While the same three drivers ended up on the box at Round 4 of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Pro Drifting Championship as podiumed at Round 3, you could not have written two more different stories. For sure the surface aspects of the different tracks (road course vs. oval) and weather (wet vs. dry) come to mind first, but we doubt anyone could’ve predicted the way things were to unspool—or the history that was made—at Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey.
The short oval at Wall has flipflopped between two different track layouts since the facility has been on the Formula D calendar, with one version cutting across the middle of the paved infield (the “Crossover” as we’ve heard it called) and the other avoiding the center section altogether and instead keeping cars coming out of Rear Clipping Zone 2 on the same side of the bowl, past an Inner Clip and then transitioning back the other way for a Touch & Go section on the inner oval and an Inner Clip at the finish line (this line is called the “Peanut”). The event’s first practice began with everyone using the Crossover layout, which is what the series used last year after using the Peanut in 2017. But apparently the track surface started to degrade heavily, forcing FD and the track to reinstitute the Peanut, which stuck through the weekend. Either way it’s a long lap for these guys, so tire wear was expected to be an issue for many teams.
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It isn’t often history is made on a qualifying Friday, but that’s exactly what happened when Justin Pawlak wheeled his Falken Tire Ford Mustang to a perfect 100 score to land P1 in the session, an achievement we believe has only happened one other time in FD’s 16-year history, in 2007, when Tanner Foust in the AEM/Memphis Car Audio 350Z had a flawless victory—no. 1 qualifier, perfect score, and overall event win—at Sonoma Raceway on his way to earning his first of two back-to-back FD titles. JTP’s perfection is an indicator of how good FD’s drivers are these days, as are the growing number of drivers capable of laying down a 90 or higher in qualifying. Sebastien Gauthier in the SSG Motorsport S14 was unfortunately on the other end of that spectrum, unable to make the cut, while Alec Hohnadell in the ISR Performance S14 and Joao Barion in the Nando Drift C7 were no-shows, making for 31 entries in Top 32.
The FD event at Wall Speedway almost always produces a grueling, hard-fought tandem eliminations, and 2019 started looking that way extremely early—which is to say specifically that after Pawlak’s opening bye lap on Saturday, the first five pairings in Top 32 either went to One More Time (OMT) deciders or competition timeouts (called generally because a team needs to attend to something on their vehicle). The night ended with nine total OMT (including the finale, which we’ll get to), but our favorite of 32 was the battle between Alex Heilbrunn in the V8 IMR E46 and Kazuya Taguchi in the VR38-engined UpGarage S15, which Kazuya won—the young driver’s first career tandem victory in Formula D!
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There was also some sadness this round, too, at least for the Super Street fam, when our dude RAD Dan Burkett had probably the worst wreck of his young pro drift life; chasing Chelsea DeNofa’s BC Racing/RTR Mustang, Dan’s RAD Industries/GearWrench A80 Supra got caught up in the Zone 1 Armco, sending the nose of the car into the railing hard and incurring a fantastic amount of damage. Like all the other teams, Dan is out there every round, fighting to push forward his program, and since we’ve covered his car from the beginning we have come to view Dan, his wife Renee, and their extended clan as part of our own—so this stings a bit. But the RAD team is, if nothing else, resilient; it has been here before (with the car in shambles and the next event right around the corner), and we know this dog still has a whole lot of fight left.
Reminiscent of Round 2: Orlando Speed World, driver Vaughn Gittin, Jr. in his Monster Energy/RTR Mustang was on fire in Jersey, the 2010 champ having to fight through consecutive OMT tiebreakers in Top 16, Great 8, and the Final 4. In 16, Vaughn beat Odi Bakchis in the Falken Tire S14, paying back the points leader entering Wall for Orlando; in 8, it was Ken Gushi’s turn in the GReddy Performance 86; and in the semifinal, his nemesis and 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo in the Steph Papadakis-built Rockstar Energy Corolla finally put an end to Gittin’s progress, but not before a contact-marred set of laps that ultimately concluded with JR crashing out after making repairs to his ride in a Competition Timeout.
For a second event in a row, twice and reigning series drivers champion James Deane held on to third place in the Worthouse Drift 2JZ S15. In Top 16, he tangled with 2013 champ Mike Essa in the Essa Autosport BMW E46, the two machines colliding in the stretch from Inner Clip 1 to Outer Zone 2 when Essa didn’t give way enough for Deane to swing back around in transition. The Irish phenom then faced and defeated Matt Field’s Falken C6 Corvette in Great 8 with a slightly better line on the bank in the lead and better proximity in the chase. James’s Round 4 ended against Ryan Tuerck in the Gumout 86, who mastered the chase with great proximity and angle mimic.
After picking up his first podium hardware a round earlier in Georgia, Aasbo sought to take advantage of that momentum and make up even more ground in the driver points table. He nabbed an easy win against Travis Reeder and the Napoleon Motorsports Camaro EV to start off, and the Norwegian Hammer had a similarly decisive W against Taguchi in Top 16. Fredric had a rare Great 8 bye after his would-be opponent, Worthouse Drift’s Piotr Wiecek in the team’s second Silvia, suffered severe vehicular carnage against DeNofa in an incident somewhat like what happened between Essa and Deane and couldn’t fix his car in time. DeNofa, who was ruled at fault, appeared to over-rotate past Clip 1, and when he went to swing it back the other way to set up the car for Zone 2, the Mustang whacked the S15 like Rick James slapping Charlie Murphy. At one point in the collision, the front of Wiecek’s car was several feet off the ground (the driver reported momentarily “seeing just sky”), but even when the dust had settled (and Piotr’s car was splayed out like Gittin’s was after a hit with Ryan Litteral in Orlando earlier this season) we knew his return might be improbable. In essence, Aasbo’s final 4 match against Gittin was his first real test of the night, and he even admitted as much after the event, noting his incredible luck. With the Final 4 win, Fredric knocked Odi Bakchis out of the lead in the points chase.
Ryan Tuerck went from totaling his 86 in Long Beach in April to second place at Road Atlanta a few weeks ago, and indeed seemed primed to claw back as much ground and more as he could from Wall Stadium to make up for the less-than-optimal start. Against Dirk Stratton’s Drift-Vette in Top 32 it was no contest, the C6 unable to keep on its supercharger belt. Facing three-time champion, co-host, and friend Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy 370Z in Top 16, Tuerck showed has was more stylish, smooth, and primarily fast. With no. 1 qualifier Pawlak, Ryan dazzled with better angle, more fluidity. And against 2017-’18 champ Deane—well, we know how that shook out (outlined a couple paragraphs back), but it was significant because it was the first time Tuerck had beat Deane, which seemed like a huge relief for Ryan.
But the final remained, pitting Aasbo in his 1,000hp 2AR Corolla against Tuerck and his 2JZ 86, and it was an evenly matched fight—so much that judges could not decide with just two laps, a little unusual for a finale. In the One More Time, with Aasbo chasing, proximity became an issue near the end of the lap as Tuerck got on the cam and powered away from his pursuer, pulling a gap from about the Touch & Go to the final inner clipping point. That was all it took for Ryan to get on the top step of the box, the first time he’s done that since Orlando 2015.
If you’re keeping track, that’s four Toyota entries out of the last six podium spots, and a total lockout of two straight podiums by Toyota engines—that strikes us as nuts. While Odi Bakchis and Chris Forsberg had the early jump in season points, Tuerck, Aasbo, and Deane are obviously making the race interesting, with Fredric and Odi neck and neck by a 3-point margin and everyone else at least 56 points out. The season is now half over and resumes for Round 5 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington, on July 19 and 20.