It’s crazy to think that the 2012 Formula DRIFT season has already come to a close. We kicked off the season on a high note with a top 16 finish at Round 1 in Long Beach, and as we built up to the finale in Irwindale all I wanted to do was end the season just as strong as we had started. Last year I was faced with a multitude of mechanical failures and failed to get a grasp on the challenging course that is the “House of Drift.” With a battle hardened team, a freshly upgraded car, and nothing to lose, I was out for blood.
It would be an understatement to say my weekend got off to a rocky start. I left my house in So-Can at about 5:00pm on Tuesday and started my short seven hour commute to Nor-Mex. I prefer driving through the night on my LA trips because I can avoid all of the traffic, and Matt & Eric at SR Motorcars are nocturnal so I usually show up in the middle of a car fixing party. I started off the journey by blowing a tire just 40 minutes from my house.
The nice thing about driving my rig all over the place is that I have access to all of my tools, so with my race jack and impact wrench it took about 15 seconds to put on the spare. The rest of the drive went off without a hitch, or so it seemed. I made my routine gas stop just before Purple Mountain, and upon inspection of the trailer I found I was once again down to three tires. Little did I know this would be a recurring theme for the weekend.
At this point I was only about two hours from the shop, so Matt came and rescued me. As I waited in the Chevron parking lot laying down in the truck, the clock struck midnight and I turned twenty one. My birthday was spent getting things ready for the competition weekend, which included running into unexpected mechanical problems and staying up until 6 in the morning fixing them. The life of a professional drifter is often filled with this kind of glamour and rockstar-ness.
Thursday morning’s practice session was interesting. Our whole team was beat and exhausted, and I am thoroughly surprised I did not total the car in a fiery crash. I don’t even remember my runs from Thursday, and I don’t think Matt or Eric remember even being there. We needed to sleep. Thankfully, it started to rain pretty hard halfway through the session. I was the first driver in line to head out on the damp track, and I just went for it 100%. Needless to say, I flew straight into the wall and packed down the rear end pretty hard. All I broke was a wheel, but it was enough of a hit for the rest of the field to call it a day.
On that note we all went to the hotel and slept for 14 hours. Friday was a different story. Everyone was rested and focused on trying our absolute best and striving for one goal: Have lots of fun. On my first qualifying run, I was super excited and decided to just go all out. I ended up wallriding the first bank too hard and popping my passenger side rear tire. I felt a little wobble in the rear of the car, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from drifting so I stayed in it and had a killer run.
I had a huge smile on my face as I crossed the finish line because I knew by the look on my mechanic Ry Moore’s face that something on the car looked crazy. I was rocking three wheels for the fourth time this weekend, and it earned me a 77 which was enough to get us into the Top 32.
On a side note, I always look forward to the autograph signing session because I get to meet all the crazy drift fans that love this sport as much as I do. Unfortunately, our Top 32 night practice was scheduled so that we would only have 30 mintues to sign autographs before we had to leave for practice. After seeing how long the line was for autographs, I decided to skip the practice session and stay until the very last die hard superfine who stood in line for an hour and a half got something signed. It may sound cliched, but it is true that none of us would be doing what we do if it weren’t for the fans that drive the sport and give us something to compete for.
That night, the guys took the car back to the shop for some fine tuning to get the engine running a little smoother for tandem battles. Ry was so tired he was fully asleep in the passenger seat of the car while Eric was doing full pulls on the dyno.
Saturday started off with an excellent Top 32 practice session, and I was having a blast chasing my competitors around the super fast super technical track layout. I was pumped after practice, but once again I was near the end of the bracket so I had a pretty decent wait before I would get my shot at redemption against Ryan Tuerck. I had to chase first because of my lower qualifying spot but I actually prefer to chase first because it gives me a chance to gauge the speed of the other driver, and because I just plain like chasing.
Ryan pulled a good size gap off the line and through the first turn. He might drive a simple S13 but he has that thing dialed in like a rocket ship. After we transitioned into the inner bank, I knew I would have to dive in hard or I wasn’t going to catch up. I aimed straight for his disco colored 240 and closed the gap, which left me feeling fairly confident going into my lead run.
My strategy for the lead was simply to go as fast as possible and hope that Ryan would make a mistake in the face of my 350’s snappy switchbacks and super-shiny reflective stickers. I was able to pull a gap near the first inner clip, but by the end of the inner bank he had caught back up.
At that point I tried to engage the smoke screen but the veteran hoonigan climbed up against my door and sealed my fate.
It was a good battle, and as always a ton of fun running with Ryan Tuerck. Alwindare (as my pit neighbor Taka Aono says it) is the only track where I really don’t mind getting knocked out because I get to watch the craziness unfold trackside, and it really is the craziest craziness we get to see all year.
In the end, I had a super fun weekend and I am stoked with my driving and how dialed my team was able to get the car with just about zero budget and time. I cant say thank you enough to my team, my sponsors, Life Blasters (especially Geoff Pitts for sacrificing event photography to be my eyes and ears in the spotter stand), and most importantly all of my fans for believing in me and supporting me through all the chaos and shenanigans. Until next year, you all stay classy.
Photos by Ayala & Bohan