Coming into the second round of the 2019 Formula DRIFT season in Orlando, FL for the AutoZone Scorched presented by Black Magic, many teams and drivers had a lot to prove. In the Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis had taken the win at the opening round in Long Beach, CA while the top three drivers from 2018 were not able to make the podium. As a result, the capacity crowd were assured fireworks on the banked Orlando course as the top teams tried to get their season back on track.
Orlando would also see the first round of the Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship. The field has a very different look from last season with the top three drivers (Travis Reeder, Dylan Hughes and Sebastien Gauthier) promoted to the Pro category. Additionally, there are 17 rookies joining the series. Not only would they face an uphill challenge, trying to rise to the occasion, but the 40 drivers enrolled in Pro 2 would be competing for 16 places in the competition heats, so nobody could afford to make a mistake.
First to light the touch paper in the Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship was Fredric Aasbo (Norway) driving the Rockstar Energy Drink / Nexen Tire Toyota Corolla. In a carbon copy of his 2018 season where he started slowly but quickly returned to form, the 2015 FD Champion qualified in first position thanks to a pair of perfect runs. Scoring 99 points at the first attempt and 98 on the second, he reminded everybody that he’s a class act.
In second with another 99-point run was Daijiro Yoshihara (Japan) in the Turn 14 Distribution / Falken Tire / ENEOS Oil Subaru BRZ. The 2011 FD Champion remains a fan favorite and backed up his fourth place Long Beach qualifying position with an immaculate run. He “only” scored 92 points on his second run and was putting the other competitors on notice.
Third place went to Piotr Wiecek (Poland) in the Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15. He scored 98 points on both runs and repeated his third qualifying place from Long Beach with staggering consistency on the Orlando track.
Once again, Formula DRIFT fans were treated to a masterclass as the top 19 drivers scored 90 points or more, resulting in an incredibly tight qualification session for the judges to score.
Perhaps the biggest surprise from qualifying was to see the 2017 and 2018 FD Champion James Deane (Ireland) “languishing” in tenth place as his Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15. The mechanical gremlins with his new car that plagued him in Long Beach hadn’t been fully resolved, and while 97 points from his first run ensured he qualified, he was unable to complete his second run. As a result, he was one of six drivers with a 97-point run, placing tenth overall.
PRO COMPETITION HEATS
With Aasbo topping the qualifying order, he lined up for the Top 32 heats against Kevin Lawrence (USA). Competing in perfect weather conditions in front of a sellout crowd, Lawrence was able to keep Aasbo honest by keeping his Enjuku Racing / BC Racing / Achilles Tire / Competition Clutch Nissan S14.3 in close proximity. It was always going to be an uphill challenge to beat the former champion who was in such great form, but some mistakes on Lawrence’s chase run led to a split decision from the judges. In the end, Aasbo was awarded the win by virtue of a better lead lap but it was by no means the dominant performance many had expected.
In the sweet 16, Aasbo would battle Vaughn Gittin Jr (USA) in a repeat of the 2018 Final at Irwindale, CA that twice went to “One More Time.” On that occasion, Gittin Jr took the win but the advantage tipped in favor of the Norwegian in Orlando after Gittin Jr’s Monster Energy / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D suffered a heavy collision in a pre-heat practice run. Causing extensive damage, the 2010 FD Champion’s team worked frantically to fix the Ford and called a Competition Time-out to buy precious extra minutes before competing against Dean Kearney (Ireland) in the Oracle Lighting / Achilles Tire Dodge Viper in the first round. Despite running without front bodywork, Gittin Jr drove hard to take the heat win by virtue of two consistent runs.
By the time Aasbo and Gittin Jr met the Mustang was fully clothed and ready for battle. Both drivers committed to the course with precision and aggression, leaving very little between them and resulting in the judges calling for “One More Time,” where the drivers repeat the runs.
At the second attempt, the Mustang maintained incredible proximity to the Corolla on the first run but Aasbo made a small mistake on chase run, allowing Gittin Jr to proceed to the Great 8 where he beat Forrest Wang (USA) in the Achilles Radial / Yellowspeed Racing / NRG Innovations Nissan S15. Both drivers took good lines on their lead laps but Gittin Jr took the win by virtue of a more aggressive chase run.
His good fortune would end in the Final 4 where the Mustang driver faced Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S14. Bakchis had reached the semi-final by first beating Austin Meeks (USA) in the Verocious Motorsports / Committed Service Brand / Nexen Tire Cadillac ATS-V in the Top 32. Bakchis then dispatched Kenshiro Gushi (Japan) driving the GPP Toyota Racing / Achilles Tire Toyota 86 in the Sweet 16 after Gushi was ruled incomplete on his chase run.
In the Great 8 heat, Bakchis faced his Falken teammate, Justin “JTP” Pawlak (USA) in the Roush Performance / Falken Tire Ford Mustang. Both drivers are on top form and sent it hard but Bakchis won after a split decision from the judges based on his extreme proximity on his chase run. Bakchis then battled Gittin Jr’s Mustang in what would be a battle royale in the Final 4.
Despite Bakchis feeling unwell, Gittin Jr had no sympathy for his rival and forced the judges to request OMT on two occasions as they were unable to separate the combatants. Both drivers were running deep in the turns, hitting all the clipping points on their lead runs and getting great proximity on the chase runs. In the end, Bakchis got the nod after a small mistake by Gittin Jr but it was an enthralling battle that had the crowd on its feet.
All that remained was the Final, where Bakchis would meet the most successful driver in Formula DRIFT history. With three championships under his belt and more event wins than anybody else, Chris Forsberg (USA) can never be discounted.
Forsberg’s road to the Final began when he pulled his NOS Energy Drink / Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires alongside Dirk Stratton (USA) in the Top 32. On the first run, Stratton would be forced to straighten his Lingenfelter Fortune Auto / Achilles Tire / Stratton Chevrolet Corvette C6 while in the chase position. Stratton then suffered a mechanical problem as he came off the line on his lead run.
In the Sweet 16, Forsberg was drawn against James Deane. With five Formula DRIFT Championships between them, the crowd anticipated fireworks but Deane was again experiencing car problems and was forced to change the pump on his electric power steering system before the confrontation.
On their first run, with Forsberg in the lead position, Deane was very close to the 370Z’s rear bumper and caused a collision as Forsberg initiated for the first turn. Removing Forsberg’s bumper, Deane was knocked off-line and would struggle to regain the lost ground. Deane was adjudged to be at fault because the lead driver must be allowed to initiate.
With Forsberg’s bumper flapping, both drivers headed to the pits for repairs. On their return, Forsberg didn’t have great proximity on his chase run but knew he’d win provided he completed the run.
In the Great 8, Forsberg faced yet another FD Champion in the shape of Dai Yoshihara. The two drivers have been part of Formula DRIFT since day one and both possess an effortless precision behind the wheel. On the first run, Forsberg was unable to maintain proximity to Yoshihara’s lead car, yet he was awarded a split-decision win after Dai was judged to have been too conservative in the chase position.
In the Final 4, Forsberg met Chelsea Denofa (USA) in the BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D. On the first run, Forsberg didn’t have great proximity in the chase position but it wouldn’t matter because Denofa would touch the Nissan’s rear-end on the second run, pushing Denofa offline and pulling him into the outside wall.
With Bakchis reaching the final, Denofa would take third place thanks to his superior qualifying position, dropping teammate Gittin Jr into fourth place.
In the Final, Forsberg seemed hesitant off the line and didn’t get great proximity to Odi but again, it wouldn’t matter because Forsberg would retire from the second run after a rear tire was “de-beaded.” This gifted Odi his second win of the season and solidified his position at the top of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship.
Speaking to us after the podium, Forsberg was clearly mystified: “Formula DRIFT Orlando has been great to us – we’ve actually podiumed every year we’ve been here – but it wasn’t the Final we wanted. This is the first time I’ve ever de-beaded a tire in competition but we didn’t push it any harder than normal; perhaps it just had a little more angle… Aside from that, I’m super-happy with the performance of the car. It ran well all weekend and we’ve proven the reliability of our new powerplant with back-to-back podium finishes.”
It was a relieved Odi Bakchis who spoke to us after the race. “Overall Orlando went very well. It’s an amazing feeling to win again. I’ve had a cold so the heat presented a bit of a problem, and I knew it was going to be a hard battle against Vaughn (Gittin Jr). It’s been a long time since I’ve had two OMTs but he really made me work for it. I’m stoked to take the win and move into round three with this momentum.”
As the smoke cleared we also spoke to Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw. ““As predicted, this is an ultra-competitive season because the driving is more consistent and more intense than ever before. But what a treat for this round has been for the fans! And with all the on-track action, the heroes of round two must be the crews. The guys at Ryan Tuerck Racing built a new car in less than three week to qualify 15th and finish 16th, while the RTR Motorsportsteam put Vaughn’s car back together after his bad wreck prior to the start of competition. Even Trenton Beechum’s crew was putting the car together a couple of days before he took the Pro 2 win. It really shows the dedication of everybody involved in this great sport, from the drivers and crews to the loyal fans who filled the sold-out venue. We’re all looking forward to another great event in Atlanta in two weeks.”
PRO 2 QUALIFYING
With the top three drivers from 2018 moving up to the Pro Category, the field was wide open for those who remained to stamp their mark on the first round of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship. First out of the blocks was Trenton Beechum (USA) in the Roush Performance / Clonex Racing / Nexen Tire Ford Mustang. He scored 92 points on his first qualifying run – staying on the throttle and on the perfect line throughout the run, prompting an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. Beechum backed it up with an 84-point second run and earned himself the extra championship points as top qualifier.
Interestingly, his score was matched by Rob Carlsen (USA) driving the Nexen Tire / Millennium Motorsports Nissan S14 but the judges awarded the decision to Beechum based on superior style points.
Third place was occupied by Garrett Denton (USA) in the Koruworks / Nexen Nissan S14 courtesy of a 91-point run. He was judged incomplete after failing to initiate on his first run but did enough to claim the position.
Top rookie was Branden Sorensen in the Driftline.com / Achilles Tire E46 BMW who scored 90 points on his first run and backed it up with 88 points to qualify fourth.
Despite a larger field in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship and almost 30% of the drivers being rookies, the qualifying session went remarkably smoothly. Relatively few cars were damaged or broken and all drivers acquitted themselves well. However, only the top 16 would move on to the competition heats, which took place the following day on Friday afternoon.
PRO 2 COMPETITION HEATS
With a full grid, the competition was fierce from the start. First up in the Sweet 16 was Beechum, who was pitted against rookie Aaron J Muss (USA) driving the YipTV / Achilles Tire E46 BMW. Despite a good effort by Muss, Beechum proceeded to the Great 8 to meet Dustin Miles (USA) in the Dustin Miles Garage / Moon Power / Rays / Achillies Tire Nissan 240SX S13. Continuing to drive with skill and precision, Beechum progressed to the Final 4 where he beat Jonathan Hurst (USA) in the Dynosty / Mike Lough Racing Engine Infiniti G37.
In the Final, Beechum would be matched against rookie Jorn “Rome” Charpentier (USA) in the Imaginegarage / Feal Suspension / Achilles Tire BMW M3. Charpentier’s route to the final saw him qualify in tenth position and face Josh Robinson (Australia). Despite his rookie status, Charpentier made quick work of Robinson, as well as Troy Manners (USA) in the PRL Motorsports / Nexen Tire Nissan 240SX S14.5 in the Great 8. His next victim was Geoff Donati (USA) in the Tuner Tools / Achilles Tire Nissan S14.
In the Final, Beechum had a strong lead run while Charpentier struggled to initiate on the banking. However, he closed the gap and had good proximity during the remainder of the run. On his lead run, the BMW driver put himself back in contention as Beechum was smooth but didn’t drift as deep.
In the end, the judges gave the decision to Beechum by virtue of a better chase run in view of the small mistakes made by Charpentier. They were joined on the podium by third placed Jonathan Hurst.
“My car was in pieces a few weeks before this event as we scrambled to get the new angle kit we designed working properly,” Beechum explained after the podium celebrations. “It actually wasn’t working properly when we got here but we dialed it in on the track and things worked out well. We had to send it hard in the heats because the highline on the banking is the sweet spot and we pulled it off in every battle, giving the judges what they were looking for. I want to thank my team for the hard work getting us here but we’re looking forward to the next round to see if we can maintain this momentum.”
The 2019 Formula DRIFT series continues on May 9-11 in Atlanta, GA for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Road to the Championship presented by Permatex. It will include the third round of the Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship and the second round of the Formula DRIFT Link ECU Pro 2 Championship. Visit formulad.com for event details, ticket purchases, driver profiles and livestream information.
2019 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP
Top 16 Pro Category places from AutoZone Scorched presented by Black Magic
Top five Pro Category driver standings after two rounds
2019 Auto Cup
2019 Tire Cup
Top 16 Pro 2 Category places
Top five Pro 2 Category driver standings after one round