EVENT: Stars Rise in Formula D NJ’s Main Competition
Formula Drift‘s competition from Wall Township, NJ has always been a deciding round of the championship, even when it falls in the middle of the season. Round Four signaled the half way mark of the seven round series. New Jersey is also a home race for many of the northeast based teams/drivers, even if some have officially moved to the greater LA area for their off-season residence.
Drift Alliance members Vaughen Gittin Jr., and Chris Forsberg both consider the banked oval track their closest stomping ground, and both had everything to play for as the championship race headed into its final stretch. Which would come out on top, and which would be struggling to keep pace? Read on to find out.
Wall Stadium Speedway’s popularity on the calendar continues to grow year after year. A packed house filled the stands for the main competition to see their favorite drivers duke it out under dry, sunny conditions.
The starting grid for the Top 16 was the usual affair, but it lacked a few of the more notable drivers, including 2013 race winner Daigo Saito. More on that in a moment.
As the cars leave the opening ceremony lineup, they always inevitably do a few donuts or burnouts to get the fans revved up for the competition that is about to begin. This time, even the Falken Tire umbrella girls seemed interested in the display, bringing out their phones to snap a few ‘grams of the Falken trio doing a nice three-car spin.
Onto the action, we pick up first with the left side of the bracket. Looking back to qualifying, Chris Forsberg lead the field with the top spot, setting himself up with some easier battles early on. He quickly dispensed with Joon Maeng, and then moved on to face Marc Landreville. The Canadian driver had trouble following Forsberg around the banking, straightening out a little bit. When it was his turn to lead, Landreville clipped something along the way, causing his bumper to dislodge and flail around the back of his Standard Suspension Nissan S14. Forsberg was awarded the win, moving up to the round of eight.
Next up was Conrad Grunewald’s fight with Kenneth Moen. Although Moen has done well throughout the season with two podiums, Grunewald proved to be a tough match. The pair had a solid set of first runs, and the judges requested a One More Time (OMT). On the replay, Grunewald managed to establish a gap during his lead run, escaping his pursuer to take the victory.
Grunewald and Forsberg met up in the next round, and neither was willing to yield. Again, the judges asked for a OMT to help decide the battle. As they went at it again, Forsberg lead around the track beautifully, Grunewald right in tow. As they approached the final right-hand sweeper, Grunewald tapped Forsberg’s car, causing the pair to spin out! The judges caught the mistake, and gave the win to Forsberg, advancing him into the semi-finals.
Flashing back to earlier in the day, the Top 32 had a few shake ups in the established order. First, Ryan Tuerck was paired with 2012 Champion Daigo Saito. The Japanese driver is notoriously good at following cars around Wall, but does have a tendency to rub wheels every now and then (like he did with Daijiro Yoshihara in 2012). As they approached the finish line, Saito made contact with the rear clip of Tuerck’s car. Tuerck managed to keep going, but the ninja lost control of his car, skidding out and almost running into the media pit!
The tire marks show the full story. By losing drift before he could cross the finish line, Saito got an automatic zero for that run, and handed Tuerck the win.
Saito’s loss set up what I personally considered the match of the event: Ryan Tuerck against Daijiro Yoshihara in the Top 16. Diversity in Formula Drift has given way to a lack of truly even racing, at least when it comes to power and wheelbase. This pairing was about as close as they come, and both knew what was necessary to put on a great show.
To this writer, the match should easily have gone OMT. Unfortunately, the judges chose not to exercise that power, and instead favored Yoshihara’s slightly better chase run. It’s a shame, not to take anything away from Yoshihara’s win, but to deprive the fans of what surely would have been an epic second set of runs. Aside from this, the judging on the whole was quite consistent, and didn’t seem to result in much polarity with the crowd.
From the word “Go,” Aurimas ‘Odi’ Bakchis was a man possessed, driving like he had nothing to lose on a track that takes no prisoners. He and Matt Field met up in the Top 16, and although Field drove well, he simply could not match the determination of Bakchis. Just look at the commitment to rub fender to wheel on the final corner, without either of them losing drift!
Bakchis then had Yoshihara to contend with in the Great Eight. Yoshihara must have been watching Bakchis’ previous run, and tried to take a page out of it. As they transitioned to the final sweeper, Yoshihara went in for the kill, but it was too aggressive. He tapped Bakchis, sending both of them into a spin. Like Grunewald before him, this fatal error cost the match. Bakchis moved on to contend with Forsberg in the semi-final.
Before attending to the final four match ups, let’s look at the other side of the bracket. Number two qualifier Chelsea DeNofa did not have a walk in the park for his Top 32 battle. Pat Mordaunt played things conservatively enough to avoid making any major errors, while DeNofa found himself riding the steel barrier, busting both of his left tires.
Miraculously, it didn’t stop him from trying to complete the rest of the course! Mordaunt was already so far ahead that it wouldn’t have mattered for his scores, but DeNofa wanted to give the crowd something to cheer about. With only two tires fully mounted, he attacked the remaining corners, finally coming to a stop entering the last sweeper as his left rear tire peaced out. A courageous effort that certainly gained him some new fans for the future.
Mordaunt would fail to make it much farther into the competition, getting taken out by Darren McNamara soon after his run in with DeNofa. Meanwhile, Fredric Aasbø had a few competitors to best on his way up. First, Tony Angelo’s Scion FR-S.
Then he made short work of Forrest Wang’s Get Nuts Lab/STR Racing/Hankook Tire Nissan S14.
Finally, Aasbø had to deal with the Irishman himself, McNamara. Although the Norwegian did not show the same proximity on his chase run, the Hankook Tire Scion Racing tC’s angle was impossible to beat. Aasbø remained high on the bank for as long as he could, pushing his car to the track limit for each outer clipping zone. He exposed faults in McNamara’s run that might not have been seen otherwise, allowing him to claim the win and advance into the semi-final.
Finally, what of the other BMW in the lineup that also did well in qualifying? 2013 defending series champ Michael Essa was also an early victim of the guard rail, smashing his rear quarter panel/trunk lid at the very exit to the first turn. The shunt was enough to put him off balance, and let Dean Kearney advance with the win.
Kearney’s good fortune would continue later in the day during his match with Vaughen Gittin Jr. The Monster Energy/Nitto Tire Mustang RTR continued to suffer with debeading tires, an issue that may explain Gittin’s uncharacteristic mistake that put his left side against the barrier. He recovered to finish the run, but the lack of drift was enough to zero out his score and end his day.
Charles Ng, driving the new Speedhunters Achilles Radial Infiniti G37, was perhaps the second most impressive driver behind Bakchis. His aggressive lines and close proximity made it look like he had been driving this brand-new car his whole career, rather than just a few short months.
Justin Pawlak knew he would have to step things up if he would be able to defeat Ng in their Top 16 tandem. As he chased the luxury coupe off the banking, Pawlak’s car understeered through the right-left transition, causing him to straighten out. The loss of drift would spell the end for Pawlak, as Ng advanced to the great eight.
Ng and Kearney are technically teammates this season, even if they share the largest team stable in Formula Drift with Achilles Radial. Kearney’s luck appeared to have run out, as Ng’s runs were both flawless. As the Oracle Lighting SRT Viper tried to chase through the mid-section of the track, Kearney lost the back of the car and spun out, allowing the luxury coupe to advance.
Some drift fans will bemoan the new podium format since third place was essentially decided before any of the final four competitors line up to the starting area. Forsberg and Bakchis both qualified higher than Aasbo and Ng, so no matter what happened in their match, they were both sure to be holding a trophy (one would be in the final, while the other would get third place). With that in mind, Bakchis continued his strategy of “attack now, ask questions later” driving, charging right ahead with Forsbeg as they maneuvered through the banking. As shown above, wheels touched, but would they be able to maintain it?
Not so much… Bakchis had caused Forsberg to spin coming down the track, and both competitors were lucky that the damage was minimal. Forsberg moved on to the finals with that error in his favor, while Bakchis just had to sit back and wait to enjoy the first podium of his career.
The other semi-final was much cleaner, without any contact between Ng and Aasbø. The Scion driver appeared to play things safe, not worrying when Ng got a gap in the lead. The race was much like his last with McNamara, in that Aasbø went more for his own line and angle, rather than trying to pick up his competitor. While a dangerous strategy, it paid off for the Norwegian, the judges giving him the higher scores to advance into the final.
Against Forsberg in the final, Aasbø could not afford to go easy any longer. He pushed his car for all it was worth, totally closing the gap with the Hankook Tire Nissan 370Z ahead.
Forsberg did a great job to mirror the car ahead despite the tremendous smoke pouring off of Aasbø’s rear tires, but it was not enough. No OMTs were necessary for the judges to decide the race: Fredric Aasbø had won his first ever Formula Drift event!
So happy was the Norwegian that after the result was announced, he promptly asked his fellow drivers if they wanted to engage in some celebratory donuts. Of course they did!
As Aasbø brought the car to a rest (sliding out of the pinwheel donut formation and nearly hitting me!) the smile across his face was a mile wide. Formula Drift competitors are always pleased when they get to stand on the top step of the podium, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one as happy as this man.
As I mentioned earlier, this was also the first time that Odi Bakchis has ever gotten onto the podium. He’s a quiet guy, accepting the trophy humbly from FD’s announcer Jarod DeAnda.
Forsberg has practiced his champagne spraying technique plenty of times now, and must like the ol’ over the shoulder twist to avoid getting hit back in his own eyes. Where’s the fun in that Chris?!
After the champagne had been sprayed, Aasbø showed what a gentleman he could be, offering the bottle to the poor Hankook Tire umbrella girls that are forced to stand in front of them on stage.
Erica Nagashima was happy to accept, taking a swig to join in the festivity.
Forsberg and Aasbo are two of Hankook’s premier drivers, so the whole team came up onto the podium for a big group photo at the end. Congrats to these guys for their great result in New Jersey!
With Vaughen Gittin Jr.’s retirement in the Top 16, Forsberg now has a comfortable 59 point lead at the top of the standings. Aasbø has moved up into the second overall position, putting himself within striking distance if things continue to go well for the remaining three rounds. The series will be moving west for the next event at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, WA on July 18th and 19th. Check back here on Drifted for the live stream, and thanks for reading our coverage of Round Four from Wall, NJ!
2014 Formula Drift Pro Championship standings after Round Four:
1. Chris Forsberg – 353 points
2. Fredric Aasbø – 294 points
3. Vaughen Gittin Jr. – 288 points
4. Kenneth Moen – 242 points
5. Aurimas ‘Odi’ Bakchis – 189.5 points
6. Justin Pawlak – 173.5 points
7. Forrest Wang – 164.5 points
8. Darren McNamara – 153 points
9. Robbie Nishida – 151.5 points
10. Conrad Grunewald – 141.5 points