Its been 10 years; 10 years since Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage began their dream to bring the sport of drifting to the United States. In that time Formula Drift had its ups and downs but no matter what came their way the series remained resilient. When other motorsports were losing sponsors and cutting back due to the recession, Formula Drift was growing. To this day no one (besides the people within Formula Drift) really knows how they managed to do that. This past weekend marked the 10th anniversary of Formula Drift’s first visit to Irwindale Speedway AKA “The House Of Drift”. In fact, to celebrate their anniversary Formula Drift surprised everyone by kicking off the Top 16 with a huge fireworks display!
Once again the event sold out the venue (and then some) and once again the championship fight came down to the final round. This year the points battle was a three-way race between privateer Michael Essa, bearded grassroots hero turned drifting golden boy Chris “The Force” Forsberg, and Fredric “The Norwegian Hammer” Aasbo respectively.
Essa started the weekend off strong by becoming the #1 qualifier on Friday. From that point all he needed to do was make it past “Top 32” to eliminate Aasbo; which he did but with much controversy. See, right before Essa was set to run his Top 32 battle against rookie Luke Pakula, Essa’s E46 M3 suffered a fatal engine failure. At the same time Luke suffered issues with his transmission. Luke asked the track officials if he could do a donut to test out his gearbox and once he did according to him he heard a loud noise and then immediately went back to his hot pit to inspect the problem.
Now here is where things get crazy. Essa was already out for the count, he could not get his car running. Even though Luke was having problems with his car as well, all he needed to do was pull up to the starting line and he would have been given the victory by default. This would almost guarantee the championship for Chris Forsberg. However, Luke insisted that he didn’t know that all he needed to do was line up and no track official told him to do so. Thus after the “5 minute rule” was up the win was given to Essa by default. This eliminated Fredric Aasbo and instantly made the points battle for Forsberg a lot more difficult as now he had to finish in at least podium in 2nd place to win the championship.
Forsberg filed a protest to Formula Drift officials claiming that Luke Pakula “faked” his car problems in order to let Essa advance to the Top 16 since he and Essa are friends. Forsberg’s first protest was denied. He tried to protest again and was again denied. At that point he had no choice but to defeat everyone in his path to a 2nd place or better finish. To his credit he drove like a man possessed and mercilessly took down Dai Yoshihara, and Odi Bakchis advancing to the “Great 8”. However when he got there he had to face Daigo “The Ninja” Saito!
Forsberg drove valiantly, even forcing a OMT (one more time) but during that OMT battle Chris made a mistake in his chase run which lended to the judges favoring Saito for the win. This automatically granted Michael Essa the 2013 Formula Drift Championship!
Forsberg definitely was not happy and Luke Pakula even alleged on his Facebook page that after the incident members of Drift Alliance (Forsberg’s crew) went to his pit and “harassed” him verbally. It was/is a very murky, “he said-he said” situation and it is unclear what (if anything) Formula Drift will do about what allegedly happened in Luke’s pit.
Even though that was a crazy situation there was still the business of the final round to deal with. With the championship already decided the story unfolded into who would win Irwindale. As I mentioned before Daigo Saito won and moved on to the final four as did his Achilles Tire teammate Robbie Nishida (who defeated Dean Kearny), Tyler McQuarrie (who defeated Fredric Aasbo) and Forrest Wang (who defeated Vaughn Gittin Jr. in a major upset).
Daigo managed to defeat Robbie and Tyler triumphed over Forrest. This set the stage for the final battle of Daigo Saito versus Tyler McQuarrie. Tyler fought hard but ultimately took himself out of the fight when he had a major run in with the wall, thus handing the final victory of the season to Daigo. In the consolation battle Forrest Wang defeated Robbie Nishida to earn his first Formula Drift podium.
And with that the chapter was closed on Formula Drift’s 10th year. What a decade! What does year 11 have in store? Well, from what I know there should be a few new cars making their debut (likely at SEMA) and possibly a few new locations. We will all find out soon when Formula Drift holds their annual SEMA press conference next month.
In the meantime you can check out all of our Formula Drift Irwindale galleries at the links below!
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