Photos by Valters Bože
The facility of Evergreen Speedway hosted the loud and proud automotive action of Formula Drift on a new course layout for the 2017 season. Pitting teammates against each other multiple times throughout the weekend, this round proved to be a true test of fellowship and strength, not just for the competitors but also for their vessels.
The Pacific Northwest course’s usual route was modified prior to the event’s festivities in order to increase the cars’ speeds during competition. Eliminating a tricky decreasing radius at the end of the run and replacing it with a switchback granted the opportunity for cars to unleash their power in more places than the seemingly endless opening embankment.
Practice on Friday saw plenty of tandem combat, as sweltering hot temperatures were a welcome change to the usual inclement Friday conditions. Drivers could push their cars to the limit during practice, which offered the perfect arena to tune their setup properly prior to the action.
Known for heavy fog and precipitation year-round, the humidity of the PNW trapped the tire smoke inside the racetrack. This limited visibility after drivers kept their right foot down throughout the massive entry of the course.
Further inside the track, the infield was covered with concrete barriers to outline the course route. With one of the outer clipping points mounted on top of these barriers, drivers like Odi Bakchis in his Falken Tires Nissan 240SX would have to get as close as possible to these walls without colliding to earn an adequate qualifying score.
Former Formula Drift champion Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink Nismo 370Z didn’t let a little fire get in his way of qualifying within the top ten. While other former champions like Dai Yoshihara weren’t that lucky, as Yoshihara struggled to get his Turn 14 Distribution Subaru BRZ feeling solid enough to earn a place higher than 20th ahead of Saturday.
Number one qualifier went to—guess who—James Deane in his 900 horsepower 2JZ-equipped Worthouse Drift Team Nissan Silvia. Deane has continually qualified in the top spots this season, proving that he is a skilled driver and his Silvia is set up to his exact specifications.
Once qualifying had finished for the day, attendees were offered the opportunity to get an autograph from their favorite driver, or Michael Essa’s cheerful daughter who has become a regular at these signings. Wait until she’s drifting, these early signatures will be collectors items.
The following day, the crowds surged outside the gates of Evergreen Speedway, eager to watch competition from Top 32 deep into the Finals.
Teammates from the Nitto Tire Ford Mustang camp, Chelsea DeNofa and Vaughn Gittin, Jr. practiced amongst themselves, unbeknownst to the fact they would face-off against one another in the Top 16 later in the day.
The opening Top 32 battle saw the flamboyant style of “Rad” Dan Burkett matched up against the Rotary-power of Kyle Mohan. After a solid first run with Mohan chasing, the pairing’s second run contained multiple mistakes from both drivers. In the end, despite Burkett’s correction on the bank, he was able to clean up the rest of his line to earn him more points with the judges, and advanced on.
An interesting round of 32 for Dai Yoshihara in the turbocharged LS-equipped Subaru BRZ, pitted him against Falken Tire teammate Matt Field for a driver lineup usually found in a final four battle. A mistake-free lead run by Matt Field couldn’t be duplicated on his chase run, as the Nissan 240SX driver spun in the lower speed section, which handed the win to Yoshihara.
Unfortunately during his bout with Justin Pawlak, Nate Hamilton corrected his steering angle at the highest speed section of the course, and launched his Enjuku Racing Nissan 240SX head-first into the awaiting outer wall. Pawlak, unaffected by the collision, finished his lead run to move onto the Top 16.
One of the most intense pairings of the night saw Jhonnattan Castro in his Gerdau Metaldom Toyota GT86 repeatedly battling with Chris Forsberg in his twin-turbocharged 370Z. The duo stuck so closely to each other during both sets of initial runs, the judges couldn’t come to a decision, and defaulted to a “One More Time” (OMT) ruling. The following set of runs mimicked that of the first, and resulted in yet another OMT ruling from the judges. In their third exchange of the night, Castro consistently ran incredibly close proximity to Forsberg’s Nissan. However, the former Formula Drift champion couldn’t return the favor, eventually making contact with the Dominican’s GT86 and spinning in the low speed section. Castro moved on to the Top 16 for only the second time this season.
Following a halftime break, the drivers lined up with their cars for their introductions to the crowd prior to the heated Top 16 competition.
Dai Yoshihara would have to face his kryptonite, Michael Essa in the Essa Autosport BMW E46. Prior to this, Yoshihara had met with Essa six times in similar circumstances with Essa winning five of the memorable scuffles. This meeting would be notable for alternate reasons, as Yoshihara’s chase run contained a correction but very close proximity, and Essa’s chase run lacked proximity but without errors. The pair would go OMT to decide a winner. On their followup, Yoshihara was able to exhibit a near perfect lead run, albeit taking a wider entry into the switchback section, which completely threw off Essa in the chase position. This switch of driving line would earn Yoshihara the win, and advancement into the Great 8.
Teammates would tandem on three separate occasions throughout the night, with the first decision coming from the Ford Mustang camp of DeNofa and Gittin, Jr. Another intense matchup, with both drivers attacking the course with massive angle, tons of tire smoke, and plenty of speed. The two Mustangs each aggressively rode on three wheels for the duration of their match, but DeNofa would be declared the winner due to his close proximity.
Second to take the stage was the Papadakis Racing Team drivers of Castro and Aasbø. Unfortunately, this would be decided much easier, as Castro made contact with his teammate on his chase run. Once the roles reversed, Aasbø simply needed to complete an error free run to move on in his Rockstar Energy Drink Toyota Corolla iM, which he easily accomplished.
The third and final teammate battle in Seattle came courtesy of the Worthouse Drift Team from overseas. Piotr Wiecek and James Deane would lay their nearly-identical cars on the line to see who would progress to the Great 8. Their set of lead and chase runs each had marginal disparities, with the win being handed to James Deane because of his lack of twitchiness on the embankment.
The combinations throughout the evening saw diverse platforms and drivers competing in a quest for drift preeminence at Evergreen Speedway, but the Final battle would be where the nail-biting action of the night would occur.
Frederic Aasbø and James Deane had only met once previously in competition. It was during the Final 4 of the Montreal round, however this time their reunion in the final pairing of the night was for an event win.
With Deane leading, the two accelerated hard through the highest points of the bank—Deane even making slight contact with the wall. As they transitioned into the slower section of the course, Aasbø closed the gap and stayed inches off Deane’s door. When the roles reversed, identical distance to the bank’s wall showcased both drivers’ commitment, but Deane was able to reel in the Corolla through the switchback section. The pair went OMT, and on their second set of runs Deane was able to match Aasbø’s outrageous speed, however with much more angle giving him the event win.
James Deane is now 57 points clear of Aasbø in the Championship points standings, making the next two events in Texas and California the most important of the bunch.