Speed, carnage, and upsets ensued at Formula Drift’s 2019 mid-season brawl. If you read my coverage of this event last year, you’ll recall how impressed I was by the speed, brutality, and rivalries the Monroe, WA (Seattle area) round of Formula Drift at Evergreen Speedway seems to spawn each year.
In 13 years of covering—and religiously following—the Formula D series, I can’t recall any single event with more proximity, contact, crashes, unbelievable recoveries, championship upsets, upset drivers, and general excitement, than this year’s Formula D Round 5: Throwdown at Evergreen Speedway. Here’s a better look at it all:
Evergreen Speedway Is The Fastest And Most Dangerous Track In The Series
With a long run-up to its sweeping banked oval, Evergreen Speedway is possibly the fastest track on the FD circuit. Triple-digit initiation speeds are the norm here. Cars need to be powerful and drivers comfortable with speed to have a chance in competition. Rad Dan Burkett, Kyle Mohan, Federico Sceriffo, Dirk Stratton, and Kevin Lawrence all made valiant efforts this time around, but either down on power or stumbling a bit on initiation (Dirk after a massive wall hit in practice, caused by a freak power steering failure), none made it past Top 32.
While today’s top pro teams make sticking to the banked oval’s walls look easy, even the best of them struggle with bringing all that speed under control to navigate its sharp transition to the tight and technical infield. Evergreen was where Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Justin Pawlak held their infamous demolition derby in 2015, and this year I saw major collisions between several pros and at least some contact seemingly in every other battle.
Falken Tire Owns Evergreen
While Evergreen’s unique attributes make it one of the most challenging courses on the circuit, some drivers consistently seem to do well here. James Deane won the event two years in a row and has consistently landed on the podium since his return to FD competition, and a Falken Tire driver has taken the top podium step four years in a row—this year with a total podium sweep.
Piotr Wiecek Won By Nearly Losing Every Round
By now, it’s common knowledge that Piotr Wiecek walked away the winner at Evergreen Speedway this year. But what’s not really being talked about is how close he came to losing it throughout the event. He and teammate James Deane’s bye runs in the Top 32 round certainly made things easier, but Piotr looked to go two wheels off in the “touch and go” during his Top 16 follow run against Matt Coffman, who made the much bigger mistake of hitting the wall and straightening upon exit from the bank. Had that not happened, Piotr’s aggressive follow might have led to a collision that would have ended his 2019 streak of Top 8 failures with one even earlier.
In Top 8, Piotr put on one of the craziest follow runs I’ve ever seen, sticking like glue to Michael Essa’s door around the bank, nearly swapping bumpers with him around the second clipping point. Piotr’s two Top 4 runs with Dai Yoshihara were a little tamer, but his Final battle and OMT fight against James Deane were again some of the fastest and closest I can remember ever seeing—especially during his follow runs where he seemed to be initiating contact and even pushing Deane around the bank at times. That kind of proximity is exactly what the judges want and what fans (myself included!) love, but arguably puts more control of the outcome in the hands of the lead driver. But as the saying goes, you’ve got to risk it to win it!
Fredric Aasbø Can Turn Up The Heat
A few years ago, when Fredric Aasbø was gobbling up championship points with technical precision and unmatched consistency, I wondered if the future of professional drifting would be so precise and calculated—so technically perfect run-to-run—that it would just seem boring. Thankfully, a couple of years later the Worthouse Drift team emerged and proved me dead wrong with their signature blend of fast, aggressive, risky, characteristically European bash-style driving. They dominated for a time and changed the game in the process.
In Seattle, we saw two Fredric Aasbøs: the calm and calculated Fredric that held his composure against the mechanically disadvantaged Kevin Lawrence in Top 32, and an aggressive, fearless Fredric that stuck to James Deane’s door at triple-digit speeds in the pair’s Top 16 battle—the way we’ve seen the Worthouse guys stick to so many others’. Fred may have turned up the heat a little too much when he collided with James after the line (more on that below), but it’s great to see a bit of his European wildman style come out in US competition.
Taking Ownership Is Honorable
There were almost too many collisions and near misses at Evergreen to keep track of. The big ones included Jeff Jones tapping the wall on exit from the bank and plowing into Chris Forsberg, then Fredric Aasbø forgetting where he put the brakes after the finish line and sideswiping James Deane. Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Ken Gushi had two independent mistakes that resulted in a near-miss and JR’s contentious dismissal, and some slight contact took Chelsea DeNofa out when following a suspiciously slower-than-usual Chris Forsberg.
A lot can happen in mere moments under the pressure and fast pace of competition, and situations that might seem simple are usually more complex. Nevertheless, drifting is a judged sport, and for all its rules and measures, decisions are ultimately up to judges that are qualified, experienced… and human. Nothing conveys professionalism and commands respect better than owning up, letting go, and remembering to enjoy it all along the way!
Pro Drift Teams Are Better Than They’ve Ever Been
Behind every great drifter stands an amazing team, and nowhere else was this more clear than this year at Evergreen. Papadakis Racing and Worthouse Drift had their work cut out for them after Fred’s collision with Deane, but—again, with only seconds to spare—both teams were able to put their guys back on the line, with the two drivers putting on a hell of a battered-but-not-broken show for the fans. This was after Papadakis Racing swapped their Corolla’s engine in about 30 minutes the previous day when a mechanical failure between Fred’s two qualifying runs happened at the worst possible time.
Similarly, Jones’ hard hit of Forsberg looked like an event-ender for both, but somehow the Chris Forsberg Racing crew came through with a miraculous repair—with seconds to spare—that allowed him to get to the line and make a respectable pass to finish the round and stay in the game.
Elsewhere drivers waged war against the circumstances, fighting the clock and competition in practice and Pro 2 cars, or staying alive with Band-Aid fixes through multiple rounds of competition. Simply put, FD Pro teams need to be on top of their game in 2019, and many are right where they need to be.
Dai Can Take A Licking And Keep On Ticking
Fun fact: Dai got hit in every round of competition at Evergreen. First by Austin Meeks in Top 32, then by Odi Bakchis in Top 16, then by his bud Ken Gushi before going OMT against him in Top 8.
His final runs against eventual winner Piotr Wiecek in Top 4 were a little cleaner and nearly came to a split decision by judges; I thought I spied a little love tap thrown in that mix as well. It may all just amount to freak circumstance, but it really speaks to Dai’s ever-growing ability to remain calm under pressure. With the shake-up in points after the Seattle round, a couple more strong finishes in wildcard events like this could be all he needs to surprise the world with his second championship title.
There’s An Intense Rivalry For Rookie Of The Year
2018 FD Pro 2 champ Travis Reeder shocked fans twice this year. First, by debuting the series’ first all-electric competition car with his Napoleon Motorsports Chevy Camaro, and second by proving himself as formidable Pro 1 competitor in either that vehicle or his Pro 2 V8 S13 (which he drove in this round at Evergreen). Washington native Reeder is no stranger to Evergreen Speedway, and won a start in Top 16 competition against Ryan Litteral and nearly advanced in his Top 8 runs against former champ Michael Essa. Ranking a respectable 17th out of 35 in championship points so far, he would by far be the odds-on favorite for ROTY honors … if not for Dylan Hughes.
Fellow Washingtonian Dylan Hughes has likewise impressed, finishing side-by-side with Reeder in every round since Orlando from behind the wheel of his V8-powered E46. Hughes missed Round 1 at Long Beach, but finished strong at Evergreen, staying alive all the way to Top 8. He actually defeated Reeder in Pro 2 competition here back in 2017, and the rivalry between the two has arguably helped each grow as drivers. With just 14 points separating Hughes and Reeder in the ROTY chase, I’m excited to see what the next three competition rounds hold.
Dylan Hughes Is Just What Drifting Needs
Sure, Travis is leading the ROTY points chase, but let’s talk about Dylan for a minute. The former Chris Forsberg Racing wrench quietly finished Second in Pro 2 competition last year, quietly built a monster V8-powered BMW E46, and quietly entered 2019 Pro 1 competition at the series’ second event in Florida. After besting Ryan Litteral in Top 32 at Evergreen, and knocking out friend and mentor (and at the time, third-place championship points sitter!) Ryan Tuerck fair and square in Top 16, he very vocally announced his status as a force to be reckoned with.
What impresses me most about Dylan is his attitude. He’s never not beaming, grinning from ear to ear, jumping around in joy, and thanking everyone for everything they do to make his life so awesome. Just watch his interview with Laurette Nicholl after that Top 16 win, or skip to the smokey, celebratory donut he rolled out following his loss to Chris Forsberg in Top 8—“We got nothin’ to lose, so let’s party,” as he so perfectly put it.
With Three Events Remaining, The Championship Is Up For Grabs
After four competition rounds, Fredric Aasbø led the championship points chase by three points over Odi Bakchis heading into Evergreen Speedway, with both just about 60 points ahead of Ryan Tuerck and Chris Forsberg. Aasbø and Odi are still leading the chase after Evergreen (now separated by just two points), but Piotr Wiecek is just 16 points from the lead, followed by James Deane, Forsberg, Tuerck and Vaughn Gittin Jr. all less than a win’s worth of points away. And Daijiro Yoshihara, Justin Pawlak, Forrest Wang, and Michael Essa all very, very close behind.
If this round has taught me anything, it’s that anything is possible in Formula D Pro competition this year, and there are still many upsets and lots of excitement on the road ahead. Check through our gallery here for more Evergreen excitement, and be sure to follow Front Street Media for the remainder of this tumultuous 2019 Formula D season: