In 2003, a group of Japan’s greatest drivers came to America to showcase a new sport called drifting at Irwindale Speedway. Fast-forward 12 years, a new collection of the world’s best drifters took part in the track’s swan song, Formula Drift’s 2015 final event.
Friday’s practice began under the intense heat wave currently plaguing Southern California, with ambient temperatures over 100ºF.
The track’s usual layout was shortened to a more concise set of turns, flowing off the large banked opening corner.
The transition between turn 1 and the infield was the only spot of the track drivers complained of the smoke trail impairing their vision. Illustrated here by Kristaps Bluss, as he fights to find the clipping point amidst a whiteout of tire smoke.
Just beyond the clipping point at the transition, the infield wall awaited drivers who miscalculated their entry speed. Mats Baribeau was one of the first victims of the wall, as his Gold in the Net Toyota Mark II bucked against the white barrier.
Shortly after, Nate Hamilton in his Enjuku Racing S13.4 came into the corner with too much speed and smashed against the wall, breaking vital pieces of the car before competition had started.
The sun began to set as Daigo Saito in his Achilles Radial Nissan GT-R rounded out the last of the qualifying runs for the day.
Practice started on Saturday in the early afternoon, and the heat index had not changed.
The line for admission stretched the entire length of the first banked turn, and fans eager to watch their favorite drifters got a sneak peak of the action through the fencing.
The tandem practice runs, before Top 32 competition, are essential for the teams to figure out their racing lines and speed, and adjust as needed.
No stranger to a tandem battle, Ryan Tuerck in his Retaks Scion FR-S faced off against his Drift Alliance brethren Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Nissan 370Z.
Dai Yoshihara in the Turn 14 Distribution Subaru BRZ looked to iron out some inconsistencies that troubled him in practice.
Tanner Foust made his final appearance of the season at Irwindale in his Rockstar Energy Drink Volkswagen Passat.
Forrest Wang and Geoff Stoneback exchanged words while they awaited the start of Top 32 competition.
Robbie Nishida had issues with his Achilles Radial Infiniti G37 throughout practice and qualifying that continued through his competition runs.
Some drivers played it safe avoiding commitment to the approaching wall, though the judges rewarded closer proximity.
Jhonnattan Castro in the E3 Sparkplugs Nissan 370Z spun during his run against Ken Gushi, leaving him in a cloud of tire smoke.
The wall continued to remove competitors from the final round of the season, including Alec Hohnadell in his 11Racing/Get Nuts Lab Nissan S14.
Charles Ng piloted this green Maxxis Tires Nissan S14 in place of his usual bright orange G37. Charles was clearly comfortable in the different chassis, and advanced through to the night stage at Irwindale.
The Top 16 drivers assembled in the makeshift paddock area before their introductions to the sold out crowd.
If you read our coverage of the Texas round, you remember Vaughn Gittin Jr. had an unfortunate collision with the wall making his Monster Energy Ford Mustang a total loss and unable to compete. Without a car in the final round at Irwindale, Vaughn and his “Ultimate Fun Haver” Ford F150 EcoBoost put on a show for the fans, including briefly launching the pickup into the air.
The remaining rounds under the lights contained some intense battles, any of which could have been mistaken for a final.
The fierce all-Nissan battle between Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis in his Feal Suspension S14 and Matt Field in his CX Racing S14.5 received a “One More Time” ruling from the judges more than once.
Field’s 1000hp+ flame spitting LQ9 pushed him close, but it would ultimately be Odi moving onto the next opponent.
In the Great 8 round, “Mad Mike” Whiddett pitched the RADBUL MX5 sideways with tons of speed and close proximity to the clipping points. However, the Formula Drift points leader Fredric Aasbø proved to be unstoppable in his Rockstar Energy Drink Scion tC.
The number 1 qualifier of the weekend, Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab 900hp Nissan Silvia, drove a strong lead run however couldn’t keep up with Aasbø on his chase run.
Fighting for his second podium of the year, Justin “JTP” Pawlak in the Roush Performance Ford Mustang initiated too aggressively, making contact and losing the round. The collision advanced Ken Gushi to the final battle in his GReddy Racing Scion FR-S, but potentially caused damage to the chassis.
Eager to compete in the all-Scion Formula Drift final, Ken ignored the officials giving him and his team a chance to scan the car for faults.
On his chase run, Aasbø held a tight line mimicking Gushi’s every move throughout the entire course and left the FR-S in the wake of his tire smoke during his lead run.
Capping off a dominant season, the Norwegian Fredric Aasbø not only secured the event win, but also clinched the Formula Drift Pro Championship and World Championship in one night.