- Vaughn Gittin Jr claims the 2020 FD PRO Championship
- Fredric Aasbo wins FD PRO Round Seven
- Aurimas Bakchis wins FD PRO Round Eight
- Dmitriy Brutskiy is the 2020 Link ECU PRO2 Champion
- Mike Power wins FD PRO2 Round Four
After months of speculation about whether there would even be a 2020 Formula DRIFT season, the teams arrived at The House of Drift – Irwindale Speedway – for the tradition season finale. With eight PRO and four Link ECU PRO2 Championship rounds squeezed into a compressed calendar of double-header events, the TYPE S Title Fight Weekend would be the ultimate test of resilience and consistency. The high-speed course used for the previous two rounds at Texas Motor Speedway had exacted a heavy toll on minds and machinery, and Irwindale would provide no relief. With its high-speed banking and unforgiving walls, both metal and egos would be dented or demolished before the PRO and PRO2 Champions were crowned.
To reflect the importance of the Link ECU PRO2 Championship, its Final Round would take place on Saturday, while Rounds Seven and Eight of the PRO Championship were scheduled for Friday and Sunday. And to sprinkle an extra wrinkle, Formula DRIFT had created a slightly different track layout to challenge the drivers further.
Although the TYPE S Title Fight Weekend would take place in front of empty grandstands because of COVID-19 restrictions, fans tuning into the extremely popular FD livestream would be able to track the cars through the smoke thanks to the addition of TYPE S undercar LED lighting fitted to all PRO category cars. The smartphone app-controlled lighting was also used around the track perimeter to enhance the spectacle as night fell and the competition intensified.
LINK ECU PRO2 CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND FOUR
PRO2 returned to Irwindale Speedway after a break in 2019 and the exciting Final thoroughly deserved to be at The House of Drift. With a Championship title on the line, the drivers showed their total commitment at a pace that was frequently punished by the unforgiving Irwindale walls.
Sitting in second place as he arrived at the Speedway, Dmitriy Brutskiy (Belarus) didn’t so much stride to the 2020 Link ECU PRO2 Championship as Nick Noback (USA) simply eliminated his opponents.
Brutskiy’s day began with a bye round in the Top 32 heats, followed by a solo run in the Top 16 after Chase Schmidt (USA) failed to repair the Chase Schmidt Racing / Achilles Radial / Kansei Wheels BMW E36 following problems during practice. Schmidt had been sixth in the standings and his DNS would become significant as the night progressed.
Brutskiy’s first competitive run for his Essa Motorsport / Never Settle / Achilles Radial BMW M3 would be in the Top 8. He battled Steve Misko (USA) driving the Tire Stacks / FDF Racing / Gas Factory Nissan 240sx. With the two cars making contact on the second run, while Brutskiy was in the chase position, the Belarus driver was deemed at fault by a split decision and was eliminated from the competition. At this point, you might expect Brutskiy to return home empty-handed but series Rookie Noback had other ideas.
At the wheel of his Koruworks / RTS Built / Noback Racing BMW E46, Noback met PRO2 Championship points leader Jonathan Hurst (USA) in the Top 32. Experiencing mechanical problems, Hurst’s Cash Racing / Achilles Radial Infiniti G37 was uncompetitive and the title favorite was out.
In the Top 16 heats, Noback faced fellow Rookie Joshua Love (USA) in the After Hours Autosports BMW E36. Sitting third in the series standings, his car had suffered significant damage during Thursday practice and was defeated by the flying Noback.
In the Top 8, Noback swept aside fifth placed Blake Olsen (USA) in the Koruworks / Achilles Radial BMW E92. And with fourth-placed Austin Matta (USA) driving the Don’t Matta Racing Nissan S14 hitting the wall during his Top 16 run against Ricky Hoffman (USA) in the Tire Stacks / FDF Racing / Drift HQ Nissan S14, Brutskiy was champion.
Not one of the top five drivers in the 2020 FD Link ECU PRO2 Championship would make the podium in Round Four. In fact, the top four drivers at Irwindale were all series Rookies and new to Irwindale Speedway, with Mike Power (USA) eventually halting Noback’s killing spree in the Final. With little to choose between the two, the judge’s decision went to the driver of the Power Racing / MA Motorsports Nissan Silvia S15. In the third-place run-off, roommates Hoffman and Misko went One More Time before Hoffman claimed the bottom step of the podium.
Thanks in part to a win in the Round One, Joshua Love was crowned the Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship Rookie of the Year when the dust had settled.
We spoke to Power after his first PRO2 win: “Today has been amazing,” he told us. “To be standing here with the winner’s trophy in my hand is unbelievable. To see this track in person for the first time and to get the win is totally amazing. I have to thank everybody who got me here – my team who worked relentlessly to ensure I had the best car out there, and my sponsors who helped during the off-season and kept us rolling once the season started. I also want to thank my family and everybody at home who was rooting for us. Today has been a dream experience and I’m delighted it’s come true!”
We also tracked down Brutskiy as he celebrated his Championship title. “I’m super-happy to be holding the Championship trophy, which was the goal for this year. We did it thanks to my team, including Michael Essa who got me to the Championship in his Championship-winning car. It truly takes a team to make this happen and I wouldn’t be here without all the guys behind the scenes.
“The event was going so well during practice: I had zero issues with the car, zero issues with any of the runs. I was happy until I went out in the Top 8, but I still secured the title. I want to thank all my sponsors, who kept me and the car going this season, and got me to the Championship.”
FD PRO CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND SEVEN
Whether it was the cumulative effect of an intense 2020 season, or because so many teams needed a good result for a shot at the Championship title, Round Seven of the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship at Irwindale Speedway – the TYPE S Title Fight Weekend – saw many of the contenders stumble. The overall effect would be to keep the Championship chase alive, with five drivers heading into the Final Round with a mathematical chance of glory.
The top drivers tumbled as early as the first heats, with both Justin Pawlak (USA) in the Roush Performance / Falken Tire Ford Mustang and Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S15 losing to lower seeded drivers in the Top 32. Pawlak was placed seventh and would fall to eighth, while Bakchis in sixth also dropped one position. This would be enough to remove them from the title chase.
Second-placed Ryan Tuerck (USA) reported engine problems after his Top 32 heat, triggering a frantic rush to swap powerplants in the Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil 1 Toyota Corolla. The Papadakis team achieved what seemed to be the impossible but Tuerck would hit the wall in Outside Zone 1 shortly after initiating during his Top 16 run. Raising his hand, Tuerck admitted the cooling track conditions had caught him out as the sun was setting. He would maintain his second place in the Championship standings but the points difference increased from eight to 40 points.
Third-placed Chris Forsberg (USA) advanced to the Top 16 courtesy of a bye round in the Top 32 heats. However, he’d go no further. Forsberg withdrew his NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires with engine problems and sought a fix for the Final Round. He would drop from third to fifth place in the Championship but retain a slim chance of claiming his fourth FD title with a 96-point gap to the lead.
Championship leader Vaughn Gittin Jr (USA) was a favorite for the 2020 title arriving in Irwindale. He manhandled his Monster Energy / Nitto Tire / Ford Performance Mustang RTR Spec 5-D into the Top 4, but would spin out chasing nemesis Fredric Aasbo (Norway) driving the Rockstar Energy Drink / Nitto Tire GR Supra during an epic battle that went “One More Time.”
Relegated to the third-place run-off against teammate Chelsea DeNofa (USA) in the BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR, Gittin Jr hit the wall in Outside Zone 1, robbing the fans of another Mustang brawl and promoting DeNofa to third. But with his opponents falling around him, Gittin Jr looked ahead to the Final Round in first place with an extended points lead over Tuerck.
Knocking out Adam LZ (USA) in the Top 8 before moving on to Gittin Jr and then beating Michael Essa (USA) in the Final, Aasbo had rediscovered the form that took him to victory in the opening round. Driving the brand new Supra, the 2015 FD Champion followed up with a second place in Seattle but otherwise failed to fulfill the early promise. Arriving at Irwindale in fifth place, he leapfrogged to third after this Round Seven win but with a 60-point deficit to make up.
For Essa, it was a welcome return to form, backing up a third place in Seattle, but the 2013 FD Champion wasn’t playing on a level field in Irwindale. He mounted a valiant defense against Aasbo in the Final but his FCP Euro / LiquiMoly / Achilles Tires BMW M3 was badly wounded. Essa reported a coolant leak, failing head gasket, misfire and more, yet continued to drift with his signature precision. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the machinery to beat the Norwegian, but climbed to sixth overall.
“It was a crazy day,” Aasbo told us with the winner’s trophy in hand. “After FD TX we went back to the drawing board and found an additional 150hp, which is what we thought we’d need for the Irwindale track. That proved to be correct and we’ve never had a better car. It got better with each battle, letting me take Championship leader Vaugh Gittin Jr to One More Time. We won that battle. Got all the way to the Final against my buddy, Michael Essa. Won that battle, and here we are with the big trophy. Hats off to the team for this one. They set us up to win!”
With several titles to be decided in the Final Round, Nitto Tire clinched the 2020 Formula DRIFT Tire Cup in Round Seven thanks to an unbeatable points lead over its competitors.
FD PRO CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND EIGHT
Arriving at the track on Sunday for Round Eight, the 2020 FD PRO Championship was essentially Gittin Jr’s to lose. He held a 40-point lead over second-place Tuerck, 60 over of third-placed Aasbo, and 80 more than teammate DeNofa.
The only other driver with a mathematical chance of taking the title was triple FD Champion Forsberg in fifth place, but he was starting the day on the back foot. It transpired he had “lost the engine during Thursday practice,” Forsberg explained. “We did what we could to salvage the weekend and got the demo car out for Friday, but while it’s built to the same chassis specs as my PRO car, it only makes half the power. With 500hp I took my bye run in the Top 32 but didn’t feel comfortable entering it into competition and potentially hurting myself or others. So, I bowed out of Round Seven and Matt Field was nice enough to offer his spare car to give us the best chance for Round Eight. My guys drove up to San Francisco, picked up the car and we did a test session at Buttonwillow Raceway. We burnt through a few sets of ties, it felt good and we’re at Irwindale to run to the bitter end.”
Receiving a bye run through the Top 32, Forsberg mounted a heroic assault in the supercharged LS-engined NOS Energy Drink Nissan S14 on Nexen Tires (the first time he’d deviated from Nissan-powered machinery since his 2004 Formula DRIFT debut). Unfortunately, he’d fall to Bakchis in the Top 16 but it didn’t matter; Gittin Jr’s advance through the heats gave him enough points to put Forsberg out of the running.
Forsberg’s woes were equaled by Aasbo, who blew his engine executing a celebratory burnout after his Round Seven win on Friday. Fitted with a more powerful, experimental engine developed for the Irwindale Finals, the team replaced the powerplant on Saturday but Aasbo reported rod knock when warming the tires on Sunday morning. He had to sit out practice as Papadakis Racing created a third engine from available parts. Miraculously, it was ready for the Top 32 heats where Aasbo faced Ryan Litteral (USA) driving the PowerStop / GT Radial Nissan 350Z. In what the Norwegian admitted was a “Hail Mary,” he could do no more than send it.
Under extreme pressure to perform, and with nagging doubts about the engine in front of him, Aasbo hit the wall as he initiated in Outside Zone 1. With his run incomplete, the 2015 Champion had to take his Competition Timeout to address damaged rear suspension. With his overworked team completing the task, Aasbo drove a text book chase run but it wasn’t enough to overcome the previous error and he was eliminated.
Teammate Tuerck would fare little better. His Corolla had received a replacement engine in Round Seven, which held up through his Top 32 bye run in Round Eight. He was then matched against Rookie Jonathan Nerren (USA) in the Top 16, but disaster struck on the second run. With Tuerck in the chase position, he initially fell behind Nerren’s CJ Pony Parts / Shelby American Super Snake. In an effort to close the gap, Tuerck collided with Nerren at Inside Clip 2. With the Toyota driver deemed at fault, Tuerck was eliminated and Gittin Jr was the 2020 Champion.
The title was well deserved by Gittin Jr. The 2010 Champion had reinvented himself, approaching the series with more focus and determination. With teammate DeNofa, Gittin Jr has built a team that has proved to be unbeatable on its day and the two-time Champion will be a powerful force in 2021.
With the PRO Championship decided, Gittin Jr’s only remaining wish was to face DeNofa in the Round Eight Final. However, he’d falter in the Top 8 against Bakchis, who had rectified transmission problems that handicapped him in Round Seven. Initially, the RTR driver appeared to have the upper hand when Bakchis collided with the Champion-elect while in the chase position. With Bakchis at fault, he had to use his Competition Timeout to effect repairs before returning for the second run.
Unexpectedly, Gittin Jr hit the wall while chasing Bakchis while only needing to complete the run. It was a disappointment but did little to dampen the celebrations.
DeNofa would indeed advance to the Final to meet Bakchis, who was returning to form after too long in the wilderness. With both drivers known for speed, aggression and precision, it was a match to savor and didn’t disappoint. The critical moment came on the second run with DeNofa in the chase position. Blinded by smoke into the transition, DeNofa hit Inside Clip 1 but managed to gather it up and complete the run. However, it was all Bakchis needed to claim his first win since FD Orlando in early 2019.
Climbing to the top of the podium, Bakchis became the sixth winner in an incredible season, and moved himself back to sixth place in the final Championship table.
“The entire season has been a rollercoaster, especially these final rounds where we had some very close calls in practice with drivers spinning in front of us,” Bakchis told us after the podium ceremony. “We hit the wall and fixed the car twice but were still able to run the car hard all the way from the Top 32 to the win. It wasn’t easy, which makes this even sweeter. I really want to thank my partners and amazing crew – I can’t do it without any of them. We’re off to celebrate and I look forward to building on this for 2021.
Meanwhile, DeNofa’s second place allowed him to leapfrog the Toyota teammates to place second in the 2020 FD PRO Championship behind the RTR team leader, Gittin Jr. Their combined efforts would also contribute to Ford and Nitto claiming the 2020 Formula DRIFT Auto Cup and Tire Cup, respectively.
The final accolade of the season went to a thoroughly deserving Adam LZ, who ruffled the feathers of the established drives all season to claim Rookie of the Year and finish the season 13th overall.
Rounding out Round Eight, Bakchis reached the Final after a Top 4 heat against Pawlak. On their first run, both drivers hit the wall during initiation, with Pawlak’s Mustang coming off worse. Surveying the damage. Pawlak assessed the repairs couldn’t be completed during a five-minute Competition Timeout. As a result, he conceded the heat to Falken teammate Bakchis, telling him, “I gifted you this one and if you don’t win I’ll be super-disappointed!”
Pawlak’s calculation was that Bakchis would need to complete a bye run to finish the heat, buying him more time to begin repairs since the Timeout would begin once the heat was complete. The strategy was successful and the Mustang was back on its wheels with seconds to spare before the third-place run-off where he dominated Jeff Jones (USA) in the Doc / GT Radial Nissan 370Z.
As the smoke settled, Pawlak regained seventh place in the 2020 FD PRO Championship while an on-form Jones jumped from 14th to ninth.
We caught up with Gittin Jr after the Final. “Irwindale has been a rollercoaster of emotions. We made some headway in Round Seven but I was trying not to focus on the Championship and take it one battle at a time. We ran hard but tried to keep the car easy to drive, which caught us out in the end and meant we didn’t get the results we wanted from the final rounds. But it’s been amazing to see Chelsea earn a second and third for our team, and the giant trophy I’m carrying represents everybody on our team killing themselves all year to earn it.
“These moments are the ones you reflect on to understand what it takes to get here. For me it’s all about the team. We have an amazing group of men and women at RTR on the Motorsports and Vehicle sides. They work tirelessly and with passion, and I’m so grateful to be the owner and leader.
“I’ve learned that you don’t chase things. You just put the right things in place – the right people, the right energy, right focus and positivity – and it’s been so cool to see it all come together in such a challenging year and to achieve something that means so much.”
The final thoughts for the 2020 season go to Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw, who told us: “Irwindale never disappoints, even without fans and the added pressure of the double-headers. The teams threw everything into the Finals; there was carnage but it proved the teams were totally committed to finish the season on a high. Even without fans, who we sorely missed, the teams brought so much energy it filled the arena and created an amazing atmosphere. And it was great to see new faces on the podium.
“As for the Championships, this wasn’t the season we hoped for at the start of the year but the buildup created a lot of anticipation for the new format and different venues. There was a convergence of PRO Champions, with winners dating back to 2009 in contention this year. And it turned out to be one of the most intense Championships in our history, even though we had to adjust and change our approach to make it happen.
“Some people had suggested this would be an asterix year, but with four double-header PRO events crammed into 13 weeks, the Championship Vaughn won was perhaps harder to achieve than any other year. He thoroughly deserves the title and his efforts shouldn’t be diminished. Despite an uncertain start, we can all celebrate what we achieved and the combined accomplishments in the face of the most challenging time the world has faced. And we aren’t ready to sit back just yet because we have the 2021 season to plan…
“I also have to acknowledge the fantastic job done by all the PRO2 teams, who put on an amazing spectacle and highlighted its primary purpose of preparing teams and drivers to step up to the PRO category. Undoubtedly, we’ve seen many of them rise to the occasion and we look forward to welcoming them to the 2021 Formula DRIFT PRO Championship.
Thank you for supporting the 2020 Formula DRIFT PRO and Link ECU PRO2 Championships. We will communicate the 2021 FD schedule in the New Year. Please visit formulad.com for driver profiles, new content and more.
ROUND SEVEN TOP 16 PRO DRIVER POINTS
ROUND EIGHT TOP 16 PRO DRIVER POINTS
FINAL 2020 PRO CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER STANDINGS
FINAL 2020 AUTO CUP STANDINGS
FINAL 2020 TIRE CUP STANDINGS
LINK ECU PRO2 CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS FROM ROUND FOUR
LINK ECU PRO2 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
ABOUT FORMULA DRIFT
Formula DRIFT is recognized as the leading international drifting championship. Established on the streets of Japan, drifting has evolved into a worldwide competitive sport that challenges each driver’s ability and control. Formula DRIFT provides a series for the best professional drifters from across the globe to compete nationwide for the coveted Formula DRIFT Championship. As the first official drifting series in North America, Formula DRIFT has taken competitive motorsports to the extreme, attracting drift fans and car enthusiasts from all walks of life, and established itself as the global leader for the sport.