Traditionally, the Formula Drift round held in New Jersey has been unpredictable, and the event held this year at Wall Stadium held true to that custom. Wall is the home track for several FD competitors; it was less ruthless this year to the competitors.
The weathered guardrail didn’t spectacularly eliminate competitors as it has in years past, and this lack of carnage forced the judges to make questioned rulings on numerous close tandem battles throughout the event.
Friday morning practice at the Wall, NJ stop on the Formula D tour is usually accountable for the removal of at least one competitor. A collision with the merciless guardrail that edges the asphalt oval track has put an end to many a race weekend. However, in an effort to promote self-preservation, the majority of the drivers kept their driving line low on the bank and their cars intact.
There were some who pressed their rear bumper just up to the limits of the railing in order to practice their competition line, including the important outer clipping points of the course signified by the white/orange cones. This included rookie competitor Andrew Gray in his Drift Ebisu Toyota Mark 2, who kept close proximity to clipping points despite never having driven the course before this event.
A change to the course map was put in place this year to revert the driving line to the old figure-eight layout, incorporating the bumpy center section of this old track. Those familiar with motocross will understand this stretch of tarmac being referred to as the “whoops” section throughout the weekend, due to its harsh condition and jarring reaction the cars had while traveling over it.
By the end of qualifying, drivers had navigated themselves around all of the track’s obstacles including the famed banked turn’s guardrail, the approach from bank to flat with intense speed, and holding a drift over the whoops section. The judges’ rulings had decided the running order, with Dai Yoshihara and his Turn 14 Distribution Subaru BRZ taking the number one qualifier spot heading into Saturday’s event.
A clear weather forecast on Saturday saw every competitor – but one – lined up at the strike of noon, eager to begin practice. Unfortunately for many of the fans in attendance and the driver, fan favorite Mad Mike Whiddett suffered an engine failure and was unable to compete in his RADBUL Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Drivers like Tyler McQuarrie in his Mobil 1 Chevrolet Camaro, Geoff Stoneback in his Nissan 370Z, and Chris Forsberg in his NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z withstood the outrageous summer temperatures, which measured a heat index over 105 degrees out on the track.
Top 32 competition began early in the afternoon, with many of the early battles being decided by driver mistakes involving not carrying enough angle, or carrying too much angle and spinning. This made for a relatively smooth and quick first elimination round – until the final pairing.
The tandem duo of Tyler McQuarrie and Forrest Wang is an interesting matchup. McQuarrie traces his driving style to a multifaceted professional driving career – including Stadium Super Trucks and Pirelli World Challenge grip racing – where speed is everything and style takes a backseat.
On the other hand, Wang lives to drift. His competition runs are focused solely on the preservation of grassroots drifting style, by creating lots of tire smoke and extreme angle. When you combine the two into one tandem battle – and force the one chasing to mimic the opposite style of the other – the results become scattered. This resulted in multiple “One More Time” (OMT) rulings by the judges, as the drivers’ differing styles made choosing an outright winner very difficult. Though McQuarrie had the speed and proximity to the lead car throughout the course, Wang had the angle and tire smoke at all the same corners. Molded together into one, they would make the perfect drift run, but they were separate and Wang received the win, causing a frustrated McQuarrie to speed off the track in disagreement.
It was the calm before the storm as the Top 16 drivers lined up for the introductions to the crowd and opening ceremonies. The remainder of the battles would flow consecutively into the finals with Wall Stadium’s well-known setting sun on the horizon.
The round got started with Dean Kearney in his Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper knocking out number one qualifier Dai Yoshihara. Kearney was able to keep tight proximity to Yoshihara on his chase run, then pulled a large gap on his lead run to earn the win.
Kristaps Bluss in his HGK Racing BMW E46 faced off against the consistently unstoppable Vaughn Gittin Jr. in his Monster Energy/Nitto Tire Ford Mustang. On the opening corner, Kristaps collided with the rear of Gittin’s Mustang as he transitioned from the bank onto the flat part of the course. This sent shrapnel in every direction but didn’t stop the two from completing their full run – Bluss with Kevlar front bumper in tow.
The battle would be ruled a OMT, with Bluss eventually getting lost chasing the smoke from the Mustang.
As illustrated here by Odi Bakchis and Justin Pawlak, Bluss was not the only driver to be eliminated after getting engulfed in smoke on their chase run.
The most controversial battle of the night took place between Forrest Wang in his Get Nuts Laboratory Nissan S15 Silvia and Chris Forsberg in his NOS Energy Drink 370Z. After winning his battle against Tyler McQuarrie from the lead position, Wang executed a very similar lead run against Forsberg.
It was inside the layers of this tire smoke where the battle got ugly. The correct ruling on what happened next differs according to whom you ask.
Prior to the entire event, in the drivers’ meeting, the officials of Formula Drift brought up the topic of acceleration and braking zones. It was determined in previous years that lead drivers would use their tire smoke to blind the chasing competitor, while purposely slowing down in order to cause a collision. So the FD organizers made a point to bring this up in their discussion. Similar to the battle between McQuarrie and Wang, Forsberg has an opposing drifting style to that of Wang. As Wang came down off the banked turn to initiate the clipping point, he was carrying a lot of angle making his car almost completely sideways as he passed the clipping point.
This had an adverse effect on the speed he was able to carry through that turn, and a tire-smoke-engulfed Chris Forsberg was still accelerating to catch up to the green Silvia. He accelerated with tons of speed – and not much angle – into the door of Wang. The entire crowd let out a groan as both battered cars limped to a halt. After a resulting pause in action, the judges eventually ruled that Wang was not accelerating in an accelerating zone and Forsberg was awarded the win. The judges stammered to explain the ruling in detail over the loudspeaker as the crowd heckled the arguable decision.
Ken Gushi in his Greddy Racing Toyota 86 pushed through a tough all-Toyota-86 battle with Ryan Tuerck, leaving Tuerck in a cloud of Nexen tire smoke to advance into the next round.
Following his win, Gushi needed to dodge an incoming collision from Matt Field in the next round to advance into a Final 4 battle, where Chris Forsberg eventually knocked him out of competition.
The other half of the Final 4 bracket saw rookie driver Alex Heilbrunn in his Team RTS BMW E46 face off against Vaughn Gittin’s planted Mustang. The rookie drove extremely aggressively; although he ended up losing to JR, he gained a third-place podium spot.
The final battle of the night included two drivers who call Wall, NJ their home track. Both drivers are a part of the grassroots team Drift Alliance, and are also longtime friends off the track.
The victory goes to Vaughn Gittin, Jr. in his new Mustang; Gittin’s machine grows more impossible to beat each time out, as he claimed his second victory in the Formula Drift series this year and positioned himself at the top of Drivers’ Championship points chase.
The drivers celebrated their podium finishes as everyone else looked forward to the next round in Montreal, Canada in just a few weeks. And we’ll be there to bring you all of the action!