The weather? Spectacular. The scenery? Stunning. The ladies? Delicious and as for encapsulating the drifting action in one word? Treacherous?! With an unprecedented amount of crashes, round five of the Formula D series had the crowds (and photographers) on high alert. With no lack of twisted metal and blown tires, the fans were treated to all the automotive carnage they craved.
The setting at Soldier Field was an idyllic spot dubbed "The Gauntlet" near the lake, nestled between Soldier Field and McCormack Place. You couldn't get a lame backdrop in any photo with all that juicy scenery and the striking Chicago skyline. The track setup however proved to be challenging for the drivers to figure out. With a more granular surface and some drainage grades, the course was hazardous during practice. Fifteen cars met the wall but improved event went on with some adjustments and the rubber buildup on the track.
"We had a rough time early on " says Casper Canul from the driver's seat of the Nitto Tires S13.5 "but yesterday was colder and the surface was rough, now there is a groove and the line is coated with hot rubber."
But even Canul who stayed off the wall in practice was introduced to eventually.
On game day, the crowds gathered both inside the venue and outside the perimeter where hundreds took in event in for free. Even on Lakeshore drive, the traffic jammed up with rubber-neckers trying to decipher what was going on at Soldier Field.
Up first was qualifying where Dai Yoshihara showed the field how it's done in the Pacific Rim S13. And the welcome surprise was Stephan Papadakis who qualified third in the AEM S2000. It is unreal to see how far Papadakis has come in a year, at this rate he will be a threat in '06.
On to eliminations where favorites like Rhys Millen in the RMR GTO and Sam Hubinette in the Mopar Viper were questionable due to crashes earlier on. But after thrashing away deep into the night, the cars were ready enough to start sending some competitors packing.
One of the key matchups came when Millen and Ken Gushi in the Toyo Tires Mustang bumped and jostled for position. It was too close to call and they were asked for one more time! But Millen had lost power steering and was given 10 minutes to resolve his mechanicals. But the teenage Gushi was able to outgun the veteran and the judges gave him the opportunity to proceed. Gushi then tangled with a fierce competitor in Papadakis and it seemed at times it could go either way. In the finals, Gushi went on to battle Hubinette who edged out number one qualifier Yoshihara.
Hiro Sumida also was on a charge headed for a podium finish when he stuffed the Chaser into the very same point along the wall many of his fellow competitors did. This gave Kenji Yamanaka in the Rotora S13.5 an opportunity knock out Tyler McQuarrie in the Jasper Performance Supra for a respectable third place.
In the final battle, Hubinette and Gushi had a showdown in a classic Mopar versus Ford battle? Wait, how can that be classic these nameplates are new to drifting? But it was young-gun versus veteran, American versus Swede and it was close. Too close as neither gave any opportunity to be upstaged. It went to the judges and the both the crowd and photographers were stumped as to just who should advance.
The judges awarded Hubinette the prize, which he graciously accepted on the podium. After a quick champagne shower (and a brief pause to watch Sunisa Kim take hers) we all packed up and headed home. Who says the mid-west isn't ready for drifting?