As the 2019 Formula DRIFT season marches on, the teams arrived at Road Atlanta this weekend for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Road to the Championship presented by Permatex. It would see Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis defend his early lead in the Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship after wins in the first two rounds. Trenton Beechum would also attempt to defend his lead in the Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship. However, both would be disappointed as new faces climbed on the top step of the podium.
For the Pro Category, rain showers brought an additional challenge to the competition heats but the capacity crowd witnessed exceptional skill as the drivers went wheel-to-wheel on the challenging Road Atlanta course.
Just as at the previous round in Orlando, FL, Fredric Aasbo (Norway) came out with guns blazing in his Rockstar Energy Drink / Nexen Tire Toyota Corolla. He scored the highest points of any driver on both his first and second runs, awarded 97 and 99 points, respectively. His precision and aggression was too much for the other drivers, although Chelsea Denofa (USA) came close in his BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D. He would score 98 points on his first run to keep him ahead of Ryan Tuerck (USA) driving the Ryan Tuerck Racing / Gumout / Nitto Tire Toyota 86, who scored 97.
Once again, it was an intense qualifying session for the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship with half the field of 34 drivers scoring more than 91 points. This included championship leader, “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S14, who qualified in fifth position.
Qualifying in 31st place was rookie Travis Reeder (USA). The 2018 Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Champion has been working on an electric-powered Chevy Camaro and FD Atlanta saw him qualify the Napoleon Motorsports / Turn Key / Nitto Tire Chevrolet Camaro EL1 for the first time. This is landmark moment because it’s the first EV to qualify for a Formula DRIFT event – will this be the first of many more to come in the future?
PRO COMPETITION HEATS
Aasbo’s path to the final started against Kevin Lawrence (USA) in the Enjuku Racing / BC Racing / Achilles Tire / Competition Clutch Nissan S14.3, but the 2015 FD Champion was too much for his opponent. The Norwegian would advance to the Sweet 16 to face an on-form Matt Field (USA) in his Borla / Falken Tire Chevrolet Corvette. Field would spin in the wet conditions after initiating into the first turn while trying to stay with Aasbo on his chase run. With Aasbo driving conservatively on the second run, he completed the course and did enough to send Field home early.
In the Great 8, the Aasbo would face the only three-time Champion in the series history: Chris Forsberg (USA) scored a second place finish in Orlando and was second in the championship coming into Atlanta. Driving the NOS Energy Drink / Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires, both drivers acquitted themselves well but the decision went in Aasbo’s favor thanks to his commitment to the clipping zones on his lead run.
On a slowly drying track, fans were relishing the Final 4 matchup between Aasbo and double FD Champion, James Deane (Ireland) in the Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15. The Irishman has experienced a torrid season to date, with atypical mechanical problems putting him outside the top 10 coming into Atlanta. And things didn’t look to be improving as Deane left the grid after his sighting lap to replace a front tire, using his Competition Time-out.
On the first run with Aasbo in the lead position, Deane was creating crazy drift angles as he pushed to maintain proximity. On the second run, Aasbo was slow to initiate but tucked himself into Deane’s door for the remainder of the run with seemingly impossible proximity in the conditions. In a split decision, Aasbo was awarded the win by virtue of his chase run.
His opponent in The Final would be Ryan Tuerck, whose third place qualification matched him against Joao Barion (Brazil) in the Top 32 heats. Driving the Barbarius / Achilles Tire Chevrolet Corvette C7 Z06, the Brazilian rookie had the benefit of a dry track at this point at the event. However, he would over-shoot the first turn and struggle to catch up for the remainder of the run. The rain would arrive for the second run, so both drivers were allowed a sighting run to check the conditions. With Tuerck driving consistently on his chase run, he took the win and moved onto the Sweet 16 to meet Dean Kearney (Ireland) in the Oracle Lighting / Achilles Tire Dodge Viper.
On their first run, with Kearney in the chase position, he lost ground in the first turn but was able to catch up in the second zone. As the positions changed and Kearney took the lead, he ran good lines as Tuerck initiated well but gradually lost proximity through the second zone. The judges gave the win to Tuerck on a split decision primarily based on the Irishman’s error on the first run.
In the Great 8, Tuerck needed to defeat Piotr Wiecek (Poland) in the Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15. The Pole is always a serious threat and both drivers committed to the track as if it were dry, dealing well with the wet conditions. The battle was intense but the judges unanimously awarded Tuerck the win after Wiecek made a small mistake on his lead run while Tuerck maintained incredible proximity in the chase position.
Tuerck’s opponent in the Final 4 would be 2013 FD champion Michael Essa (USA) in the Essa Autosport / Achilles Tire BMW M3, who is enjoying a solid start to his season. He sits ninth in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship, one place behind Tuerck. Unfortunately, Essa made a small mistake initiating into the first turn in the chase position, but would redeem himself with great proximity through the middle of the run. Both drivers showed plenty of aggression on the second run, with the win going to Tuerck as a result of Essa’s early mistake.
As Tuerck lined up against Aasbo in The Final, it’s worth remembering his Ryan Tuerck Racing / Gumout / Nitto Tire Toyota 86 was destroyed at the previous round. The car he’s using is actually Ryan’s former street car, which was equipped with the salvaged race parts and now had a chance of victory.
For the first run, Aasbo took the lead position and Tuerck was on his door at the initiation. He’d drop back slightly at the transition but quickly close in again. Tuerck would run wide at the end of the run but it was after crossing the finish line, so wouldn’t be a factor in the judging.
From the lead position, Tuerck pulled away on the first inside clip, forcing Aasbo to catch him. Aasbo then maintained good proximity through the remainder of the run and was awarded the win on a split judge’s decision. James Deane finished third.
With the win moving him into second position in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship, we spoke to Aasbo before the podium. He first gave credit to his opponent: “Ryan’s been on fire all weekend and what a comeback for him after crashing the car and rebuilding it in one week. I was pretty sure he’d be number one because he drove like a bat out of hell. But I have to thank my team as well. Steph (Papadakis) and the boys have built a lightning-quick car, and in conditions like this it’s all about grip, so thanks to Nexen for making this one happen… It feels really good to win again and we’re looking forward to the next round in New Jersey to see if we can repeat it.”
As always, we gave the final word to Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw. “We know that challenging circumstances can bring out the best in people and the constantly changing weather gave everyone – FD staff, fans, teams and sponsors – a great deal of anxiety. A wet event can sometimes suck the energy from an event, but that didn’t happen at this great venue thanks to the amazing fans. The fans encouraged the teams to bring extra intensity, making this one of the most exciting competitions I’ve witnessed. Tonight showed us the perseverance of the teams, the passion of the fans and an awesome showcase of car control by ridiculously skillful drivers. We can’t wait to return to Atlanta next year, whether it’s dry or wet!”
PRO 2 QUALIFYING
It was new faces rising to the top of qualifying at the second round of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship. With 39 drivers competing for only 16 places in the competition heats, the battle would be intense. Finishing in first place was rookie Kenric Meyer (USA) in the Verocious Motorsports / BC Racing / Achilles Tire BMW E36 M3. He qualified 27th at the opening round in Orlando, which wasn’t good enough to secure a spot in the Top 16 heats. However, he turned it around in Atlanta with the best qualifying run of the day, receiving 89 points out of a possible 100 from the judges.
Similarly, second place qualifier Alec Robbins (USA) in the Dayton One / Achilles Tire Nissan 350Z, and third place Riley Sexsmith (Canada) driving the NV Auto / Achilles Tire Toyota 86 had also failed to qualify for Orlando. All three drivers were ecstatic to reverse their fortunes and give themselves the best opportunity to succeed at FD Atlanta.
PRO 2 COMPETITION HEATS
Kenric Meyer’s top qualifying position should have given him an advantage in the Top 16 competition heats because he would be matched against the 16th place qualifier. However, Trenton Beechum in the Roush Performance / Clonex Racing / Nexen Tire Ford Mustang was leading the Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship after winning the opening round. As they lined up together for the first heat it promised to be a fascintating match up, but Beechum was experiencing car problems and called a Competition Time-out to make repairs. Unfortunately, he was unable to continue and gifted the round win to Meyer.
In the Great 8, Meyer would face Andy Hateley in the Hateley Motorsports E30 BMW. Neither driver shone on their chase runs, so the judges awarded the win to Meyer on the strength of his lead run.
In the Final 4, Meyer met Garrett Denton (USA) in the Koruworks / Nexen Nissan S14 but both drivers were experiencing car troubles. Meyer had to call a five-minute Competition Time-out to resolve an overheating problem after the engine failed to start. Denton also had issues but didn’t have another Time-out to call, so was forced to retire, handing another win to Meyer.
The Final would see Meyer face rookie Josh Robinson (Australia) in the Duralast / Nexen Tire Holden Ute. Robinson’s route to the final was less assured because he qualified 15th after some car problems. It meant he faced second-place qualifier Alex Robbins in what would become an epic battle. Both drivers were so evenly matched the judges called for “One More Time,” requiring the drivers to repeat both runs. They would run OMT a second time, giving the judges a total of six runs to choose from, finally giving the result to Robinson.
Robinson advanced to the Great 8 to meet Ola Jaeger (Norway) driving the Team Japanauto / Nexen Tire Toyota Supra. On his lead run, Jaeger has an unusual initiation into the first turn while Robinson maintained good proximity throughout the run. On Robinson’s lead run, Jaeger was unable to keep pace and would fail to continue as a result.
In the Final 4, Robinson was matched against rookie Branden Sorenson (USA) driving the Driftline.com / Achilles Tire E46 BMW. Both drivers performed well but Robinson would receive the win by virtue of deeper lines through the turns.
The Final for the FD Atlanta round of the Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship would be a messy affair. Meyer came into it with car problems from the previous round. Before the first run, Meyer didn’t even warm his tires, not wanting to risk the car more than necessary. As they pulled away, with Meyer in the lead position, he slowed entering the third turn, forcing both drivers to straighten and Robinson’s Ute swung its tail into the rear of Meyer’s BMW. The incident would cause the Australian to de-bead a tire, so he was allowed to change it before the second run. Meyer was also invited to change tires to ensure both cars had the same level of grip. During the change, Meyer’s technical difficulties continued and without another Time-out, he was forced to retire from the heat, handing the win to Robinson.
“It’s really excited to see that something as obscure as a 600 lb overweight Holden Ute with a wheelbase three feet too long can still make it to the top step,” Robinson laughed as he talked to us after the podium ceremony. “It shows that if you have a steady hand and a good crew behind you, good things can happen!”
The 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship continues on June 7-8 in Wall, NJ for the Advance Auto Parts Gauntlet presented by Black Magic. Visit formulad.com for event details, ticket purchases, driver profiles and livestream information.
2019 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP
Top 16 Pro Category places from the O’Reilly Auto Parts Road to the Championship presented by Permatex
Top five Pro Championship driver standings after three rounds
2019 Auto Cup
2019 Tire Cup
Top 16 Pro 2 Category places from FD Atlanta
Top five Pro 2 Championship driver standings after two rounds