Orlando Speedworld is the third different Florida race track that Formula Drift has visited in the past three years, but it definitely has its own character. While Palm Beach International Raceway (2011 / 2012 / 2013) and Miami-Homestead Speedway (2014) both raced on modified road courses, Orlando Speedworld is a 3/8-mile banked oval that is bigger than Wall Speedway’s 1/8-mile oval (that will be the fourth stop on the Formula Drift circuit) and smaller than Irwindale’s 1/2-mile oval that will finish the season. The course is only two turns, but the uneven pavement on the infield that some have referred to as a ‘WOOPS‘ section similar to a motocross track is an added hazard drivers will need to plan for. The first banked turn is piloted clockwise with an outer zone along the wall for the entire bank. As the drivers exit the bank, an inner clip sits at the start of the infield. Drivers will transition from one direction to the other across the infield, stabilizing their car through the ‘WOOPS‘ section and hitting a second inner clip before ridding the second outer clipping zone around via the apron of the opposite turn in counter-clockwise rotation.
Ken Gushi topped a field of 38 drivers in qualifying in his GReddy Racing Scion FR-S with Matt Field earning second qualifier and missing the top position by only a single point. Ryan Tuerck, Justin Pawlak, and Tyler McQuarrie earned third, fourth and fifth qualifiers respectively, all also only earning one less point than the driver ahead of them.
In case you missed the event or the live Formula Drift Driftstream, here’s a play-by-play of how the top 32 tandem battles shook out.
My fellow Speedhunters, I have something on my mind that I’d like to speak to you about.
So as you might know, we ended up winning Formula Drift Long Beach and are currently leading the Formula Drift World Championship. Needless to say, winning the first round of the year is a pretty big deal, but the win came with a bit of controversy, which has had me thinking…
I mean, every corner of our Scion tC was banged up and we literally had to push the car to the podium after the clutch blew in the very last turn of the final run. But my concerns aren’t really about the car, because I know the Papadakis Racing guys have that part handled. Instead, I’m more worried about what you’ll see in the video below.
This is the first time this camera angle has been made public, and it shows exactly what happened in my runs with Ryan Tuerck. Long story short, we had a faulty shifter fork (old design) in the transmission, which didn’t allow the dog ring to fully engage, and hence wore it out prematurely. That meant 2nd gear started popping out – at this exact moment. Watching the video cracks me up as I look like a complete question mark, looking down at the shifter. ‘How could you do this to me? After all we’ve been through!” Ha!
Every Formula Drift team – in fact, every racing team – has mechanical issues. It’s inevitable when you’re trying to extract maximum performance from an orchestra of mechanical parts. But, believe it or not, I’m fine with that because not having reliability issues means you’re not out there competing.
What I’m not fine with is not staying in tune with you guys. I feel like I should, and could, do a much better job of explaining what goes on at the track in a more timely manner. Imagine if we would have been able to show this video angle on the Livestream during the event… Given that people started questioning what happened in these runs with Tuerck – some suggesting that it was on purpose – this would have given some good insight.
Also, imagine that if at this very moment the Formula Drift Livestream interviewers had headed over to Steph in the spotter tower and asked him what what was going on. Or better yet, what if the FD Livestream could tap into our radios and get the raw deal?
This isn’t criticism of FD, who I feel like have made several great changes this year. The responsibility for communicating with the drift fans also lies upon us as teams and competitors. All I’m saying is that I believe there’s so much more potential with communicating what’s going on to the spectators – and that makes me really excited about the future of drifting.
I’ve gone through the recent Formula Drift related discussions in the comments sections of various posts here on Speedhunters and I agree with a lot of it. FD has the most consistent judging of any drifting series I’ve seen, but it might not always be easy for the casual viewer to grasp all the details of a particular judged decision.
More transparency and using technology not for the judging itself, but for showing the fans why a certain run was judged the way it was would be awesome. Think American football video overlays that show distance in an easy-to-understand way that would highlight hard-to-spot details.
What do you think is the way to go to produce the best live drift video coverage? Feel free to comment below! I will chime in once I get a chance – but please know that I have my work cut out for me this weekend (see, that’s the ‘respond in a timely manner’ out the window already!). Heading into Round 2 in Atlanta I have some clear favorites…
There’s Odi Bakchis, one of the smartest guys in the scene who proved it by making the Genesis a killer right out of the gate in his first event driving the car. In my opinion, Odi is on his way to perfecting the new school drift configuration, which is basically a very grippy and fast setup that he is still able to drive on a wide, outer line without excessive understeer issues.
He definitely would have taken us out in the Long Beach finals if it wasn’t for that hit in the last turn. And for the record, I was possibly going a bit slower than normal through the last turn due to the lack of second gear, although from the seat of the pants it felt like the same speed as previous runs as the only difference is I drove it off the clutch as I stayed in third. I think the reason for the hit was that my line through that final turn is very deep (trying to cater to the judges preferred line as illustrated here) while Odi got a little too hungry and dove in on a shallow line.
Overall, I am however very impressed and inspired by Odi’s driving and engineering, and he’s just getting started!
Our Speedhunters teammate Mad Mike Whiddett is back with what is on-paper his most competitive build yet. I’ve been driving with Mike across the world over these last years and he is a fantastic driver, in both lead and follow position. Sometimes his ‘all or nothing’ approach costs him rounds, but in terms of entertainment value there’s no one better. And if everything falls into place, there’s no doubt Mike will be extremely hard to beat. I’m very excited to see you back in FD, Mike!
Then there’s good ol’ Jr. who won in Atlanta last year and beat us in the final. Will he seek redemption from Long Beach?
All I can say is this: if previous years of Formula Drift Atlanta are anything to go by, we’re in for a good one. Let’s do this!
I was very excited when Mike told me at this year’s Tokyo Auto Salon that he was making a return to Formula Drift, because not only is he a fan favorite, he brings a sense of style unlike anyone else on the grid.
I had a moment to catch up with Mike as soon as he was finished with Thursday practice ahead of this weekend’s FD Atlanta round.
Larry: You just finished open practice – how is your return to Formula Drift going so far?
Mike: It’s insane – seeing the speed of all the cars especially!
Just watching from the outside, you can definitely see the progression. I’ve been away from Formula Drift USA for five years, and the difference in speed from back then until now is ridiculous.
Today is our first time running on a new Nitto Tire NT05 compound, and it feels amazing.
Scott from SPD, who used to be Daijiro Yoshihara’s crew chief, has done a lot with setting up our KW coilovers and the rest of the suspension, so we’re really comfortable with the car now.
It helped that we took a lot of grip out of the car this morning, but since then we’ve just been fine tuning the setup and I’ve been getting used to the track with this layout, as I haven’t driven it before.
As for the speed of RADBUL, it’s pretty scary. I just need to learn the car and get my confidence up – mainly for the initiation and staying on the gas. It’s just that much faster than what we’re used to.
Larry: I noticed that when you are going back up the hill, your car is just pouring out smoke like I have never seen before. It’s so cool.
Mike: Yeah, it’s actually been a bit of a problem and we’ve had to put wind deflectors in to try and blow the smoke out. Because the cabin of the Miata is kind of like the back of a pickup truck, the tire smoke just gathers inside and swirls around.
The deflectors are really working too, because now when I’m on it, it feels like I’m not making any smoke at all. But when I pull back into the pits, my crew is telling me, ‘Man – that’s smokey as!’
I’m just really pumped to be back though. The camaraderie between the teams is amazing – it’s like a big family!
Nothing comes close to Formula Drift, and I’m just really stoked to be back.
I’m not here to break any records on this first season back – we just want to mix it up again, have some fun with the guys out here, and try and learn as much as we can.
As I said, the pace is the biggest thing that I need to get used to. I’m just trying to keep up with these guys because the cars have developed so much in the past five years.
Larry Chen and Mad Mike Whiddett
Road Atlanta is the actual birthplace of Formula Drift, holding the first ever event back in May 2004. Since then, the track is known as being one of the rowdiest on the circuit, with fans who stake out their area with E-Z Ups and lawn chairs several hours before the track goes hot. Drifting into the night, the event heats up as the temperatures cool, and often produces some of the most memorable tandem battles.
This year’s Road Atlanta track layout mimics the layout that has been used for the last few years. Drivers pilot their cars down the hill ending the back straight into turn 10A, often hitting speeds close to 100mph before pitching their cars sideways. An inner clip on the inside of 10A is the first of the clipping points, and drivers will transition their cars from right to left as they round turn 10B and head back up the hill. At the top of the hill, an outside clipping zone lines the rumble strips, while a second outside zone lines the top part of the paved horseshoe that was added specifically for Formula Drift back in 2004. After sliding the rear bumper through the outer clipping zone under the judges stand, there’s an inner clipping point midway through the horse shoe, before the cars transition back again to the right to head back down the hill and through turns 10B and 10A in reverse order of the traditional course direction. After sliding through 10A and nearing the same inner clip that they started with, drivers are asked to finish their drift through the corner of 10A before shutting it down and heading back up the hill to the start line.
In case you missed the actual event, either in person or via the Driftstream, here’s a play-by-play of how the Top 32 tandem battles shook out.