TD ProAm Round 4
After a turbulent season of cancelled events and changes in venues, the 2012 TDProAm series held its final round on Saturday. With many drivers giving up hope of earning a Formula Drift license, the field was reduced to 14 drivers who came to duke it out and see who would come out on top. There was some controversy surrounding the licenses, particulary regarding the fact that TDProAm awarded one of the four available licenses as a wildcard instead of simply giving it to the 4th place driver. But first, we’ll go over the event itself.
The buzz in the morning was that former Miss Formula Drift Melyssa Grace decided to come to Round 4 as her first competition ever. After a few laps exploring the grass she was driving as hard as anyone else.
Joe McGuigan shredded the bottom end of his 1UZ at the Bob’s Black Friday Trackday at Buttonwillow the day before Round 4. In a Herculean effort, he found a replacement engine and swapped it in overnight, and still made it to Stockton right on time.
I made sure the judges know that cones and delineators make bad photos. Julian Jacobs agreed with me and was happy to get rid of any that weren’t necessary.
There had been a thick fog when we all got to the track but it all burned off just in time for practice. Now the only visibility-limiting substance on the track was tire smoke.
After the drivers got a feel for the Round 4 layout it was time for a meeting.
Grace was doing good in practice, but now it was time to impress the judges.
Lex King was extra quiet this round. He was looking for his second podium of the season, and if Round 5 last year was any indication he was going to be a totally different driver this round. He was in 3rd place after Round 2 but slipped back to 4th after Round 3 so it was do or die.
I’m pretty sure King was leaning more towards “do.”
The judges, scorekeeper, and spotters got into position and Qualifying was underway.
Matt Madrigali was fast and smooth on both of his qualifying runs, but wasn’t as close to the wall on the bank as the judges wanted to see, so that qualified him 5th.
Tyler Wolfson started his first run off slow and conservative and spun after the transition in the infield. Since there were only 14 drivers it was impossible to not qualify, but he still conservative on his second run. Slow but clean was good enough for 4th.
Fast but shallow in the infield, Marcus Fry’s high line on the bank earned him the #3 spot.
Rob Webber flicked it hard into the bank and kept it fast and close. The judges’ notes for Webber’s second run say it all: “Sick Sick Sick.”
And the number one qualifying spot went to none other than Eugene Kretschmer for keeping his speed up, with big angle, and nearly scraping the wall through the whole bank.
At the driver introductions, Matt Madrigali had the best trick.
And with that, the drivers lined up to start the tandem battles.
Kretschmer had a bye run since there were only 14 drivers, so the first battle was Josh McGuire and rookie Oregonian Matt Coffman. Both drivers has clean lead runs, but McGuire fell back on his chase run and had a couple of corrections, giving Coffman the win.
Tyler Wolfson was sitting in first with a decent lead but he was far from safe. He too would need to finish fairly well in order to maintain his top spot. Wolfson had a very nice lead run as Nick Bayati chased cleany but with a big gap. When they switched, Bayati had a good lean run til the end when he shut it down a bit early. Wolfson had a little bobble but maintained better proximity and got the win.
Aaron Conklin missed the previous two rounds but was sure to make it to Round 4. He said he was going to do a backflip in his car but a spin was as close as he could get. Matt Madrigali moved on.
Rob Webber also got a bye run, so the next battle was Lex King and Sean Hoover. A spin on King’s lead run sealed his fate and 5th place Sean Hoover advanced to the Top 8.
Maybe he was down on power or maybe he was just exhausted, but McGuigan had a few wobbles on both his lead and follow runs while 4th place Marcus Fry killed it in front and behind him.
Alveen Gideon was killing the bank all day, with only a quarter of the power of some of the other cars. As mentioned earlier this was Melyssa Grace’s first competition, but you’d never know that by the way she was driving toward the end of practice and into qualifying. Beating Gideon would have been difficult for anyone, but Grace had some pretty big mistakes both leading and following.
Eugene Kretschmer wasn’t able to regain the lead after Round 2 but he was out for blood in Round 4. Able to rest during the Top 16, his first battle of the day was in the Top where he faced Matt Coffman. They both had solid, aggressive lead and follow runs, but Coffman went three wheels off when he chased so the win went to Kretschmer.
Wolfson and Matt Madrigali both had good lead and follow runs, but Wolfson had considerably closer proximity when chasing, and he moved into striking distance of the championship.
Hoover was performing well until he spun in front of Webber in the Top 8. Rob had held it together on his lead run and moved on to the Top 4.
I was hoping Fry and Gideon wouldn’t meet til the end so they’d both do well, but one of them had to lose in the Top 8. Fry had a good but safe lead run while Gideon scraped the wall behind him without falling back. When they switched, Gideon ran clean but Fry fell back so they went One More Time.
Fry’s next lead run was almost identical to his last, but Gideon’s chase wasn’t as aggressive. The aggressiveness was saved for his lead run apparently, with Fry maintaining better proximity than before. They went One More Time again.
Fry repeated his lead run almost exactly again, while Gideon chased clean but far behind. As if they were asking for a third One More Time, Gideon had a safe lead run while Fry followed far behind.
On this unprecedented fourth iteration of the battle, Fry finally stepped it up on his lead run, running fast and high, while Gideon chased cleanly but lacking proximity. Still hanging onto hope, Gideon’s lead run was as aggressive as ever, but Fry’s proximity finally gave the judges an answer. Fry moved on, that much closer to securing a license.
Things were tense as the top two drivers faced off in the Top 4. Whoever won this battle was going to take the championship as well. Kretschmer dove in with all he had and showed the crowd why he had qualified first. Wolfson followed conservatively and with a sizable gap so the advantage went to Kretschmer. Wolfson’s lead run was safe but solid, while Kretschmer corrected behind him. After some deliberation the judges gave the win to Wolfson and he became the 2012 TDProAm champion.
Webber and Fry both still had a chance to with the round but they’d have to face each other first. Webber had a bobble on his initiation into the bank, causing Fry to get off his line behind him. They both recovered and stayed solid for the rest of the run. Fry’s lead run was his best yet, but Webber followed shallow in order to keep up. The judges sent Fry into the final battle.
Rob Webber is one of those guys who has been making steady improvements over the last few years, and it looked like it might pay off this round as he was looking at getting his first podium finish, if he could get past Eugene Kretschmer. Kretschmer started off with a nice, smooth lead run as Webber stayed close but got choked up and had a correction at the end. Webber also had a nice, smooth lead run, but Kretschmer followed shallow and with a bigger gap. The judges called a One More Time.
Kretschmer’s second lead run was just like his first. Webber chased with less angle but was able to finish cleanly. When they switched, Webber was solid on his lead as Kretschmer straightened out behind him, giving Webber third place.
And just like that we were at the final battle of the season. Tyler Wolfson was already the champion but he was lacking a single-event win on his list of achievements.
Marcus Fry hadn’t been on the podium yet this season so things were already going better than usual for him. Fry led first and he displayed his usual aggressive style. Wolfson’s chase was clean but he carried less angle than Fry. When Wolfson took the lead, Fry dove into the bank super close to him. Maybe it was a little too close, and it looked like he lifted for a split second, causing snap oversteer. He caught it before it sent him into the wall, but it was too little too late. Tyler Wolfson got his first win.
In the season overall, Tyler Wolfson and Eugene Kretschmer held their positions in 1st and 2nd, and they were joined by Marcus Fry who climbed into 3rd place all the way from 6th. Josh McGuire slipped from 3rd to 5th and King fell from 4th to 6th. There was some debate among the judges, the staff, and organizer Geoff Pitts as to who should get the wildcard license. Some, like judge Luke Lonberger, wanted to give it to Josh McGuire, as he appeared to have the best chance of success in Formula Drift, meaning he had the skill and the experience as well as the means. Others, like competition manager Luke Crowell, thought it should go to Sean Hoover since he finished in 4th place and that would make the licenses simply go to the top four drivers. Because of the relatively low number of drivers TD ProAm has compared to bigger series like Top Drift, I thought there shouldn’t have even been a fourth license to start with. The three points of view were pretty even, but in the end Pitts made the call to award the wildcard license McGuire. After the announcement was made, the drivers split into groups who either agreed with the decision or opposed it. Some understood the logic of giving it to McGuire while others argued that it should have gone to Hoover, or even to other drivers for various reasons.
But that’s where the problems started, and I’d like to clarify a few things about the licensing fiasco that resulted from McGuire getting the wildcard. After Pitts submitted the new licensee names to Formula Drift, he was informed that he was actually not permitted to hand out a wildcard and that the fourth license must go to the 4th place driver, in this case Sean Hoover. It should be noted that the idea of a wildcard is not unprecedented. In 2010 there was a wildcard invitation to ProAm Nationals in addition to the regular invitations. That year only the top finisher got an automatic license. Pitts and I agreed on the point that TD ProAm should only have three licenses to award this season, but Formula Drift insisted that there be four. As a compromise, Pitts then decided that the fourth license would be a wildcard. I’m not trying to justify what happened, this is just the logic that went into the decision making process. It’s worth mentioning that even though it was wrong to do in the first place, it was the plan since early in the season, and it was talked about at drivers’ meetings. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.
However, the rules for ProAm affiliate series haven’t allowed for wildcards starting with the 2011 season, so it all comes back to Pitts running TD ProAm with more autonomy than he had the authority to do. To be clear, Pitts was not trying to skirt the rules or do any favors for friends, but it was a mistake and the blame rests squarely on his shoulders. He admits this grievous error, and he regrets that all of this happened and he is very sorry for it. It was a devastating blow to McGuire to fall behind in points after Round 4 and lose his chance at a license, only to be awarded the wildcard license, and then have the license taken away. Hoover, on the other hand, finished right where a license should have been, but wasn’t. He told me later that, “I’m just happy things got straightened out! I feel for Josh because when I was told I hadn’t received a license I was really bummed. I felt like my team and I had worked really hard to get where we are now and it had kinda been for nothing! But in the end things were righted and I appreciate that!”
Eugene Kretschmer commented, “I cant believe this happened, and I truly feel for Josh McGuire and Sean Hoover for being put through this emotional roller coaster.”
I also asked Hoover what he thought of the wildcard idea. “To be honest I wasn’t really sure about the wildcard. From following other ProAm series I had seen the top three or four drivers get licenses, so when I heard ThunderDrift was doing it, the wildcard, it kinda surprised me and made me want to work harder to be a possible contender!”
Joe McGuigan thought the wildcard was a good idea. “I agree with a wildcard. Traditional podiums are always 1st, 2nd, 3rd. If we had the huge number of constant attendants…I could agree with continuing with 4th and 5th, etc. I feel Josh does have the best chance at FD as he already has a proper crew and resources.”
Tyler Wolfson thought the wildcard was a good idea, but didn’t think the financial ability of a driver to compete at the pro level should have been a factor in the decision. “I think that’s what’s cool about drifting. I used to road race and that was all about money. Coming into drifting has been awesome because its about driving, not who can write the biggest check.”
So there you have it. It was a controversial way to end the season for sure, but it’s been resolved. Hoover got his license, Pitts manned up to his mistake, and McGuire, though rightfully upset, has his work cut out for him next season. The fallout may be far from over. Lonberger has announced that he will not be returning to judge next season, but he will still be involved in NorCal drifting in some other capacity.
Pitts would like to assure the drifting community that TDProAm will in fact have a 2013 season and he is busily working out the five-round schedule with Stockton99 Speedway.
Here are the final standings: