The 2011 Formula Drift series has seen it’s fair share of action and drama as the events have gone on. All of which leading up to this point, the final event of the season, a Title Fight if you will. With the top 6 drivers all mathematically capable of taking this year’s championship crown, it was looking to be a fight indeed, down to the last drift.
Friday started off early with a Pro Am drivers meeting, we stood by and listened to what the judges were looking for in the drivers. It was cool to get the inside perspective of what the judges are thinking as they lay down their pics in the upcoming battles or qualifying.
The judges were very thorough in showing the drivers, all of the proper clipping points and drift angles they were looking for; and were able to point it out on the course map for the drivers. The course had been lengthened for this year’s running and made it an even more challenging track to keep a constant drift going. Some of the long flowing sections were putting the drivers skill to the test; they had to keep up quite a bit of speed and angle to score max points from the judges.
Some drivers weren’t so lucky in their attempts at navigating the course. Jim Guthrie got sucked in by the treacherous wall and ended up being unable to continue on. We all pay for a speedy recovery as we later learned, he fractured a vertebra in his neck. A few other drivers had some run-ins with the wall, some minor and able to be fixed, while some knocked the car and driver out of competition. Here’s a shot of what your car looks like when you collide with the cement wall.
Thankfully he was able to walk away without any serious injuries, he quickly jumped out of the car and threw his arms up to the crowd to assure them he was OK. Unfortunately he was unable to repair the car in time to continue on, not the way anyone would like to end their season. A number of drivers fell victim to this same problem. If they have issues they are allowed a 5 minute time slot to try and repair and issues to continue on. That may not seem like a lot of time, but when you have a top notch crew, that can make the difference between winning a round or packing up the trailer early.
Friday chugged right along, with a jam packed day full of practice and qualifying, tire smoke filled the air as the sun faded into the distance. It was now time for the drivers to show the judges what they were made of and make the Top 32 and be able fight for the win. The competition was fierce. All these drivers knew this was their last attempt at points towards the championship and a last ditch effort to impress current and future sponsors for next year.
Here is the list of Top 32 drivers:
1. Samuel Hübinette 2. Justin Pawlak 3. Tyler McQuarrie 4. Ryan Tuerck 5. Rhys Millen 6. Daijiro Yoshihara 7. Walker Wilkerson 8. Robie Nishida 9. Conrad Grunewald 10. Matt Powers 11. Ken Gushi 12. Vaughn Gittin 13. Fredric Aasbo 14. Dean Kearney 15. Luke Longberger 16. Chris Forsberg 17. Matt Field 18. Toshiki Yoshioka 19. Ryan Kado 20. Kyle Mohan 21. Michael Essa 22. Taka Aono 23. Ross Petty 24. Emmanuel Armandio 25. Dennis Martzanis 26. Darren McNamara 27. Jeff Abbot 28. Patrick Cyr 29. Kenneth Moen 30. Cyrus Martinez 31. Charles Ng 32. Patrick Mordaunt
The night wrapped up with Pro Am qualifying and some Top 32 Open practice. The drivers needed to use this time wisely, as if there were any major issues to fix over night, now was the time to find them. Many teams worked throughout the night and early into the next morning, prepping their cars for the day’s competition. Knowing this was all or nothing, some teams even made drastic changes from the set-ups of days prior, in attempts to improve the drive-ability of the car and keep the control they needed.
With the round of Top 32 in full force, there were some upsets happening. Michael Essa managed to take down last years champ Vaughn Gittin Jr. ending his night early. Matt Powers, sitting 3rd in points, was taking out by fellow Falken driver Ross Petty, putting an end to his chance at the title. We were now into our half time break allowing the teams to make any last major changes or fixes to the cars, before they headed out for the Top 16 introduction.
The crowd was pumped and the stands were packed with screaming fans awaiting the action to come. The Top 16 drivers were introduced and it was time to see who would walk away the 2011 Formula Drift Champion. It was great to see the crowd who attended this last event of the season, actually selling out the venue and having to turn people away at the gates.
As the Top 16 battles carried on, one of the biggest upsets of the night happened. Daijiro Yoshihara was knocked out by Ken Gushi. Dai got in just a little too close and nudged Ken’s car forcing him to spin, which is an instant win to Ken on that run. It seemed at that point, Dai’s chance of winning the championship were gone. Little did we know, the perfect storm of events would unfold before us. One by one, the other drivers in the hunt for the championship seem to be falling like flies.
Chris Forsberg was one of the last remaining points threats in the hunt. He found himself against two tough opponents: Samuel Hübinette whom he defeated and Robbie Nishida who also fell to the drifting skills of Forsberg. The only man standing in the way of Chris and the championship was Rhys Millen, a man who was on point the whole weekend, putting down solid practice and qualifying runs, and then making his way to the Final 4. Chris would not be able to best the driving of Rhys “Mad Skills” Millen and would have to settle for the consolation round to fight for 3rd. On the other side of the bracket was Tyler McQuarrie and Darren McNemarra, Darren being the only other threat to take the championship from Daijiro. All the fans of Dai’s were rooting on Tyler and hoping he and his Nissan 350z would be up to the challenge of McNamara.
Both drivers drove their hearts out, giving it all they and their cars had to move on and fight Rhys for the event win. After two amazing runs through the course, the judges were unanimous in voting Tyler McQuarrie to move on to the final 2.
During a hard fought two runs between Chris Forsberg and Rhys Millen, I would have hated to be one of the judges, it was too close for me to call being down at ground level. But watching the instant replays on the jumbo tron screen, it was obvious I had to agree with the judges’ call. They all agreed Rhys Millen was the better driver in that battle, allowing him to move on to challenge Tyler McQuarrie for the event win.
Chris Forsberg and Darren McNamara would fight it out for 3rd and 4th place. It was a crazy series of events, during the first run with Darren leading, Chris pulled off an amazing run, giving him the obvious advantage. As they set out with Chris leading, they rounded the first banking, transitioning into the second banking Chris lost control of his car, sending him at a high speed into the wall, ending his run. As we all were astonished at what happened to Chris, we neglected to notice that Darren had also clipped the wall, ending his run short of the finish line. With Chris being the only one to complete a run and win it, he was given the nod for 3rd place.
Rhys Millen and Tyler McQuarrie fought hard on their final two passes of the evening. Both drivers giving it their all, pushing hard and giving it all they had. In the end the judges handed the win over to Tyler McQuarrie, who turns out would be leaving the Falken Tires Team at the end of the season. I’m glad he was able to leave on a good note.
The top 3 drivers all met up in front of the fans for photos and to thank them for all of their support. After many photos they were urged to head on over to the podium for trophies and celebration! The crowd gathered around the podium area anxiously waiting the drivers to climb atop the podium. After a quick champagne celebration it was time to crown our 2011 Formula Drift Champion.
Daijiro Yoshihara was welcomed to the podium stage with a loud roar from the fans, all congratulating him on his efforts this season. He has come a long way since his beginning days in drifting to stand alone at the top of the leader board. This season ended with an amazing event, Irwindale did an amazing job hosting Formula Drift, all the members of the staff worked their butts off to make this the ultimate final event of the season. I look forward to attending next season and seeing how things progress.