Road Atlanta is a lot of people’s favorite track. Personally, I like it because of all the colors and the lack of fences. That makes it an easy place to shoot. It’s a favorite for fans because of the layout. Instead of parking your car, walking hella far, and sitting in your seat, you can drive your car almost right up to the track, have a tailgate party, set up a canopy, bring your own chairs and a cooler, and chill. For the drivers, they like the fact that it’s an actual road course as opposed to an oval or parking lot, and this track in particular has awesome elevation changes and really fun turn complexes, including the bowl where all the drifting takes place.
On Thursday morning, the first driver I found was Matt Powers. He was building his tent. Thursday is always a fun time, as there are no fans around. It’s just officials, the teams, and not even half of the media. Everyone is more or less relaxed because it’s just a practice day. Qualifying isn’t until Friday evening.
I turned around and saw Walker Wilkerson’s car being unloaded, but I didn’t see Walker anywhere. Must be nice.
Daigo Saito’s crew was preparing the SC for practice.
Look at that turbo!
Naoki Kobayashi was busy busting Nexens. How were there any tires to bust this early in the event? Maybe they were left over from Long Beach or some practice day.
Chris Harrington flew in from London the night before, and boy were his arms tired.
Odi Bakchis found time for a hot dog. No bun, just the dog.
Chris Forsberg was fixing his rear bumper, getting ready to go practice. There was a new course layout this year. Instead of entering the horseshoe at the bottom, drivers would have to extend their drift higher up the hill and enter it from the top.
Taka Aono seemed confused. Actually, everyone was confused when they looked at the back of my camera to see the photo I had just taken of them. Sorry, it’s film!
Larry was happy to see me, but even he was confused about my camera.
Geoff wanted to show off his new Life Blasters Lifebeater. Seen it, bro.
Finally it was time for some driving. Ryan Tuerck was ready to drive. Or maybe ready to check his Facebook?
Fredric Aasbø was definitely ready.
He was looking super comfortable on the track during practice.
He looked good enough to deserve three photos in a row!
Darren McNamara hadn’t decided if he liked the 350Z yet when I asked him. Later on I heard that he thinks it’s too heavy. I’m not surprised, considering how light the Sky was.
Luke Lonberger had a new engine in the Corvette and he was ready to give Atlanta another go. He barely failed to quality here last year. He said he liked the new course since you could just stand on the throttle on the way up to the top of the horseshoe.
Forsberg got his bumper back on the car with plenty of time to spare.
Justin Pawlak had a lot riding on this event, so he had to concentrate hard even during practice. After a few runs he hadn’t decided if he liked the new track layout or not.
But he was still laying down solid runs all day.
Ryan Kado is off to a solid start this year. Much better than how his 2011 season started.
Vaughn Gittin, Jr., was ready to rock, as usual, but the 2010 champ had some much needed points to recover if he wanted to make a run at the title this year.
From the looks of it, that wouldn’t be difficult.
Hey! Justin and Annie decided to show up.
Fisheyes are wonderful grid lenses.
Atlanta is Conrad Grunewald’s favorite track. He qualified first here last year and won the Retaks Insane Entry Award.
Mike Essa’s backwards entries were challenging Conrad’s though. Conrad would have to watch out.
Rhys Millen is always a threat, and this round was no exception.
Ryan Davis is hard to miss with his all-new 400 2.8 II and 5D Mark III combo.
He’s also super sexy.
Larry, on the other hand, has been shooting with the same gear for years.
On Friday, the paddock has a much different vibe. The models and fans show up and it gets a lot more crowded. The teams are more focused since it’s time for qualifying, but the crowd just wants to have a good time.
Ryan had work to do, and I was locked out of the car. All I had was my Elan 7 and 70-200, so I was happy to hang out with Ryan and use his ultrawide 14mm. It’s such a rad little lens!
Jarod DeAnda was doing a few segments for the FD show, and Ryan had to film the one after this one.
Soon enough we all headed out to watch qualifying. First in Long Beach, Tuerck was only able to nab the 24th spot in Atlanta.
Local boy Dennis Merzanis squeezed in at 14th.
Toshiki Yoshioka barely made the cut at 29th.
Luke was happy with 22nd.
Matt Powers claimed a very comfortable 7th spot.
George Marstanovic is widely regarded as having the coolest FC at the moment, due to his tucking rim and dragging sideskirts à la Matt Powers.
And still enough performance to land in the 26th qualifying spot.
Daigo is definitely the king of smoke production. Can you believe this guy? He qualified midpack at 15th.
Apparently something broke in Dai’s suspension. Whatever it was, he went suuuuper low in the back! Still good enough for 9th qualifier though.
Tyler McQuarrie landed in the 20th spot in his second round driving the Gardella Camaro.
Joon Maeng tried to get as backwards as Essa, but ended up in the dirt. He had to go conservative on his other run and that put him in 13th.
Mike Essa ended up as #1 qualifier, but only because of the issue with the speed gun. Something went wrong and FD decided to award everyone speed points instead of just the drivers who got the minimum speed. Otherwise Conrad would have been first for the second year in a row. Essa got the Insane Entry Award too, but no one’s going to deny that he earned that one.
Stick around for our Saturday coverage coming up soon!
Photos by Bohan and Ayala