The 2013 Formula Drift season has been full of controversy and questionable calls. Road Atlanta was more like a demolition derby, and Palm Beach saw the first legal overtakes in years. Would the fourth round of competition from Wall, NJ continue this trend, or would the sport return to its pure essence of inch-close tandem sliding? Sunny skies and a hungry field of veterans in the top 32 were the recipe for the main course. Read on after the jump to see how it all went down.
Daijiro Yoshihara’s 30th qualifying position meant that he would be going up against third place qualifier Fredric Aasbo in the first round. Two of Formula D’s biggest stars battling for key points this early in the bracket is a double edged sword for fans – they’ll get to see the drivers at their best, but one is sure to be out before the top 16. In this meeting, Aasbo had the upper hand, pouring out tons of smoke from his Hankook tires around the banking of Wall Stadium. Yoshihara was not far behind, yet unable to match the angle and finness of the Norwegian. Aasbo took this round, and moved on to the top 16, putting another severe dent in Yoshihara’s quest for the championship. This was the second event in 2013 that Yoshihara failed to make it past the top 32.
Shortly after Aasbo and Yoshihara’s face off, another pair of long-time FD favorites came together. Vaughn Gittin Jr. had suffered some setup issues during the weekend, and they displayed themselves infront of the fans as he made his first lead tandem run against Ken Gushi. As the two headed through the banking, Gittin’s left rear tire came dislodged. Gushi spun of his own accord in the transition to the flat area, giving him a zero for the run.
Although Gittin was able to limp through the remainder of the course, he straightened at two places, also racking up a big donut in his column. As a photographer, I appreciated Gittin’s effort to persevere at what might have been the expense of his car. It allowed me to get the awesome photo above, showing just how much his rear tire was working itself off the rim.
With two zeros for the run, the duo tried for another pass after some repairs. In Gushi’s lead run, both were totally even, Gittin now leaving an inch. The judges couldn’t decide, so they threw it to a One More Time (OMT) battle for the decision! The replay brought more action as Gittin was back on his marks, managing two solid runs. Gushi’s GReddy Scion FR-S let the young driver down in the end, stalling out on the final run to let Gittin escape with the victory.
The other battles in the top 32 were pretty straight forward, and the competition actually ran ahead of schedule for once, giving the fans a longer half-time break before the top 16 introductions. As the sun began to set, the drivers knew the racing was just getting started.
One of the most interesting things about Wall Stadium is that it is essentially an East-West track. When the drivers are making their way through the course, there are two moments when they are facing directly towards the sun, making it very challenging to see the line.
Above, Danny George and Justin Pawlak lead off the first runs in the top 16. George put up a nice smoke screen, but was no match for Pawlak’s ability to follow him through the cloud. Pawlak moved on easily to the round of eight. Give George some style points for adding the cool mustache and buck teeth to the front of his Wreckhouse Miata. Both on and off the track he is doing a good job of keeping things light hearted.
Also in the top 16, it felt a little bit like deja vu for Chelsea DeNofa as he went up against another Camaro at Wall! Would Conrad Grunewald pick up where Tyler McQuarrie left off last year, and be the undoing of the newest BC Racing BMW to grace the track? Their battle was fierce, and went to a OMT as both car suffered from some mechanical issues after the first set of passes. DeNofa was ultimately unable to press on for that extra chance, and had to forfeit the round. There had been no major contact with the guard rails, but sometimes new engines aren’t forgiving in racing.
The top eight saw a muscle car showdown with Grunewald vs. number one qualifer Pawlak. Grunewald seemed to have the advantage coming out of the first chase run, staying extremely close to the teal and blue Falken Tire Ford Mustang through the banking. All was still not well with Grunewald’s car though, and he called for a competition time out after the above tandem to go for fresh rubber and some quick adjustments. In their second run, Grunewald didn’t have the same vigor in the lead position, showing less angle than Pawlak had without shaking his rival off. Pawlak took the victory, and advanced to the final four.
Back in the top 16, Chris Forsberg went head to head with Palm Beach winner Michael Essa. The two were very evenly matched, and it became a game of inches as Forsberg lead the first heat. The orange NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z was flawless, nailing each clip. Essa on the other hand looked twitchy, kind of like a junkie chasing a bag of crack. The errors were small, but enough to show the difference between them. Forsberg got the win to advance into the great eight.
Tyler McQuarrie met up with rookie Marc Landreville in the top 16 to see what the new blood could do. They call Wall the gauntlet, and it can be a harsh battle ground. The first set of runs caught both drivers out, with Landreville spinning once, while McQuarrie’s GoPro Camaro experienced more technical issues, causing him to straighten in a few areas. The judges gave each five minutes to reset their cars, and go for a OMT.
In their OMT battle, Landreville stalled out before the crossover, giving McQuarrie an easy win to finish out the course solo. A top 16 finish is a very commendable achievement from the Canadian though. After only a single event he is leading the rookie points, ahead of Hamilton and Baribeau.
Forsberg’s match with McQuarrie in the great eight saw more head-turning on the track. Forsberg pulled out a lead in his first run, making full use of his 800hp against the big American coupe. Formula D has worked on reducing the way that lead cars simply pull away over the years, and now a noticeable gap can mean only a few car widths. The pressure was on McQuarrie to make up for this in his turn at the helm.
When it was McQuarrie’s turn to lead for their second pass, he slid wide at the second sweeping right turn. His car went back up onto the banking, and almost collected Forsberg in the process. Both competitors came away virtually unscathed, and Forsberg moved on to the final four.
On the other side of the bracket, Robbie Nishida had his mirrors covered as Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis chased in the Nexen Tire Nissan S14. Although both competitors looked solid in the runs, the judges went to the instant replay to confirm no faults were made. They picked up on Bakchis’ small mistakes, noticing that he put two tires over the painted yellow lines in his attempt to follow. That constituted a zero for the run under the new two-strike rule, giving Nishida the win.
Nishida went on to face Darren McNamara. McNamara had already been scarred in his top 32 battle with Pat Goodin, and cruised past Ryan Tuerck in the top 16. It was Nishida’s turn to get bitten by fate, losing something on his car in the first run to stall out. McNamara held on in the second run with a solid chase to claim victory, and fill the third spot in the final four.
Once Aasbo had beaten Yoshihara in the top 32, he seemed to be in a unique rhythm. Matt Field did a good job trying to close the gap in his chase run, taking a lower line, but ultimately he was no match for the Hankook Tires Scion Racing tC. Aasbo put on a clinic and swept past into the great eight.
Lastly in the top 16 the fans were treated to a preview of what may turn out as this year’s Championship battle. Overall points leaders Daigo Saito and Vaughn Gittin Jr. fought to keep each other at bay. Before the match, Saito was ahead by a mere 13 points in the standings. Gittin needed a win here to stay close as the season moved into the second half.
Saito lead the first run, and pushed hard, pulling out a monster gap. Gittin, who is usually very close to the guardrails, seemed more tentative after his tire issues in the top 32. The two switched places, and Gittin powered forward to try and one-up the Japanese rival.
As they rounded the final transition towards the third right hander, Gittin lost control of his car, slowing down almost into a spin. Saito couldn’t see the speed difference until it was too late, emerging out of the smoke cloud to find his front left clip speared into Gittin’s bumper. The judges ruled Gittin at fault, a costly mistake on a day that wasn’t going his way. Saito moved on to the round of eight.
With plenty of tape applied and one headlight missing, Saito was ready to take on Aasbo. The Norwegian has bested the Japanese invader before, and looked set to do so again, laying down some of the most consistent runs in the field. Saito put up a great fight, and lucked out with a OMT result after what could have been his undoing in the first set of passes.
The OMT battle was similar as Aasbo lead first, and Saito refused to give any distance away. They changed places, and finally Saito was able to pull out a slight gap in the middle of the run. Aasbo’s struggle with the transition seemed minor, but it was enough to be the difference in the match, allowing Saito to move on to the final four.
With the sun getting lower by the minute, Pawlak and Forsberg set out to see who would be assured a step on the podium. As Forsberg chased after the Mustang in his first run, he straightened momentarily, losing a few points with the judges. Pawlak was flawless, doing just what was needed to look after his car and maintain good proximity to Forsberg. The result was unanimous – Pawlak took the win, and advanced into the finals.
With only two working headlights between them, second place qualifier McNamara and 2012 champ Saito set off to decide the other finalist. McNamara’s lead run was clean for both drivers, putting the pressure on for the second pass to see who would add an extra bit of flare.
DMac tried to maintain close proximity to Saito as the pair weaved through the infield section of the course. Just before the right-hand sweeper, he lost the back end of the car and spun, letting Saito slip away.
As Saito finished the run, he could see that McNamara was no longer following him, and knew that he had the podium in his grasp. A quick fist pump through the roll cage was his way of celebrating as the crossed the line cleanly.
Before Pawlak and Saito could square off to decide the top step, McNamara and Forsberg had the stage to battle for third place. McNamara’s lead run was clean for both drivers, as it had been in his semi-final. During his chase run, McNamara tapped Forsberg’s door as the pair passed the mid-section sweeper.
The tap was enough to break the front hinge, and two turns later the door had completely fallen off. Forsberg was totally unphased, and just kept going like nothing had happened. McNamara didn’t hold back either, running toe to toe with Forsberg for the remainder of the course to give himself the best chance with the judges.
Formula D’s rules state that if a driver’s doors, hood, or hatch open at any point on the track, it is an automatic zero. In this case however, McNamara’s contact was found to be the cause, so Forsberg was off the hook, taking the win and third place at Wall!
Pawlak and Saito lined up for the last match of the night. Pawlak was the runner up at Wall in 2011, losing out by the slimmest of margins to Conrad Grunewald. Saito’s car may have been bruised, but it seemed to be only cosmetic, as the hard charging Japanese driver was right on Pawlak’s tail throughout the first chase run.
Saito lead for the second pass, and was totally in control. As they maneuvered through the back sweeper, Pawlak made the same mistake as McNamara earlier, giving the car a little bit too much gas as he fought to close the gap. He spun, and the Achilles Tire Lexus SC430 was gone. There was no question in the judges minds this year – Saito had taken the overall victory at Wall Stadium.
As the three drivers lined up in front of the fans, the result was a foregone conclusion. Jared DeAnda’s usual build up could be skipped on this occasion – all he had to do was make the result official. The American crowd has certainly taken to the Japanese driver, and Saito appreciated their support throughout the night.
The top three finishers at round four of the 2013 Formula Drift Pro Championship! Daigo Saito, Justin Pawlak, and Chris Forsberg. For Forsberg, it was back to back podiums in New Jersey, having finished third in 2012 as well.
Thank you for reading our coverage of this year’s event! With this win, Daigo Saito takes a commanding lead in the overall drivers points. Will anyone be able to stop him from taking a second consecutive championship? Check back on Drifted for more Formula D action as the season rolls on to Seattle for the next race on July 19-20th.
Formula Drift Wall, NJ Official Results:
1. Daigo Saito – Achilles Tire / Bridges Racing Lexus SC430
2. Justin Pawlak – Falken Tire Ford Mustang
3. Chris Forsberg – NOS Energy Drink / Hankook Tire Nissan 370Z
2013 Formula Drift Pro Championship driver’s standings after Round Four:
1. Daigo Saito – 361 points
2. Vaughn Gittin Jr. – 300 points
3. Michael Essa – 296.50 points
4. Chris Forsberg – 286 points
5. Justin Pawlak – 282.50 points
6. Fredric Aasbo – 266.50 points
7. Darren McNamara – 259.50 points
8. Aurimas Bakchis – 221 points
9. Daijiro Yoshihara – 219.25 points
10. Kenneth Moen – 210 points
Manufacturer’s standings after Round Four:
1. Ford – 582.50 points
1. Lexus – 582. 50 points
3. Nissan – 525.50 points
4. Scion – 502.50 points
5. BMW – 482.50 points
Tire Manufacturer’s standings after Round Four:
1. Falken – 640 points
2. Achilles – 585.50 points
3. Hankook – 552.50 points
4. Nitto – 520 points
5. Maxxis – 375.50 points
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