Celebrating its milestone 100th event, Formula Drift slid into the weathered Wall Stadium Speedway for the fourth round of its 2018 Pro Championship. On a weekend rich with celebration for such an incredible achievement, the New Jersey stop experienced some unlikely twists that kept us scratching our heads all night.
1. For Once, It Actually Didn’t Rain!
Of course, the mood ahead of this round was hampered by a threatening forecast of thunderstorms all weekend in Wall Township, NJ. What’s new, right? It seems to rain torrentially at this stop every year. After seeing the forecast for this year’s event, I immediately had flashbacks to a few years ago when gale winds ejected a vendor booth into the power lines, and upturned a massive trailer’s canopy.
This weekend’s forecast involved a one hundred percent chance of thunderstorms on both Friday and Saturday. However, there must have been a large shift in the clouds, because Friday morning began with a fleeting chance of precipitation, and faded into overcast conditions, eventually clearing up to partly cloudy for the remainder of the day.
I’m sure this was a welcomed departure from the New Jersey norm for the teams, drivers, and promoters alike, as remnants of puddles were the only traces of water on the grounds.
Practice got underway with drivers still weary about the potential weather, pushing their cars to the limits of the track. New for this year, the Formula Drift staff had affixed black plastic paneling to the sharp guardrail in an effort to promote a sliding effect on the wall, rather than the infamous grasping of competitors’ cars this track is known for. The issue came when the cars abused the paneling. The plastic took quite a long time to replace, which slowed down the practice sessions early in the day. Because of this it was removed prior to Saturday’s festivities.
2. An Unusually Low Attrition Rate
Somehow, someway, the railing this year only claimed a few victims throughout the entire weekend. What is usually the deciding factor on many of the most important runs of the event became a non-issue as most of the drivers navigated the treacherous path around the decrepit racetrack without fail.
Unfortunately, there were still collisions in some of the battles. “Rad” Dan Burkett’s RAD Industries Toyota Supra leapt away from Chris Forsberg’s NOS Energy Drink 370Z on initiation of their Round of 32 battle, but ended up pushing too hard and into the awaiting wall.
Forsberg’s weekend would get even easier later in the event when his Top 16 opponent Alex Heilbrunn eased his FEAL Suspension BMW M3 into the wall on initiation, but managed to pull away seemingly unscathed. That is, until his tire debeaded before transitioning off the embankment. While Heilbrunn was afforded the chance to chase Forsberg after fixing his car, the Peruvian ended up losing the matchup.
There was also the ultra rare mistake from Frederic Aasbø in his tandem against Forrest Wang, when the Norwegian initiated too deep, made contact with the wall, and his Rockstar Energy Drink Corolla iM was sprung outward into Wang’s Vapetasia S15 Silvia. This mishap cause the pair to slide uncontrollably into the wall together, in a decision that the judges ruled Aasbø’s fault.
3. The Twinning S15 Silvia Battles
Dean Kearney ran into more issues in his Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper, and wasn’t able to use his unique chassis at yet another event this year. The Dodge’s issues have now reared their ugly head at multiple rounds this year, drastically hurting the Irishman’s chances for championship points. Unfortunately, New Jersey was no different, and Kearney was forced to rent Forrest Wang’s spare left-hand-drive S15 chassis. Having originally started drifting using an S-chassis in Ireland, Kearney was quoted saying he had no experience with driving a left-hand-drive version. Although, he didn’t appear to have too much trouble adjusting to the rented car, qualifying for the round in 20th place.
As fate would have it, once the competition’s match-ups were generated based on qualifying position, Kearney was placed against Wang. The twin green S15’s put on such a solid tandem performance together, it could have been mistaken for a drift demo. However due to Kearney’s nominal contact with the wall after the duo switched positions, the win was handed to Forrest Wang. Regardless, it was a terrific sight to watch two of the sport’s talented drivers duke it out in matching cars.
Meanwhile in the Worthouse corner, not for the first time and certainly not for the last time, the pair of European native drivers faced off in an intense Top 16 battle. Their scuffle was eventually decided when a visible mechanical issue with Wiecek’s car prevented the ailing S15 from continuing a drift throughout its entire run, which advanced Deane onto the Great 8.
The teammates got out of their cars to show respect for one another for such a great battle. Deane then celebrated his victory and laced his Worthouse partner in a cloud of smoke before exiting the track.
4. No Tire Smoke Through The Trees Sunset Photos
This one was upsetting. I mean, come on. Every year it’s the reason the farthest media pit becomes swarmed with photographers and videographers during the Final 4 battles. You see, the sun sets through the trees, and shoots rays of light between the leaves across the rising tire smoke. This all combines to create one hell of a mixture resulting in iconic images.
Sadly, this year, the conditions never arose, and the coveted golden hour for photos never happened. It seemed positive when the shaky forecast for the weekend was proven inaccurate, and nothing but sunlight burned down onto the track, but Saturday afternoon the clouds came back and ruined my favorite time of the weekend.
It was during this cloudy section of the day that Dai Yoshihara’s impressive return to form was cut short. When the pilot of the Turn 14 Distribution BRZ executed a near perfect chase run head-to-head against Odi Bakchis. However during his lead run, the Japanese driver over rotated his transition into the final corner, which caused a collision between his BRZ and Bakchis’ Nissan, and handed the win to Bakchis.
5. The Reasonably Calm Final Tandem
Probably the most unusual piece of the weekend was the relatively straightforward final battles of the night, which involved a myriad of only Falken Tire-sponsored vehicles. Now, I would never refer to any Formula Drift competition as boring, but I would say this round’s last tandem combinations were certainly without the drama usually associated with the end of FD rounds.
Despite the Final 4 pairing of Bakchis and Deane producing a very intriguing fight for a podium spot, when the smoke dissipated, it was clear that Deane would be advancing to the finals.
Even the concluding match-up between Matt Field in his Falken Tire/Wish Corvette and James Deane’s Worthouse Nissan S15 was riddled with excitement and close calls, but just didn’t produce the inconclusive judges decision normally found at the end of the event. After only one exchange of lead and chase runs, the judges had made their decision and the drifting action was over for the night.
Prior to announcing the winner, Deane and Field shredded the remaining bits of rubber off their tires in a last ditch showboat for the crowd, before settling down for the winning announcement.
Again James Deane’s unwavering commitment and skill proved to be out of reach for the balance of Formula Drift competitors, and the Irishman was crowned the victor of yet another event. Increasing his 2018 championship points tally to 313 over Aasbø’s 296. The series’ next round takes place in the Pacific Northwest in late July, and should prove to be a crucial round in the race for championship points this year.
For now, check out the Formula Drift website for more information, and additional photos from New Jersey below. Thanks for reading!