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As Formula DRIFT returned to Texas Motor Speedway for Rounds Five and Six of the 2020 PRO Championship and Round Three of the Link ECU PRO2 Championship, the series introduced a revised track layout. This created a fluid, high-speed course that gave the teams a fresh challenge. It would test the drivers’ skill as they tried to fill each drift zone and saw a number of collisions throughout the weekend as drivers either charged to regain proximity or got lost in the smoke trail. It also brought an extra level of unpredictability, which produced exciting competition and allowed some new names to rise through the ranks.

The third round of the 2020 Link ECU PRO2 Championship, taking place at Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth, TX, saw a third driver climb to the top step of the podium. Thanks to a second-place finish at the opening round in St Louis, Jonathan Hurst (USA) would also take the Championship lead ahead of the Final Round on November 20-22 at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, CA. And with the top six drivers separated by only 68 points, the Championship title remains wide open after an exciting Round Three.

With 22 drivers fully prepared for FD TX, the Link ECU PRO2 Championship would continue to run a Top 32 competition. This meant ten drivers received a bye round, including Hurst, who progressed to the Top 16 where he faced Joe Lin (USA) in the Driven Specifications BMW E46. On the first run, Lin made a couple of small mistakes and struggled for proximity in the chase position against Hurst’s Cash Racing / Achilles Radial Infiniti G37. Conversely, Hurst executed an almost flawless chase run, eliminating Lin.

In the Top 8, his opponent would be Micah Diaz (USA) driving the Hold Fast / Proper Fabworks BMW E46. Just like Lin, Diaz has less power than Hurst and lost proximity on his chase run. This gave the advantage to Hurst on the second run, where he parked his Infiniti alongside the BMW and shadowed him throughout the run.

Moving into the Top 4, it was the turn of Derek Madison (USA) to match Hurst with his Inertia Garage Nissan S14.5. With a 300hp deficit to Hurst’s Infiniti, it was more of the same on the first run with Madison trying to catch up through the run. His fate was sealed when Madison had to call a Competition Timeout before the second run and failed to return. However, he would repair the car and subsequently win the third-place run-off against Mike Power (USA) in the Power Racing / MA Motorsports Nissan Silvia S15 to claim the bottom step of the podium.

Meanwhile, Hurst progressed to the Final, where he met Blake Olsen (USA) driving the Koruworks / Achilles Radial BMW E92. Again, the 1000hp Infiniti gave Hurst the advantage, which he exploited in the lead position, forcing Olsen to charge hard. In his efforts to keep pace, Olsen made a big mistake after initiating and then ran of the track in Inside Clip 1.

With a lot to do on the second run, Olsen almost span in Outside Zone 2. By setting an “unchasable run,” Olsen was ruled “incomplete” and Hurst took the win, boosting him to the top of the 2020 Link ECU PRO2 Championship as the teams prepare for the Final at Irwindale. And with six drivers able to take the title, we’re guaranteed fireworks at the House of Drift.

“We had a great event to get first place,” Hurst told us from the podium. “We knew we had a faster car but I had to dial it back a bit to avoid running off the track, but charge hard to assert dominance rather than leave it in the hands of the judges. I want to thank all my sponsors, team, family, friends and fans – they mean everything to me and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for everybody. I’m looking forward to returning to Irwindale and hopefully winning the Championship!”

Coming into FD TX, the top five drivers in the 2020 Formula DRIFT PRO Championship were separated by only 44 points. This meant nobody could afford to blink without the fear of their competitors marching ahead. And with 27 drivers lining up for the Top 32 competition heats, the organizers were expecting five bye runs. However, that number increased to six when Justin Pawlak (USA) threw a connecting rod in his Roush Performance / Falken Tire Ford Mustang during morning practice, and a failed scramble to replace the engine meant he wouldn’t be seen until Round Six the following day.

Rounds Three and Four in Seattle had seen a Ford Mustang stampede, with Vaughn Gittin Jr (USA) claiming both wins in his Monster Energy / Nitto Tire / Ford Performance Mustang RTR Spec 5-D. Teammate Chelsea DeNofa (USA) scored a fourth place in his BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR, and Pawlak claimed second in Round Four. With all three clamped into the top five of the PRO Championship, the pressure was on to maintain the momentum. But with Pawlak out and DeNofa finishing ninth, it was Gittin Jr who upheld Mustang honors with a third place finish, helped in part by a gear selector problem that saw Jeff Jones (USA) start the second run in their third-place run-off in third gear driving his Doc / GT Radial Nissan 370Z.

Second place went to Chris Forsberg (USA) driving the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires, while Ryan Tuerck (USA) took the round win in the Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil 1 Toyota Corolla. Claiming his first win of the season, Tuerck has been the most consistent performer in 2020, boasting a second place and two thirds leading up to FD TX.

Tuerck approached the round relatively conservatively. Practice confirmed the high-speed nature of the track would take no prisoners. “It was a battle of mistakes…,” he’d say from the podium. “I knew the driver with the least would win!”

His race to the silverware began in the Top 32 heats against Kyle Mohan (USA) in the American Ethanol / Renewable Lubricants / Mazdatrix Mazda RX-8. This was Mohan’s first appearance in 2020 in a refreshed car. Unfortunately, he span after surging to catch Tuerck in Outside Zone 3 in the chase position, which was enough to propel the Corolla driver into the Top 16 to meet 2011 FD Champion Dai Yoshihara (Japan).

Facing the Turn 14 Distribution / Falken Tire / ENEOS Oil Subaru BRZ, Tuerck ran a good lead run but made a mistake in the chase position. The judges decided both drivers were imperfect and called for “One More Time” where the drivers repeat the two runs.

At the second time of asking, the two cars make contact before Inside Clip 1 with Tuerck in the lead position. The Japanese driver was very close after initiation and prevented Tuerck’s transition. On his lead run, Yoshihara charged hard while Tuerck took a more conservative approach and did enough to proceed to the Top 8 to face Taylor Hull (USA).

Driving the Comp Cams / Achilles Radial / YellowSpeed Racing Cadillac ATS-V, Hull has made huge strides in 2020 and arrived at FD TX sitting 13th in the PRO Championship, having finished 2019 in 24th. In their battle, Hull went shallow in Outside Zone 3 to gain proximity on his chase run, while Tuerck did a better job mimicking Hull with the positions reversed and took the win on a split decision.

In the Final 4, Tuerck eliminated Jeff Jones (USA) in the Doc / GT Radial Nissan 370Z by virtue of superior proximity on his chase run. That moved him to the Final to face three-time FD Champion Forsberg. On the first run, Forsberg lifted at Inside Clip 1, forcing Tuerck to take avoiding action. In the lead position, Tuerck drifted fast and deep, giving him the win.

“It was a phenomenal day but not without its struggles,” Tuerck said after the podium ceremony. “It was a tough event and the track made it really hard to keep proximity in the chase position. I wasn’t looking forward to tandem competition but somehow we pulled it off and I need to thank my team and sponsors. I was happy to get a win today and we get to do the same tomorrow, so let’s see if we can make it two-in-a-row!”

With teams working into the night to repair and prepare cars for Round Six, the competition began on Sunday morning with what appeared to be even greater intensity. By the afternoon we’d have a new round winner, a new points leader, debris littering the infield and fans with fingernails chewed down to the quick.

Among the surprises thrown up by what was becoming a full contact Round Six was the elimination of both the leading Toyotas from the Top 8. Fredric Aasbo (Norway) fell first. Driving the Rockstar Energy Drink / Nitto Tire GR Supra, he faced Chelsea DeNofa (USA) in the BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR. On his lead run, the 2015 FD Champion uncharacteristically ran wide in Outer Zone 3, dropping his rear wheels off the asphalt and into the dirt. Glued to his door, DeNofa followed suit and collided with the Norwegian’s Supra. With Aasbo deemed to be at fault, DeNofa only needed a clean lead run to advance to the Top 4, where he met teammate Vaughn Gittin Jr (USA) in the Monster Energy / Nitto Tire / Ford Performance Mustang RTR Spec 5-D.

It was a predictably determined but unusually scrappy heat between the two Mustang drivers, with DeNofa spinning out and allowing Gittin Jr to proceed to the Final. DeNofa would eventually take the third step of the podium after defeating Adam LZ (USA) in the third-place run-off. The FD PRO Rookie staged a courageous fight, forcing OMT but LZ’s Enjuku Racing Nissan S15 would collide with DeNofa on the final run, forcing him off-line. Ruled incomplete, LZ was awarded fourth place – his best result to date in an extraordinary season for the newcomer.

Championship points leader Ryan Tuerck was knocked out of the Top 8 when he was paired with LZ. In the chase position, Tuerck appeared to take the wrong line through Inner Clip 1 in his Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil 1 Toyota Corolla. This placed him off-line and saw him run off the course in Outer Zone 3. With significant damage to the Corolla, Tuerck called a Competition Timeout but the team was unable to complete the repairs in time. Despite the setback, Tuerck would finish the day second in the points race heading into the Final Round at Irwindale Speedway.

The winner of Round Six was Chris Forsberg (USA). The three-time FD Champion (2009, 2014, 2016) is the most successful driver in the series and one of only four drivers who have been with the series since its founding in 2004 (as well as Gittin Jr, Yoshihara and Gushi) and yet somehow this was his first win since FD Orlando in 2018.

His adventure began in the Top 32 against Kyle Mohan driving the American Ethanol / Renewable Lubricants / Mazdatrix Mazda RX-8. This was a relatively easy round for Forsberg after Mohan had to straighten his drift on the chase run, giving the driver of the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires a straightforward second run.

In the Top 16, Forsberg met Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S15. When these two get together we’re always guaranteed fireworks but instead we got a head scratcher as Bakchis, in the chase position, tagged Forsberg before his initiation. Perhaps startled by the “bump,” Forsberg over-rotated when he initiated and the two cars made contact. With Bakchis apologizing for the error, Forsberg again only needed to complete a clean second run to win the heat.

The Top 8 would match Forsberg against Dai Yoshihara (Japan) in the Turn 14 Distribution / Falken Tire / ENEOS Oil Subaru BRZ. As two of the most experienced drifters in the series this was a clean contest with only a mistake by Yoshihara in the chase position separating the two.

For his efforts, Forsberg met the determined Adam LZ in the Top 4 where both drove hard and clean to prompt a request for OMT from the judges. At the second time of asking, LZ had a clean lead run but would impact Forsberg’s Nissan in Outside Zone 3 in the chase position. The collision saw LZ run off the track and was ruled incomplete, while Forsberg completed the run with his rear fenderwell engulfed in flames. The mistake gave the judges an easy decision to promote Forsberg into the Final against Gittin Jr.

Forsberg’s precision and Gittin Jr’s aggression resulted in a call for OMT as both made small mistakes on their first runs. When the process was repeated, Gittin Jr ran off-line through Inside Clip 1 and his speed into Outer Zone 3 caused him to spin out as Forsberg’s battered 370Z made it across the line and transported him to the top step of the podium.

Sitting third in the FD PRO Championship among the top five drivers who are separated by only 96 points, Forsberg was clearly delighted with the result: “I want to thank my amazing team and partners for giving me the tools I needed to come out here and win today,” said a jubilant Forsberg. “To be out here in 2020, after 17 years running in Formula DRIFT, and to still be on top of the podium is an amazing feeling. The competition is getting harder, the cars are getting faster and based on my car, which has been absolutely destroyed, it’s been an insane weekend. But we’re stoked to be back on top with a first and second in Texas, and we’ll see how we do in Irwindale!”

Before heading to the airport, we also caught up with Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw for his thoughts on the weekend: “We were thrown a lot of curve balls coming into this weekend with possible weather problems and obstacles the facility presented,” he reflected. “But we were delighted to get fans into the grandstands, even though it wasn’t the perfect setting. We’re always very appreciative of the fans and thankful for their support, especially during the challenges of 2020.

“The double-header weekends create intense competition and highlight how the teams have stepped up to the challenge of being able to prepare competitive cars each day. And to see veterans like Vaughn and Chris continue to be successful is always enjoyable as they contribute to the depth of talent we have in the series with all the great new drivers also making their mark. The result is an incredibly competitive field of drivers and we can’t wait to see what Irwindale has in store. I’m sure it won’t disappoint in terms of drama and intensity.”

The 2020 Formula DRIFT PRO and Link ECU PRO2 Championships culminate on November 20-22 at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, CA. Please visit formulad.com for 2020 event details, driver profiles, new content and livestream information.