The Battle in Seattle: Formula Drift’s Competitors Wage War
Text and photography by Luke Munnell
I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and say the Seattle round of Formula Drift has historically seen the most collisions and contact when compared to any other stop in the series’ history. Evergreen Speedway also might be FD’s fastest course, with drivers regularly accelerating to triple-digit speeds through the initiation zone and around its sweeping, banked right-hand oval. There’s an awesome compilation of about a dozen hits from last year alone on YouTube right now, most of them suffered on that banked sweeper or right at its exit. And do you remember that one really hard hit where Justin Pawlak (JTP) plowed Tyler McQuarrie into a wall three years ago, which looked at the time like it might end in a bout of the fisticuffs? Yup, that was at Evergreen.
Nestled about 30 miles northeast of Seattle, at the gateway to the Cascade Mountains, Evergreen State Fairgrounds are home to a small airstrip, an equestrian center, and Evergreen Speedway’s trio of eccentric oval racing circuits. Most days here are serene, peaceful, and timeless. But one weekend in the third week of July isn’t like most days. Thanks to 30-plus of the U.S.’s top competitive drifters and about 10,000 fans, vendors and media personnel, those days are very, very different from most.
Setting the Stage
This year was likewise pretty rowdy, and one look at the calendar and championship leaderboard coming into the round showed why. Most FD events occur about three weeks after the last, but the Seattle round fell after FD’s semi-unofficial “summer break” of nearly two full months. That’s a long time for drivers, teams and crew to either mend wounds and get in some practice… or completely fall out of practice.
However cool the schedule might have allowed the drivers to become, the championship points chase remained heated. Two-time champ Fredric Aasbø and the Papadakis Racing Toyota Corolla started the season off strong with a win at Long Beach and earned two subsequent podiums, but defending champ James Deane in one of Worthouse Drift’s Nissan S15s stole his place atop the season leaderboard after a win in the previous round at Wall Speedway in New Jersey, which is kind of like a little Evergreen with respect to its difficulty.
Chris Forsberg had been battling — and steadily overcoming — mechanical gremlins in his Nissan 370Z to claim a win of his own and come within easy striking distance of the lead, with Piotr Wiecek, JTP, Kristaps Bluss, and Forrest Wang all very closely behind him, rounding out the 200-point club.
And right behind them were Odi Bakchis, Matt Field, and Ryan Tuerck, separated by a mere four points. With such a tight pack fighting for the lead at the end of the first half of the 2018 season, you could bet the drive to gain ground at all costs was front of mind for all, at Evergreen.
Practice and Qualifying
Though there was a tremendous amount on the line for many drivers heading into this event, it didn’t show during practice and qualifying. Tandem battles were waged for fun and fans, water-chugging challenges were won in the pits, scooters and bikes were hooned (sometimes with blow-up aliens in tow) — it was literally all fun and games.
Qualifying was different. Drivers toned down the antics, turned up the wick, and put on a hell of a show. Piotr Wiecek nabbed the top qualifier spot with a 96-point score, but following very closely were Kristaps Bluss and JTP each with 95 points, and James Deane and Fredric Aasbø with a pair of 94s.
Behind them were Odi, Tuerck, Chelsea DeNofa, and Alex Heilbrunn each with 93s, Dai Yoshihara with a 92, Forsberg with a 91, and Field with a 90. That’s 11 drivers separated by only six points on a subjective judging scale, just to give an idea of how ridiculously close the level of driving here was.
Perennial underdog and crowd-favorite Forrest Wang started the year on fire, winning battles against Deane, Wiecek, Forsberg, and Vaughn Gittin Jr. to take second at Long Beach, before having a tough time at the following two rounds of competition. But after a decent finish at Wall, and laying down plenty of impressive practice runs at Evergreen, we were really looking forward to seeing how hard he could battle in Seattle. Alas, fate had different plans, and when a freak mechanical gremlin kept Forrest from making it out for qualifying, Piotr Wiecek started Top 32 with a bye run, no doubt improving his competition odds.
Other notable moments of Top 32 included Dan Burkett accidentally punting Ken Gushi off-course exiting the sweeper, Jeff Jones narrowly beating Michael Essa after a One More Time battle…
…Aasbø putting his Corolla on the door of—and beating—Federico Sceriffo’s Ferrari, Faruk Kugay looking surprisingly strong against Ryan Tuerck before losing, and Forsberg painfully experiencing engine failure against Matt Coffman.
Ford Top 16
Something should be said on behalf of Jeff Jones. He drove phenomenally throughout practice, qualifying and Top 32, and very nearly beat Piotr Wiecek after a One More Time battle in Top 16. After a decade in FD, it seems like he’s finally hitting his stride and is squarely one to watch out for in his new Nissan 370Z.
Fredric Aasbø suffered more contact in Top 16, this time in his lead run against Matt Field when it was deemed that he slowed down too early while coming off the bank. Similarly, JR suffered a nasty hit with JTP during the first run of their Mustang-on-Mustang bout in Top 16, and forfeited the round after his crew was unable to repair damage to his car.
Dai Yoshihara has been meeting a lot of his old friends in competition this year: Kyle Mohan and Ryan Tuerck in Long Beach, Ken Gushi in Orlando, Forsberg at Road Atlanta, JR at Wall, and Ryan Tuerck again in the Top 16 this time. He gave Tuerck a good fight in the Toyota 86-v-Subaru BRZ rematch, but like last time, failed to advance.
Also somewhat surprising were Coffman beating Odi and Heilbrunn ousting DeNofa.
NOS Energy Drink Great 8
A comparatively clean round, the Great 8 began with Wiecek making quick work of Heilbrunn while teammate Deane knocked out Field.
JTP continued his warpath straight through Coffman, and Tuerck once again asserted his dominance over Bluss, who he’d previously beaten this year in Orlando. Before we knew it, the Final 4 was set, beginning with what would be one of the best battles of the round—and maybe the year!
Permatex Final 4
A funny thing tends to happen when teammates have been drifting alongside each other for a long time and push themselves to practice and progress steadily: they both get really good, and they seem to have a lot of fun doing it!
Last round we saw Piotr Wiecek and James Deane battle their Worthouse Nissan S15s in Top 16, with Deane coming out on top after—many times—pushing his teammate through the course with tire-to-fender contact. This time we saw the duo go at it again, now in the Final 4 and with Wiecek nudging Deane in his follow lap. Wiecek wasn’t as lucky, though, as the judges deemed him a little too overeager in initiating that contact, and awarded Deane the advance to the finals. But damn—what a (friendly) fight!
Deane and Tuerck had met in competition twice this year prior to Seattle, and each time Deane had emerged victorious. But Tuerck hadn’t gotten to the podium in 11 events, seemed as strong as ever this time around, and was on a definite roll after besting tough competitors like Dai, Bluss, and JTP.
His two runs against Deane for the win were close, but once the smoke had cleared, two runs were all the judges needed to declare an outright winner: James Deane, with the hat trick over Tuerck, and his second win and third podium of the 2018 season.
With the points re-tallied after Evergreen, James Deane has widened his championship points lead, Aasbø remains in second and Wiecek has jumped up to third, with Forsberg, JTP, and Tuerck very close behind. But with the newly added Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, a foreign track to most (except those who drove it during the past three years of Street Driven Tour!), the season still may be anyone’s game.
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