The speed at which the 2017 Formula Drift season is passing, is frightening. It feels like only a couple of weeks ago that James Deane and Piotr Więcek shared their plan to compete a full FD campaign in 2017, but in reality, it was 10 months back. By the time the Irwindale final comes around in October, it will have been over a year since the decision was made.
From the outside, expectations have been high for the newest team in the paddock. In particular, expectations for what James would achieve in his first season have been astronomical. It hasn’t been quite that straight-forward, but what the Worthouse Drift Team have achieved in what has only ever been intended as a learning year, has far exceeded even their own expectations.
When I caught up with the team in Monroe last week, James was narrowly leading the points standings with Piotr being miles ahead of his nearest rival for Rookie of the Year honours.
The cars had been transported from the previous round in Montreal, all the way back to the Bridges Racing workshop in Huntington Beach, California, before making the long drive north along PCH to Washington state. While at Bridges, both cars were checked over, and in Piotr’s case, repaired after his run in with the wall at the Autodrome St-Eustache.
It wasn’t the weekend that the team wanted, but it was the weekend that the team got.
Heading into the fourth round of the 2017 Formula Drift championship, James Deane held a commanding lead in the championship race, with fellow Irishman Dean Kearney in second place. James’ teammate, Piotr Więcek, was the highest ranked rookie in the series. It was a great start to the season.
Wall Stadium Speedway has somewhat of a cult following in Formula Drift circles. It’s a little bit rough around the edges but the compact nature of the venue was welcome after the vastness of Road Atlanta. It’s an intimate venue, but one that needs to be taken seriously.
For a change, I beat the Worthouse x Bridges Racing team to the venue but when I arrived on Thursday morning, everything was ready to rock. I never tire of seeing the twin S15s sat beside each other in the pit.
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.
I also don’t think that anyone could disagree with the result either. Florida was the first real unknown for the Worthouse Drift Team, with neither driver having experience at the Orlando Speed World oval, or the heat on the peninsula at this time of the year.
For all the euphoria that was felt after FD Long Beach, the atmosphere was very different as the sun set this evening.
Both cars were parked up after the Top 16, with James having been beaten fair and square by Jhonnattan Castro – who put in one of the all-time great chase runs, it has to be said – and Piotr being unable to return to the start line after making contact with the wall on his lead run against Dean Kearney.
Strong disappointment and frustration were definitely the initial reactions, but they were soon replaced by calm and considered reflection.