The 2011 Formula Drift season kicked off over the weekend on the Streets of Long Beach for Round 1. Many were waiting to see how things would start to pan out with many new cars on the grid as well as new drivers and just as suspected things started off wacky. The biggest talk of the event was 2010 Formula Drift Champ Vaughn Gittin Jr. failing to qualify for the event. During Gittin’s first qualifying run he had a major bobble in the middle of the sweeper which resulted in a very low score of 41. When it was time for his second run he ran the course nearly flawlessly until he reached the hairpin at the end and lost drift. Losing drift once you initiate a turn will automatically get you a big fat 0 from the judges leaving Vaughn only his first score to try to get by on but it wasn’t nearly enough. Many feel that this setback for Vaughn will undoubtedly end any hopes that he will repeat as champion this year due to the nature of Formula Drift’s point system. Time will tell I suppose.
With Vaughn out of the running and Sam Hubinette also bowing out due to engine troubles many were speculating on who would capitalize on the a few of the heavy hitters being absent. Conrad Grunewald qualified 1st and Dai Yoshihara qualified just under him so many felt it would come down to those two in the final battle. However, once the Top 32 competition started the next day Grunewald fell to Chris Forsberg in the Top 16. Dai Yoshihara on the other hand was on a mission. He had never won at Long Beach before and he was looking to change that. Dai took down rookie Aurimas Balchis, Ross Petty, and then Ryan Tuerck to get all the way to the final four where he was pitted against Justin “JTP” Pawlak. The battle between them was fierce and evenly matched. Many were sure the battle would go into a OMT (one more time) but the judges gave the win to JTP to the ire of the thousands watching on the live driftstream. With that, Yoshihara’s hopes of winning Long Beach for the first time were relegated to “next year” although he wasn’t totally out of the show yet. After that battle, Chris Forsberg was lined up against his buddy Matt Powers who was dominating the day in his old but new Need For Speed Nissan S14 240SX now with V8 power. Their battle was equally epic but in the end Matt Powers bested Forsberg to get into the final show down against JTP. This would be the first time either driver would make it into the final show down. While they were preparing to fight for top spot Dai and Chris went head to head in the consolation round for third place where Dai edged out Chris to lock in a bronze for the event.
All that was left was for Powers and Pawlak to fight it out for their first win. When the smoke cleared (literally) it was Justin Pawlak who won the judges favor and took his first ever Formula Drift victory in his Falken Tire Ford Mustang. Despite losing to JTP, Matt Powers had plenty to celebrate as he earned his first podium finish and upgraded his status from “fan favorite privateer” to an official “force to be reckoned with”. While Dai wasn’t able to get a win here the fact that made it to the podium shows the new comers that he isn’t going anywhere soon and is officially in the running for the 2011 Formula Drift Championship title.
With Formula Drift Round 1 in the books all the drivers are now turning towards the south and the next round which will be at Road Atlanta on May 6th-7th. If you can’t make it don’t worry you’ll be able to watch the whole thing live right here as I will have the driftstream posted on MotorworldHype.com for your viewing pleasure.
Check out the photo galleries from the event!