Back Where it All Started
Who could have guessed that Road Atlanta would hold such a prestigious place in American drifting history? For sure the South is a hotbed of car culture and racing activity, but most Japanese influence is in Los Angeles and the rest of the West Coast. Eventual FD founders Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage were involved with D1 coming to Irwindale in 2003 so when it came time to start the US’s own professional drifting series in 2004, where would it make sense to hold the first event?
You guessed it. Road Atlanta was the place where the new series would set its first roots. In 2004 it was a hard sale to convince venues that drifting was the next big thing but Road Atlanta was on board since the beginning. There were only four rounds that year, and aside from Atlanta, only Irwindale was part of the original schedule. Not counting the demo in 2005, Formula D didn’t even have a full-on event at Long Beach until 2006!
So here we are back at Road Atlanta for the 10th time. These are arguably the best drift fans in the country, or at least the drunkest.
Chris Forsberg is one of a handful of guys who has been to every round of FD since that first Atlanta event in 2004. For a few other drivers, this was their first round of FD ever. It was time to put them all to the test.
Top 32 although dry was a bit of a wash. A great many notable drivers were unable to qualify due to mechanical issues, so the philosophy of the tandem bracket arrangement worked perfectly aside from a few battles. Field beat Ward, Gittin beat Briggs, Wang beat Ovcharik, Powers beat Parsons, yawn.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get more predictable, the first run of the Danny George & Ryan Tuerck battle happened. I had never seen Danny drift so well in the Miata! I excitedly anticipated his follow run, but after the initiation my eyes rolled back in my head, my jaw dropped, and my brain started leaking out of my ear. Total meltdown. In the end, a judgement was made that Danny George had caused the spin by tapping the left rear of Tuerck’s car. When we asked Tuerck what happened after the event, he said “When Danny tapped me, I was already at full opposite lock so I had no extra angle to save myself from the spin.” I guess those who say the FR-S has weak angle are correct…
Another highlight from Top 32 was when Conrad Grunewald beat Dai Yoshihara, thus finishing off his hopes of a perfect season. Conrad and Dai had only faced off once before, but Conrad beat him then (Sonoma ’07) and he beat him now. Very impressive considering that Dai has competed in over twice as many battles as Conrad, and has over thrice as many battle victories.
As Top 32 ended and we segued into the break, the skies opened up and gave the whole place a good soaking. To win in the wet opening runs of Top 16 one would need the technical prowess and steely resolve of a Norwegian Ice Drifter.
Fortunately, the first battle was between two drivers whose names are synonymous with Norwegian Ice Drifting: Aasbø and Moen. I wish I could’ve seen the look of disbelief on the judges faces when the two Vikings manjied down the hill into the first initiation. After Kenny Moen took a gravel nap, the judges voted unanimously that Aasbø would move on to the Great 8.
In the battle of Matt Field and Vaughn Gittin Jr, Vaughn straightened a few times and Matt went one wheel off on the entry. With roles reversed, Vaughn pulled a larger gap but it was only good enough to go one more time. In their OMT battle, Field went one wheel off on the entry again but had a sizable gap on Gittin, which Gittin decreased substantially by the end of the run. On the second run, Field took out the entry clipping point, and was unable to close the gap to Gittin, giving Vaughn the unanimous victory. This was Matt’s 3rd time losing a battle to Vaughn. Don’t worry Matt, you’ll get him one day!
Forrest Wang put up an excellent fight against reigning champion Daigo Saito. Wang held close proximity on his follow run, even tapping Saito slightly in the horseshoe!
On his lead run, Wang went extra hard but gave Daigo the win by spinning in the off-camber section of the horseshoe. When we asked Wang what happened afterwards, he commented “I just got too antsy man, too pumped. I tried to save the car from spinning while also keeping the revs and smoke up, but it wasn’t enough and I lost it.”
Conrad and Essa had a close battle. Essa was looking good all weekend but seemed to always throw too much angle on the entry turn, which is good for qualifying, but not on a follow run. Fortunately for Essa, Conrad has the same issue, and parked it slightly on his lead initiation, giving Essa the unanimous win.
As the rain picked up one final time, JTP and Ryan Tuerck both spun, giving them a chance to go one more time. On the OMT, Justin Pawlak touched the painted rumble strips on the outside of the track entering the horseshoe, and spun so violently he almost hit Tuerck with the rear of his car! Tuerck took the win unanimously.
Just as I had picked my brains out of the red Georgia clay and re-installed them in my head, the most spectacular thing I have ever seen at a drift event happened right before my eyes. In the opening battle of the great 8, Vaughn Gittin Jr. made a huge mistake on the initiation, causing him to slam into the Scion tC of Fredric Aasbø and basically climb the fender like a 4×4. Astonishingly, both cars began drifting again without even coming to a stop!
I was amazed to see the lack of damage on the left front of Aasbø’s car considering the impact it had taken. Bohan and I speculated that the fenders were made of magic. On the second run, Aasbø had obvious mechanical problems and scored a zero meaning that, gasp, they would be going OMT. Out went my brain again.
I think Daigo knew that all he had to do to beat Kyle Mohan was put in a consistent conservative run, and that’s exactly what happened. Daigo ran clean, and Mohan killed a clipping point, taking himself out of the final four.
Next was the battle between Mike Essa and Matt Powers. I’m sure Essa was hyped about this battle because it would be his chance for redemption after his loss to Powers at the Motegi Super Drift battle a few weeks ago at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Essa put down a solid lead, and Powers spun giving Essa the advantage. In the second run, Essa got a lot of extra angle on the initiation leaving him with a big gap to make up. He was making good progress when Matt decided to make it easy for him and leave the track in the horseshoe. Mike Essa moved on to the final four with a unanimous win-vote by the judges.
During their OMT battle, Aasbø made a mistake on his lead run, and ran a clean follow run but with less proximity than Vaughn on the previous run, giving Vaughn the unanimous win. When one disregards what happened in their first battle as the judges are supposed to, it’s easy to see why they came to the conclusion that JR won the match. However, when you consider that JR was at fault for such a serious incident it boggles the mind a bit that he could go on to win the battle.
The D-Mac & Tuerck battle was another that ended in mechanical failure after the first run. While following Darren, Ryan went two wheels off into the clay-slime, and did major suspension damage when returning to the track. So bad that his passenger-side rear wheel almost left the car by the end of the run. This solidified McNamara’s spot in the final four.
Daigo faced off with JR for the first round of the final four. Vaughn followed so closely on the first run that he hit Daigo, breaking both of his left wheels, and forcing him to call a competition time out. After his CTO, Vaughn ran a stellar lead run, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the zero he received on the first run, and Daigo won. Here’s an interesting tidbit, Judge Brian Eggert called this as a one more time, and Judges Andy Yen and Ryan Lanteigne called it as a Daigo win making this the only battle of the entire night that was not unanimously decided on.
Essa and D-Mac had a close battle, but it all came down to the entry. With Mike Essa kicking in just a little too much angle and sacrificing his speed, Darren McNamara took the win.
In the consolation battle, Essa hoped to take out JR and take his first ever Formula DRIFT podium spot. His highest previous finish was here in Atlanta back in 2010. Unfortunately it came down to the same mistake he had been making all day, an over-rotation on the entry followed by a loss of speed. JR took the final podium spot, and it was up to Daigo and D-Mac to determine the final two.
Ever since his Formula DRIFT debut, I have been told by drivers “I don’t care. If I go up against Daigo, I’m just going to hit him and take him out. F*%^ it.” It may not have been the right thing to do, but I’m glad someone finally put their money where their mouth is. Darren hit Daigo on the hill entering the horseshoe with what I can only describe as reckless abandon, and you know what? I think we all owe him a gigantic high-five. It might not have won him the event, but he will certainly go down in history as the guy who violently smashed into Daigo Saito… just because.
So where are we now? As the only driver with two podium finishes this season, Vaughn Gittin, Jr. has taken over the points lead. Daigo climbed into second with D-Mac only five points behind in third. Dai Yoshihara fell back to fifth as Mike Essa’s fourth place finish landed him fourth in the standings as well.
After the rare occurrence in Long Beach where no rookies earned points, Nate Hamilton and Will Parsons finally stepped into the tied lead in the Rookie of the Year race. The rest of the rookies still don’t have any points.
Daigo won in Florida last season, but that was back when running over clipping points was still legal. Let’s see if he can keep up his momentum.
Photos by Ayala and Bohan