After a very long wait which was even further complicated by the global pandemic, Formula Drift‘s 2020 season finally kicked off this weekend in St. Louis. One of the changes that Formula Drift needed to make so they could adapt to the current situation was to condense the schedule; So, instead of the usual “qualify Friday, main event Saturday” format, Formula Drift opted to remove qualifying and expand the event by a day. That meant the Pro 2 round took place Friday with the Pro series having round 1 on Saturday and Round 2 on Sunday.
It means more action over the weekend for the fans (the event was open to fans with safety measures in place) but more pressure on the drivers as they need to ask even more from their cars than usual.
Friday Pro 2
When Friday’s Pro 2 event concluded it seemed pretty clear that for the most part Formula Drift officials had things figured out and that things were going to be ok. It was a sigh of relief that felt like that last green light to celebrate the return of drifting for 2020.
For those who don’t know, Pro 2 is the feeder series into the main Pro series of Formula Drift. At the end of the Pro 2 season the top 8 drivers will have the opportunity to move up to the Pro series.
When the smoke cleared on Friday it was Joshua Love who came out on top after pushing through a OMT (one more time) in the Final Four and another OMT in the final against Johnathan Hurst.
With his win On Friday, Joshua Love is well on his way to going Pro in 2021.
Round 1 Saturday
Saturday was the first official round of the 2020 Pro series and the debut of many new cars including Ken Gushi and Fredric Aasbo’s Mark V Toyota Supras, and Ryan Tuerck’s 2021 Toyota Corolla hatchback.
It was also the debut of a Formula Drift grid with no Worthouse cars as that team has decided to withdraw from the series and part ways with James Deane.
Saturday’s Top 32 contained a few surprises as Formula Drift veteran Ken Gushi was taken out by rookie Alec Robbins. Both drivers made mistakes during the OMT tandem run but the judges decided Gushi’s mistakes were worse. Gushi’s struggle could be chalked up to the fact that he was battling severe back pain due to a slipped spinal disc injury he suffered recently.
Dean “Karnage” Kearny, another veteran of the series also saw defeat to the relatively young Taylor Hull which came after Kearny made an un-characteristic mistake while Hull remained smooth and consistent.
In Top 16 after defeating Ken Gushi, Alec Robbins went up against grass-roots hero “Rad” Dan Burkett and his Mark IV Toyota Supra. Rad Dan took the win and moved on to the Great 8 for the first time in his Formula Drift Pro career.
Mean while Chris Forsberg took down YouTuber-turned driver “AdamLZ”, former champ Mike Essa, and Kazuya Taguchi to earn a spot in the final four.
Chris would be facing Fredric Aasbo and his new Supra after Aasbo took down Jose Barton, Vaughn Gittin Jr., and Dan Burkett.
On the other side of the bracket Ryan Tuerck defeated Faruk Kugay, Chelsea DeNofa, and Dylan Hughes to earn a spot in the final four. Ryan would face Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis who was victorious against Rome Charpentier, Dai Yoshihara, and JTP.
Tuerck was able to get the better of Odi but it came at a price of damaging his new Corolla and compromising his power steering unit which was overheating.
On the other side, Fredric Aasbo managed to defeat Chris Forsberg who was having mechanical issues of his own which I’ll touch on again later.
The final battle played out to be an all-Toyota inter-team affair with Fredric Aasbo going up against his Papadakis Racing teammate Ryan Tuerck. Despite having no power steering Ryan put up a tough fight but eventually he couldn’t overcome the steering issues which caused him to make a mistake that handed the win to Fredric Aasbo.
Since there was no qualifying, Chris Forsberg was set to face off against Odi Bakchis for the third place spot on the podium. However, it turned out that Forsberg’s Nissan 370Z had it’s intercooler split down the middle and he his crew was unable to get the issue repaired in time resulting in Odi getting third place.
Round 2 Sunday
A new day was a new round for all of the drivers. Round 2 would shake out who will carry the advantage going forward this season. Any of the podium sitters from Round 1 had the opportunity to really pull ahead in the points if they remained consistent.
The Top 32 shook out mostly as expected and there weren’t any shockers. Ken Gushi did get revenge on Alec Robbins who eliminated him in Top 32 on the previous day. Gushi went on to defeat Dan Burkett and make his way into the Great 8. It should be noted that Gushi was still dealing with his debilitating slipped-disc back injury. In fact, Gushi opted to drive Round 2 without taking any pain medication as he wanted to have his mind as clear as possible.
Gushi was in so much pain that his team had to help him get in and out of the car for each battle. Major props to the Gushi as it takes major toughness to power through something like that.
After having a bye-run in Top 32, Dylan Hughes defeated Travis Reader in the Top 16 making his way into the Great 8 which is really impressive for a relatively new Pro series driver. He could be one to keep an eye on going forward.
Matt Field was on an absolute tear on Sunday defeating Round 1 winner Fredric Aasbo in the Top 16 and then Ken Gushi in the Great 8 to earn a spot in the Final Four.
Meanwhile, after defeating Ryan Litteral in Top 32, Chelsea DeNofa went up against his rival Chris Forsberg in Top 16. It was a heated battle but DeNofa got the win. He went on to defeat Mike Essa in the Great 8 and earned a spot in the Final Four going up against his other rival Matt Field.
On the other side of the bracket Ryan Tuerck bested Wataru Masuyama in Top 32, defeated his Drift Alliance brother Vaughn Gittin Jr in the Top 16, and ended Dylan Hughes’ day by taking him down in the Great 8. His spot in the Final Four was secure had he had an opportunity to further capitalize on his 2nd place podium finish from Round 1.
Odi Bakchis continued his consistency Sunday with decisive victories over Yves Meyer in Top 32, Dai Yoshihara in the Top 16, and Justin Pawlak in the Great 8. Finally, he was set up for a Final Four rematch against Ryan Tuerck who had defeated him on Saturday.
Matt Field and Chelsea DeNofa’s Final Four battle was the stuff of legend. Both drivers are known for their “all out” aggressive styles and neither of them held back. Eventually Matt Field made a mistake handing a ticket to the final battle to DeNofa.
On the other side Odi was determined to not let Ryan Tuerck defeat him twice in a row. Bakchis’ fast and clean style allowed him to pull away from Tuerck during his lead run and on his chase run Odi stuck to Ryan’s door like he was part of his vinyl livery. It was more than enough for Odi to get the win and move on to the final.
But first Ryan Tuerck and Matt Field need to face off for the third spot on the podium. Their first battle was too close for the judges, resulting in a OMT but in the second run Tuerck did just enough to carve out a win against Matt Field to nab third place.
Then came the final. On one side you had Chelsea DeNofa who’s last win was a year ago in Texas, and on the other is Odi Bakchis who as a polar opposite driving style but is every bit as capable of winning as the top drivers on the grid.
In the end DeNofa’s wild driving style gave him the edge over Bakchis, earning himself his first win of 2020.
With Fredric Aasbo failing to advance out of Top 16 combined with Ryan Tuerck and Odi Bakchis swapping podium spots across the two rounds, Ryan and Odi are now tied for first place in the Championship points.
DeNofa and Aasbo are tied in points as well followed by Matt Field.
All together, despite the challenges in place, I think Formula Drift did a great job of putting on a show for the fans despite the trying times. Hopefully the rest of this year’s events will go as smoothly.
The next stop on the calendar is another triple header weekend in Seattle at Evergreen Speedway starting September 25th. Luckily for us, that isn’t a very long wait!
[Photos: All photos were shot by Larry Chen and provided by Formula Drift]