Posted on

Just when it appeared the familiar faces would dominate the 2024 Formula DRIFT PRO Championship, a Rookie won Round 3 in Orlando. Leading the youngest Final Four in series history, could it be the new kids are going to challenge the old guard?

And while Conor Shanahan (Ireland) is a series Rookie, it should be explained he’s the reigning Drift Masters Champion. Despite being only 20 years old, his European experience can’t be underestimated, as he proved all weekend.

With the Top 24 competition places set by the results of Round 2, positions 25-32 would be determined by competitive tandem runs in the K&N PRO 16 Seeding Bracket on Friday. The top eight finishers would advance to Saturday’s competition heats, while the bottom five could make early dinner plans.
After missing the previous round, Shanahan secured position 25 in his Red Bull / Garagistic E36 BMW by winning the Seeding Bracket. Heading an all-BMW podium, he beat Adam LZ (USA) in the Final. The driver of the LZMFG E36 BMW had himself defeated third place Dmitriy Britskiy in the Never Settle E46 BMW.
Missing from the Seeding Bracket party was reigning Formula DRIFT PROSPEC Champ Ben Hobson (USA) who failed to break out of the Seeding Bracket for the third time in the Pennzoil / BC Racing Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD. It’s been an incredibly frustrating start to Hobson’s season but hopefully he’ll have better luck in Round 4.
Eliminated alongside Hobson were Federico Sceriffo (Italy), Joao Barion (Brazil), Kyle Kohan (USA) and Mike Power (USA).
Having been eliminated from his first heat at the opening round in Long Beach, Shanahan remained an unknown quantity in the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship. Many decorated drivers had failed to leave a mark on the series, so all eyes turned to the usual suspects.
Spectators got the first hint that it wasn’t going to be business as usual when three-time FD PRO Champion, Fredric Aasbo (Norway) – winner of the previous round – made an uncharacteristic mistake during his One More Time battle with Diego Higa (Brazil).

After the judges were unable to separate their first runs, Aasbo tapped Higa’s Toyota 86 in Outside Zone 1 (OZ1) and again in Inside Clip 1 (IC1) before spinning off the track. Anything is possible in Formula DRIFT but Aasbo’s early departure sent shockwaves through the crowd.
Despite the poor finish, Aasbo climbed from fifth to fourth in the Championship standings because a number of his rivals failed to take advantage of his misfortune. However, the gap to the points leader would increase from 30 to 70 points
In another shock result, Simen Olsen (Norway) was knocked out of the Top 16 heats by 14 year-old Hiroya Minowa (Japan) in the Enjuku Racing / Cusco / Jerry Yang Racing Toyota GT86. Having finished second in the first two rounds, the driver of the Feal Suspension Nissan S14.9 also made a rare mistake, joining a plethora of drivers who got lost in the lead driver’s tire smoke during the weekend and transitioned prematurely at IC2.
While remaining second in the title chase, Olsen’s points gap to the lead went from 16 to 44 points.
Olsen’s team leader, Aurimas Bakchis (Lithuania), had his own challenges: overcome an engine fire at the previous round, a family loss, and a second engine blow-up in practice. He also had a scare when his Feal Suspension / GT Radial Nissan S15 lost power in his Top 16 heat against Dylan Hughes (USA). Fortunately, a supercharger hose had blown off and was quickly fixed before Hughes retired with his own steering gremlins.
Bakchis reached the Top 8, where he was defeated by Branden Sorensen (USA) after an intense One More Time (OMT) battle. Placing fifth in Orlando, Bakchis remained third overall and was undoubtedly happy to finally return home after spending weeks in Florida to rebuild the Nissan.
Following Deane’s fire before the Long Beach Round and the Bakchis inferno in Atlanta, everybody was pleased to leave Round 3 without a major conflagration, although a number of cars did experience tire fires, which were quickly extinguished.
Japanese sensation Minowa – the leading 2024 FD PRO Rookie and high school student – proved he’s going to be a major talent in the series. He defeated veteran Alex Robbins (USA) in the Top 32, Championship contender Olsen in the Top 16, and YouTube star LZ in the Top 8.
The teenager ran into an immovable object in the Final 4 when he was paired against geriatric, 32 year-old, three-time FD PRO Champion James Deane (Ireland), driver of the AutoZone Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD – one of the most powerful cars in the paddock. But after their first two runs, the judges threw their hands up and requested OMT. The drivers would need to repeat the runs because there was nothing between them.

On their third run, Minowa lost his bearings in the Mustang’s smokescreen and transitioned too early. It was his only mistake of the weekend but proved costly.
Finishing fourth overall, Minowa leapt from eighth to sixth overall in the 2024 FD PRO Championship and retained his position as leading Rookie.
It was to be an all-Irish Final, with Deane facing off against Shanahan, who was adapting to his first experience on a banked oval track with aplomb. Driving Rome Charpentier’s 2023 FD PRO competition car, Shanahan put the powerful Red Bull / Garagistic E36 BMW to good use in his first heat. Opponent Dan Bukett (USA) was another victim of the Orlando smoke, transitioning early before OZ2 and handing the Irishman the win.

In the Top 16, Taylor Hull (USA) lost a close battle at the wheel of the Comp Cams / Kenda Tire / Wild Willies Chevrolet Corvette. A superior chase run by Shanahan sealed Hull’s fate.
The same thing happened to Nick Noback (USA) in the Top 8, where the driver of the Kenda Tires / Noback Racing E46 BMW couldn’t find the same precision.
In yet another all-BMW pairing, Shanahan was awarded a very close decision in his OMT contest against Branden Sorensen (USA) in the US Air Force / Sorensen Motorsports BMW M3. With nothing to separate them on their first runs, it was an incredible transition between the Inside Clips that gave Shanahan the nod.
The Final against Deane would be no different. The judges and spectators demanded One More Time after their first runs. The speed and precision of each lead run allowed the chase driver to decorate their opponent’s door like a speed stripe. However, a mistake by Deane on the fourth run saw him tap the wall in OZ1 before his Ford nudged the BMW and ran off course. Despite some questions as to whether Shanahan’s adjustment had triggered the incident, the judges awarded Rookie Shanahan the win.
With an average age of less than 22 among the top four finishers, you have to wonder if we’re witnessing the beginning of a new dynasty in Formula DRIFT. While Deane extended his lead in the Championship, Shanahan bounced from 25th to 11th place overall as the leading Rookie in Orlando after competing only two rounds. Sorensen in third claimed his best result in FD PRO since joining the Championship in 2021 and soared from 14th to fifth in the title race.
“It was the perfect weekend for me,” Shanahan told us after stepping off the podium. “Winning the seeding bracket yesterday and taking P1 today was special. Second time in America and I’m lost of words. The event was incredible. The level of driving meant I had to work my ass off to reach first place. Branden Sorensen in the Top 4 battle was on a mission and I really had to find something special to beat him. I can’t thank everybody enough, especially the team for ensuring the BMW was reliable. And I want to repeat this at the next round in New Jersey. I want to stay on top of the box all the way to Championship.”
After Round 3, the status quo was maintained with Toyota continuing to lead the 2024 Auto Cup and Nitto heading the Tire Cup.
“Round 3 was perhaps the most compelling event we’ve had this season. And for me personally, it was one of the most fun in my entire career,” said Ryan Sage, President of Formula DRIFT. “I love coming to Orlando. The crowd was amazing and the battles were insane. Orlando Speed World really brings out the best tandem battles because the track has a great flow. And to see Conor Shanahan come from a disappointing event in Long Beach to win the Final against James Deane, his buddy, was an incredible feat. And with Aasbo eliminated early, James has taken a commanding lead in the Championship as we head to the midway point of the season in New Jersey.”

1 Conor Shanahan 100
2 James Deane 84
3 Branden Sorensen 70
4 Hiroya Minowa 70
5 Aurimas Bakchis 56
6 Matt Field 56
7 Nick Noback 56
8 Adam LZ 56
9 Simen Olsen 42
10 Chris Forsberg 42
11 Dylan Hughes 42
12 Ryan Tuerck 42
13 Trenton Beechum 42
14 Taylor Hull 42
15 Ryan Litteral 42
16 Diego Higa 42


1 James Deane 254
2 Simen Olsen 210
3 Aurimas Bakchis 196
4 Fredric Aasbo 184
5 Branden Sorensen 154
6 Hiroya Minowa 154
7 Matt Field 154
8 Nick Noback 140
9 Rome Charpentier 140
10 Ken Gushi 140
11 Conor Shanahan 128
12 Chris Forsberg 126
13 Adam LZ 112
14 Dylan Hughes 112
15 Ryan Tuerck 112
16 Trenton Beechum 112


Toyota 366
Ford 310
GM 252
BMW 210
Nissan 196


Nitto 480
GT Radial 434
Vitour 324
Kenda 308
Nexen 168
Kumho 168