The off season is officially over and round one of Formula Drift 2019 is in the books.
With a solid five months off to rebuild and upgrade, drivers showed up at the Streets of Long Beach with new looks, new cars, and refreshed bodywork sparkling in the warm Southern California sunshine. It’s awesome to see the Formula D paddock in this condition, but the fresh builds don’t last long. The looming walls of the Long Beach street circuit always have different ideas…
From the sidelines this course just seems harsh for the first round. New faces, fresh suspension setups and tweaks in power delivery paired with an 80mph entry into the first corner, a sharp, tight and technical right-hander with rock-solid k-walls looming on either side. Even on day one the barriers claimed a few casualties — both major and minor — in Long Beach, a trend that continued throughout the weekend at each clipping zone.
Ryan Tuerck had a particularly bad wreck during practice before competition on Saturday; it was no real error of his own, but rather a failed power steering pump that sent him straight into the a tire wall at good speed. Ryan was shaken up but ultimately okay, although word is that one of the strut towers in the car is about a foot out of place.
I don’t have any shots of the damage or details on what the team will do next, but Keiron will be back soon with a story detailing Tuerck’s weekend which started out with a very promising 96 in qualifying.
It certainly wasn’t all bad, though, and there was plenty to get excited about over the weekend in Long Beach. Honestly, it’s a bit hard not to be excited with pro-level cars screaming away as they flirt with danger just inches from the walls, so, what actually happened over the course of the main event on Saturday?
With a full bracket of qualifying drivers there were no planned bye runs in the Top 32 (although Ryan Litteral did end up flying solo after Tuerck wasn’t able to compete), so let’s jump straight into the battles.
It’s notable that in all but two match-ups in the Top 32 the higher seeded driver won, and only one first-time driver to the series made it out of the first round of competition. The biggest upset was when Travis Reeder’s solid lead and follow runs were enough to take down Alex Heilbrunn when Heilbrunn spun out before the last inner zone as he was trailing Reeder. Reeder had qualified 19th, with Heilbrunn just a few places up in 14th.
Dean Kearney, who bracketed in 18th, also managed to topple Jhonnattan Castro who was seeded 15th. There wasn’t much in the way of an upset, though, and as expected all of the top qualifiers were looking solid and confident in the early rounds.
During the Ford Top 16 none of these three drivers who snuck in on upsets or bad luck moved on. Fredric Aasbø handily dispatched Litteral and Piotr Więcek cleanly took down Reeder.
In the battle of the Irishmen, Dean Kearney fought valiantly with a nearly perfect follow, capitalizing on what seemed to be a rare mistake from James Deane. However, replays showed that Deane’s hesitation in transition was caused by contact from Kearney, which ultimately resulted in Kearney calling a competition timeout. The car was running hot — really hot — but when Kearney made it back to the line a big wall tap allowed Deane to stay right on his door.
Out of the three judges Ryan Lanteigne was the only one who called for a OMT, with Andy Yen and Brian Eggert opting for Deane to continue on.
One of the most exciting runs of the Top 16 was when Chelsea DeNofa initiated on the door of Chris Forsberg’s car. It looked incredible, but the judges didn’t seem to favor the technique as much as the fans did and Forsberg moved on.
I’m not sure of the specifics of this rule, but apparently DeNofa would have been better off following Forsberg on his rear bumper rather than higher up on the car. It seems a little counterintuitive to me, especially as door-to-door action is always a bit more exciting to watch and harder to execute. But ultimately the judges seemed to feel that (at least on initiation) an aggressive line like this interferes with the lead driver’s ability to run their own line.
While it’s easy to criticize from the sidelines, it’s also important to remember that the fans and media members alike don’t know exactly what’s covered in the daily drivers meetings. The drivers (should) leave knowing exactly what the judges are looking for at each round, and need to tweak their driving to accommodate.
Eight Men Standing
Into the Great 8 we went, and I was looking forward to all four match-ups.
First up was Matt Field against Chris Forsberg, with Forsberg as the chase driver. Forsberg stayed right on Field through the first two outer zones but entering the final hairpin on the course Field was able to put a few car lengths between the pair.
A victory seemed inevitable for Matt but, unfortunately for the Drift Cave boys, Field had trouble transitioning between the first and second clipping points, narrowly missing the tire wall that Tuerck tested out earlier in the day. Matt’s mistake wasn’t unlike one that Forsberg made earlier in the weekend, but Forsberg was able to lay down a good line when it mattered.
The pressure on these drivers really is intense — you only have one shot each round and the smallest mistake can cost you the win.
Odi Bakchis and Justin Pawlak had a Falken-Falken showdown which required not one but two additional OMT battles. Finally, after six runs through the streets of Long Beach, Bakchis emerged as the victor after JTP went too deep into the first corner, making contact and losing angle. Bakchis, meanwhile, seemed more and more consistent, smoothly flowing ever closer to the walls of Long Beach as each round progressed.
Another great battle was the S15 versus S15 match-up between Więcek and Forrest Wang. Piotr was leading for the first run but wasn’t able to shake Forrest; switching places Forrest struck back with a much better line on his lead run and looked poised to move on. Indeed, the judges unanimously voted in Forrest’s favor, a decision the crowd seemed to like quite a lot.
Everyone was excited for the match-up between Fredric Aasbø and James Deane, but unfortunately Deane was struggling with some issues with his nitrous oxide setup which forced the team to run without it altogether.
I wasn’t able to get the details on Worthouse’s rare problem with their car, but Aasbø took the (relatively) easy win, saying after the fact that it hardly counted — “I hope we can have a more square match next time.” I’ll definitely be looking forward to that, too, especially with last year’s championship coming down to a handful of points between these two drivers.
As the field thinned out, the rounds went by more and more quickly and suddenly there were just two match-ups left: Fredric Aasbø and Forrest Wang would go head to head, as would Chris Forsberg and Odi Bakchis.
Any one of these guys was as good of a bet as the next for the top spot on the podium. Coming into the new season, Forsberg has three FD US championship titles and Aasbø has one; Bakchis has three previous wins and nine podiums to his name, and — although he hadn’t yet found himself on the top step of the podium in the series — Forrest Wang is, well, Forrest Wang.
First up was Wang versus Aasbø, and a certain smell lingered in the air after their first run; maybe it was my imagination, or maybe it really was the faint scent of burnt oil. Aasbø and the Papadakis Racing team opted not to continue on, citing bits of a spark plug showing up in the turbo.
Forrest enjoyed going all-out on a bye run and prepared himself for the final.
When it was time for Bakchis to lead Forsberg, it seemed that Forsberg wasn’t quite able to keep up through the beginning of the course but quickly closed the gap into the last clipping point. Bakchis, on the other hand, stuck right to Forsberg’s door throughout the entire second run and advanced cleanly.
The Final Battle
Now, it was down to two men: Wang in his S15 and Bakchis his S14. Both S-chassis pulled up to the line for the last battle of the event, with Forrest saying that he hoped “today is the day.”
Bakchis laid down a sensational lead run, with Wang getting a little loose in the background. If Wang would want to win the battle, he’d really need to pull out all the stops for his lead run.
As the pair rolled back to the start and rounded the turns of the Streets of Long Beach I realized that deep down I was pulling for Forrest to get his first win in Formula D.
I generally try to remain unbiased when it comes to looking at what happens during any race weekend, but it’s in these do-or-die moments that you realize where your heart really lies.
Both runs over, the drivers pulled in front of the crowd for the winner to be announced. But I was already pretty certain it would be Bakchis — as you can see his follow run was tight and tidy.
I wasn’t wrong and, although Wang couldn’t pull it off, I was completely stoked for Odi, who is also still celebrating from the fact that he and his wife welcomed a new baby to their family just two weeks ago.
Bakchis’ victory was definitely well deserved as he drove near flawlessly all weekend without any major hiccups. The podium was rounded off with Forrest Wang and Chris Forsberg, and as the champagne sprayed it was time for a bit of reflection.
From the sidelines — and even from just a few feet away from the burning rubber on track and the chaos in the pits — it’s often hard to see these drivers and teams as ordinary people. What they’re accomplishing in this sport is special, and the lengths they go to achieve it are truly inspiring.
As much as Formula Drift is about the wild 1,000hp monsters that lurk around the paddock, at the same time it’s this personal, human element that really makes the sport worth watching over and over. Knowing these guys are doing something you just can’t quite makes it all the more fun.
With both of the Worthouse boys out early and the points properly mixed up when compared to last year’s results, it’s definitely the start of interesting season.
Who’s to say what’ll happen next — I know I can’t wait for the next round.
Trevor Yale Ryan
Additional Photos by Sara Ryan
Cutting Room Floor