10. The MVP of the Weekend – The Weather
The biggest game changer of the weekend in Long Beach was the rain. I was on site this weekend and when the rain started it was unbelievable how much oil and junk came up from the parking lot. Keep in mind, turn 9 through 10B are basically parking spaces used by the convention center and aquarium on a daily basis. The large issue at hand wasn’t just the rain but the oils and things it took up from the ground. If I would have known people would claim that Formula Drift cannot be done in the rain – I would have taken pictures of this gross water. Let’s keep in mind that it also doesn’t frequently rain in Southern California so the amount of junk coming up from the pavement was huge in scale. The ground was so inconsistent that huge zero traction patches were found across the course where the driver would basically become a passenger as several described it to me in the car. I am one of the first people to criticize Formula Drift when I think they do the wrong thing and everything this weekend was handled perfectly. The drivers wanted a set qualifying and nobody spoke up against it from what I saw and heard in the drivers meeting. With just 32 teams it just happened to work out and lead to the best Top 16 in Formula Drift history.
9. Kyle Mohan Debuts Most Exciting New Car with his Mazda MX-5
It was pretty clear to me that Kyle Mohan debuted the most exciting new car of the 2016 season. The pre-season buzz when I released his Mazda MX-5 to the public was huge. The car didn’t quite looked dialed in and was very snappy over the race weekend. Long Beach is very different from the other seven courses coming up so I am trying not to read too much into his performance. For him to be a contender in 2016, the car seems like it needs some work. Also, while he is working on the car I think he should invest in some wide body front fenders.
8. Cameron Moore Was Best Rookie on the Weekend
The rookie class of 2016 is sitting in a five way tie for Rookie of the Year right now since they all lost in Top 32 and no qualifying points were issued for the weekend. Cameron Moore looked most likely to win his Top 32 battle against Chris Forsberg. He did a really impressive follow run and spun on his lead run that most likely would’ve earned him at least an OMT if he kept pedaling around the course. Cameron Moore impressed me with his ability to handle the wet conditions better than most people in the paddock. I know he hails from the Pacific Northwest so he might not even know what the sun looks like yet. He looked comfortable and uninitiated being in the main event so I will keep my eye on him over the next couple rounds of Formula Drift.
7. This new Nexen Tire is clearly a serious contender
When a new tire arrives in the sport you have to wonder where it will fall on the performance scale. The new Nexen Tire looks like a serious player in Formula Drift. The debut event for the tire saw it take home two podium spots and was one battle away from winning its first ever competition. You cannot ask much else from a debut into Formula Drift. The performance of this tire excited me more than most because I made a pre-season prediction that Ken Gushi would win the championship this year. I have predicted the champion correctly the last two seasons so I am hoping to keep the streak alive.
6. Biggest Disappointment of Weekend was Geoff Stoneback Debut with CFR
The disappointment of this debut might be based on the high expectation I had when the announcement came out at SEMA. I basically slotted in Geoff Stoneback for the championship inside the Top 10 and was wondering who would be eliminated back then so he could take his place. Geoff just didn’t look great in the car at all regardless of the rain or dry weather conditions. Then right before his Top 32 battle the car broke and he was forced into Competition Timeout.
5. Fredric Aasbo Keeps Blowing Motors and It Doesn’t Matter Yet
Logic would tell me that Fredric Aasbo and team would have developed a way to not blow up these four cylinder engines during the off-season. Well, Aasbo had an engine issue at some point over the Long Beach weekend and they swapped another motor. At least Papadakis Racing is fast at the process! I guess you cannot do much when your tC has the highest horsepower 2AR-FE engine in the world sitting around 1,000hp. The poor engines were born as a commuter motor at 2,494 cc engine pushing out 180hp to the flywheel. This dangerous game the team plays makes me think Aasbo cannot do a repeat championship. You have to think at some point during the season that the engine issue will happen at an inconvenient time, such as during a tandem battle.
4. Chelsea DeNofa Winning Was Not a Shock
I wasn’t shocked when Chelsea DeNofa won this event at all. I have said before (even in my past Top 10 Things Posts) that he is a top five driver. Sadly, his BMW manages to be top five only in things that I think will break during a Formula Drift weekend. I have felt like his BMW was the anchor to his career. If he could just keep that BMW together for a full race weekend we would see his true potential shine. Well, the stars aligned and that happened this weekend in Long Beach. I think he has made crew improvements and really just set himself up for success this year. The big test for DeNofa will be can he replicate this success and reliability at Road Atlanta and really make a statement that he is ready to win his first championship.
3. My Dream Version of Formula Drift Involves Never Sitting Through A Qualifying Session Again
Qualifying is crap. Yep, I said it and I will stand by it until the day I die. One of my big issues with qualifying is only about eight drivers actually throw down show stopping or note worthy qualifying runs. If the series had 32 Forrest Wang’s in the paddock I might take back what I say about the qualifying process but until then I give it the thumbs down. This was the best event in Formula Drift history this past weekend and you have to wonder how much no qualifying had to do with that.
A big issue I take with qualifying is by looking at a website such as Driftstats.com, you can see the same drivers tend to do battle with each other and some veteran drivers have had one battle together if any over the years. The qualifying process just doesn’t seem to shake up the pairings nearly enough over time. The best thing I can say about fixed qualifying was we saw some great battles across the board. The event didn’t really have many sleeper tandem battles or at least a lower percentage than your average event.
I don’t claim to have the perfect solution to eliminate qualifying but bringing the field down to 32 drivers and then doing a lottery to randomly pick numbers and place drivers sounds great to me. You would then look at it as a Top 32 which would break into a Top 16 losers bracket and a Top 16 winners bracket that would run to the end. More tandem battles and more main event time for all drivers involved. Just a thought I have had in the last few seasons. Clearly, if we learned one thing, we got to see a unique perspective of what an event looks like without qualifying sessions and I loved every minute of it.
2. Fans Proved to be More Hardcore and Dedicated Than I Thought
The rain sucked this weekend and I think I covered why in item #10 already in this post. However, knowing Southern California the past 12 years, I am shocked how many people still attended the event with rain falling from the sky. Friday filled almost four grandstands in what I would guess was an attendance number of 3,000 to 4,000 people. This was in the pouring rain and it almost never rains in Southern California. When it does rain, traffic is normally at epidemic levels and results in most people going no where if they don’t have to. I know this is hard to understand for people coming from other places but rain just really makes the highway system here collapse. Saturday, with more bad weather predicted from the iPhone weather app, the event still saw easily 20,000+ people show up and cheer their favorite drifter on. I think one grandstand way past the finish line managed to stay somewhat empty over the day. It was an impressive show from the fans and it really showed me people look forward to a Formula Drift weekend in person.
1. The Small Driver Count Doesn’t Show Weakness from Formula Drift but Strength
I find it a simple equation of quantity or quality in the reduction of drivers in the Pro ranks of Formula Drift. Over the past years, we can all admit we had drivers in way out of their depth when Formula Drift allowed a field of 60+ drivers. The new and complex licensing system forces a driver to show commitment and some level of performance capabilities to arrive in the Pro ranks.
Another big benefit of a smaller Pro drift grid is sponsor dollars not being so split and given to less people. The last thing a company needs when dipping its toe into the sport is to partner with a driver who cannot mange to qualify for Top 32 at all eight rounds. If we are moving into a direction where Formula Drift fields 32 drivers only I think that is a sign of maturity and understanding that not everyone deserves to carry the title of professional drifter.