Fredric Aasbo wins PRO Round One, Chelsea DeNofa claims Round Two win, and Rookie Joshua Love is PRO2 Round One victor
After a lengthy and unavoidable delay to the 2020 Formula DRIFT season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams gathered for the opening Crossroads Round at World Wide Technology Raceway located near St Louis, MO. And in an effort to still deliver eight PRO category rounds there would be a compressed format this year, with each venue hosting a double-header for the PRO category on Saturday and Sunday, and the PRO2 category on Friday.
With more competition squeezed into each weekend, the organizers decided to eliminate traditional qualifying sessions and devote Thursday to practice. As a result, driver match-ups in the competition heats would be decided by a selection formula that ensured competitive match-ups.
To improve on the 2019 course layout, Formula DRIFT altered the clipping zones on the course at World Wide Technology Raceway with the goal of creating better competition and flow. They then ensured the teams had sufficient practice time on Thursday to achieve that.
LINK ECU PRO2 CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE
Friday saw the first round of the 2020 Link ECU PRO2 Championship, and with a large field expected prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the decision had been made to move from Top 16 heats to Top 32. As the teams arrived at the track there were 22 PRO2 drivers including an impressive roster of 12 rookies who would play a major part in the outcome. This number still allowed a Top 32 round of heats (with 12 drivers getting bye runs) and a full day of competition.
Battling his way through the heats to win Round One was rookie Joshua Love (USA) driving his After Hours Autosports BMW E36. However, he had one of the toughest paths to the Final of any driver, starting with his match up against Daniel Stuke (USA) in the Top 32. Driving the MspeK Performance Nissan S14, Stuke and Love were well matched but mistakes by both drivers on the second run created a split decision from the judges and a call for One More Time, where the drivers repeat the heat.
At the second time of asking, they were again well matched, but a small correction on Stuke’s lead run gave Love the win. He progressed to the Top 16 where his opponent, Andy Hateley (USA) in the Hateley Motorsports BMW E30, ran off-line and almost came to a halt around the final turn.
Love would then overcome rookie Brian Wadman (USA) in the Wadman Drift Nissan S14 to win his Top 8 heat and had a titanic battle against Dmitriy Brutskiy (Belarus) in the Final 4. Driving the Essa Motorsport / Never Settle / Achilles Radial BMW M3, Brutskiy had missed practice with mechanical issues, so his first competitive runs were in the heats and he found himself in the Top 4.
With a great lead run by Love and a good chase by Brutskiy the judges unanimously requested One More Time. Returning to the startline, Brutskiy had a mechanical problem and requested a Competition Timeout. When the heat eventually got underway, Brutskiy in the lead position would impact the wall and Love, who was slightly off-line, would collide with him as Brutskiy regained control of the car, causing Love to spin to a halt.
The cars returned to the pits and the judges assessed both were at fault, so Love used his Competition Timeout to make repairs before they could return for the second run. With Brutskiy in the chase position he had to straighten in Outside Zone 4, which was enough to award the win to Love.
Reaching the Final, Love faced Jonathan Hurst (USA) in the Cash Racing / Achilles Radial Infiniti G37 who had a good lead lap but was very shallow in Outside Zone 4, allowing Love to maintain good proximity. In the chase position, Hurst had great proximity and the judges requested One More Time. At the second attempt, Love took the win and full PRO2 Championship points after Hurst had to correct a couple of times in the chase position, briefly losing proximity.
With Hurst in second, they were joined on the podium by rookie Austin Matta (USA) who won the third-place run-off in his Don’t Matta Racing Nissan S14 against Brutskiy.
“I’m super-stoked to take a win in our rookie year!” said a delighted Love after the podium ceremony. “This was our first event and we murdered it. My team was with me every step of the way and made sure I didn’t have to lift a finger and could focus on the driving. It went amazingly and I couldn’t ask for more!”
FD PRO CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE
With some major names missing because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, including reigning Champion James Deane (Ireland), Piotr Wiecek (Poland), Federico Sceriffo (Italy) and the return of Daigo Saito (Japan), the series was delighted to still welcome 29 drivers to the starting gate for the opening rounds of the 2020 Formula DRIFT PRO Championship. They would represent eight different countries and include eight rookies who were cutting their teeth in the world’s top drift series.
The story of Round One would be all about Toyota – the two cars prepared by Papadakis Racing: Fredric Aasbo’s (Norway) Rockstar Energy Drink / Nitto Tire GR Supra and Ryan Tuerck’s (USA) Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil 1 Toyota Corolla. Their consistency saw the two drivers face off in the Final, despite Tuerck losing power steering during the Top 16 heat. He was able to overcome the handicap until he came up against the his teammate and 2015 FD Champion, at which point he succumbed to Aasbo’s precision and aggression.
The Norwegian driver’s day began with a draw against Joao Barion (Brazil) in the Top 32 heats. This was a remarkable match-up because the Brazilian had to overcome considerable obstacles to get himself and his Monster Energy / Barbarius Corvette into the country with COVID-19 travel restrictions in place. Unfortunately, Barion was forced to straighten during his lead run, which was a enough to send Aasbo into the Sweet 16 where he met the always hard-charging 2010 FD Champion Vaughn Gittin Jr (USA) in the Monster Energy / Nitto Tire / Ford Performance Mustang RTR Spec 5-D. When these two get together we’re guaranteed fireworks and their two runs didn’t disappoint, and Aasbo took the win on a split decision from the judges.
Moving into the Great 8, The Norwegian met Dan Burkett (USA) driving the GearWrench / RAD Industries / Nexen Tire Toyota Supra. The all-Supra heat was dominated by Aasbo thanks to a couple of mistakes by Burkett.
In the Final 4, Aasbo faced the most successful driver in FD history; three-time Champion Chris Forsberg (USA) driving the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires. In the chase position on the first run, Aasbo showed greater aggression and maintained impressive proximity throughout the course, putting tremendous pressure on Forsberg. On the second run, Forsberg was unable to achieve the same proximity and struggled to drift the full course, handing the win to Aasbo.
Unfortunately, Forsberg’s team was unable to rectify a mechanical issues on the car and failed to start the third-place run-off against Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tires / Feal Suspension Nissan S15. This guaranteed Odi the bottom step of the podium as Aasbo met Tuerck in the Final.
With power steering problems handicapping Tuerck, he put up a valiant fight and led the first run in style but struggled in the chase position. Unable to complete his drift through Inside Clip 1, he gave the judges an easy decision to award Aasbo the Round One win.
“When your power steering is gone, if you run the car smoothly from transition to transition, you can get around the track,” Tuerck explained on the podium. “But as soon as you come into a situation where you have to snap the clutch, grab the handbrake and make a slight correction on the steering wheel, you’re pretty much done. So the lead laps were OK, and thankfully Odi ran really smooth laps (during their Final 4 heat), so I was able to squeak through that. But I’m hurting right now, my shoulders are burnt up!”
Aasbo was in jubilant mood after winning the first round in his brand new Rockstar Energy Drink / Nitto Tire GR Supra. “First and foremost, it’s incredible to actually be here competing. It wasn’t a given during these times, so hats off to Formula DRIFT for making it happen. And boy, what a show we’ve had,” Aasbo said. “I had to give it everything I’d got, extract every bit of grip, power and handling from the Supra. And for us to come here and be able to dial-in the new car that quickly speaks volumes about the team. Hats off to the crew for giving me the tools to come out of the first round swinging. Now I’m looking forward to Round Two tomorrow!”
FD PRO CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND TWO
After a punishing Round One, the teams thrashed late into the night to fix battered cars before everything reset for Round Two the following day. Among the walking wounded was Kenshiro Gushi (Japan) who was in a great deal of pain from a slipped disc back injury he’d suffered all weekend. He decided not to take any medication on Sunday to keep his head clear but had to be helped out of his KGMS / Toyota / Gazoo Racing / Achilles Tire GR Supra by his team. Yet he fought through to the Great 8 before eventually being eliminated by Matt Field (USA) on his way to fourth place.
With the dominance of the Papadakis-prepared cars in Round One, there was an expectation of a repeat performance in Round Two, but that was soon quashed when Aasbo was eliminated from the Sweet 16, again by Matt Field. In an unusual collision, the two cars made contact shortly after the start line on their second run. Aasbo was adjudged to be at fault for not providing sufficient space for the lead driver, Field, to initiate. With the run incomplete, Aasbo took an early shower.
With his power steering problems resolved, Aasbo’s teammate, Ryan Tuerck (USA) again made it to the Final 4 in his Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil 1 Toyota Corolla. He would eventually finish third, relegating Field to fourth place in his Falken Tires / Borla Exhaust C6 Chevrolet Corvette.
Winner of the 2020 Formula DRIFT PRO Championship Round Two was Chelsea DeNofa (USA) driving the BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR. His march to the podium began in the Top 32 against Ryan Litteral (USA) in the PowerStop / GT Radial Nissan 350Z. DeNofa progressed thanks to a great chase run.
In the Sweet 16 heats, his opponent was three-time FD Champion Chris Forsberg (USA) driving the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires. Predictably, this resulted in a huge battle, with the judges calling for One More Time after their first runs. As they repeated the effort, Forsberg came into the last turn too hot on his chase run, causing him to stop the drift and hand the win to DeNofa.
In the Great 8, Michael Essa (USA) was down on power in his FCP Euro / LiquiMoly / Achilles Tires BMW M3. This disadvantaged the 2013 FD champion, allowing DeNofa to gap him on his lead run. With the roles reversed and DeNofa on the chase, he was able to remain close enough to take the win.
Heading into the Final 4, the battle against Matt Field was highly anticipated since neither driver takes prisoners. However, Field arrived at the final turn with a lot of speed on his chase run. The subsequent collision was judged to be Field’s fault and DeNofa was in the Final where he faced Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tires / Feal Suspension Nissan S15. This promised to be another titanic battle between two hard chargers, and Bakchis drove with his trademark precision and aggression on his lead run. However, a minor collision after the finish line had Bakchis heading to the pits to check his rear suspension alignment. With no repairs needed, Odi returned for his chase run.
We can’t know if the Competition Timeout affected his concentration, but Bakchis had to straighten before the last turn, possibly lost momentarily in DeNofa’s smoke trail. This uncharacteristic hesitation was enough to hand DeNofa the Round Two win.
With DeNofa winning Round Seven of the 2019 FD PRO Championship, this was his second win in four rounds and confirmed the enormous threat he presents to the other teams as they try to claim the 2020 title. On equal points with Ryan Tuerck as the series looks ahead to Rounds Three and Four on September 25-27 at Evergreen Speedway in Seattle, WA, he had this to say from the podium: “From the start of the day I knew I was going to drive hard without worrying about what anybody else was doing. We wanted to focus on what’s important, which is driving the way we want to; having as much speed, as much angle and as much smoke as possible. We wanted to hit the line the way we want to and hope the judges see that we’re pushing hard and get rewarded for it. And we did!”
With the teams packing up and the spectators heading home, we also got some final thoughts from Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw: “We’ve all worked really hard over the last six months to return to a place where we could hold our events in this new environment we’re all facing. We’re all extremely grateful to be back on-track and drifting again. The new double-header format has proved to be super-entertaining but very challenging. It’s going to highlight the consistency of the teams and drivers, while pushing them really hard to perform each day. In this environment and under these circumstances, the 2020 Championship is going to be extra special because the winner needs to dig really deep to win the title. We’re looking forward to seeing how that plays out and who it will be.”
2020 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
ROUND ONE TOP 16 PRO DRIVER POINTS
ROUND TWO TOP 16 PRO DRIVER POINTS
2020 PRO CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER STANDINGS AFTER 2 ROUNDS