Formula D Round 1 Details:
- Opening round of the series' 11th season
- Rule changes appear to lead to smoother running event
- Forsberg earns second straight Long Beach podium finish
- Moen nabs first career FD podium | Essa qualifies first, finishes third
Formula Drift Long Beach 2014 - the seventh year as Round 1 of America's top drifting championship - kicked off the series' 11th season over April 4th and 5th, and if we're to draw any conclusions from the Southern California event, chief among them would be these things are moving a lot faster. Gone seem to be the frustrating stoppages in action that in previous years often left fans waiting for judgments to come down from the jury box. In their place, competitions that are decisive and appear to run like clockwork.
Rule changes are at least partly responsible for FD's new era of almost zero downtime. One in particular - that judges can use replay only from the round of eight forward during tandem eliminations - seemed to facilitate a Top 32 round that ended nearly a half hour earlier than planned and zero One-More-Time tiebreakers throughout all of eliminations. On Friday the 4th, qualifying also wrapped up some 30 minutes ahead of schedule (which had less to do with rules and more to do with Formula D just getting things done).
Not that this new reality diminished Round 1 in any way, because it didn't. The drifting was still insane, the wrecks gnarly as ever (see Joon Maeng's qualifying shunt in the Lucas Oil S13, or Kyle Mohan's during Top 32 in his Energy X Mazdatrix RX-8). The event was still huge, sporting a robust vendor area and new "Offset Kings" car show around the course, Turns 9, 10 and 11 of the famous grand prix street circuit. And Long Beach sold out again on game day, Saturday the 5th, even with organizers opening up more seating.
Yep, all the elements were in place for a big day of battles among new and returning challengers. One of those was last year's Long Beach winner, 2011 series champion Dai Yoshihara, who debuted his LS V8-powered Falken Subaru BRZ at the event. Unfortunately he faced fierce competition in 2009 champ Chris Forsberg, back in the Hankook Nissan 370Z, for the opening round of eliminations and had his day end early. Surprisingly 2012 champ Daigo Saito also exited in Top 32 after contact between his Achilles Tire Lexus SC 430 and Pat Goodin's Enjuku Racing 240SX sent the ex-D1 GP driver to the showers.
As we already mentioned, eliminations went unusually smoothly, with very few surprises - that is, pretty much every lower seed got beat by the higher seeds they faced. Mike Essa in the Essa Autosport BMW E46, last year's series champ and Long Beach 2014's number-one qualifier, beat Jeremy Richter in his 240, Mats Baribeau in the Gold in the Net Toyota Mark II and Forrest Wang in his 2JZ S13 to get to the semifinals.
Forsberg, qualifying seventh, got by Yoshihara, Goodin and Darren McNamara's Falken S14 to land top four. Six seed Justin Pawlak in the Falken Ford Mustang laid waste to Jeff Jones' CX Racing S14, Ryan Tuerck's Retaks 2JZ Scion FR-S and Odi Bakchis' Feal Suspension Nitto 240 to go Final 4. Finally, Kenny Moen in the Bridges Racing S13, P4 in the qualifying order, cleared rookie Geoff Stoneback's GSR S14, Mohan's RX-8 and fellow Norwegian Fredric Aasbo's Papadakis Racing Hankook Scion Racing tC for a semis birth.
Moen continued to wow when he eliminated Essa, while on the other side of the bracket Forsberg made quick work of Pawlak. That left just one match, the final, because also new to the rules this year is the elimination of the event's so-called "consolation" battle for third place. Beginning this season, that final step on the podium is automatically given to the higher qualifier of the Final 4's two losing parties; in this case Essa's number one spot trumped Pawlak's six.
It was a close last round, but when the smoke cleared Forsberg came away with the triumph, picking up where he left off in 2013 - hot in pursuit of another title. Long Beach has been good to Forsberg, too, this his third podium finish in the last seven years (he also earned third in 2013 and won in 2008). But Moen should also be proud; his runner-up position is his best showing yet in FD.
After a long off-season, we're beyond thrilled to see Formula D back for another year, and even more excited when we consider the prospect of a true global championship potentially starting in 2015, something announced at last year's SEMA Show press conference. In the short term, Forsberg and the entire FD army now head to Georgia next for Round 2 of the championship, set for May 9 and 10 at Road Atlanta in Braselton.