Text and Photography by Chris Sullivan
The Midwest is home to a rich drift community, which draws its influence predominantly from the Japanese culture; this could be due to the Formula D series skipping over the rabid fans in the Midwest event for more than a decade. With the end of the Formula Drift season drawing near, the Pro and Pro 2 series had its inaugural event at Gateway Motorsports Park just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. “Crossroads” is a fitting title for an event that bridges the eastern leg of the season, round seven in Texas and the season closer at Irwindale. The season’s five previous events have seen four winners, which makes this round of competition a potential leaderboard shake-up.
Few of the drivers had prior experience with the Gateway surface, and it proved to be a learning experience for many. Tire conservation played a huge role, as speeds were high, and great throttle commitment was required going into the long sweepers. Fredric Aasbø put down a near-flawless qualifying run, which earned him a strong 98 points and a bye run going into the Top 32. A large, unexpected storm which produced torrential rain, high winds, and hail ended Friday’s event early, but not before qualifying was finished.
Practice brought on a lot of setup changes and even a few mechanical failures. Most notably, included in this: the stalled James Deane Worthouse S15 Silvia on track with what would turn out to be a failed differential. The teams thrashed to make sure the cars were prepped for the show in Top 32 competition.
Top 32 paired friends and rivals to do battle on the new-to-them surface. Drift Alliance brothers Ryan Tuerck and Vaughn Gittin, Jr. squared off in Top 32, with Tuerck taking the early exit after a small dirt drop turned into a large off-track line. Matt Coffman had an issue getting his impressive V8-powered S13 240SX started and to the line, which handed Johnathan Castro the win. This win pushed Castro to advance through to the Top 16 bracket. During this pairing, Coffman had no shortage of help from other teams pushing him to bump-start the 240SX, just proving how tightly knit this community truly is despite the high-stakes competition surrounding them.
Top 16 provided much more drama as the sun started to set beyond the iconic Gateway Arch. This landmark scene provided a proverbial frame around the crossroads competition that will soon take place back out west. Veteran Formula Drift driver Dai Yoshihara took an assertive angle, but understeered on initiation, which caused a collision with the Falken Tire/Roush Mustang of Justin Pawlak and put him at a disadvantage going into his lead run. This mistake eventually took the Turn 14 Distribution twin-turbo LS-powered Toyota 86 out of contention. Equally aggressive styles were brought to battle as Matt Field piloted his Wish/Falken Tire Corvette against Forrest Wang and his Vapetasia/Get Nuts Laboratory S15. This move prematurely retired the Silvia of Wang essentially placing him in twelfth for the event.
Standing in first place in the points race, James Deane lined up against multi-time FD champion Vaughn Gittin, Jr., then Deane later moved on to a highly-anticipated battle against his teammate Piotr Wiecek in the Great 8 competition.
With his huge angle and aggressive style making him a crowd favorite over the weekend, Chelsea DeNofa eliminated Jeff Jones.
Great 8 battles kicked off with the all-American matchup of Matt Field’s brand-new Corvette and Justin Pawlak’s Mustang, where Field ended the lap with a victory. Veteran driver Ken Gushi struggled to keep up with Chelsea DeNofa in the RTR Mustang, who retired Gushi from competition. The battle between Chris Forsberg in his NOS Energy/Nexen Tire 370Z and Frederic Aasbø in the Papadakis Racing Toyota IM provided plenty of Nexen tire smoke, and left Aasbø advancing to the Final Four. The battle everyone was waiting for between Worthouse teammates Wiecek and Deane finally went down, but was anticlimactic as Deane’s 2JZ engine let go while he was in lead position.
As the sun began to set in the west beyond the Gateway Arch, conditions drastically changed and the Final 4 began. DeNofa, continuing on as the crowd favorite, delivered again and threw huge angle. While it was aesthetically spectacular, it fell short and did not fulfill the judges’ standards. Matt Field capitalized on this and threw down a picture-perfect lead run, which guaranteed him a spot on the podium. The crowd showed their displeasure for the call and boos rang out from the bleachers. Piotr Wiecek lined up with Frederic Aasbø to determine who would meet Matt Field in the final battle of the weekend.
Two full One More Time battles later, Aasbø found himself getting the nod. The stage would now be set for the final battle, in which Field would line up to face Aasbø. In an unexpected aggressive move, Field moved in close to Aasbø and made contact with his rear bumper, which sent him off the track. The only thing that was keeping Aasbø from the top spot on the podium was one final follow run, as it approached full darkness in St. Louis. Field left the start line first, and Aasbø stayed tucked up right next to his door the entire run. This victory for Aasbø was much-needed, and it draws the points gap tighter going into the final two rounds of the 2018 season. James Deane was dominating the points race to this point, but the results from this event make things far more interesting.
St. Louis really proved to bridge the gap both literally and figuratively for the 2018 Formula Drift season. Drivers continuously mentioned how challenging and refreshing the ‘fastest track in Formula Drift history’ was. The event was full of exciting twists and turns, as unforeseen variables made teams adjust and drive the cars near the limit. Teamwork was evident and community was especially present. With fans captivated by the unpredictable competition, this was truly a great return to the Midwest, and an overall influential step in the right direction for the sport.