When Formula Drift comes to Long Beach, its a pretty big deal. It is the first round of the season, it marks the debut of new teams, sponsors, drivers, and it also sets the tone for the rest of the season. Its also right in my backyard (kind of) so I always try to do my due diligence when it comes to covering this event for you all.
With the silly season over, new cars revealed, and the track ready the talk of the weekend was Justin “JTP” Pawlak. He was one of the few drivers to remain in (basically) the same car as last year and he has also won Long Beach the last two years in a row. Falken Tire was already anticipating their driver turning the weekend into a three-peat. However hopes of that were nearly dashed when JTP made an uncharacteristic mistake in Friday qualifying and had a bad shunt into the tires and wall at the beginning of Long Beach’s infamous sweeper.
The impact nearly destroyed the front end of JTP’s Falken Tire Ford Mustang but luckily his team was able to get the car back together in time to make another qualifying run. Despite the damage JTP managed to qualify 23rd and get into the big show. Unfortunately the show ended for JTP when his Drift Alliance brother Ryan Tuerck managed to take him down in the Top 16 which blew the competition wide open. With JTP out it was anyone’s game. Except for Tuerck who like JTP was taken out by a Drift Alliance member, this time Chris Forsberg. Forsberg fell to the same fate when Vaughn Gittin Jr. took him down in the Final 4. This sent 2011 champion Vaughn to the final to face none other than his main rival of that year Dai Yoshihara.
Unlike JTP, Dai was having a great weekend. He remained in a familiar car and due to his confidence in his machine and his team giving him a great set up Dai managed to qualify first. After that there was no stopping him as he took down Tyler McQuarrie, Matt Powers, Fredric Aasbo, and finally Chelsea DeNofa to make it to the finals.
After a heated battle Dai Yoshihara bested Vaughn Gittin Jr. to win the round and complete a perfect weekend (1st qualifier, and the win). During the podium ceremony Dai said that with his momentum he will “definitely go for the championship”. Watch out guys, Dai has officially begun his mission.
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If you like drifting at all and have no idea what to do this weekend then you are a magnificent moron! The 2013 Formula Drift season starts tomorrow you idiot! Where the hell have you been? Did you not see the banner at the top of this website for the last two months!?
Whew, ok, ok I am going to cut you some slack. In case I did not make it incredibly clear a second ago, Formula Drift round 1 is going down this weekend (tomorrow and Saturday) on the streets of Long Beach. Most tickets might be sold out by now but there may be a few hundred seats left and city officials have allowed Formula Drift to sell some overflow general admission tickets. Technically, those tickets are “standing room only” but Formula Drift will allow folding lawn chairs.
So hurry up and get your tickets! Here is all the info:
I realize I am a little late to the party when it comes to this but better late than never right!? Ok, I apologize! Forgiveness please! Anyhow let us get to business. Just like the year before, the final round of Formula Drift at Irwindale Speedway AKA “The House Of Drift” was the most intense due to a very close points battle. Things were so tense and close that just about every drift fan in the tri-county area wanted to see how it played out. Not only did the event sell out, but it sold out before the gates even opened which is a first for Irwindale Speedway and Formula Drift. A crowd of nearly 20,000 packed Irwindale to see how things were going to play out at the ”Final Fight”. Falken driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. was on top of the points coming into the weekend but mathematically speaking had 6 drivers who could have taken the title away from him at Irwindale. Realistically speaking there were only two drivers who posed a threat to Vaughn: Daigo Saito and Rhys Millen who were second and third in points respectively.
To hold off most of the mathematical points contenders Vaughn simply needed to qualify well and make it past the “Top 16″. Unfortunately he kind of stumbled on one and completely botched the other. Vaughn qualified 9th, which seemed decent at first but then lost its luster when Ryan Tuerck, Justin Pawlak, and Rhys Millen all qualified ahead of him. In fact Rhys Millenwas the #1 qualifier with a nearly perfect run at 97 points. Pawlak and Tuerck did not gain much ground because of this but now Rhys was in serious striking distance. Vaughn out-qualified Saito but only by a few places as Saito qualified 13thdue to troubles with his car.
All the necessary players made it past the Top 32 but after that is when things got interesting. Vaughn Gittin was paired up against Pat Mordaunt in the Top 16 and when Vaughn was on his chase run against Pat he spun out on the infamous transition on the front straight, thus handing the win to Mordaunt and gleaming, glittering, golden opportunities to Millen and Saito.
There was potiential for two great stories. For Millen, winning the championship would mean the ultimate redemption after Hyundai announced they would not be backing his program in 2013. For Daigo Saito it would mean solidifying himself as the current world’s greatest drifter after winning a D1 championship and Formula Drift Asia. He would have also been the first person in Formula Drift history to win the title in their “rookie” season.
To make things even more dramatic Millen and Saito were on the same side of the bracket. So, it would literally come down to a battle between the two to decide the 2012 championship. Rhys had been at the top of his game all night and Daigo was killing it as always so the capacity crowd knew that once the two met in tandem it would be an epic battle. “Epic” turned out to be the correct word as the two drivers drove as hard as they could but Rhys unfortunately drove a little too hard and during his chase run he over cooked it coming into the hairpin and slapped his Hyundai Genesis coupe against the wall right in front of the judges. His car was done for the night which gave the Championship to Daigo Saito. Rhys’ DNF also handed an automatic third place podium finish to Ryan Tuerck.
The final battle of the night came down to the new 2012 champion Daigo Saito and Justin “JTP” Pawlak. These two may not have been close to each other in the points but they do have a history with each other as Pawlak once got very angry with Saito after he felt that Saito brake checked him in the Florida round. Many wondered what would happen if Saitodid anything that might look like a brake check this time with such high stakes. However things did not quite get that far as JTP pretty much made the same mistake Rhys did while chasing Saito and hit the wall HARD in front of the judges at the hairpin.
With that it was over. Daigo Saito was not only the 2012 champion but he was also the winner of the “Final Fight” at Irwindale Speedway. As I mentioned before Daigo is the first driver in Formula Drift history to win the championship in their rookie year. He is also only the second ever Japanese born champion (Dai Yoshihara was the first). He is also the first Formula Drift USA champion to have already won a D1 championship. And he did all of this on one of the lowest funded teams on the grid, without a V8. The last person to win a Formula Drift championship without a V8 was Tanner Foust who won back-to-back titles in his V6 Nissan 350Z.
With this championship Daigo is arguably the best drifter in the world right now. What a season! What a champion! What a final round! If you did not make it out to Irwindale because tickets got sold out or you just were unable to make the trip then I highly recommend trying again next year and being very proactive. The good news is that tickets for the opening around of Formula Drift’s 2013 season at Long Beach are already on sale. Pick yours up ASAP and go on another ride!
For our full gallery of Formula Drift “Final Fight” Irwindale 2012 check out our Facebook gallery.
The past weekend marked the official kick-off of the 2012 Formula Drift season. Once again the roar of drift cars echoed off the high rise condominium and office buildings of downtown Long Beach and layers upon layers of scorched tire rubber were laid down on turns 9, 10, and 11 of the Long Beach Grand Prix street course. Round 1 of the Formula Drift season is always the most anticipated because this is the time when the fans get to see the debut of new cars, new drivers, and in same cases new teams.
Speaking of new cars one of the biggest stories of this year’s first round was the debut of Ken Gushi’s new Scion Racing FR-S drift car built by GReddy. Scion is banking on the FR-S so much that they actually flew out the first 86 people to drop a deposit on one out to the event all expenses paid and built a special VIP viewing area for the group to cheer on Gushi and the other Scion Racing drivers. “The Gush” as he is called had a pretty good first outing in the new FR-S as he made it all the way to the Great 8. Unfortunately he had to face 2011 Formula Drift Champion Dai Yoshihara. During the battle Gushi gave the FR-S its first official introduction to the walls of Long Beach, effectively handing the win over to Yoshihara.
Another major talking point of the weekend revolved around the track itself as the surface was repaved just weeks before the event. A special test session was held with one driver from each tire sponsor to see how their rubber would hold up to the new asphalt surface. The feedback was resoundingly positive and it showed in the tandem battles as many drivers who historically had lackluster performances were throwing down lines that were straight gangsta! To help measure just how “gansta” each run was Formula Drift actually had proximity sensors installed at the three main clipping points of the track that would light up every time a car came within a foot of said point. It really helped to show who was really hanging it out there and who was being conservative; it really was a great addition for the hardcore fans who love to technically break down each run to the minute details.
In the end the final battle was a re-enactment of the 2011 points battle as it came down to 2011 champion Dai Yoshihara against 2011 runner up Justin “JTP” Pawlak while the battle for third place came down to fan-favorite Matt Powers against living legend Daigo Saito who was killing it all weekend. Saito, with his Toyota 2JZ powered soarer proved that V8s are not needed The final battle between JTP and Dai was close but this time Justin Pawlak came out on top claiming the victory and marking his second year in a row winning in Long Beach.
With round 1 officially in the books it is onto round 2 at Road Atlanta which is a favorite among the drivers due to its super fast downhill entry. Stay tuned to MotorworldHype.com as we will have the live feed from the event at the top of our page!
For a full gallery of all the action from the weekend hit the links below to our Facebook photo albums.
The 2011 Formula Drift season is nearly at a close and the title fight is starting to get really close. Dai Yoshihara was still in a some-what comfortable points lead coming into Round 6 “After Dark” at Las Vegas speedway but Justin “JTP” Pawlak was gunning for him and wanted to gain some ground. However it almost looked like Justin’s plans would be dashed when he broke a camshaft on his Falken Tire Ford Mustang and for some reason the team couldn’t fix it.
Instead Falken sent their truck 4 hours back to LA to pick up a back up car in the form of a Nissan S15 Silvia, but it wasn’t for Justin. In a controversial move Falken put last year’s Vegas winner Tyler McQuarrie in the S15 and gave Tyler’s usual V8 Nissan 350Z to JTP. While many saw this as messed up play on Falken’s part would it really help JTP that much to put him in a car that he is unfamiliar with? Well while JTP looked ok in practice he did not qualify very well in the 350Z and Tyler had an even worse showing as the S15 did not seem to get along with him that weekend.
Champ contenders JTP and even Dai Yoshihara were both taken out before the top 4 and it was none other than Rhys Millen who managed to nab his first win in the Hyundai Genesis coupe. Darren McNamara captured 2nd spot, falling to Rhys in the final, and Matt Powers captured 3rd place.
Now just 18.5 points separate Dai Yoshihara from Justin Pawlak going into the final round at Irwindale in October. If that wasn’t tense enough Darren McNamara, Chris Forsberg, and Matt Powers are all within striking distance of the title as well.
In the first episode of Team Falken driver Dai Yoshihara’s webseries we get a peek behind the scenes during his pre-season test with his Discount Tire S13 built by the guys at SPD Metalworks. Dai also tries his best to explain drifting. Spoiler: he fails… But its still fun to watch him try! Scroll down and check it out!
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.