In Long Beach, Deane had to take out a couple of past champions and a couple of could-be champions in his first Formula D action in seven years. In Braselton, Ga., he had to contend again with thrice series champ Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink 370Z — the second time in three events — while also dispatching heavyweights Ken Gushi in the Greddy Performance 86, Matt Field in the Falken Tire S14, Alec Hohnadell in the Urban Air Initiative S14, and finally fellow Irishman and pal Dean Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Viper. Trust us when we say this has been no cakewalk for the Worthouse pilot.
There was a lot of hype about the arrival of the Worthouse Drift Team in Formula Drift for the 2017 season. Two new drivers on the grid, two new cars and a lot of unknowns. James’ victory in Long Beach was proof for many that he could walk the walk, although for some, his immediate success was enough for them to overturn their longtime support, instead preferring to take the more trendy view of him being overhyped and his win being a one-off.
Some of the things that I heard and read after Long Beach certainly elicited a laugh or two, including one claiming he had an advantage because the car was right-hand drive. Others, who previously sung his praises were now chomping at the bit, eager for his failure. Wait until he gets to the ovals they said…
It just happened that Round 2 this year is an oval circuit, with the Orlando Speed World venue having swapped places with Road Atlanta in the Formula D schedule. One ex-Formula D competitor warned me in advance that OSW made Ireland’s Rosegreen – itself a tiny short oval in rural Tipperary – look like Talladega.
It was an over exaggeration, of course, but we were certainly a long way from the well groomed streets of Long Beach. Orlando is the first stop on a tour which takes in four corners of the United States, a trip across to Canada, along with a round in the heart of Texas. Leaving the familiarity of California behind, it felt like we were about to enter the real war for the Formula Drift Championship.
It was certainly less glamorous in Florida, but we were not there for the scenery. By the time I arrived on Thursday morning, the Bridges Racing crew already had a foothold established in the paddock. With the Orlando round also being a Pro 2 event, it meant an extra day of practice for all Pro 1 competitors.
10 years, 6 months, 1 week, 5 hours, 31 minutes, 55 seconds. That’s how long it took for James Deane to go from his first competitive drift event as an amateur to the top step of the podium for the first time at Formula Drift in Long Beach.
Before last weekend, a lot of people would have said this victory, maybe the most significant of his career, was inevitable. I wouldn’t have argued with them, but I know from experience that victory in motorsport is never guaranteed. It certainly does not come easy.