There is something special about the initial sporting event of the season. It’s a time when teams get to figure out if all of their off-season training has progressed them enough to compete with others. It also breeds excitement from the fans that are eager to witness another full season performance from their favorite sport or team. The first competition shakes out the butterflies, blows off the dust, cleans off the rust, and gets everyone involved back into the groove of it all.
High school football has homecoming. Professional baseball has opening day. Formula Drift has The Streets of Long Beach.
For sixteen years, North America’s premier drift series has attacked circuits across the continent, but only one starts the season off right—the street circuit of Long Beach, California. By utilizing turns 9 through 11 of the famed Long Beach Grand Prix circuit, Formula Drift’s 2019 season opener introduces burnt rubber into the surrounding mix of businesses, sunshine, and palm trees for one hell of an overture.
We were trackside for the entire thing, and came back with a list of our top four favorite factors that made it so exciting and memorable for us. Follow along, and we hope you enjoy!
The Proximity To The Wall
There are times I don’t even understand it—actually, no, I never understand how the elite drivers of Formula Drift can get their cars to consistently come within inches of walls and come away unscathed. It doesn’t make sense to me. The level of car control and spatial awareness that these drivers possess is otherworldly.
Give me or any other average Joe one of these walls to simply drive alongside, and majority of us will end up with white scratches down our car (or worse). Let alone sliding the rear out and knowing exactly where the back of our car will land, within millimeters. Add to that challenge a second wall that the cars need to perfectly hug up against right away, but that requires a 180-degree directional change of the car. Then take into account the knowledge level of the driver, who must be aware of just how much slip the tires can handle before he slams on the accelerator to pull away from the wall with grip. Finally, finish that off with another 1,000-plus-horsepower car trailing immediately behind, and it’s a wonder every race doesn’t end in a wreck.
Even their brushes with the wall are commonplace at this point, but when you sit back and think about how crazy it is to combine all of those factors seamlessly over and over again, you start to realize what makes them professionals.
The Unreal Qualifying Scores
Each and every year at Formula Drift in Long Beach, the highest qualifying scores of the drivers just continue to get better as their skill level behind the wheel and knowledge of how to attack the course improves. As the years pass, the extremely talented drivers further dial into what the judges are specifically looking for, and this year was no different.
While Tanner Foust’s unreachable, perfect 100 point qualifying score from Sonoma a few years ago still holds strong as the top qualifying score to ever be recorded in FD competition, Matt Field came as close as possible with a stout 99 at Long Beach. Losing only one point in the style category, Field threw his Falken Tire Chevy Corvette around the course smoothly, superbly, and seemingly effortlessly—and doing so with an assembly of the top five drivers ticking off scores above a 97 around him. Think about that for a second: the sixth-place qualifier was Forrest Wang in his Get Nuts Laboratory Nissan Silvia, who put a 96 on the board!
In fact, the trail of scores in the 90s extends all the way into 17th place! One could propose the argument that the judging is too lenient, but that’s simply not the case. The criteria is being met on such an incredible level; these talented drivers just deliver each time out. If anything, the judges scrutinize the runs harsher now than ever before. In present time, Tanner Foust’s famous run wouldn’t score half of what he did back then.
Gone are the days of shaky initiation, off-throttle handbrake pulls, and well, anything but perfection. It’s an amazing time to be a fan of drifting, and we’re just happy we’re around to see it.
The Tire Smoke
I feel like I write about this one every year, but how can I not? There’s something so special about the way the drifting competition’s smoke lifts into the crevices between the high-rise apartments surrounding the track.
With the recent (in the scheme of things) spike in horsepower numbers across the board in Formula Drift vehicles, the rear tires are now incinerated within a fraction of a second of drivers pressing their accelerator. This makes for jaw-dropping scenic displays of automotive vandalism, as the tire’s width is burnt into the street circuit’s pavement at outrageous speeds.
The introduction of increased steering angle kits has only helped this magnificent display of acceleration and grip. Cars are now on-throttle throughout the entirety of their run, mixing left-foot-braking into the mix to slow the inertia of the car, while keeping the rear wheel speed constantly spinning. The plumes of smoke that billow from the rear wheel wells are the metaphorical cherry on top of the tremendously skilled driving that occurs at Formula Drift.
Veterans On The Podium
Call me old-fashioned—or just plain old—but it was nice to see a group of classic contenders battling for the podium spots in Long Beach. In a world of ever-changing personnel and business trends, youth may be starting to overcome experience in the world.
Kids are introduced to aggressive competition at younger ages, and we’re starting to see professional athletes crowned medals and earning trophies at seemingly unimaginable ages. However, even with all of the new technology and the shifting of momentum to younger generations, one thing has remained: the necessity for real-world experience.
The final rounds in Long Beach saw veterans of the sport standing out, like Chris Forsberg in his NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z taking part in fierce battle with the likes of Odi Bakchis in his Falken Tire Nissan before a looming sunset.
And if you’re wondering what type of driving was needed to get Odi into the final battles, look at his picture-perfect mimic of teammate Justin Pawlak’s lead run. Despite Pawlak taking an uncharacteristic line through the course, Odi was able to stick to him without missing a beat.
Ending up in the final tandem battle against Odi was Forrest Wang, who is never short of angle, speed, and tire smoke himself. However, his display of driving excellence just wasn’t enough to get him onto the top podium step this time around.
As the sun began its descent in the sky, Wang was unable to match Odi’s line from the chase position, getting caught out of form on the penultimate corner. The judges ruled in favor of Bakchis, and the competition was ended.
While the top five qualifiers of Long Beach were all equipped with Falken Tires, the mixed tire podium threw a wrench into any theories that they might be the undisputed tire choice this season. With returning champion James Deane’s refreshed chassis not operating correctly, and with Odi Bakchis off to a solid points lead, it could be anyone’s time to shine at the second round in Orlando!