Photography by Tristan Tran
The saying “everything is bigger in Texas” proved true during Round 7 of the Formula Drift series, courtesy of some gargantuan rolling thunderstorms the likes of which I hadn’t seen outside of movies. While Formula Drift is no stranger to wild weather, this round provided a little bit of everything with spurts of heavy rain and lightning followed by clear skies and beating sun. Due in part to wet weather which occurred during the qualifying sessions, what should have been a Top 32 turned out to be a Top 30, meaning the top 2 qualifiers—James Deane and Alec Hohnadell—would be given bye runs and a free pass to the Top 16.
The usual suspects made up the Top 16 as they held their cool through the blinding tire smoke and blazing heat of the Texas afternoon. From on grid, I can confirm that the sun was not forgiving during the entirety of Top 32, leading many of us working the event to long for the rain from the previous day.
As the sun began its descent after a job well done, the competitors lined up for the opening ceremony and Top 16 was underway. Ken Gushi was not able to continue his quest to shake up the points as he was up against James Deane, and Deane’s consistently flawless driving advanced him to the Great 8. Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t the only thing with dark clouds hanging heavy overhead, as Chris Forsberg’s team was plagued with engine trouble before Top 32. Then, in his Top 16 battle with fellow champion Fredric Aasbø, Forsberg wasn’t able to keep his 370Z on track and was forced to concede to Aasbø, who advanced to the next round.
Dai Yoshihara, in the Turn 14 Distribution BRZ, threw down an exceptional lead run to earn himself a spot in the Great 8 after a One More Time (OMT) battle with Odi Bakchis. But perhaps the biggest upset was the battle between the No. 2 qualifier Alec Hohnadell and Ryan Litteral. Hohnadell was on a roll from his bye run earlier, laying down a wild and aggressive line. Unfortunately, he sent it a tad too hard causing him to pour on too much angle and straighten, handing Litteral the win.
Under the lights of Texas Motor Speedway, the tire smoke claimed more than one victim in the Great 8. If you thought the thick freshly-roasted smoke of a thousand horsepower was hard to see through in the daytime, you should try focusing through it at night. The smoke, combined with the headlights of the cars, presented a significant obstacle for the drivers. Factor in the transition to the treacherous tire wall, and many chase drivers found themselves far off the proper line and subsequently lost their battles.
Ryan Litteral’s upset quest was ended by Chelsea DeNofa, who left no room for error in his BC Racing Mustang, and moved into the Final 4. He was joined by Fredric Aasbø in his Rockstar Energy Corolla, Piotr Wiecek, and his teammate James Deane in their matching Worthouse S15s.
The Final Four Battle between Deane and Aasbø was up first, but this bout had much more on the line than just the opportunity to advance to the finals. This event is the second-to-last stop on the Formula Drift Schedule, and Deane was positioned atop the points standings with Aasbø nipping at his heels just a mere 30 points behind. The outcome of this battle had the potential to solidify the points lead for Deane, earning him back to back titles as Formula Drift Champion. When the smoke cleared, Deane’s effortless driving advanced him to the finals with congratulations from Aasbø for a battle well won.
Quite possibly the best matchup of the day was the Final Four Battle between Chelsea DeNofa and Piotr Wiecek. It came down to Wiecek’s unimaginable chase run where he was able to keep his S15 on the door of the Mustang, despite DeNofa throwing billowing clouds of tire smoke his way.
After besting not one but two Mustangs, Wiecek was facing his teammate yet again, this time in the finals. The crowd loves when the Worthouse cars battle it out because they leave mere inches between them as they glide through tandem runs with precision. Unfortunately, on the second run, Deane suffered a mechanical failure and the win went to Wiecek. It was a less-than-ideal end to an otherwise great event, as any true competitor would rather win in battle than by default. Although likely frustrated by the mechanical failure, Deane looked elated for Wiecek’s win. As they push their cars to the limit and embrace the friendly competition, it is evident that the Worthouse team truly embodies the spirit of drifting.
In the end, the Lone Star State did not disappoint, leaving us anxious for more in Irwindale for the final round. (And with the way that Irwindale likes to keep us on our toes, were thinking this will be an interesting end to the season.) Stay tuned for coverage of the final battle!