Just when this was shaping up to be the weirdest Formula Drift season on record, Round 5’s outcome was as tame as the Puget Sound weather. There was very little fan uproar about judging calls, and aside from a few (important) upsets, this event was rather…uneventful. Some would even call it a pleasant change. Not everyone though. For a handfull of drivers it was nothing but frustration.
The weekend got off to an interesting start as points leader Daigo Saito, first up for qualifying, slammed into the wall at the end of the bank. No one expected that at all. All of a sudden he was limited to the bottom half of the qualifying order, and considering that qualifying is not one of his strengths, he’d likely be halfway down the second half. The points lost from qualifying at this round would prove to be pivotal in the standings.
The Achilles crew was able to get the car back together for his second run, and as predicted he landed in the 26th spot.
Fresh from Pikes Peak, 7th qualifier Toshiki Yoshioka was looking hot in practice. While not particularly amazing, his runs were good and solid, and Saito had a correction coming off the bank while following. Upset of the year? Maybe. Not in terms of qualifying spots; 7th against 26th should be an easy win. But in terms of the overall standings, Yoshioka wasn’t even in the top 32 drivers and he took out the leader.
With Daigo Saito being knocked out early, the door was wide open for Vaughn Gittin, Jr. to step in and take the lead. The man upstairs figured that just making it to the final battle would be enough to get ahead. Gittin had been finishing progressively worse at each round, falling from 2nd to 3rd to 4th, and then losing in the Top 16 in New Jersey. So while he’s definitely one of the top drivers, we’d have to wait and see if he could pull himself out of his slump.
Daijiro Yoshihara was once again stopped in his tracks, this time by Robbie Nishida. With three Top 32 finishes and a Top 16 finish following up his Long Beach victory, the 2011 champ doesn’t appear to have any chance left for a second title. Back to back Top 8 finishes and a 3rd place finish in Florida have now put Nishida one slot ahead of Yoshihara in the standings.
The Nexen team was having an interesting problem at this track. If they ran their rear tires at more than 17psi, the left rear would delaminate when coming off the bank into the infield. If they ran the rears at less than 17psi, the left rear would debead while coming off the bank. It didn’t happen every time, but often enough to cause major headaches, especially for Odi Bakchis.
Bakchis lucked out on his qualifying run. His tire stayed together and he managed to pull off a run good enough to qualify 5th. As he led against Tony Angelo in the Top 32, his tire debeaded and he called a Competition Time Out to replace the wheel. Luckily he had managed not let the tire affect his run too much and he moved on to the Top 16 where he defeated Conrad Grunewald without issue.
But then his tire debeaded in the Great 8 during his One More Time battle with Gittin. Luck was with him again and he won by default after Gittin stalled in front of him. He then went on to face Michael Essa in the Final Four while Gittin went back to his trailer without having taken the lead.
Bakchis led first and his tire debeaded again. The car wasn’t completely undrivable, but it was deemed unsafe. Without an additional Time Out to swap the wheel again, he was caught between a rock and a hard place and had to concede the battle to Essa.
Meanwhile Fredric Aasbo’s crew was busy repairing the damage caused by slowing down in front of Chris Forsberg. They couldn’t fix it in time to continue the battle with Forsberg so the 2010 and 2011 Rookies of the Year faced off in the Consolation Round.
It was a split decision and they went One More Time. Bakchis had an amazing follow run until his tire debeaded and he had to concede this battle as well, potentially costing him his first career podium finish. We’ll never know which way it would have gone if Bakchis had gotten the full potential out of his tires. Aftwards, Bakchis told us, “I truly felt like I had podium, the technical problem was really upsetting. I was devastated to have to forfeit my chance twice.”
With Chris Forsberg defeating Mike Essa in the Final Battle, he also claimed the overall lead. Essa climbed into 2nd, ahead of Saito and Gittin, with Fredric Aasbo now in 5th. The championship could still go to any one of these drivers, and only three points separate Forsberg from Saito.
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