It’s true that in order to get the full experience of a Formula DRIFT event you should probably go to one of the championship’s North American and/or international rounds to take in the action. There really is nothing like an FD party; from a spectator standpoint, each has so much to offer. It’s just as true, though, that Formula D demos, one offs, and invitationals – like the Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge that goes on during the Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend – are just as reliable for getting more than a taste of the thrill of professional drifting.
One week after Formula D took over Turns 9 through 11 of the GP street circuit in downtown Long Beach it was back to stage Super Drift before grandstands packed with attendees of the Long Beach Grand Prix. The event – the GP’s only held under the lights – has become one of the pro drifting series’ biggest chances for outreach, where it can spread the gospel of tandem fishtailing cars making tire smoke clouds before a live motorsports audience who may or may not be all that drifting savvy. It’s ok if you don’t know who all the drivers are, or what they’re driving, or the finer points of scoring. Super Drift is all about getting people amped on the coolest motorsport around.
As in years past, title sponsor Motegi Racing ponied up $25k for the total prize purse, and again Friday was for practice and qualifying while Saturday reserved for Top 16 tandem eliminations. Unfortunately, FD had few takers this year, a total of 11 drivers for 16 spots, including Pro 2 hot shoes Ryan Litteral in the Ryan Litteral Racing Nissan S14 and Trent Beechum in the Falken Joy Hollywood Ford Mustang. The additions ultimately had little bearing on the opening round of tandems as driver Alex Heilbrunn in the Team IMR E46 M3 could not make the start with a broken crankshaft, which meant the Top 16 was only 10, and all but 2 pairs – Justin Pawlak in the Roush Performance Mustang versus Litteral and Jeff Jones in the DOC Racing S14 versus Beechum – had a bye.
In the Great 8, Mike Essa in the Loud Mouth Exhaust BMW E46 M3 sent home Kyle Mohan in the MazdaTrix Mazda ND MX-5, Matt Field in the Falken Driftcave Motorsports S14 got by Jones, and miraculously Dean “Karnage” Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper beat reigning Formula DRIFT series champ Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Scion tC. In the Final 4, Odi Bakchis in the Feal Suspension ARK Performance Falken S14 lost to Essa, while Field dispatched Kearney. Sadly, the final was a wash, as Essa seemed to be battling car issues, unable to give Field a run for his money.
The crowd didn’t seem to care, however, staying until the bitter end to see these sideways sliding machines and their pilots do battle. We’re hoping next year will bring more challengers to the invitational, because the fans really do dig it. The 2016 Formula DRIFT Pro Championship will continue to Round 2: Road to the Championship on May 6-7 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. Get into the photo gallery to see what you missed from the 2016 Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge.