The 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship and Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship set up camp this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway near Dallas for the Advance Auto Parts Showdown presented by Rain-X. As the final round for the Link ECU PRO2 Championship, and with 12 drivers having a mathematical chance of taking the title, the capacity crowd was guaranteed intense entertainment. It was also the penultimate round of the PRO category, with the top six drivers separated by just 76 points, so there would be a lot of pressure on the top teams to try to break away from the pack.
Just as at the previous round in St Louis, James Deane (Ireland) utterly dominated qualifying in the Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Category. He did the seemingly impossible by scoring 99 points on his first run and a perfect 100 on the second. With the crowd rising to its feet, Deane placed his Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15 on the ideal line to leave his competitors with little chance of beating him.
Deane arrived in Texas one point behind championship leader Fredric Aasbo (Norway) and it seems impossible to imagine people had almost written off the two-time FD Champion at the start of the season. The Irishman got off to an uncharacteristically poor start, crippled by mechanical problems with his new car. His return to form must have his opposition quaking as Deane continues to restore his drifting superpowers at each round.
Earlier in qualification, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S14 scored 97 points on his first run, which must have felt unassailable until Deane beat Odi. Deane’s Worthouse teammate, Piotr Wiecek (Poland), also matched Odi’s score but Bakchis secured second place with a 94-point second run after Wiecek hit the wall and was ruled incomplete on his second run, relegating the Pole to third.
With the usual suspects filling the top places, the biggest surprise was finding the Championship leader, Fredric Aasbo, languishing in 11th place in his Rockstar Energy Drink / Nexen Tire Toyota Corolla. He didn’t drive badly, he just didn’t set the track on fire, scoring 92 points on his first run and 87 on the second.
PRO COMPETITION HEATS
Thanks to his first place in qualifying, James Deane had a bye run to skip the Top 32 round of competition and went straight into the Sweet 16 to meet Matt Field (USA) in the Borla / Falken Tire Chevrolet Corvette. Field was coming off a first round battle with Forrest Wang (USA) in the Achilles Radial / Yellowspeed Racing / NRG Innovations Nissan S15. The heat was extremely tight and the pair ran One More Time at the request of the judges.
Field took that momentum into the following round against Deane and performed an incredible chase run, sticking close to Deane throughout the course. Unfortunately, he touched the tire wall towards the end of his lead run, crashing out. And while Deane was awarded the win, Field’s driving would surely have seen him progress if he hadn’t been slightly offline and suffered car damage.
In the Great 8, Deane – the 2017 and 2018 FD Champion – would meet 2011 FD Champ Daijiro Yoshihara (Japan) in the Turn 14 Distribution / Falken Tire / ENEOS Oil Subaru BRZ. It was another epic contest but Deane executed an almost perfect lead run and was awarded the win after Dai made a small mistake on his lead run.
In the Final 4, the Irishman faced three-time FD Champion Chris Forsberg (USA) driving the NOS Energy Drink / Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires. However, Deane had found his groove and strung together another flawless lead lap and maintained good proximity on the chase run to receive the nod from the judges.
His opponent in the Final would be Chelsea Denofa (USA) in the BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D. Arriving in Texas, DeNofa was 7th in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship and qualified in seventh for this event. His Saturday competition heats bean in the Top 32 rounds against rookie Dylan Hughes (USA). Driving the Dylan Hughes Racing BMW M3, Hughes was able to mimic DeNofa closely enough that the judges called for OMT. Eventually, DeNofa was awarded the win after Hughes dropped back on the chase run, but it was a close contest.
In the Sweet 16, DeNofa started fast on his lead lap, running big angles and deep lines against Kenshiro Gushi (Japan) in the GPP Toyota Racing / Achilles Tire Toyota 86. DeNofa also achieved good proximity on the chase run and took the round win.
Next up was the Great 8 and “Odi” Bakchis, who wasn’t going down without a fight. On his lead run, Bakchis set a fast pace, causing DeNofa to run deep lines to keep up. DeNofa then ran a typically aggressive lead run but Bakchis remained in his pocket. With such epic driving, the judges called for OMT in order to find a clear winner.
When the runs were repeated, DeNofa again had massive drift angles and deep lines throughout the course, causing Bakchis to lose angle in his attempt to catch up. Eventually, it resulted in a collision as Bakchis got into the side of DeNofa’s Mustang, getting airborne as they crossed the finish line. With body panels ripped off both cars, Bakchis took himself out of the competition and DeNofa advanced to meet 2015 FD Champion Fredric Aasbo.
While DeNofa had to make suspension and steering repairs, Aasbo had his own problems after being punted into the tire wall by Wiecek during their Great 8 battle. The impact caused considerable damage to the Rockstar Energy Drink / Nexen Tire Toyota Corolla, which limped to the startline to meet DeNofa bereft of rear bodywork, fenders, front bumper, grille and even headlights, requiring temporary lighting to make the grid.
Despite the damage, Aasbo hung on valiantly in the chase position on the first run, keeping decent proximity until reaching Outside Zone 4 where he straightened up. This added more pressure to Aasbo’s lead run but the Corolla clearly wasn’t working to its full potential and DeNofa did enough to win.
In the Final, Deane would lead the first run with his trademark speed and precision, while DeNofa mimicked his every move. With the positions reversed, DeNofa came out of the gate with his signature aggression, setting incredible drift angles and deep lines. With little to choose between the drivers, the judges called for OMT.
On their second runs, Deane again showed why he’s a two-time FD Champion but DeNofa wasn’t going to be beaten. He remained door-to-door in the chase position and created what Deane described as the thickest smokescreen he’d ever driven through on his lead runs. With DeNofa pushing hard, Deane made an uncharacteristic mistake heading into Outside Zone 4, coming off the throttle and straightening his line. This small mistake was enough to hand the win to DeNofa, giving him a second podium for the season – except this time he’d stand on the top step, something he hadn’t done since FD Long Beach in 2016.
“The crew did an amazing job and the car was perfect every time we ran, even after the small collision we had,” DeNofa told us after the Final. “The car has been fast all weekend and so drivable I could be an absolute lunatic out there. I was driving and thinking this is too much and then the next run would be more than the last one and I’d tell myself to relax a little. But when we had James [Deane] in the Final I knew I’d need to drive as hard as I could.”
After the podium celebrations we spoke to Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw. “If I wasn’t superstitious before, I am now: Friday 13th provided a crazy, chaotic event with lots of carnage, which is unfortunate for the teams but it shows they are prepared to put everything on the line to score points and set themselves up for the season finale. We now know the Irwindale Final will be as intense as ever, with so many great storylines that could emerge – will James [Deane] capture his third Championship title in a row, which has never been done before. Or will Fredric [Aasbo] come back strong? Or will Piotr [Wiecek], Odi [Bakchis] or even Chris [Forsberg] emerge as the winner? Potentially we have five drivers who could win and we can’t wait for Irwindale next month.”
With everything on the line in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship, none of the teams could afford to blink and miss an opportunity to gain an advantage. However, a technical wrench was thrown into the mix when a lighting issue forced an early end to Thursday night’s qualifying session. All the teams were able to complete their first run, but most would return Friday afternoon for a practice session followed by the second qualifying round.
When the smoke cleared, Alec Robbins (USA) found his name at the top of the qualifying sheets thanks to a 92-point run in his Dayton One / Achilles Tire Nissan 350Z. As the winner of the previous round in St Louis, Robbins was bringing momentum and a fourth place in the Championship to give him a genuine shot of winning the title, especially since the current PRO2 points leader, Trenton Beechum (USA), could only manage seventh place in his Roush Performance / Clonex Racing / Nexen Tire Ford Mustang.
Ola Jaeger (Norway) claimed second place driving the Team Japanauto / Nexen Tire Toyota Supra. His best run netted him 90 points, backed up by an 88-point run. That placed him above Garrett Denton (USA) in the Koruworks / Nexen Nissan S14 who scored an identical 90 points but he was ruled incomplete on his second run. Sitting in third place in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship, Denton had out-qualified his nearest rivals and also put himself in a strong position in the title chase.
PRO2 COMPETITION HEATS
With his relatively poor qualifying performance, Beechum needed to dig deep to reach the Final, and he started strong in the first round of competition where he was matched against Jonathan Hurst (USA) in the Dynosty / Mike Lough Racing Engine Infiniti G37. With mistakes from both drivers, Beechum took the win by virtue of a sick lead run that saw him drift along the tire wall, losing his rear bumper in the process, but the cheering crowd appreciated his aggression. In the chase position, Hurst was forced to straighten his line and couldn’t match Beechum’s commitment.
Heading into the Great 8, Beechum’s opponent was second-place qualifier, Ola Jaeger. However, Beechum continued to overwhelm with the pace of his onslaught, which caused Jaeger to make several corrections in the chase position. And with a cleaner chase run, Beechum found himself in the Final 4 against Donovan Brockway (USA) in the Red Baron Racing / Nexen Tire / 418 BMW M2, where both drivers executed clean runs with few mistakes. The judges awarded the win to Beechum who would face rookie Adam “LZ” Lizotte-Ziesler (USA) in the Final.
Driving the Enjuku Racing / Achilles Tire Nissan S15, LZ had qualified fifth and faced Andrew Schulte (USA) in his Classiccars.com / Achilles Tire / Nissan 240SX in the Sweet 16 round. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Schulte’s night, losing contact with LZ in the chase position and then spinning across the finishing line on his lead run.
In the Great 8, LZ was matched against Riley Sexsmith (Canada) driving the NV Auto / Achilles Tire Toyota 86. Both drivers were on top form, executing good lines but the judges awarded the win to LZ, who would meet top qualifier, Alec Robbins, in the Final 4. Again, both drivers performed well but a number of small adjustments by Robbins on his lead run gave the win to LZ.
Sitting in 15th place, Lizotte-Ziesler had no chance of winning the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship, but that certainly wouldn’t deter him from trying to win the Texas round. On their first run, with LZ in the lead position, he initiated strongly, forcing Beechum to chase him hard. However, LZ ran too deep on Inside Clip 1 and shallow on Outside Zone 4, leaving room for improvement.
With Beechum in the lead position, LZ found ridiculous proximity in Outside Zone 1 but both drivers made a mess of Outside Zone 3, with LZ having to adjust his line and Beechum losing his bumper. With mistakes by both drivers the judges called for One More Time, inviting them to repeat their runs becasue it was too difficult to separate them.
At the second time of asking, LZ again set off fast and hit the first turn deep, giving Beechum a hard task of catching him. But LZ made a big mistake, hitting Inside Clip 1 and almost passing the wrong side of it. That gave Beechum an advantage as he took the lead position. Again, LZ’s speed gave him good proximity into the first turn but Beechum produced a clean run, which was enough to secure the round win and the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship title.
“It was a crazy weekend,” Beechum told us after the race. “We qualified 7th but pushed all the way through the heats to the Finals and knew we had to keep sending it right the way through to the OMT battle. We’re super-excited to leave Texas with the round win but, more importantly, the PRO2 Championship and a pathway into the FD PRO Category for next year.”
With Beechum crowned the 2019 PRO2 Champion, Alec Robbins climbed to second as a result of his third place finish in Texas, and Garrett Denton took third in the Championship. All three will now be eligible to step up to the Formula DRIFT PRO Category in 2020.
We spoke to Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw to get his thoughts on the PRO2 season. “We started the year with the biggest field we’ve ever had, which is a great reflection of how the Category has developed and blossomed. It lived up to what it’s meant to be, which is a showcase for up-and-coming drivers who are here to learn the sport and develop themselves in order to graduate into the PRO Category. We’ve seen great competition all year and Texas Speedway is a wonderful venue for the Final. It brought lots of drama and excitement and well done to Trent Beechum for securing the title.”
The 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship comes to a triumphant climax on October 18-19 at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, CA for the AutoZone Title Fight presented by Rain-X. The event sells out quickly, so visit formulad.com for event details, ticket purchases, driver profiles and livestream information.
2019 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP
Top 16 PRO Category drivers from Advance Auto Parts Showdown presented by Rain-X
Top five PRO Championship driver standings after seven rounds
2019 Auto Cup
2019 Tire Cup
Top 16 PRO2 Category places
Final PRO2 Championship driver standings