After what felt like an eternity, Formula Drift has returned for the 2021 season which kicked off over the weekend at Road Atlanta. It had been over 700 days since the series was last at the venue which hosted the first ever Formula Drift event in history so things came full circle.
For a long time Formula Drift would start its season in Long Beach one week prior to the Grand Prix. However, with the Grand Prix of Long Beach being postponed to September 2021, it forced Formula Drift to shift things around a bit in their schedule.
Anyway, the important part is that Formula Drift is back and the first round is officially in the books. So let’s recap how it all went down.
Friday Knockout Qualifying
This year Formula Drift decided to shake things up with their qualifying format. Previously, all the drivers would get two single runs to get the highest score possible to decide their spot on the Top 32 bracket.
Now, Formula Drift has adopted a “Knockout” qualifying format. In this format, everyone runs once to set the order. Then, the bottom 8 drivers get a second chance but only to improve their position within that bottom 8 group.
It puts more pressure on the top drivers as they only get once chance to put a good run down. We have our opinions on how the format worked out in execution but we’ll save that for another time.
One shocking development was Justin “JTP” Pawlak making a mistake during his first run which automatically put him in the bottom 8. He was able to improve to 25th.
Falken Tire driver Matt Field qualified first with Fredric Aasbo and Odi Bakchis qualifying second and third respectively.
Formula Drift Pro 1 Top 32 Saturday
With qualifying out of the way on Friday, the first Top 32 bracket of the season kicked off on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. The drivers were going hard. It was almost as if Road Atlanta was the final round and not the first.
A big shocker in Top 32 was Dean Kearney taking down three time Formula Drift champion Chris Forsberg. Kearney is a highly skilled driver but Forsberg is someone who rarely fails to make it out of the Top 32 so it was certainly surprising to see Kearney take him down.
Relative newcomer Yves Meyer also raised some eyebrows by defeating Formula Drift champ Mike Essa. That wouldn’t be the last we heard of Meyer either…
The Top 16 was the scene of what we think is one of the biggest upsets in Formula Drift history. Privateer and fan favorite Jeff Jones had to line up against 2015 Formula Drift Champion Fredric Aasbo. Their battle was close but the judges saw more flaws in Aasbo’s runs and award the win to Jones.
Jones was so excited to get the win over Aasbo that he did a burn out and a donut on his way back to the pits.
On the other side of the bracket another shocker unfolded as rookie Yves Meyer pulled another upset by defeating Ryan Tuerck and advancing to the Great 8.
If you thought Jeff Jones was done making miracles you’re wrong. Jones faced off against Dean Kearney and his vicious Dodge Viper, and came out victorious again. This had Jones advancing to the Final Four for only the second time in his Formula Drift career.
Meanwhile, 2020 Champion Vaughn Gittin Jr brought Yves Meyer’s run to an end while Matt Field took down Justin Pawlak. Finally Odi Bakchis got a free ticket to the final four as Adam “LZ” suffered damage to his car in Top 16 and was unable to get it repaired within the allotted 5 minutes which disqualified him from the round.
Formula Drift Final Four
The Final Four started off with Matt Field taking on Vaughn Gittin Jr for a spot in the finals. The two drivers fought hard but Vaughn made some significant mistakes during his chase run and then spun in his lead run, ultimately handing the win to Field.
Afterwards, Jeff Jones’ fairy tale story came to an end as he was unable to defeat the mighty Odi Bakchis. A definite bummer for Jeff Jones fans but we doubt that this will be the last time we’ll see the fan favorite driver in the final four.
The finals boiled down to the “frieimies” Odi Bakchis and Matt Field. The fellow Falken Tire drivers are very familiar with one another’s driving styles so this seemed destined to be a close battle.
During the first run with Odi chasing Matt, Odi got a little too familiar and made contact with Matt’s Corvette. Odi was deemed at fault which gave Matt’s crew enough time to patch up his car. Afterward, Matt’s chase wasn’t quite up to what the judges were looking for. The result was an OMT (one more time).
The next time around Odi was able to squeeze out a victory over his teammate, ultimately winning the round. Our eyes had Matt Field as the winner but the Judges obviously saw some things we didn’t.
And with that, round 1 of the 2021 Formula Drift season was over. Odi Bakchis is going into round 2 in Orlando leading the championship points with Matt Field and Vaughn Gittin Jr. hot on his trail.
Can Odi maintain a lead with such formidable drivers at his back? Or will someone else forge ahead? We’ll find out soon as round 2 is scheduled just 10 days from now on the weekend of May 21st-22nd.
Round 2 in Orlando will be open to fans so if you can make it, you can pick up your tickets right now.
Otherwise, we’ll see you again right here for the livestream! Did you watch Formula Drift round 1 live? What did you think of the knockout qualifying format? Did the judges make any calls you disagreed with? Let us know on Twitter at @MotorworldHype.
[Photos: Larry Chen]