With Formula D kicking off their seventh season, Formula D Diaries is back for its third, where instead of reading about each round of competition from a third-hand perspective, we have the drifters tell you, in their words, what went down over the race weekend. Every metal-crunching crash, heart-breaking mechanical woe, and door-skimming tandem battle is described, first hand, as if you were there . . . with the mind-reading mutant powers of Professor X. Geeky comic book references aside, there have been some slight changes to our format.
This time around, instead of following a cast of characters throughout the season, we have the winning driver of each round recant his fight to the top of the podium. Offering a differing perspective will be a second guest scribe from the FD series talking about his experience. For Chapter 1, the hard-charging Vaughn Gittin, Jr., in his newly sponsored Falken Tire/Monster Energy Drink Mustang writes about his crazy week in L.A., and Dai Yoshihara spills the beans about his completely redone Falken Tire/Discount Tire S13.
If we had to pick one drifter to best represent the U.S., it would have to be Vaughn Gittin, Jr. Big and burly, loud and proud, quick to wear his emotions on his sleeves, speaking with a slight Southern twang, and rocking a Ford Mustang, he's as red-blooded American as apple pie, baseball, or Waffle House. When homeboy farts, he stands legs apart, knees bent, head up in a grimace, fists pumping, while the air resonates the Star-Spangled Banner.
The 2010 Formula Drift season started off like a dream for me. It all still seems surreal, and I cannot express how good it feels after an insane off-season for everything to come together like it has.
The Wednesday before Round One, we had a huge party at Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory to officially announce Monster Energy as a new partner to our program and to reveal my new 2011 competition Mustang. The turnout was insane; over 600 people showed up!
Being part of the Monster team was something I wanted for a while. I have always respected their athletes and how they promote and treat them. The Monster Energy guys have proved to be a passionate crew, and everyone I work with is just as excited as I am to have them on board.
Going out to the track on Friday, I could not wait to get into the Mustang and tear up the streets of Long Beach. Autosport Dynamics did an amazing job with the build of the Monster Energy/Falken Tire '11 Ford Mustang. Hands down, this is the best drift car I have ever driven!
During practice, we focused on getting the car dialed in for the Long Beach course and I was able to find a drift line that put me right up against the walls. With the new Falken RT-615Ks, we actually had to loosen the car up because it had so much bite. Going into qualifying with 60-plus cars, I ran the same line that I had practiced all day and was able to put down a score of 84.7 on my second run, putting me in Third.
Saturday was a sold-out event and you could tell by the amount of spectators who filled the stands and walked the pits. There was huge fan and media interest about the Mustang and the new sponsorship. Dean, my mechanic, calls me "TV Gittin" and busts my chops about whether I'm going to have time to drive at FD events.
After battling it out with Dennis Mertzanis in the Top 32, and Tony Brakohiapa in the Top 16, I made it to the Great 8 only to go up against my Drift Alliance bro and good friend Ryan Tuerck. I knew this was going to be a very tough-yet clean and fun-battle, as Tuerck and I are both very aggressive competitors. On my lead run, I was running at 110-percent and Tuerck was keeping up very well into the first zone, but I was able to create a decent gap through the long sweeper. When following, I knew it was still anyone's match. I applied as much pressure as I could and focused on the task at hand. Tuerck misjudged the first zone, going a bit too hard and straightening up. I stayed on the throttle and kept the pressure on. It was an awesome battle and I was awarded the win, but damn, he was good! We would have gone One More Time if he had not made that mistake.
I was matched against Fredric Aasbo and his Supra in the Final 4. He was hands down the biggest surprise of the weekend-killing it, and with such style, too! I knew I had to go super hard as the judges and crowd were impressed by his awesomeness all day. When leading, I threw the car as hard as I could into the first zone and stood on the throttle all the way through the sweeper. I was able to pull a decent gap and made sure to put the car up against the wall to get an advantage with the judges.
When it was my turn to follow, I knew we were both running similar lines with deep angle and good speed. The only way to win was to stay glued to him, which I made sure to do. We both ran a near-perfect run, but my toss into the first zone and the gap I created when leading was what sealed the deal and I moved on to the finals. Hats off to Aasbo-I look forward to running with him again in the future!
The final round put me up against Rhys Millen. We've had two match-ups in the past and he is the only top FD driver I have never beaten. I knew he was very fast, so I softened my rear shocks more than I had all weekend to give a bit more traction to keep up.
Entering the first turn, Rhys was 7 mph slower than he had been all weekend. This curveball put me in a really weird place for the first zone. The added grip and slow speed started to straighten me out. I kicked the clutch and caught it just in time (I found out afterwards from Rhys that the slower entry was due to him making a mistake and almost spinning, not foul play). I ran with it and kept the pressure on. Rhys was a bit slower going into the hairpin, too, and went wide. In order to avoid straightening again by slowing so much, I just put the hammer down and passed him, giving him a little kiss during the power move. I'm not saying it was the polite thing to do, but he left me no choice. He was obviously pissed off that I passed him, and brought out some of his stunt driving skills and gave me a nicely executed pit maneuver after the finish line, which I turned into a stylish 360.
Going into my lead run, my crew chief Ian called over the radio, "Run the deepest line you can! I don't care if you rip the back off the car!" And run it deep is what I did. Rhys clipped the wall, straightened up, and backed it into the tires. When I hit the hairpin and Rhys was nowhere to be seen, I knew we had just won Round One. I cannot even explain what was going through my head. When I came back onto the track I started going crazy, doing donuts, screaming, and fist pumping harder than the Jersey Shore crew. I was so excited I even climbed the fence in front of the main grandstands, which starting falling down on me, but I didn't care! I haven't felt the top step of a podium since 2008, and boy, did it feel awesome!
What an amazing week this all was. First with the announcement of my new partnership with Monster Energy, then the reveal of our new competition car at the Fantasy Factory, and to top it off, winning Round One of FD! Everything has fallen into place after months of hard work, and with the season starting on such a good note, I can't wait until Atlanta. Thank you all for the support; you are an integral part to my success and I sincerely appreciate it!
2009 was the worst season I've ever had. I've finished in the top five since Formula D started, but I didn't even make it into the top 10 last year. I finished 11th. I really wanted to get back to where I was before, so I was anxious to start fresh. Now that I'm back in an S13, '10 will be my comeback season!
I've driven an S13 for the first three and a half years in Formula D, so I'm very familiar with it. The S-chassis is a very good platform for drifting and I feel like I'm going back to my roots. From my first practice session, the Falken Tire/Discount Tire S13 felt great and with seat time I should be able to drift it well.
My first run was OK during Qualifying at Formula D Long Beach, and I received a decent score. I tried to go more aggressive on my second run for a higher score, but I traced the wrong line at Turn 9 which made me mess up the rest of the run. I ended up qualifying 12th. I wasn't really happy about it, but at least I was in. After the second practice session, I was getting more comfortable with the S13 and I felt myself getting better.
For the Top 32 round, I went up against John Russakoff. Because he is a privateer, it's difficult for him to participate in all the Formula D rounds, but he is a really good driver and I knew he wasn't going to be easy to beat. We both had good runs and the judges called for a "One More Time". I was able to follow him a little bit closer than he was able to follow me, and I moved on.
In the Top 16 round, I went up against Tanner Foust. Our team knew his car was very fast, so we set the tire pressure 5 psi lower to try and gain some more traction. It worked and I was able to follow him, but I got too close right before the transition from Turn 9 to Turn 10 and had to correct a little . . . WTF!? When it was my turn to lead, I focused on making big angle and taking a good line rather than going fast-I knew he would keep up with me no matter how fast I ran. I did my best and I think I had a pretty good run, but the judges didn't pick me.
I ended up finishing in 12th place. It wasn't a great result, but at least it was better than last year. I'm getting more used to the car every time I drive it, so I will be able to do better next time. We still have six more rounds to go, so I'm super excited about the season. Hopefully, I will be back as a top-ranked driver soon!
Round 1 Results
Long Beach Podium
1. Vaughn Gittin, JR
2. Rhys Millen
3. Tanner Foust