The fight for the 2017 Top Drift pro-am championship raged on into the fourth and final round of the season. The top three finishers in points were granted a Formula DRIFT Pro 2 license, but going in it was anybody's race. With just a 10-point difference between first and third places, and a slim 58-point difference between third and tenth meant any number of drivers could come in and spoil another pilot's potential championship podium finish.
The track was the Speedway at Willow Springs, a ¼-mile banked oval with a small paved infield section and walls along its perimeter that can end a weekend really quickly. The track layout was a bit different from previous seasons, with the course now transitioning through the infield and around the bank in the opposite direction the cars started. This track gives drivers a little taste of what Formula D has to offer at places like Orlando Speed World and Wall Speedway.
There was some excellent driving at Round 4. A handful of drivers crashed out on Friday, including Aaron Parker and Kevin Armijo, but Saturday hot-shoes managed to consistently push their cars to the track's limits.
Qualifying practice came to an end as the desert sun beat down on the track. Occasionally a stray cloud would provide some temporary shade, but once the sun set behind the hills ambient temperatures became bearable.
Drivers looked pretty comfortable during qualifying. Being put into run groups of five, each driver got two qualifying passes within short periods of each other. This allowed the drivers to put a safe score on the board for their first run and with the adrenaline already flowing put down an even more precise second run.
One of the largest upsets of the day happened during qualifying when Shaun Doom's rear end clipped the wall sucking the front end into it just after. It looked like Doom's day was over as his crew limped the car off the track back into the pits. Just as everyone finished their qualifying runs and got to their pits Doom showed up to the grid with only doors attached!
All of the drivers headed over to the grandstands to cheer on Shaun as he put his car in all the right places up until the last clipping point where his car bobbled causing him to straighten. Shaun's Cinderella story was cut short, but as he drove off the track he was met with applause from the entire paddock. It's moments like these that make grassroots drifting so memorable.
The first battle of the night was Sean Adriano (no. 562) versus Nicholas Balcerzak (no. 80). Balcerzak mentioned during the driver introductions that Adriano's car put down much more power than his, and that he was going to give it his all anyway. Adriano started out as the lead driver and pulled a sizable gap on Balcerzak throughout the course. Switching the drivers around, Balcerzak created a small gap after initiation but Adriano reeled himself closer to his opponent's door. While a clean run from both drivers, Adriano took the win due to his proximity in his chase run.
Rathyna Gomer (no. 28) qualified for her first Top 16 this season, going up against Jason Kim (no. 18). Kim led first with Gomer in pursuit. Unfortunately, Gomer had a bobble around the first bank causing her to straighten. The rest of the course and her lead run were consistent, but the mistake during her chase cost her victory. A little bit more seat time and we will be seeing Rathyna go far in ProAm.
A cool battle to watch was Daryl Priyono (no. 309) versus Amir Falahi (no. 111) with E30 and E36 LS-powered BMWs. Priyono started with a decent chase run with Falahi having trouble gaining ground. Both drivers came off of the final bank and spun around the last section of the course, however, Priyono was the first to spin. Swapping the driver's positions, Falahi had a clean lead run while Priyono was on his door the entire time but it was not enough to counter the spin made on the first run, which gave Falahi the win.
Alex Grimm (no. 14) in his LS powered Datsun 240Z battled Adriano in the Great 8. Coming off of the final section of the course, Adriano misshifted on his lead run causing Alex to lurch forward and ram into the rear end of Adriano. No major damage was done and drivers swapped places. Adriano put down hard chase but it wasn't enough to make up for the mistake on his lead. Grimm advanced to the Final 4.
Next up was points leader Kyle Cameron (no. 224) versus Tim Cobb (no. 110), who was just 6 championship points shy of Cameron going into the final round. With Adriano out of the race, this was Cobb's opportunity to steal the championship from Cameron.
Cameron started out as lead and threw down plenty of smoke but Cobb kept about a car-length gap during the entire run. Cobb went hard on his lead run as he pulled further and further away from Cameron. The win was granted to Cobb and the championship lead was his.
Heading into the final four was Kim versus Cobb and Grimm versus Kenneth Vuong (no. 223). First up was Grimm leading Vuong; both drivers put down clean and consistent runs and the judges couldn't decide a winner so a One-More-Time (OMT) was called. During the OMT battle, Grimm got a bit too aggressive and cut the line on the final bank getting a bit too far in front of Vuong. With that, Vuong moved onto the finals while Grimm had to battle for third place.
Tim Cobb knocked out Jason Kim in the Final 4 by putting his car in the right places. Both drivers drove excellently, but Cobb's transitions were cleaner and he created a decent gap on his lead run.
With Vuong and Cobb preparing for the final tandem of the night, Kim and Grimm fought for the third-place trophy. Kim started out in front as he laid a smokescreen on Grimm, but Grimm was right up on Kim's door for the latter half of the course. Grimm then put down a sizable gap against Kim on his lead run and was granted the third-place victory.
Tim Cobb and Kenneth Vuong rolled up to the starting line for the final battle of the night. Up first out front was Cobb, who created quite a large gap from his opponent; all Cobb needed to do now was have a consistent chase. Kenneth initiated on his lead run and Cobb was right behind him. Kenneth got a bit too aggressive and smacked his rear bumper on the wall of the second bank, causing him to straighten. He managed to initiate right after and carry out his run, but it was a big enough mistake to cost him the win.
Tim Cobb was declared the winner at the podium with Kenneth Vuong taking second and Alex Grimm taking third. After a champagne shower, the season championship winners were announced.
While the championship points race was close, the top three drivers retained their eligibility of a Formula DRIFT Pro 2 license. The only upset was Cobb swooping the first-place spot from Cameron, but Cameron didn't seem too concerned as he still managed to stand on the podium come end of the season.
I'm looking forward to seeing what these drivers have planned for the future, whether they make the leap into the big leagues or continue to perfect their racing programs. The same goes for future seasons of Top Drift and the rest of its drivers!
The next Just Drift event is All Star Bash 2017, which is held the weekend before Formula D Irwindale (in past years it's always been after the season-ending pro drift event). You can catch us there, but first catch the gallery from Round 4 and check out www.Justdrift.com for more information.