saito was one battle away from once again battling in the finals, but before that he would have to overtake Yoshihara in the Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13. The competition was too close to call for the judges. Both drivers were ordered into a one-more-time battle. After a 5-minute rule, both cars returned to the course to battle once again. The highly anticipated run witnessed Saito maintain tight proximity to Yoshihara’s car as he nosed his SC430 to the door of the S13. The 2JZGTE/nitrous-powered SC430 maintained high speeds throughout the course but the S13 of Yoshihara kept close on Saito’s heels. The judges scored the battle 2 to 1 with Yoshihara moving on. Saito’s day wasn’t over just yet; he was staged to run against Forsberg to battle for Third Place.
Chris Forsberg vs. Daigo Saito
In the battle for Third Place, both fans and judges witnessed the Lexus SC430 of Saito having problems with maintaining a proper clipping point as he did throughout the entire competition. Forsberg took advantage of Saito’s mistakes; he maintained good speed and angle throughout the entire track. Forsberg, with a commanding points lead going into the second run, was a shoe-in to win the completion as both cars looked good halfway through the course when the 370Z came into contact with Saito’s SC430. Controversy erupted as judges carefully analyzed the replay to see if Saito lifted the throttle causing Forsberg to clip his rear. After further review, the decision was in favor of Forsberg and he took Third Place.
Daijiro Yoshihara vs. Vaughn Gittin Jr.
Yoshihara came in super hot with good angle but lost momentum through the second portion of the track, causing him to bobble as Gitten pulled away. Yoshihara showed a promising second run with good drift angle while making good use of the entire track, but Gittin mirrored his every move and was awarded the unanimous win by the judges. Formula D travels to Monroe, WA, for Round 5 at Evergreen Speedway with only three events left to crown this year’s champion.
|Formula DRIFT Professional Championship 2012 Points standing after 4 Events|
|1||Justin Pawlak||Falken Tire Ford Mustang||342 Points|
|2||Daigo Saito||Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430||329 Points|
|3||Daijiro Yoshihara||Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13||291 Points|
|4||Vaughn Gittin Jr.||Monster Energy/Falken Ford Mustang||279 Points|
|5||Chris Forsberg||NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z||265 Points|
|6||Odi Bakchis||M7 Drive Energy Drink/Nexen Tire Nissan S14||243.25 Points|
|7||Rhys Millen||Hankook/Rhys Millen Racing Hyundai Genesis coupe||240 Points|
|8||Ryan Tuerck||Team Retaks Nissan 240SX||239.5 Points|
|9||Fredric Aasbo||Need for Speed/Papadakis Racing Scion tC||238.5 Points|
|10||Matt Powers||Need for Speed/Nitto Nissan S14||212.5 Points|
|11||Kenneth Moen||Lutz Performance Nissan 350Z||206.5 Points|
|12||Ken Gushi||Greddy/Hankook Scion FR-S||196.5 Points|
|13||Tyler McQuarrie||Mobil 1 Chevrolet Camaro||183.5 Points|
|14||Michael Essa||GSR Autosport/Nitto BMW ZR4||177 Points|
|15||Conrad Grunewald||Hankook Chevrolet Camaro||173.5 Points|