Formula DRIFT Kicks off its 10th Season at Long Beach

bohan-1-1That’s right, folks, the 10th anniversary season of Formula DRIFT is now underway! Round 1 is in the books, and Life Blasters is here for you with the play-by-play, but before we get into the details we would like to extend a huge thanks to Formula DRIFT for signing us on as an official Media Affiliate. We are proud to be recognized for our previous media coverage efforts, and look forward to bringing you a whole season of killer stories as  they happen.

bohan-1-2Long Beach is always where new things are unveiled. New cars, new liveries, and new rookies get everyone excited for a new season. Daijiro Yoshihara’s car is anything but new. It’s an old car with a driver who’s been in the series since Day 1. It has the same livery it’s had for the past several years, and aside from some mechanical updates, there’s hardly anything worth mentioning. But it is a championship-winning car with a championship-winning driver.
bohan-1-7Dai did have to get his headshots taken for 2013. That’s something new.
bohan-2-2Justin Pawlak’s back to back wins justify his title as the “King of Long Beach,” but as you know by now, a three-peat was not in the cards.
bohan-2-5One has to wonder what JTP was thinking leading up to qualifying. The odds were definitely stacked against him, but he’s always overcome the odds before. He was looking at a history of ten consecutive tandem wins at Long Beach.
bohan-2-19But then as he crashed in qualifying, his odds of making it got even worse. We’d seen JTP’s crew work miracles before, but not in the small time span between two qualifying runs.
pitts-2-3Even the track workers helped bring his scattered parts back to the Falken pit.
pitts-2-4The clock was ticking fast, but JTP’s team is one of the best-prepared in the business. They have spares of everything and know exactly what to do. All they had to do was do it.
bohan-2-21The car was together in time for his second qualifying run, though under the new qualifying rules he was limited to the bottom half of the bracket, which meant he’d face higher qualifiers in each battle.
pitts-2-2The tandem battles were still a day away though, and the crew had plenty of time to get the Mustang back into competition-winning condition. All JTP had to do was beat Wang, Tuerck, Forsberg, Gittin, and the guy to his right raising his finger in the air. No problem, right?
dai-1And Dai just had to be Dai, simple as that.
bohan-3-1Competition day started off cold and overcast and for the first time anyone could remember, it stayed like that.
bohan-3-5The course workers headed out to their posts as the drivers lined up for the practice session.
bohan-3-9The drivers had time to get a feel for the cold track. There was a threat of rain but it never got to more than a light sprinkle.
bohan-3-10Dai just did run after consistent run.
bohan-3-11And he did those runs right into the Top 32, where he got a bye. His opponent Tyler McQuarrie had developed a mechanical problem late in practice that prevented him from running.
bohan-3-13One of the most anticipated battles (for us anyway) was between Danny George and Daigo Saito. There couldn’t be more of a contrast between the “people’s driver” in a fan-funded Miata and the defending champion in no-holds barred modern machine.
bohan-3-14Right away George fell behind but he never gave up.
bohan-3-15Even through all of the Ninja’s smoke, the little Miata didn’t falter. Saito ran a fairly shallow line through the course so George took an even shallower line through Turn 10 in order to stay with the SC. But as he dove into 11 he got choked up and had to straighten out.
Danny_DaigoWhen it was George’s turn to lead, he took a wider line than Saito had, and Saito resisted running his extremely shallow follow line that he became infamous for last season. The champ kept his distance til they rouned the hairpin, where he got right up on the Miata’s door. Because of George’s follow run, Saito moved on.
AASBO_YOSHIOKAThe Scion FR-S showed up in force at Formula DRIFT this year, and our own Joe Ayala thinks Toshiki Yoshioka’s is the best looking one. Okay so his is actually the only Subaru BRZ in the series but who’s counting?  Being a Toyota AE86 fanatic at heart, his driving style looked much better in the BRZ than it has in previous years with a Nissan platform. Fredric Aasbø has entered the 2013 season in the same Scion tC he has had since 2011, but with a whole new engine producing over 900 horsepower at the flywheel. Not bad for a four cylinder! Aasbø’s chase skills were too good for Yoshioka and he put an end to the Japanese driver’s weekend.
Jeff Jones gave an aggressive follow run, which may have taken Ryan Tuerck by surprise. Thinking he might have lost to one of the most grassroots drivers in the series. The Retaks driver looked visibly distressed while waiting for the verdict. Much to his relief and Jones’s disbelief, they were to go One More Time. On Jones’s next follow run he barely tapped the FR-S and broke suspension components on his right front corner, costing him the battle.
wang-1Although Forrest Wang isn’t a rookie, he is relatively untested in professional competition. His style is impressive and his car produces a tremendous amount of smoke, but his overall speed was considerably below that of his tandem opponent, the formidable Justin Pawlak. The King of Long Beach took the win unanimously.
bohan-3-27Taka Aono was on fire during qualifying, taking the 11th position in his vastly improved Toyota AE86. In his battle with Pat “Possum Problem” Mordaunt, he laid down probably the most impressive lead run we’ve ever seen him drive, but straightened and corrected on the follow run to give Pat the unanimous win.
bohan-3-29During the halftime break people were continuously congratulating Danny George on his battle with Daigo Saito. He was still shocked the judges didn’t give him the win.
bohan-3-33Bil Baldwin was kind enough to slap a Bohan sticker on the wall at his post and then pose with his own sticker.
bohan-3-34When the break was over, Bil directed the cars as they rolled out for the opening ceremonies. We’re pretty sure Bil is the most famous corner worker in the world now. Drift Alliance has been a major force in Formula D since the very beginning and they almost always make up the front row of cars.
bohan-3-35Despite all the activity over the past few days and even the Top 32 battles earlier in this day, the singing of the National Anthem signaled the official start of Formula D’s tenth season.
daigo-1Daigo Saito sure has come a long way since Long Beach last year. Back then there was a lot of hype as he was already a champion in Asia, but not many people dared guess he’d be a champion here too.
DAI_MATTAfter the driver introductions, the battle of Yoshihara and Powers kicked off the top 16. The opening run of this battle was one of the best of the whole event. Powers placed his car within inches of Yoshihara, and both drivers placed their cars deep in the scoring zones. With the Angle judge voting One More Time and the two others voting for Dai, the win was decided.
bohan-3-37Saito and Aasbø had arguably the most epic battle of the day, going OMT twice!
DIAGO_AASBOSometimes OMT’s are called because both drivers make equal mistakes. Saito and Aasbø went OMT because they were both perfect.
bohan-3-42…over and over again.
DAIGO_AASBOBoth drivers were doing such perfect runs that the defining factor in the end was that Daigo dove in off the racing line in the final corner to decrease his proximity to Aasbø, which is a deduction per the new tandem rules.
bohan-3-40Next up was Chelsea DeNofa versus Ryan Kado. Kado started his follow run brilliantly by initiating extremely close to the BMW, but after the first transfer DeNofa left him in the dust, err… tire smoke. On the second run, DeNofa ran strong and Kado made a mistake while leading giving a unanimous win to DeNofa.
bohan-3-46Darren MacNamara had a shallow line on his lead run, and Chris Forsberg followed the incorrect line superbly. On his lead run Forsberg ran as solid and consistent as ever, and D-Mac made a mistake giving Forsberg the unanimous win.
TUERCK_JTPAfter losing his battle with Ryan Tuerck due to a mistake at the end of his follow run, Justin Pawlak was kind enough to give me a brief interview on what went down.
Pitts: You have won this event for the past two years, and I’m sure you were hoping for a three-peat here, what happened?
JTP: Yeah, of course I came here to three-peat for sure. On the follow run I thought I was pretty much on Tuerck’s door. He hit the wall and had a pretty big bobble. I kinda eased off him at that point, I think it just threw off my rythym with the track and I mis-grabbed a gear into the hairpin corner and stalled out. I made a mistake.
bohan-3-48JTP:  The second run I basically laid it to him, man. I pretty much murdered the track. I thought that our mistakes on the first run would cancel each other out, and my advantage on the lead run would get me at least a one more time. I mean, he hit a course marker and straightened out, and in the new rules those two things equal a zero, and my stall equaled a zero, so I thought they would even out, but apparently that’s not what the judges thought.
Pitts: What does this mean for the rest of your season?
JTP: You know, the last couple of years I’ve started out real strong and kinda had a hiccup in the middle, but usually having a strong ending of the year, but maybe this year is different. Maybe we’re just going to ease into it and come on strong for the rest of the year. I’m still shooting for a championship.
bohan-3-50Mike Essa and Ken Gushi both have come back with totally awesome cars for 2013. Essa in an all new E46 BMW, and Gushi in his Scion FR-S with a new livery, and an unbelievably awesome exhaust note. No joke, it sounds like a Group B rally car. They traded mistakes on their follow runs, but a stellar lead run is what sealed the win for Gushi.
bohan-3-51Although Pat Mordaunt is looking crisp in his updated Lexus and put in an impressive lead run, the overall skills of last year’s championship runner-up Vaughn Gittin were too much for him, and Gittin took the unanimous win. If you can recall, it was Gittin’s spin while following Mordaunt in Irwindale last year that cost him the Championship.
bohan-3-52As we entered the Great 8, the first battle was Dai versus Aasbø. Both drivers ran lead runs which lacked slightly in line accuracy, but had proximity as though they were glued together. From our perspective we could not discern a winner, but the judges did, and it was Dai Yoshihara.
MOEN_CRASHChelsea DeNofa’s Great 8 experience was about as easy as it could’ve been. Kenny Moen has a well-deserved reputation as a giant-slayer, but as he went mechanical and slid into the wall at Turn 9, Odi Bakchis slid into the Great 8The track medics took Kenny away on a stretcher, but he got out of the car and waved to the crowd under his own power so hopefully he wasn’t hurt too bad
bohan-3-54In the next battle, Chris Forsberg started out with a phenomenal follow run where he touched almost every wall along the course. Afterwards, he called a T/O (Competition Time-Out previously known as the 5-minute rule). Tuerck left more of a gap than Forsberg had on his follow run, and made a correction towards the end of the course. All three judges gave the win to Forsberg.
bohan-3-55Vaughn Gittin, Jr. and Ken Gushi faced off for the first time since Sonoma 2010, and both drivers had a proficient but not stellar first run. The second run’s deal was sealed when Gushi made a mistake into the hairpin, and Gittin stayed within close proximity.
bohan-3-56Dai Yoshihara led Chelsea DeNofa into the first battle of the Final 4 with a sizable gap, and Chelsea straightened out a little on his lead run giving Yoshihara the win.
CHRIS_VS_JRDrift Alliance brothers Vaughn Gittin, Jr. and Chris Forsberg went head to head and while both runs were almost perfect, Forsberg left a slightly larger gap in his follow run giving Vaughn the win and a guaranteed spot on the podium.
bohan-3-60For the Consolation, Chelsea DeNofa led Chris Forsberg. He was off the outer clipping zones by a sizable margin, but still ran consistently. When it came time for DeNofa to follow, he ran a shallower line and allowed Forsberg to create a large gap between them. Forsberg took the win and the final podium position.
DAI_VS_JRThe Final Battle was between Dai Yoshihara and Vaughn Gittin, Jr. Gittin nearly spun on his follow run as he went shallow and took out the clipping point in the hairpin. Even with a super clean lead run he was not able to overcome the mistake, giving the overall event win to Dai Yoshihara.
bohan-3-64Immediately we realized the significance of this. This is only the second time in recent memory that a driver has scored a perfect 112. Before Gittin did it at Evergreen last year, only one other driver had done it and that was further back than the online Formula D records go. This makes Dai one of only three people in FD history who have ever qualified 1st and gone on to win. On top of all of that, there is something new here. As far as the Life Blasters staff know, he is the only driver to get a perfect score at the first round. That means that not only did Dai get a perfect score for the weekend, he has a perfect score for the season.
bohan-3-65Of course this left Gittin in second place and Forsberg in third, with Daigo Saito way down in tenth.
bohan-3-66Could Dai be looking at a second championship? When he won in 2011, he started off with a third place finish at Long Beach. On the other hand, when Gittin won it in 2010 and Forsberg won 2009, they both started with wins at Long Beach.
bohan-3-67So the event is over, Dai wins, the podium is full of former champions ,good fight, good night. Go home. Right? Wrong. This, my friends, was much more than a win. Here’s a very interesting fact: Dai’s worst performance ever was last year’s finale at Irwindale where he placed 21st. Not bad considering he’s qualified for all but one event Formula DRIFT has ever held, and shouldn’t going from your worst event to an event win be regarded as one of the biggest comebacks ever? We think so.
A new season has started and Formula D is on its way to becoming an old series. With 30 years of combined Formula D experience among the top three drivers, they’re all a threat for the championship. But as Daigo Saito showed us last season, even a newcomer can disrupt the status quo and win it all.
-Pitts & Bohan
Photos by Ayala, Bohan, and Pitts

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