Whoever came up with the nickname “Hotlanta” could not have been more accurate. Home to its own genre of rap music, humidity, and a legendary racetrack; the “dirty south” city of Atlanta, Georgia played host to the second round of the Formula Drift series under sweltering heat from the sun.
Unlike the previous round located in the heart of Long Beach, the RoadAtlanta racetrack is located miles outside the city, in a small town named Braselton. In stark contrast to the closed busy roads and early noise curfew of Long Beach, the RoadAtlanta round could continue action under the lights in the desolate farmland night.
Free practice took place in the early afternoon on Friday, giving all the teams time to dial in their cars before qualifying.
The run-off area built into the track was a welcomed change from the unforgiving walls in California.
Many of the drivers could experiment with a higher entry speed, without the consequence of stuffing their car. Though they would get beached if they overshot the entry too much, like Pat Mordaunt in the nitrous LS7-equipped Nissan 350Z. Ending up in the gravel trap normally in place to stop road race cars as they enter the same corner at nearly double the speed.
Solo runs and tandem battles flooded the track as practice ended, and teams tried to work out any last minute adjustments.
“Mad Mike” Whiddet made his return to Atlanta and the Formula Drift series, after a 5-year hiatus. But he returned with a bang, —well, several of them, from his new “RADBUL” 4-rotor twin-turbo 26B Mazda MX-5 shrouded in Rocket Bunny.
The darkness crept overhead as the qualifying sessions began.
Missing some competitive cars including Chelsea DeNofa in his E46 BMW. He instead piloted this “rental” MKIII Toyota Supra, but his unfamiliarity with the car made him unable to qualify.
Robbie Nishida struggled to carry a solid run through the course on both of his qualifying attempts, and would not qualify for the round of 32 in his Achilles Radial Infiniti G37S.
Saturday began with the qualified teams setting up their temporary paddocks along the back straight of the track.
Just behind the starting line so they could get some practice runs in before the main competition started.
The course layout opened at the top of the hill of the back straight.
With a staggered drag race down the hill approaching the first left turn.
Keeping to the outside of the next turn, as they transitioned into the “keyhole” or loop. Most drivers dropped from 3rd gear into 2nd with the decrease in speed uphill.
Up to the entry clipping point at the turn in of the loop.
Where even the slightest nudge from an opponent can send you off track, illustrated here by Matt Field in his CXRacing S14/5 and Charles Ng in the Maxxis Tires Infiniti G37.
Keeping their angle through the loop can be difficult with no steering corrections, which would decrease their score for the run.
Transitioning back through the same two turns they used to reach the loop, to end the run.
Later in the day, after the scheduled break and after the Top 16 drivers lined up and did their waves to the crowd.
Some spectators lingered in the center of the loop, surrounded by tire smoke. This turned out to be a planned marriage proposal, in front of the entire crowd. And she said yes.
Top 16 competition got underway, and some fierce battles erupted. Which resulted in the “One More Time” call from the judges.
While others were decided by unfortunate contact.
The final runs of the evening bringing with them such close competition, that “One More Time” rulings happened more than once per pair.
Everyone in attendance was shocked Chris Forsberg didn’t have an engine failure in his 1000hp VK56-swapped NOS Energy Nissan 370Z. His exhaust was breathing fire amidst it’s torture keeping up with Ken Gushi in the GReddy Racing turbocharged 2JZ Scion FR-S.
Though he would return for the next run, which Gushi would win. Chris claiming it was just unburnt fuel igniting in the exhaust.
Putting Gushi into the finals and onto the podium for the first time since 2009, against Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis in the Feal Suspension Nissan 240sx.
However Ken just couldn’t keep up with, the now Championship points leader, Bakchis.
Now having stood on the podium in each of the first two rounds of the season. Odi seems to be in the groove and will have all eyes on him entering the third round at Orlando in June.