Because of the judged nature of drifting, the sport has many naysayers out there. But I actually think that’s the reason why it’s popular among younger gear-heads. It also makes me wonder why drifting is not part of the X Games. Most of the disciplines included in the Olympics of action sport are judged – just look at skateboarding or freestyle motocross. I think drifting would fit right in.
It’s the uncertainty of judging that can be so exciting at times. When a battle is really close and it’s hard for you personally to pick a winner, waiting in anticipation for the call is half the fun.
That’s why drivers in Formula Drift push it to the limit – they don’t leave the outcome in the judges’ hands.
Which leads to some serious carnage. And carnage is what Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington, is known for.
Think about it – wouldn’t it be absolutely boring if the judges calls went your way every time? I love sitting around a dinner table talking about how calls should have gone, and which battles were game changers.
In terms of championship implications, Formula Drift Seattle was always going to be exciting. If you guys haven’t already watched the highlights from the event, you can check out all theTop 16 battles here.
Big Moves, Big Championship
Historically, Chris Forsberg has always done well at Seattle. That’s why it was a huge surprise to everyone when he got knocked out in the Top 16 bracket by Alec Hohnadell.
In front of a sold out crowd, Formula Drift’s defending champion met his match when he went up against the 19-year-old from Florida.
Chris wasn’t the only one who hit a setback in Seattle. Ryan Tuerck was the points leader going into the weekend, but mechanical issues in the Top 32 bracket meant he lost the position. It’s going to be tough for him to regain it back.
Odi Bakchis qualified in the top 10, but he had a harsh draw and met former Formula Drift champion and Speedhunters driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. in the first round.
Coming into Seattle, Odi was gunning for his first FD Pro championship and the very first FD World championship title as well.
One of three drivers who have been competing in Formula Drift since day one is having a stellar season this year.
Ken Gushi has been very open about the changes that his team have made to the car, which are allowing him to perform at 100 per cent. He is currently in 4th position, but over 100 points behind the leader Fredric Aasbø.
While many of the teams were complaining about judging calls as well as all the drama in Seattle – which I will touch on shortly – Fredric had nothing to grumble about.
Although, the win did not come easy for the Norwegian Hammer and his Papadakis Racing team.
On qualifying day, the motor in Rockstar Energy Drink/Hankook Tires Scion tC decided to take a turn for the worse. Just over one hour before qualifying began the team had to do a full engine swap.
Fredric stood closely by, watching and helping whenever he could, but of course the Papadakis Racing mechanics had it covered. They finished the swap and Fredric made his first qualifying run right on time.
From there he went toe-to-toe with every opponent he faced, eventually battling in the rain against some very worthy adversaries.
Fredric’s ability to control a drift car in the rain is unparalleled, so the slippery track surface gave him a distinct advantage going into the finals.
Now Fredric leads the rest of the field in the Pro championship by 76 points. He’s also 48 points ahead of the competition in the Formula Drift World championship.
Battles To Remember
In beating Chris Forsberg and Daigo Saito in the same event, from now on I will refer to Alec Hohnadell as the champion slayer.
This is only Alec’s second year in Formula Drift and he’s already making his mark. There are drivers who have been competing for a decade without a single podium.
One of the most controversial battles from the weekend was that between Matt Field and Pat Goodin. I was standing at the end of the judged course for this one, so I did not actually get to see the entire runs unfold. What I did see was the outcry on social media after the event. The judges explained the call in detail here, but how do you guys think it should have gone?
Before I talk about the battle that changed Formula Drift history, let’s talk about the two opponents.
This is Justin Pawlak’s first year as team owner and privateer, so he definitely has quite a bit to prove to his sponsors.
He struggled a bit early on in the season, but Justin has always had a stellar qualifying record, including a 1st place in Orlando. By next year I think he’ll be in top form again.
Tyler McQuarrie has been running his own team for a few years now. But it doesn’t seem like all that long ago that he left Falken as a factory driver – winning Irwindale as a exclamation point. If you think about it, he’s the last person to ever win Irwindale whose name isn’t Daigo Saito.
When I saw that the bracket had the potential for a McQuarrie versus Pawlak matching, I was looking forward to it.
I find that some of the most evenly-matched battles are when both competitors are running the same brand of tire. Regardless of car setup, the grip levels should be similar.
My initial impression of the incident, was that Tyler would have gone two tires off course, regardless of whether or not Justin hit him.
But after watching the in-car footage that Tyler released and taking a look at all the other video media again, I’m not so sure now.
There are so many possibilities to what could have happened. In Tyler’s eyes, he had no idea if he went two tires off or not – he just didn’t want Justin to pass him.
In Justin’s eyes, he saw that Tyler went off and figured it was the perfect opportunity to pass.
Tempers flared, but at the end of the day the two drivers agreed to disagree. What do you guys think the outcome should have been?
The next battle that had everyone talking was between Mad Mike Whiddett and Forrest Wang.
It was absolutely nuts to see how many fans Mike had in Seattle. He couldn’t even leave his pits without getting mobbed.
The weekend didn’t really start off on the right foot as he made contact with the wall during qualifying.
It was a bad draw for Forrest however, because Mike battled tooth and nail. They ended up going ‘One More Time’ twice.
In total they had six runs against each other. If that’s not a testament to the reliability of these drift cars, then I don’t know what is.
At the end of it, the cars were beaten and battered.
The battle took a toll on Mike. He said it was the hardest he has ever driven in his life.
Back in the trailer Mike put a quick call through to his fiancée, Toni, in New Zealand to let her know how things went in the Top 32. Of course, she had watched things unfold on the live stream.
Meanwhile, the team was hard at work buttoning up RADBUL for the Top 16 bracket, which ended up being one of the toughest battles Mike has faced this year.
Here, he would meet his Nitto Tire teammate and former FD champion, Vaughn Gittin Jr.
After a close battle, Vaughn moved on to the Top 8 bracket.
Vaughn has run into a few problems of his own this season and keeps taking himself out in the tandem battles. He didn’t have much luck in qualifying at Evergreen Speedway either, but it put him into an interesting bracket.
In a battle worthy of the finals, Vaughn was matched up with Odi Bakchis. The Mustang driver moved on, which of course didn’t do anything for Odi’s first championship hopes. It goes to show, qualifying high only puts you in a favorable position, but at the end of the day you could get a bad draw and lose it all early on.
Vaughn looked as if he was going to get back on the podium, but his clutch failed in his battle with Fredric Aasbø, so the win was gifted.
Drifters To Keep An Eye On
Geoff Stoneback came out swinging last year and in doing so earned FD’s coveted Rookie of the Year title.
His driving style is just so fun to watch, and he’s definitely not afraid to rub the wall.
He’s also a great character to be around in the paddock. Because life is not meant to be taken so seriously, right?
Geoff runs with the best of them and will be one driver to watch next year.
If I had to name the most understated driver in the series, it would be Kenny Moen.
While other drivers are marketing machines and great in front of the camera, Kenny is a drifter at heart.
His talents shine behind the wheel, but he largely flies under the radar – even though his car is bright yellow.
Of course, it’s easy to blend in when competing in a drift series with an S-chassis. His battle with Daigo Saito was epic to say the least.
Which brings me to Daigo. I know that he is a former champion, but he has fallen off in recent years due to car troubles. And then just when we thought he had sorted things out, he changed platforms completely. However, this past round in Seattle I think he finally got the R35 GT-R dialed in enough for a shot at the podium.
The last driver to watch is a rookie from Latvia.
Kristaps Bluss is a super-aggressive driver behind the wheel of his equally aggressive HGK Motorsport BMW.
The level of the build as well as the commitment from the HGK team really shows. While Kristaps does not have results to show for their efforts just yet, I have a feeling that will soon change.
What other up and coming drivers should you watch out for? How about the Formula Drift Pro2 field?
Some of the most impressive builds and heartfelt stories this year come from Formula Drift’s second tier championship.
I think Pro2 has become what Formula Drift once was back in 2008. In terms of skill level at least, because the car builds are just as crazy as those in the Pro field.
These guys and gals are the future of drifting. As more and more Pro drivers retire, it’s the Pro2 drivers who will take their places.
So next time you go out to a Formula Drift event, try to come a day earlier and check out what the Pro2 field has to offer. I guarantee you wont regret it.
And while you’re at it, judge all the runs in your head and boo the results if the calls don’t go your way. It’s more fun that way!