Formula Drift wrapped up its ninth season in what culminated into the closest championship run to date. The grand finale and Round 7 returned to Irwindale Speedway, known as the "House of Drift", in Southern California for the last power slide of the Formula D season. Irwindale plays an integral part since the points winner is decided at this final event of the season; drivers battle one last time to earn the coveted title of Formula Drift Champion. Last year, Daijiro Yoshihara captured the 2011 championship and Tires.com Triple Crown bonus award in an event that had more twists and drama than a soap opera, while Tyler McQuarrie finished in First Place during the event.
The morning of competition began with uncertainty, as the previous day had been tainted with a series of rain showers and gloomy overcast weather. If there ever was doubt that drift fans would shy away from attending the final drift saga, it was quickly put to rest as crowds pushed their way into Irwindale Speedway-the parking lot quickly filled to full capacity by late afternoon. For the first time in Formula Drift history, the event sold out before the gates even opened.
Entering the final round of competition, seven drivers lined the event with a strategic chance of taking home the championship. Points leader and 2010 Champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. in the Monster Energy/Falken Ford Mustang, Formula Drift Asia and D1 Champion Daigo Saito in the Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430, Daijiro Yoshihara in the America's Tire/Falken Tire Nissan 240, Rhys Millen in the RMR/Hankook Hyundai Genesis coupe, and Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy/Hankook Nissan 370Z all prepared to wage war in the tightest points battle to date.
The Top 32 eliminations was filled with dramatic crashes and early upsets, including a surprise exit by Yoshihara. His hope of retaining the crown was dashed when Kyle Mohan in the Nexen Tire/Mazdatrix/KMR Mazda RX-8 outshined the defending 2011 champion.
Another twist in the championship unfolded during the Top 16 when a supposedly routine climb up the elimination ladder turned into tragedy for Gittin Jr. He bobbled and spun out during the second tandem run, which gave Pat Mordaunt in the PM Racing Lexus SC430 the automatic win. It was deja vu once again dating back to the 2011 championship final when Yoshihara was eliminated in the early round. With the loss, Gittin Jr. was now in Second Place and still had a chance to take home the championship, pending the outcome of his fellow competitors/team members from Drift Alliance, who needed to beat Saito and Millen who were now within striking distance from snatching the championship.
Millen made quick work of Mohan and Mordant; he picked off his competitors one by one. Saito used his 1,200hp 2JZ-powered machine to move past Conrad Grunewald in the Hankook Chevrolet Camaro. He narrowly escaped the following round with a victory against Matt Powers in the Need for Speed/Nitto Nissan S14 after a "One More Time" call from the judges.
The crowds were on their feet when Saito was set to battle Millen in the finals. If Saito were to eventually win the battle, he would have enough points to secure the championship but if Millen was the victor, he would still need to win the entire event to take home the 2012 crown. Millen looks to be the stronger of the two competitors but ends up faltering during his chase run when he hammers the wall, giving the win and 2012 championship to Formula D newcomer Saito. Ryan Tuerck in the Team Retaks Nissan 240SX versus Justin "JTP" Pawlak in the Falken Tire Ford Mustang highlighted the second battle. Both drivers ran perfect mirror images of each other. The judges needed an OMT to determine the winner; Pawlak was given the green light to move into the finals to battle Saito for the top podium spot.
JTP showed Saito why he was a force to be reckoned with; he executed an ultra-consistent run with Saito having to play catch up in the first of two runs. It was obvious that the first battle went to JTP, but during the chase run he carried too much speed coming into the turn and collided with the same inner bank that had taken out Millen just minutes earlier. With the win, Saito not only takes the championship but also First Place in a one-two victory combination.
|1||Daigo Saito||Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430||First Place|
|2||Justin Pawlak||Falken Tire Ford Mustang||Second Place|
|3||Ryan Tuerck||Team Retaks Nissan 240SX||Third Place|
|Justin Pawlak||Falken Tire Ford Mustang|
|1||Daigo Saito||Achilles Tire/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430||548.50 Points|
|2||Vaughn Gittin Jr||Monster Energy/Falken Ford Mustang||529 Points|
|3||Rhys Millen||Hankook/Rhys Millen Racing Hyundai Genesis coupe||509.25 Points|
|4||Justin Pawlak||Falken Tire Ford Mustang||501 Points|
|5||Ryan Tuerck||Team Retaks Nissan 240SX||465.50 Points|
|6||Fredric Aasbo||Need for Speed/Papadakis Racing Scion tC||457.50 Points|
|7||Daijiro Yoshihara||America's Tire/Falken Tire Nissan S13||426 Points|
|8||Ken Gushi||Greddy/Hankook Scion FR-S||379.50 Points|
|9||Conrad Grunewald||Hankook Chevrolet Camaro||359.75 Points|
|10||Matt Powers||Need for Speed/Nitto Nissan S14||358.50 Points|
|11||Chris Forsberg||NOS Energy Drink/Hankook Nissan 370Z||347.25 Points|
|12||Michael Essa||GSR Autosport/Nitto BMW ZR4||321.50 Points|
|13||Robbie Nishida||Bridges Racing/Achilles Tire Lexus SC300||320.75 Points|
|14||Tyler McQuarrie||Mobil 1 Chevrolet Camaro||321.50 Points|
|15||Toshiki Yoshioka||RS*R Nissan S15||320.75 Points|
|16||Aurimas "Odi" Bakchis||Bakchis Motorsports Nissan 240SX S14||309 Points|