For the first time ever, the people at the iD agency and Formula Drift teamed up to bring together drift cars from all over the globe in an attempt to encompass all that is drifting. While they weren't able to bring over every car, they selected an elite group to represent drifting at it's finest. While I really wished they had included more drivers from Japan, the event was definitely one for the record books.
The track was kept as a secret location somewhere in the Port of Long Beach which spectators were shuttled to and from the parking lot of the Long Beach Convention Center. As I got in line to receive my media credentials, I wondered how the track would look. After standing in line and boarding my shuttle, we passed over the bridge taking me into the heart of the Port. I could see all the concrete barriers and other components of the makeshift track. I thought about how long it must have taken to assemble. As soon as I stepped off the bus I was greeted by all of the familiar sites and sounds as I made my way to the media tent.
After a brief meeting I headed off to the track to begin documenting the event. There were more booths than I had expected and there were also lots of unfamiliar cars competing in the Pro-Am contest, as well as cars from across the oceans that I had never seen in-person. I was definitely excited to get on track and check out the action. Once I was on track I quickly realized that despite the effort that was made to create an interesting track there were very few good places to shoot from. With no elevation changes in the lot it was difficult to get interesting angles.
As the day went on there were plenty of crashes. The most notable was Justin Pawlak's newly-repainted FC3S RX-7. I must admit the new shade of metallic emerald looked a lot hotter than the previous blue paint job. Unfortunately, around mid-day his car went sliding wildly through the plastic barricades and into the tire wall. The shower of barricades and bumpers was quite impressive. It seemed by this time that nearly half the field had also lost at least one piece from their vehicle after coming in contact with a portion of the course.
When the sun started to go down and the plumes of smoke from the cars tires met the growing overcast from the wildfires everything appeared more alive. The thick clouds from the fire did their best to suffocate the light from the sun, rendering everything in a beautiful deep golden hue. At this point I had really wished I brought a film camera with me, as the colors were simply too saturated for digital to do any justice. Minutes later as the day's events were nearly over, ash from the fires twenty-something miles away started falling from the sky. As the ash covered myself and my gear I overheard someone from the audience yell "Quit raining your f*%*ing house on me!"
On Sunday the air quality and visibility was back to normal and the driving action started heating up. All the usual suspects made it into the finals. Along the way there were more crashes, but probably the most spectacular was when "Mad Mike" smashed his incredible quad-rotor FD3 into the wall and kept drifting when battling Dai Yoshihara. When he floored the screaming Formula 1-sounding Mazda I was able to capture a few frames of his car right after he came away from the wall. The rear fender shattered to pieces, wing broken off and windshield caving dangerously into the cabin.
The next amazing battle again featured Dai Yoshihara as he drove against Katsuhiro Ueo. With Ueo leading, the former D1 Champion initiated a drift more than 20 feet earlier than anyone had all weekend, initially throwing off Dai. But Yoshihara was able to keep his cool and the duo ended up running again after a "one more time" was called. In the end it was the RMR GTO that ended up advancing to the final round. Again Dai found himself in the hot-seat going up against his own teammate, Rhys Millen, for the title of "World Champion."