When Formula Drift comes to Washington, it’s an exciting time around the Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, WA where it is held. The event always fills the stands with loud and rowdy fans ready to watch drifting at it’s finest. This year was no exception, it has been a crazy season thus far and seen a Formula D rookie take a win, and three different winners in the first four events. This event was setting up to be full of non-stop action and a crowd eager to see what will happen, in one of the favorite stops of the season for many drivers and teams.
Every year I attend this event in Monroe, I am never disappointed. The turn-out of fans and teams is amazing to me, this little town of Monroe, WA just lights up for this event. The weather this year wasn’t looking too promising on Friday morning for practice and qualifying. When I arrived, it was a downpour and teams weren’t too quick to uncover the cars and get set up. Roaming around the pits, it was easy to see nobody was excited to go out and practice in the rain, even though I have seen this event run in the rain before, it can make the track a challenging one, due to it’s banked entry corner. Thankfully as the hour approached for practice, the clouds seem to have a little bit of mercy in them and the rain stopped and the track began to dry.
It was time for the drivers to get in their respective cars, line up in the staging lanes and get some practice in before the all-important qualifying session. Everyone seemed to have a new found spunk to them and excited that the rain had let up. It was time to burn some tires. Practice wasn’t without it’s fair share of excitement, as many drivers found their way to the wall, either tapping lightly or ripping off body work and creating more work for the crew. Although it always gets a roar from the fans when they escape the clutches of the wall and finish the run with body panels flailing in the wind.
Nothing will ever replace the smell of burning rubber and race gas in the air, chunks of tires flying all over and ending up in your hair and clothing. For me Formula Drift is an experience not to be missed, the drivers and teams are always super-nice, enjoy seeing the fans and photographers gathering around the pits to get a closer look of the cars and drivers. Practice is always fun because it gives us photographers and the fans, a chance to see the cars as much as possible in the allotted time they are given. They always strive to make as many runs as possible, so they can make sure their set-ups are as fine-tuned as they can be before qualifying.
Qualifying consists of two, non-consecutive runs that are scored by three judges. The top score being a 100 for the perfect run, so all drivers are aiming to qualify as high as possible for the best seat in the top 32. This event there were many more then 32 cars fighting for those spots so it was all important to give it your best and impress the judges. Falken Tire Mustang drivers Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Justin Pawlak were two of the cars to watch during qualifying; laying down amazing runs and ending up with Gittin in first and Pawlak in second when the smoke cleared.
Some of the drivers were just not having any luck with qualifying, one being Daigo Saito, the Formula Drift USA rookie this year, who already has a win and two second place finishes under his belt. Saito just seemed to be struggling to find his groove. Tyler McQuarrie was also having an off day and ended up not qualifying for the top 32. Something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in all the events I have been to. Tyler drives the GoPro/Yokohama Tires Chevy Camaro and is usually a very consistent top 32 driver.
As McQuarrie and a few others found out, it doesn’t matter how good you have been in the past, right here and now is where you need to shine and impress the judges. They have a very strict judging criteria and hold the drivers to it in all aspects of the runs. An extensive drivers meeting is held before qualifying, to ensure all issues or questions are addressed; to ensure they know what the judges are looking for. It’s a great bit of insight to sit in on, and to know what looks like a good run or not, even from our views as photographers.
The Top 32 is in full swing, and not without its own series of disappointments for some teams. Several top tier drivers were knocked out in the first round of eliminations, including the winner of the first two events of the season, Justin Pawlak; who fell to a Formula D Rookie Jeremy Lowe in his Mazda RX-7. 2009 champion Chris Forsberg also fell in the first round to Rhys Millen in the Red Bull Hyundai Genesis. So it goes to show anything can happen in a judged sport, where one driver clearly shows the judges what they are looking for over the other.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. seemed to be unstoppable, knocking out Michael Essa in the GSR Autosports BMW Z4 in the top 16, then following that up with a schooling of Matt Powers in Team Need for Speed Nitto Tires Nissan S14. Gittin is right at home on this track, chatting with him, he loves the banking on this track followed up with the tricky power alley, that has caught up many drivers who didn’t respect it. Vaughn’s Monster Energy Falken Tire Ford Mustang was in impeccable form with raw power shredding the rear Falken meats.
It was now time for Rhys Millen in the 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe to see if he’s got an answer for Gittin’s rampage. The crowd was on their feet to see this epic battle between two former champions in Formula D. Both drivers were giving it their all and both seemed to have answers for each other’s moves on the track. Extreme angle was everywhere, tire smoke filled the track and when it cleared, Vaughn Gittin Jr. was the winner by decision and on to the next round for a battle with Ryan Tuerck for the win.
Ryan Tuerck had to be excited to be in the final battle of the night, fighting for the crown at this event. It has been a while since we’ve seen him on the podium and I know he was hoping he had the answers to what Vaughn was bringing. Both drivers were giving it their all, with insane entry speeds and sick initiations into the banking corner. I didn’t envy the judges in having to pick a winner out of these two. It was such a great battle with each driver pushing it all to the limits, in hopes of coming away with the win.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. takes the win! Winning his second event in a row, a well-deserved victory after seeing his efforts all weekend. His team gave him an amazing car to drive, and drive it he did. Throwing down great run after great run and showing some of these other drivers that he is back in the hunt for the championship, and is now leading not only the overall points but also the Tires.com Triple Crown. I cannot wait to see what Round 6 – After Dark brings us at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It was a great looking podium, and a well deserved podium, all the drivers gave forth their best efforts and amazing runs to end up where they did. Vaughn in first, Ryan Tuerck in second and Rhys Millen battled out Ken Gushi for third. This also being the first time on the podium for both Tuerck and Millen for the season, and hopefully not the last. I can’t say enough about all the drivers of Formula Drift and how great they are to work with at the events, and how willing they are to sign autographs, pose for photos and just talk to the fans any chance they get.
Stay tuned next month for the 6th round of the Formula Drift series, and be sure to check back with MyLifeAtSpeed.com for all your updates and pictures! Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the most up to date news feeds on all things automotive. Check out more pictures below in the gallery.