As high temperatures sweep the nation, the Formula DRIFT PRO and Link ECU PROSPEC Championship teams were greeted by hot, humid conditions at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, IL. For the PRO drivers, Round 6: Crossroads should help to narrow down the field in the 2021 title race. And with 100 points available for a round winner, technically 32 of the 33 FD PRO drivers have a mathematical chance of winning. But, in reality, the title winner will almost certainly emerge from the top six drivers, who are all within 105 points of current leader, Chelsea DeNofa.
For the Link ECU PROSPEC teams, Round 3 represents the start of the second half of their season and we’re waiting to see who will carve out a lead. But with two drivers on equal points at the top of the table, there’s still a sizable field of drivers who could lift the championship trophy.
LINK ECU PROSPEC QUALIFYING
The PROSPEC teams hit the track as the thermometer hit 93-degrees and humidity was past 80%. And with the threat of storms to come, the drivers were keen to get a dry run.
Despite World Wide Technology Raceway being a regular fixture on the Formula DRIFT calendar, it was three of the inexperienced series rookies who topped the PROSPEC qualifying table.
In first place, with 92 points for style, angle and line, was Christian Nelson (USA) driving the RTS / Wallis Fab Nissan 350Z. He was closely followed by Alex Jagger (USA) who scored 91 points in the Forsberg Racing / TireStacks 370Z. While third placed went to Ben Hobson (USA) who scored an identical 91 points in the Full Lock Automotive Nissan S14.5 but got third by virtue of a lower “line” score.
Not only did the rookies set the pace, but St Louis also saw Nissan drivers rise above their BMW-mounted opponents. In fact, fourth place went to Austin Matta (USA) in the Don’t Matta Racing Nissan S14, with the first BMW driver being joint Championship leader and 2020 Champion, Dmitriy Brutskiy (Belarus) who qualified fifth in the Essa Autosport / ISC Suspension BMW E46.
Joint leader Nick Noback (USA) could only put his KoruWorks BMW E46 in eighth place, making his job on Saturday somewhat harder.
With 36 PROSPEC drivers attempting to qualify for Round 3, four would be eliminated following a tense Knockout Qualifying Format (KQF), which saw the bottom 8 drivers run a second time to fight for a place in the competition heats.
With qualifying taking place in the evening under new track lighting, the 2021 FD PRO Championship teams avoided the threatened storms and found a slight respite from the heat. After several new names rose to the top of the PROSPEC qualifying table, the FD PRO Championship followed suit with Alec Robbins (USA) emerging as the number one qualifier in his Fasetto Nissan 350Z. The 2020 rookie was sitting 20th in the title race before the weekend began and strung together an almost flawless run to deservedly head the field.
The position afforded Robbins a bye run into the Top 16 after Federico Sceriffo (Italy) failed to complete a qualifying run in the FFF Drifting Department Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorella. A front suspension control arm failed before the Italian’s first qualifying run and the team elected to spend its five-minute Competition Time Out to make the repair. This automatically placed Sceriffo in the Bottom 8 Knockout Qualifying Format. In the absence of Ken Gushi (Japan), who was missing the event with his own vehicle issues, all Sceriffo needed to do was complete a qualifying run to reach the competition heats. However, the arm failed a second time and the Ferrari was towed back to the pits, eliminated from Round 6.
Justin Pawlak (USA) qualified second in his Falken Tire Ford Mustang, reminding everybody of the huge potential of this combination. However, an inconsistent season finds Pawlak in 15th position as he arrived in St Louis.
The same can’t be said of third-placed Fredric Aasbo (Norway), whose Rockstar Energy Drink Toyota GR Supra currently sits third in the FD PRO Championship thanks to a string of podium finishes. The 2015 FD Champion has been a title contender ever since he joined the series and a good result on Saturday would keep his hopes alive.
2021 FD PRO Championship points leader, Chelsea DeNofa (USA) qualified his BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D in sixth, one place ahead of Matt Field (USA) who is one point behind DeNofa in the Championship. Field led the FD PRO rankings until DeNofa’s third win at Round 5, but Field can’t be underestimated whenever he’s behind the wheel of the Falken Tire / Drift Cave Chevrolet Corvette.
Another incredibly consistent performer is teenager Branden Sorensen (USA), who was again the top FD PRO rookie, putting his 212 Performance / Sorensen Motorsports BMW in fifth place. Sitting in 18th position in the Championship table, Sorenson is 17 points behind fellow rookie Simen Olsen (Norway) driving the Race Supply Toyota GR Supra. Sorensen knows he needs to convert his incredible qualifying form into competition points if he’s to win the 2021 rookie title, and put himself in the perfect position to do so.
PROSPEC COMPETITION HEATS
High temperatures again greeted the Link ECU PROSPEC teams as the competition heats began. Top qualifier Christian Nelson (USA) set his blood boiling after hitting the wall in the burnout box while warming his tires for the first round of the Top 32. Unable the effect repairs to his RTS / Wallis Fab Nissan 350Z within the allotted time, Nelson was able to cool off with an early shower.
The Power Racing / MA Motorsport Nissan Silvia S15 of Mike Power (USA) also suffered damage during the competition heats. The difference between the two drivers is that Power was able to recover from the collisions and survive all the way to the Final round, claiming his first win since the Irwindale Round in 2020.
The carnage began during Power’s first run of his first battle against third-placed Championship contender, Austin Matta (USA) driving the Don’t Matta Racing Nissan S14. The incident occurred in Outside Zone 2 when a chasing Power collided with Matta. However, when the dust settled, Matta was deemed to have decelerated too early, with the judges apportioning blame to both drivers.
Power used his only five-minute Competition Time Out to repair his S15 before attempting the second run, which was an untidy affair: Matta missed Outside Zone 2, left Outside Zone 3 early, and had to re-initiate for Outside Zone 4 after transitioning early. Despite Power running too deep in several zones, his mistakes were less egregious and moved onto the Top 16 heats where he met Micah Diaz (USA).
On their first run, Power made slight contact with the HoldFast / GT Radial / Proper Fabworks BMW E46 of Diaz but otherwise they both performed well. On the second run, the drivers mirrored each other’s mistakes and so the judges called for One More Time, where the drivers repeat both runs.
At the second attempt, both drivers struggled to hit their marks, Power running shallow in Outside Zones 2 and 4 on his chase, while Diaz missed OZ2 completely on his chase, leading to mistakes in OZ3. After much debate, Power was awarded the win on a split decision.
In the Top 8, Power would need to vanquish the reigning Link ECU PROSPEC Champion and current points leader, Dmitriy Brutskiy (Belarus) who drives the Essa Autosport / ISC Suspension BMW E46.
The BMW driver led the first run, with Power in close proximity until they collided in OZ2. With Power forced to stop, Brutskiy was assessed to have been partially to blame because he got on the throttle late, so didn’t have the momentum Power expected.
With Power incomplete but Brutskiy under a cloud, the Champion simply needed to finish the second run to win, but Power hit the course at max velocity. In an effort to keep pace, Brutskiy spun in OZ4, handing the victory to Power thanks to his superior lead run.
In the Final 4, Power needed to overcome Steve Misko (USA), who established a good lead run until a late transition into OZ4 caused him to slow. This resulted in Power sliding into the Misko Motorsports / TireStacks Nissan S14.75 and coming to a halt. Again, the judges smiled down on Power, ruling that Misko’s inappropriate deceleration had caused the collision.
With a cloud over Misko, he needed a great chase run, but missing OZ2 was enough to give Power the win. Misko’s performance was rewarded with the third place trophy.
In the Final, Power battled rookie Tommy Lemaire (Canada) who was fourth in the Link ECU PROSPEC Championship at the start of the day. On his lead run, Lemaire set a high bar, finding the correct line and hitting all the zones, while Power missed OZ1 and OZ4 in the chase. With the positions reversed, Power again made it difficult for the following car and Lemaire overcooked OZ4, running off the course as he crossed the finish line. That mistake gave Power the Round 3 win. With Lemaire in second. he moved to third in the Championship, while Power leapfrogged from 14th to 5th.
With the winner’s trophy in hand, Power told us: “The car felt amazing and allowed me to be really aggressive. We had a couple of close calls but it worked out in the end. I couldn’t have done it without my team, family, and especially my sponsors. We’re going to take this momentum straight to Irwindale and hopefully get another trophy!”
Coming into Round 3, Dmitriy Brutskiy (Belarus) and Nick Noback (USA) were joint leaders in PROSPEC. Both exited early, with Noback in the KoruWorks BMW E46 knocked out in the Top 16, dropping him to second in the Championship. Brutskiy was knocked out of the Top 8 by Power but opened a 15-point lead at the top of the Championship table. With such a tight spread of points, we’re assured a thrilling Link ECU PROSPEC Championship Final Round 4 at Irwindale Speedway on September 17-18.
PRO COMPETITION HEATS
Similar to PROSPEC, the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship had a surprise qualifier in the top spot. However, Alec Robbins (USA) didn’t meet the same fate as his counterpart. Instead, he battled to the Final 8 where he met Ryan Tuerck (USA) on his way to second place in the Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil 1 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. Unfortunately, Robbins carried too much speed through Outside Zone 2 while leading Tuerck on the first run and slid his Fasetto Nissan 350Z into the safety barrier. Robbins was unhurt, the adventure was over, but he claimed fifth position.
Fredric Aasbo (Norway) claimed his first win of 2021 after achieving three previous podium finishes. St Louis is his first win since the 2020 Irwindale Final and his journey began in the Top 32 competition heats against Kyle Mohan (USA).
With a superior qualifying position, Aasbo led first and pulled out a gap on Mohan, who failed to filled three of the four Outside Zones as he struggled to close the gap in his KMR / Renewable Lubricants / Mazdatrix Mazda RX-8. With the positions reversed and Mohan under pressure for his lead run, he was ruled incomplete after a rather bizarre sequence of three jumped starts. Under the “three strikes” rule, Aasbo won the heat and moved onto the Top 16 to meet Wataru Masuyama (Japan).
Perhaps also intimidated by the 2015 FD Champion, Masuyama made a significant error in OZ2. Trying to maintain proximity to Aasbo, he transitioned early in the Buy Now Japan Nissan Silvia S15, putting him on a very tight line, completely missing the Zone. This affected his line through the remainder of the course and Aasbo’s superior chase run was enough to take another win.
In the Top 8, the Norwegian’s opponent would be 2013 FD champion Michael Essa (USA), who is capable of beating anybody on his day. Essa’s speed and precision in the FCP Euro / Liqui Moly / GT Radial BMW M3 was the perfect match to Aasbo and the judges, unable to separate their runs, requested One More Time.
With Aasbo taking the lead for the re-run, Essa initiated into the first Zone at speed in order to pressure his rival. However, he dropped a rear tire off the paved surface, causing the car to over-rotate and spin. In the process, the tire bead was dislodged from the wheel rim and Essa limped to the pits. After some debate over the technical regulations governing de-beaded tire changes, Essa returned to the track with fresh rear rubber. But with his previous run judged incomplete, Aasbo did enough to take another victory.
With the screws tightening, Aasbo’s Final 4 opponent would be 2010 and reigning 2020 FD PRO Champion, Vaughn Gittin Jr (USA). As the team leader for Championship points leader Chelsea DeNofa, a Gittin win would be additionally satisfying. And the Mustang driver never lacks confidence.
With a history of epic battles between the two titans, seatbelt harnesses were cinched extra-tight as the crowd physically slid to the edge of their seats to witness the confrontation. And with Aasbo leading the first run, Gittin needed to exercise his 1200hp Monster Energy Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D to gain proximity. But with everything on the line, Gittin overcommitted to OZ2 and spun, damaging the car in the process.
With a Competition Time Out at Gittin’s disposal, the RTR Motorsports team set to work replacing the rear axle and suspension subframe assembly. It was a courageous effort they almost pulled off, but the Mustang was still in the air as the permitted five minutes ticked down.
And so to the Final, where Aasbo would meet his Toyota-mounted, Nitto-shod, Papadakis Racing teammate, Ryan Tuerck (USA) in the Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil 1 Toyota Corolla Hatchback.
Tuerck, who sat in fifth place in the 2021 FD PRO Championship, had visited the podium on three different occasions this year but missed his best chance of a win at Round 5 when the team failed to repair the car for the Final heat against DeNofa (a fate Aasbo also suffered this year). So, while Aasbo and Tuerck are teammates, both had been robbed of a precious victory and both were thirsty for champagne.
Again, the drivers have a hard-won reputation for power and proximity, and both understood that a single mistake would probably decide the winner. Launching hard, there was little to choose between the two until Tuerck, in the chase position, hit the wall as he transitioned into the challenging OZ4. The impact caused him to straighten, making the run incomplete.
Calling a Competition Time Out to replace a damaged wheel and check the geometry, Tuerck returned for his lead run but Aasbo just had to keep his nose clean to take the victory, which is what transpired.
The win meant Aasbo remained third in the FD PRO Championship, but he closed to within 33 points of the leader, while Tuerck moved from fifth to fourth and remains a title contender.
“It was an insane night in St Louis and I feel we got gifted a lot of rounds – with Kyle jumping the start three times, Michael spinning out, and Jr breaking the rear suspension,” Aasbo recounted after the podium celebrations. “Ryan had my number in the Finals but he ended up tapping the wall, and here we are – number 1!
“It’s the first win of the year for us and we’re absolutely delighted. We’re also getting closer to the Championship lead, and it’s going to be a thriller going to the team’s home course in California.”
Third place Dylan Hughes (USA) had also finished third in Seattle, proving to be a consistent finisher and future FD PRO Championship contender. He moves up to seventh in the Championship after this weekend’s performance.
DeNofa, who was leading the FD PRO title race in his BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D, was eliminated from the Top 16 after a collision with the FCP Euro / Liqui Moly / GT Radial BMW M3 of Michael Essa (USA). As a result of his early retirement DeNofa finished 12th, dropping to second place in the FD PRO Championship
Matt Field (USA), who had been one point behind DeNofa heading into FD STL, was knocked out of the Top 8 by DeNofa’s team leader, Gittin. However, Field’s sixth place allowed him to regain the lead of the Championship by a slim 14-point margin over DeNofa.
Branden Sorensen (USA), the top FD PRO rookie qualifier, was also the best rookie finisher in 11th position, and became the highest placed rookie, climbing to 17th overall in his 212 Performance / Sorensen Motorsports BMW.
After an epic day and night of Formula DRIFT competition we spoke to Formula DRIFT President, Jim Liaw: “This weekend was intense, not only with the sweltering heat but also the heat of competition. We were delighted to welcome more fans than we’ve ever seen before at this venue. And they witnessed two drift competitions that were both extremely close and very tough, with the smallest mistakes punished instantly. This round has shaken up in the lead of both Championships, and it’s going to be really interesting with the PRO teams going into Long Beach because the track is even more technical and unforgiving. Who knows where we could be as both Championships head to the Irwindale Final? But as for St Louis, we’re delighted with the growth here and we’re looking forward to many more years in the mid-west at this track.”
2021 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
ROUND 6 FD PRO TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS
2021 FD PRO CHAMPIONSHIP TOP 16 STANDINGS
2021 AUTO CUP TOP FIVE STANDINGS
2021 TIRE CUP STANDINGS
ROUND 3 FD PROSPEC TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS
2021 FD PROSPEC CHAMPIONSHIP TOP 16 STANDINGS
Streets of Long Beach will host Round 7 of the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship on September 17-18. Please visit formulad.com for the competition schedule, ticket information, driver profiles. special content and the event livestream