In the beginning of April, Formula Drift’s first stop of the 2016 season in Long Beach didn’t provide the teams and drivers much time to dial in their cars from their winter changes, especially as the entire weekend was filled with rotating weather conditions from rain to sun and everything in between.
As a result, the lot of competitors eagerly anticipated the second stop on the schedule; the southern weekend at Road Atlanta over the weekend of May 6-7 gave them the opportunity to finally sink their teeth into the upgrades. With many competitors trying to figure out new chassis configurations, the consistent conditions would go a long way towards on-track data-gathering. With hopes of dry weather, falling rain hindered only the first practice day in Georgia. The remainder of the weekend was filled with tire smoke and fierce competition as Formula Drift left black stripes all over the surface of the famous Road Atlanta track in Braselton, Georgia.
For over a decade now, the drift course has taken place on the keyhole turn of the track, just after the back straight. Unfortunately the pit/paddock area is located halfway across the track on the front straight. The overwhelming distance between sections of the track forces teams to setup temporary paddocks centralized on the back straight – before the entry of the FD course layout.
Ill-timed issues seem to be an unfortunate reoccurring theme for Ryan Tuerck and his crew from Nameless Performance. In the minutes leading up to each round, they always seem to be fixing crucial pieces on the Gumout Performance/Advance Auto Parts Toyota 86, but that is to be expected when they squeeze 850-horsepower from the Toyota 2JZ engine.
Every competitor welcomed the dry practice on Friday with open arms. It finally gave them a chance to experiment with their settings, engine tune, and chassis setup of each car in race trim.
Tanner Foust is a two-time Formula Drift champion, netting the trophies back in 2007 and 2008. In the time since, Tanner has built up quite a busy schedule for himself and now divides his time equally between stunt driving for Hollywood movies, competing in the Global Rally Cross series, and as the famous co-host of America’s Top Gear television program. Even with these obligations, Foust still finds time to compete in a few stops of the Formula Drift schedule – including Atlanta – where he pitched his 900-horsepower Rockstar Energy/Nexen Tire Volkswagen Passat sideways into each turn of the course.
The high mid-day sun began its descent into the horizon on Friday as the free practice sessions turned into the important qualifying session for the following day. The field of PRO-licensed FD combatants only totals 32; barring a mistake during both qualifying runs this guarantees everyone a spot in the festivities of the weekend. Unfortunately, Charles Ng received two 0 scores during his two qualifying runs and would not compete in the Round of 32.
The remaining 31 drivers laid down impressive solo runs through the course in order to seed the qualifying sheet for the following day’s drifting.
Showing the world what his new Monster Energy/Nitto Tire Ford Mustang chassis could do, Vaughn Gittin Jr. put together the highest qualifying score of the day – most of the time only on three wheels.
As the field finished up their final runs, the sun began to set and the PRO 1 action was capped off with an autograph signing in the main paddock.
Another day of ideal weather conditions started off the Round of 32 competition on Saturday. An incredible battle between Kyle Mohan in his new Mazdatrix rotary-powered Mazda Miata and Tanner Foust ended with Foust’s Rockstar Energy Passat advancing into the next round.
With five BMW entries into the grid this weekend, it appears that Formula Drift has begun a love affair with the capable chassis. This created one of the weekend’s best battles between Kenny Moen in his Gatebil/Achilles Tire E46 BMW coupe and Long Beach’s winner Chelsea Denofa in his BC Racing/GT Radial E46 BMW sedan.
Tempers were at an all-time-high as the Round of 32 drew to a close with Matt Field and Faruk Kugay battling it out. Kugay’s entry speed was too slow and he forced himself wide through the course. Field saw the gap and passed Kugay in a non-passing portion of the track. This forced Kugay off the track; meanwhile Field popped his tire and took himself out of contention, which pushed the spun-out Kugay back into contention with his MFR Enterprises Nissan 240SX.
Before Top 16 started, the opening ceremonies greeted the setting sun with plumes of tire smoke rising into the atmosphere. Opposite of the streetlights turning on as a child and calling a halt to one’s day, as these lights illuminate the night, the Formula Drift action is just getting started.
Pat Morduant put together a solid group of runs in his driftpaddock Nissan 350Z, but was edged out by the NOS Energy Drink Nismo 370Z of Chris Forsberg.
A couple back-to-back One More Time rulings from the judges’ panel elongated Dai Yoshihara’s intense battle with Mad Mike Whiddett; the Turn 14 Distribution Subaru BRZ would prove victorious over the RADBUL as Yoshihara advanced into the next round.
The competition crept into the darker hours of the night and the tire smoke lingered inside the grounds. Cell phone LEDs could be seen across the track illuminating the stands before the final battles of the night took place.
The tandem between Alec Hohnadell in his Enjuku Racing Nissan S14 240SX and Tanner Foust was a symbolic passing of the torch, as the new-gen racer Hohnadell competed head-to-head with the past champion and won.
Over the off-season, Dai Yoshihara and his crew converted his Subaru BRZ to right-side-drive. This was done in an effort to make the chassis more comfortable for Dai, since his native driving position is on the right in Japan. This also allowed the team to move the large Garrett turbocharger and other components of the engine closer to the center of the car for better weight distribution. Although the return on this investment of time and effort wasn’t visible in the shaky conditions of the Long Beach event, the BRZ looked smooth and calculated in the dry conditions of Atlanta. Dai comfortably eliminated competitor after competitor, propelling himself through to the final battle of the night against an unstoppable Vaughn Gittin Jr.
In Dai’s follow run, there was an obvious difference in power and grip, as Gittin was able to pull away through the first turn before Dai had made his entry. It was on the next run when the Mustang solidified its victory, keeping close to the door of the blue BRZ.
The podium was reminiscent of the early years of Formula Drift, with three past champions standing on each of the steps. Chris Forsberg took the the third place spot, with Yoshihara standing in the second spot, and finally the victorious Vaughn Gittin Jr. standing atop the podium in the first place position.
With Gittin’s dominance during this round, was it just a familiarity with the track, or is he a force to be reckoned with as the season continues? Will Dai’s newfound comfort in his BRZ chassis support a comeback to form? This season is creating a lot of questions, with everyone looking toward the next Orlando stop in June.