This Is What 37,001 Horsepower Looks Like By Larry Chen

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The last few weeks have been very busy, but I finally found some time to go through my Formula Drift Final Fight photos.

Right after Irwindale, I headed off to Gothenburg in Sweden to shoot some virtual car feature shots for the new Need for Speed game, and then jumped on a plane bound for Tokyo, Japan, and the D1 Grand Prix finals. I’ve been swamped with work, but more on that later…

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The first-ever professional drifting event I attended was D1GP Japan vs USA at Irwindale Speedway in 2006, so you can imagine that the Southern California race venue is quite a special place to me. Dubbed ‘The House of Drift’ it holds a special place in the hearts of the drivers and teams too.

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For this story, I just want to share with you guys a selection of my favorite photos from the 2015 Formula Drift final, in no particular order. Enjoy!

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That moment when you realize you have become a champion. Fredric started to tear up as soon as he pulled in from his Top 32 run.

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Formula Drift is not just about the Pro drivers anymore, the Pro-Am drivers competing in Pro2 steal the show on Fridays after Pro qualifying.

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It was extra warm on the Final Fight weekend, and while I’ve shot Irwindale many times with rain beating down on the track, it certainly wasn’t the case this time around.

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As always, there is no louder cheer during the Top 16 introductions than the one reserved for Mad Mike Whiddett.

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One of my favorite things to shoot are the drivers scrubbing their tires on the hot grid.

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The way the light plays with the smoke in the late afternoon makes it the perfect place to get some epic burnout shots.

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But sometimes my favorite shots are taken off track. Walking through the empty pits in between run sessions, there are photo treasures around every corner.

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While it may be tedious, the teams have to go through the same motions over and over again during a Formula Drift weekend. That includes Forsberg Racing, who has two vehicles to load at night and unload again the next morning day after day.

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While Kenji Sumino looks relaxed here, he was actually under a lot of stress; the GReddy Racing team were gunning for their first championship.

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It seems like the Pro cars are producing more smoke every year, but I think we’re now at the absolute limit due to tire wear.

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Many drivers and teams wish to keep the same type of compound, but increase tread depth for a longer lasting drift tire. Sounds like a good idea, no?

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When I originally dreamed of this shot I always pictured it with a convertible, but since pretty much all the drop-top machines left the series back in 2010, I had to wait until this season to achieve it. Thanks Mad Mike!

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The teams were all battling overheating issues due to the intense heat.

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Many teams lost engines and broke critical parts due to their cars’ systems running red-hot.

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The view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline from the top of the Irwindale Speedway grandstands during sunset.

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Local hero Ryan Litteral drifts with some serious style during Pro2 practice as the sun sets. Over the years I’ve forced myself to frame out parts of the car to create new angles, as including the entire car in the frame can get a bit repetitive.

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For the first time that I can remember, the autograph session was moved under the grandstands to shield the already suffering drivers from the sun.

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I love these little moments, but it’s sad that sometimes I’m the only one that gets to experience them. Here, Juha Rintanen and his team bang away at his left-side rear suspension to fix the alignment after a tap with the inner bank. Stress levels were high and the team worked feverishly to repair the car in time for the next battle.

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This shot combines two of my favorite things: natural frames and silhouettes. If only Fredric was doing a burnout in the pits, it would be the perfect shot.

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Just like all the other mechanics in the FD paddock, the Forsberg Racing boys work very hard. It’s not uncommon to skip a night or two of rest just to swap out a motor or fix other damage. These are drift cars after all.

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In terms of hard-working team owners, Conrad Grunewald pushes the absolute limit. He often drives at Formula Drift and then takes a redeye flight out straight afterwards to teach at a Ferrari driving school in Canada.

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This year the inner bank section at Irwindale was extended, which sounds like it would be more dangerous. But there were actually less wrecks than ever. Maybe the level of driving has just gotten that much better.

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While these little moments happen all around us, something as simple as putting on a helmet can become a beautiful thing.

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While there are many racing series I cover that have drivers and teams who are friends both on and off the grid, I’ve never seen such camaraderie as I do in Formula Drift. It’s probably due to the nature of the sport, and that it is still young compared to many more established motorsports.

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It’s so nice to see Tanner Foust back in the driver seat again, although the last time he competed in Irwindale was back in 2010, and he actually won that event.

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It would be great to see him back competing in the full series.

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It’s insane the amount of grip that these cars produce going around a corner. You’re not cool if you’re not three-wheeling.

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Riding the wall was much easier this year as drivers could continue their drift all the way to the end of the inner bank.

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While everyone initiates their drift in a slightly different way, guys like Kenny Moen make it fun to photograph. On this part of the course he’d always throw it in hard, resulting a puff of smoke every time.

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While this may not be the most well-executed photo in terms of composition, it tells a story.

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It really does show how hard these drivers push and what they have to go through in their attempt to attack just a little harder.

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If anything, Irwindale is the place to go all-in, because it’s the last event of the season.

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Sparks and smoke, everywhere! When Forrest Wang battles it out at Irwindale, there is bound to be someone in the wall.

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The Irwindale Speedway fire safety crew was on high alert as there were constant incidents on the course that required their attention.

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It’s not fun to watch your car burn, but lucky for Brandon Wicknick, his was able to be fixed right away.

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Once a champion, always a champion. Just a few years ago Daijiro Yoshihara was watching from the sidelines hoping the calls would go his way.

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They did, and he became a champion. But this year he got knocked out of the Top 32 by another former champion, Michael Essa.

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For how many FD events experienced rain this year – which to me felt like pretty much every single round – it was very refreshing to see tire smoke once again.

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The concentration on this Kiwi’s face is unparalleled; a short wheelbase Miata packing more than 1000hp isn’t easy to drive.

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Mike brought his son over from New Zealand, but his fiancé Toni couldn’t come along as the family was expecting a baby girl at the time.

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I have a feeling this is going to be one big happy drift family as soon as the kids are of driving age.

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Alec Hohnadell also had an unfortunate incident with the wall.

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The young competitor had his first 2nd place podium this year, and I think he’s the future of drifting.

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We need more young dedicated drivers and teams to come into the series to help it grow.

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Masashi Yokoi is one of many Japanese drivers to give Formula Drift a shot, and it’s come with major success. He took his first Formula Drift Pro championship win in Texas.

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For the first time ever, Daigo Saito lost a battle at Irwindale. And it was at the hands of Fredric Aasbø.

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Last year Daigo beat Fredric, which handed the championship win to Chris Forsberg. This year Fredric put the nail in the coffin.

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Ken Gushi made such a comeback this season, that it makes me wonder what’s going to happen next year and what sort of changes GReddy Racing will make to their program.

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Over the course of the weekend the GReddy team ran into some major engine troubles and had to swap out a motor before qualifying.

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I love shooting at night on the grid as the drivers pull in from a run, because tire smoke is still seeping from every orifice of the car.

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Bruised but not beaten. Ken Gushi’s car was pushed into the wall during battle, but it was not as catastrophic as everyone thought it would be. The bash bar saved the day for Ken.

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It was easy street from the Top 32 on for Fredric; he had nothing to lose.

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Stephan Papadakis and the rest of the team were not taking any chances though, and checked and re-checked everything on Rockstar/Hankook Scion tC after each run.

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Chris was the only driver with two championship titles under his belt to compete the entire 2015 season.

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Like many of the FD champions we’ve had in the past, he’s a driver with no other racing background.

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He was one of the first people to congratulate Fredric on his championship win after he got out of his car.

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There are many ways to call a competition time-out, but signaling to the officials that you need five minutes is probably the easiest way.

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I don’t know how some drivers don’t get lost in the smoke. Even without a smoke-making machine in front of him, Mad Mike can barely see out of his Miata because the seat is so low.

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Sometimes hitching a ride into the paddock on the rollcage door bars is your only option.

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The battle that stopped time. Kristaps Blušs put in a valiant effort against Fredric Aasbø in the Top 32 bracket.

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During his chase run it looked as if he was going to have a shot at the win.

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But Kristaps spun at the last corner just before finishing the run. It could have gone either way if he’d finished it.

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A portrait of a champion. Who has two fingers and just won a championship? This guy!

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I don’t know how the spectators in the stands were able to see at all with so much tire smoke hanging in the air.

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The ghosts of Irwindale past could be seen on the grid every now and then.

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Seeing how close some of the drivers would follow each other going into the inner bank was intense. I think this is one of my favorite following shots from the season. You can see Ken was hard on the brakes at this point in order to not punt Charles Ng into the wall.

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As always, Irwindale was packed out. It was great to see how many fans stayed right until the very end too.

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How many more years will we get to enjoy The House of Drift? We may never know.

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The final we could only dream about. Can you believe that Ken Gushi and Fredric Aasbø had never met in battle before this?

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The 12th Formula Drift season has come to an end. Here’s to many more years to come.

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Fredric once showed me a fancy restaurant in Oslo, Norway, that had an incredible view of the entire city. He promised me that if he won the Formula Drift championship, he would treat 50 of his closest friends to a dinner to remember. That was almost five years ago. I’m really looking forward to that dinner now.

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
[email protected]

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