Long Beach marks the start of a new season. The twelfth season, in fact, for the young series and the story lines we’re following this year are as colorful and varied as the cars and drivers themselves. This year will see the tightest competition in series history, and the driver who comes out of top will be able to call himself a true World Champion. Maybe more than any year before. With the full division now of Pro from Pro2, the top level playing field contains only the very best teams and drivers from across the globe.
Thirty eight drivers took the line on Friday for Qualifying. A few teams that were expected to take part were unable to make the show, including crowd favorite “Mad” Mike Whiddett, whos car was caught up in customs. “Mad” Mike was in attendance throughout the weekend to greet fans and be part of the festivities.
TV personality and former two time Formula Drift Champion Tanner Foust also made his return to competition this past weekend and managed to make the show even after getting tangled with the turn ten wall just thirty minutes before the qualifying rounds were set to begin. He missed his first qualifying run, giving him just one chance to get it all right and make the top 32. The one and only run was not what he was hoping for, but still good enough for the 28th spot and a first round match up against seasoned veteran Justin Pawlak. JTP would lay down excellent lead and follow runs to put Tanner on the sidelines and move himself into the top 16. I spoke briefly with Tanner later in the afternoon where he told me that “it’s obviously not the result we’re were hoping for, but we’ll come back at our next event ready to improve”. Tanner found himself challenged by the new judging criteria in place since his retirement from the series five years ago but was confident that would be able to adapt. By the end of the last practice, it was clear that Tanner had, indeed, been able to adapt, but that more practice, as it always is, will certainly be helpful.
Former World Champion Michael Essa struggled with his new car and was unable to make the top 32. He made the big switch from 3 series BMW to Chevrolet Camaro. The formula is there, obviously, with the likes of Tyler McQuarrie and Conrad Grunwald running that chassis, and countless others running that drivetrain. The new car blues, however were too much for Essa to overcome this weekend. Micheal is a tough competitor, however, and we expect to see him head to Atlanta with more time in the seat of his new ride, and with an eye on working his way back into the mix.
The weekend was not without several upsets. Underdogs and unlikely winners would make their presence known many times as the weekend progressed. The biggest had to have been the number one qualifier, Forrest Wang, being taken down in the first round by number 32 qualifier, Matt Coffman. Coffman strung together two incredible runs and the judges had no choice but to sway their decision towards the unlikely winner. Congratulations to Matt on making his first opening ceremony introduction. Right behind that is the other big first round upset, when 27th qualifier Chelsea DeNofa beat out #6 qualifier Alec Hohnadell.
And then there’s Fredric Aasbo. There was no doubt, after watching the past few seasons, that Aasbo would be at or near the top of the standings after the first round of the season. He picked up right where he left off last year, and made his presence felt with a #3 qualifying position and solid first round win over Masashi Yokoi. Yokoi was a dominant force in Japanese drifting, and even has a round win against Aasbo at last years FD Japan, so this was not your typical 3 vs. 30 matchup. Aasbo then made quick work of both Ken Gushi and Tyler McQuarrie before his epic battle with Ryan Tuerck. Aasbo seemed to be just feet away from victory when he dropped a gear on the exit of turn 11. That problem led to contact and a one more time that Aasbo almost didn’t make. He made it back to the line and Aasbo, with a damaged transmission, had trouble keeping up with Tuerck through turn 10. Then the unthinkable. On the exit of turn 11 Tuerck lost the rear diff. He called a competition time out and his team, led by Nameless performance founders Jason Griffith and John Hoyenga, did their very best to swap the rear end so they could get back to the line. They would, however, fall just a bit short, and Aasbo would dodge a huge bullet and find himself in contention for the win. By qualifying so well, he had already guaranteed himself a spot on the podium and now he would face Odi Bakchis for the coveted top step.
Odi found himself in final through a quartet of incredibly tough rounds. Taking the win over Conrad Grunwald in the first round, the favored Justin Pawlak in round 2, Vaugh Gittin Jr in round three, and even had to endure a one more time and insanely tight win over Matt field in the semi final.
The final round was as wild as the rest of the competition had been. It almost seemed inevitable that it would go one more time before a champion was crowned. The racing was that close. Both cars were battered and beaten from a weekend of close competition. In the end, though, it was Fredric Aasbo that would take the win and spray the champagne from the top step of the Formula Drift podium.
See you kids in Atlanta!