Formula D Texas: Changing of the Guard
After an absense of eight years, Formula Drift finally made its return to Texas. That’s right, the last time pro drifting graced the Lone Star State with its presense was 2005. What was life like back then? A lot of this season’s drivers hadn’t even started drifting yet, but a handful of them were part of the series since the beginning. The podium at Reliant Center in Houston that year was Ken Gushi, Conrad Grunewald, and Rhys Millen. Gushi was in a Mustang, Grunewald was in an S14, and Millen was in the GTO that took him to the championship. That was only the second Formula D championship there had ever been.
Formula D has evolved considerably during its absence, and is now able to secure venues like Texas Motor Speedway, which is a far cry from parking lot events.
Right off the bat, Daigo Saito was off to a rough start. He went into the dirt outside the sweeper and had to settle for a bottom-16 qualifying position two rounds in a row. To make matters worse for himself, none other than Matt Powers stepped up to take him out of the competition in the Round of 32. After his victory, Powers said, “I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t even drive good.”
But Saito’s fate is sealed. There’s no way he can close the points deficit and win his second consecutive championship.
After Round 5, news had come out that Vaughn Gittin, Jr. had received a 30 point and $5000 penalty for a rear suspension link being out of compliance with the rule book. Immediate response on the Internet went along the lines of “finally, now that he’s not with Falken he’s getting in trouble for cheating.” Formula D has stressed that they do not consider the team to have been cheating, but rather only guilty of making a mistake.
Either way Gittin Just Ain’t Care about that like a true Hoonigan and went out and qualified #1, showing that his car is just as competitive with the suspension link in compliance with the rule book.
Gittin’s first battle was against 2nd-year driver Gabe Stone. Stone barely squeaked into the competition and it was his first time ever qualifying. The veteran Gittin made easy work of the ThunderDrift alumnus and moved on to face Conrad Grunewald in the Round of 16. Grunewald had qualified 17th, with a score that would have put him in 5th under the old qualifying format.
Grunewald wasn’t going to go down without a fight. “I told him he better keep his foot in it otherwise I’m gonna drill him in the door.” said Grunewald at the end of the night. Sure enough, Grunewald was inches behind Gittin going into the sweeper and they made contact, causing the Mustang to spin out while the Camaro drifted by it on the outside.
The judges ruled that the contact and resulting spin was Grunewald’s fault, but after Gittin smashed a clipping point on his own follow run they went One More Time. Grunewald was shaky on his next follow run while Gittin stayed solid, so he moved on to the Great Eight.
When Pat Mordaunt chased Gittin through the esses he was almost as close as Grunewald had been, but he lost his line and went shallow into the sweeper. Gittin followed closely and accurately and moved on with a unanimous win. But wait, Mordaunt’s team filed a protest! Mordaunt’s spotter Masaki Nakayama spotted Gittin straightening out behind the Lexus, where the cars were positioned to make it difficult to notice from the judging stand. The judges gave Gittin a zero for that run and overturned the result, sending Mordaunt to the Final Four.
On the other side of the bracket, Mike Essa was silently continuing his momentum started by his win in Florida. He moved past Joon Maeng and Toshiki Yoshioka before squaring off with Fredric Aasbø in the Great Eight. Aasbø flubbed and Essa got a chance another podium.
Chris Forsberg is never to be taken lightly, but Essa’s gangster angle and smoke were something else. His feint initiation on his lead run caused Forsberg to fall back and they went One More Time, where Essa turned it up and secured his place in the finals.
…Where he’d meet Matt Field. What? Yep, Matt Field. Ever since his battle with Daigo Saito at Irwindale last season, Field has been a rising star in the series, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that he’d finally be getting a trophy. He just had to duke it out with Mike Essa to see which trophy he’d get.
This might have been the most anti-climactic final battle in Formula D history. Field might been nervous going after his first podium finish, or maybe he was happy getting either and went for an all-or-nothing approach. In the end it doesn’t matter, as he threw the S14 through the esses with no issue, but came out too early and threw it into the sweeper too hard, causing him to half-spin into the grass on the inside.
It was Essa’s battle to lose, but he was smooth and in-control. The night was over and Essa came out on top. Field wasn’t mad though; he still got his best finish of his career. Forsberg beat Mordaunt to come out in third.
So what does this mean for the championship? Let’s do some math! Mike Essa has taken over the lead from Chris Forsberg, with 489.5 points. With 112 points possible in a single round, no one with fewer than 377.75 points right now can get ahead of that at Irwindale. That means Forsberg, Aasbø, Gittin, Saito, and Justin Pawlak could still do it.
But didn’t I say earlier that Saito was out? He’s 80 points behind Essa currently, and if Essa just simply qualifies 32nd at Irwindale, Saito will be 104.25 points behind. If Essa makes it to the Round of 16, Saito will be at least 154.25 points behind and out of the running. If Essa qualifies 3rd he wouldn’t even have to win his first battle to keep Saito out. So he’s pretty much out. I’m pretty sure Essa can do better than those minimum numbers. His worst qualifying of the season was in Florida and he ended up winning that round, and he’s made it to at least the Great Eight in every round.
Forsberg has a decent chance of regaining the lead, as he’s only 15.5 points behind Essa right now. That makes him the most real threat and he’s no stranger to winning championships.
Aasbø and Gittin are 64 and 79.5 points behind, respectively. Gittin has as slim of a chance as Saito, but if Aasbø qualifies and finishes well and Essa doesn’t, he’s got a shot at his first championship.
Mats Baribeau surged ahead of Marc Landreville in the Rookie of the Year race. Neither one of these drivers from eastern Canada has competed in the West Coast rounds, so if they stay away from Irwindale too, Baribeau will have it. If they want it bad enough they’ll both have to show up and duke it out in front of the biggest crowd in 10 years. The House of Drift never disappoints. Can you stand the wait?
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