For the last installment of our season-long journey documenting the behind-the-scenes aspect of what makes a professional drift team work, I knew there was one driver we needed to cover and would provide a fitting end: Daijiro Yoshihara, one of the most recognizable drivers in the FD field.
The fact that Dai is charismatic and friendly toward everyone he meets (including the colossal line of fans that seems to follow Dai everywhere he goes), combined with his fantastic car control and use of one of the most iconic drifting vehicles in the pro drifting circuit, make Dai a crowd favorite and a force to be reckoned with.
Coming into the final round of competition, Dai was leading the points standings, but not by much. The way that FD is scored is fairly straightforward: points are awarded to each driver based on qualifying position and final event standings. Because Dai took first place at Road Atlanta and Evergreen Speedway (he also had podium finishes at Long Beach and Wall Speedway), Dai not only needed to do well in the final round but he needed other drivers (namely Justin Pawlak, Chris Forsberg and Darren McNamara) to not do well in order to win the season championship.
Because the point standings were so close going in, it was really anyone’s game. After qualifying sixth, Dai and his team felt confident going into the top 32. After facing Jeff Abbott and moving on without issue, everyone in the stands and pits had a bit of an “oh shit moment” as Dai lost it against Ken Gushi in the top 16. With Dai out of contention for the Irwindale event win, the battle for the championship was now even tighter than before. As the great eight came up to bat, Justin Pawlak went hard into the back wall, taking himself out of contention for the season win. But Dai wasn’t able to breathe easily just yet — Darren McNamara and Chris Forsberg were still statistically able to take the championship away if they managed to win their respective final four battles. By now, everyone was on edge, and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife! Forsberg fell at the hands of Rhys Millen, while Tyler McQuarrie beat DMac, ending his chances for a championship. Even though it wasn’t a podium victory at Irwindale, Dai Yoshihara couldn’t complain, he was just crowned 2011 Formula D champion! After eight long years of trying, Dai finally has his championship, a win made that much sweeter by the additional Tires.com Triple Crown victory. To say Dai was ecstatic would be a gross understatement — after all, he finally made it all happen, but not without the help of his fantastic crew along the way. We can’t wait to see how the guys fare next season — can you say “repeat”?
In the midst of all the excitement, Before Dai was swept off to the podium, he was able to tell me that he’s incredibly pleased with the results, and that he can’t say “thank you” enough to all his sponsors, team members and, of course, his fans. He also wishes the Irwindale event had gone better for him, but I could tell by the grin on his face that he wasn’t complaining.
It’s hard to believe the time has flown by so quickly since the 2011 Formula DRIFT season opener in Long Beach, CA. Looking back on everything that happened this season, I’m reminded of unfortunate wrecks, epic comebacks, surprise rainstorms, hot summer nights and good times all around. As each event came and went, it became more clear how tight-knit the FD community really is. The amount of hard work that goes into making FD happen is really something you have to admire; the drivers, crew chiefs, mechanics, sponsors, family members and, of course, the fans all put in a lot of time and money to participate in Formula D. It’s really nothing short of astonishing how much dedication is involved from everyone.