Over the weekend Formula Drift returned once again to Wall Speedway AKA “Irwindale Jr.” for the fourth round of the 2012 season AKA “The Gauntlet”. They call it “The Gauntlet” because Wall Speedway is a tiny terror of rough banked to flat transitions, unforgiving guardrails, and rough track surfaces. While it does not eat as many cars as say Long Beach does, Wall has its share of yearly casualties. However, the talk of The Gauntlet this year was a few controversial decisions by the judges when it came to instances of contact between two drivers during a tandem battle.
The first (and most talked about) incident was during the “Top 16″ when Tyler McQuarrie went up against Chelsea DeNofa. In the run where Tyler was leading, he hit the guard barrier, HARD. Chelsea was following Tyler so closely that when Tyler hit Chelsea had no where to go and ran into Tyler’s car (which had already crashed). Despite the appearance of Tyler making an error and crashing first, Chelsea was faulted for his contact and Tyler moved on. This call got drift purists so riled up that there is already a meme about it floating around on the interwebs.
The next incident came when Dai Yoshihara faced Rhys Millen, also in the Top 16. The two drivers made contact which resulted in damage to both cars. Some felt that the contact was Dai’s fault but the judges disagreed and gave the win to the 2011 champ.
The last incident was during the consolation round when Chris Forsberg went up against Daigo Saito. As Daigo led he lifted off the throttle during a transition. When this happened, Forsberg made contact with Daigo and spun. Daigo did not ‘brake check” per-say but he did slow his car by lifting the throttle. Some would say that is fair game and it was Forsberg’s fault for the contact as he did not adjust accordingly to what Saito did. However, the judges did not like Daigo’s throttle-play and placed the blame for the contact on him, thus handing third place to Chris Forsberg who earned his first New Jersey podium finish in his career. This decision also marked the first time Daigo Saito has failed to make the podium this season.
This left the final battle to Dai Yoshihara and Vaughn Gittin Jr. These teammates have battled each other many times in the past as they fought for the championship in 2010 so they know each other well which made for a really great match up. However in the end Vaughn Gittin’s Ford Mustang just had too much for Dai to handle on this track and he earned the win. Vaughn’s win in New Jersey marks his first win since 2010, ending a drought and putting the driver just barely insight the points battle for the 2o12 championship.
There are now three rounds left (Washington, Las Vegas, and Irwindale Speedway) and JTP continues to lead the points with Daigo in second place and Dai Yoshihara in third. Can JTP hold on to the lead? Will Daigo be the first driver to win a championship in their “rookie” year? Or will Dai fight through and repeat as champion? We have three more stops to find out!