Written by Justin Banner
Photos by David Karey
We’re taking a different approach for Pro and Pro2 coverage for Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington. Seattle marked just past halfway for both categories, with this being Round 5 of Pro, and Round 2 of Pro2. Both had some rather interesting turn of events as they progressed and we’ll highlight them along with giving you some great pictures from one of the three fastest tracks on the Formula Drift schedule.
Pro 2 took place first, as always, on Friday evening after qualifying for Pro. The first round at Orlando Speedworld showed just how advanced Alex Heilbrunn’s Nitto Tires BMW M3 program is. I got to watch him drift last year when I announced for Top Drift, and he was a very fast driver with nothing changing from Pro Am so far, other than going to Nitto for his Pro 2 season. Even a drastic change in tire hasn’t slowed him down.
Andrew Gray wasn’t far behind Alex Heilbrunn, though. Watching him drive the wet conditions of Orlando showed that his experience in the D1GP Street Legal series and at the infamous Ebisu Circuit, helped him adapt to the oval very quickly. Now, this being Seattle, rain wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, so these guys were already looking like favorites if the moisture did fall. Even if it didn’t, Alex’s speed certainly painted him as a favorite,and getting number one qualifier at Round 2 really pushed him into that favorite category.
There were also some new players at Round 2, or rather players who didn’t get a chance to shine at Orlando like Brody Goble, Faruk Kugay, James Evans, Taylor Hull and Kenji Yamanaka.
Kenji especially looked like he could have been the dark horse threat to Alex. On his lead run up until the “touch-and-go”, Yamanaka had created a large gap similar to what Heilbrunn did to him on his lead. Yamanaka, however, would lose that gap after the “touch-and-go” and Heilbrunn would move on.
So, what would be the thing that would take Heilbrunn out and stop his dominance? Too much aggression. In the final run against James Evans, Heilbrunn took the lead and was staying dominant up until the exit of the banked turn. He first made contact just out of the exit, and Evans went off course behind him. After that, Heilbrunn spun going into the “touch-and-go” and made heavy contact with the inner course wall. The damage was too much for the team to repair in the five-minutes they were allowed, and James Evans took the second win in Seattle for a Sikky car. Last year, teammate Dan Savage got the win here, and went on to win the Pro 2 championship.
Faruk Kugay would place third at the event, thanks to qualifying higher than Taylor Hull who took fourth. Andrew Gray maintained third in points, with a Final Four appearance after spinning out against Hull. Even Gray’s elimination was the result of too much aggression for a changing track, as he had the dominating run until that point.
A common issue for Pro and Pro 2 was with the lane breaching before the bank entry mark, and that affecting an outcome. Drivers were told to stay in their lanes on their lead run before the long yellow mark before the bank. If they didn’t, even if it did not impede on the follow driver’s line, it would be a start strike against them and it would be re-run. This caused a very interesting situation between Daigo Saito and Kenny Moen because of when the run would be nullified. Unlike Wall or Orlando where Formula Drift would flag the run to stop before the finish thanks to the small tracks sizes, Seattle is a larger track and Luke “Formula Dread” Crowell couldn’t quickly stop the run before the drivers crossed the finish line. That’s going to be a problem for the last two rounds, because both tracks, Texas and Irwindale, have a similar issue.
The giant issue we saw twice in Pro, was where a car had a huge mistake or contact after the run was nullified due to lane breaching. Daigo Saito and Kenny Moen’s run were a very big example of this. Saito had made contact with the wall after the “touch-and-go” and needed repairs, but nothing counted against him and was given “ample time” to fix his car. In fairness to Formula Drift, they called this consistently and allowed drivers to make repairs or change tires for the re-run.
However, in the runs with Faruk Kugay and Fello Ambiero in Pro 2, Daigo Saito and Kenny Moen, and Alec Hohnadell and Chris Forsberg in Pro, all of the lead drivers who crossed over the center line really didn’t impede the follow driver and their entry. The closest was Hohnadell and Forsberg.
The only real fix for this, in my opinion and mine alone, is that cross-over must actually impede the follow driver’s line, IE: the follow driver must have to take an avoiding action, have a very late entry, or even come to a stop in order for the lead driver to be judged that the breach impeded the follow driver’s run. Another fix is to find a way to stop the run before the finish. That would require a flagger after the first turn or bank to flag the drivers to stop their run. You could possibly put a flagger on the inside in a safe area of the first turn as well, but there is a big chance the drivers won’t see that person.
The Tyler McQuarrie versus Justin Pawlak battle I have to professionally sit out. For disclosure, I work with Tyler McQuarrie Racing driver, Pat Mordaunt. I do have an opinion on the battle, but I feel it is best to not speak about it at this time. I have also worked with Justin Pawlak where he judges the Top Drift ProAm series, where I mentioned before that I do announcing with. All that I will comment is that I am glad that both drivers were able to talk it out after the event, and the situation is good between them.
The Pat Goodin versus Matt Field battle is another bit of controversy from Seattle after McQuarrie and Pawlak. Goodin had what looked like two tires off and his wheel at zero steer in his follow run against Field. Now, the latter does NOT count towards a zero in tandem, though it is a deduction to the judges. The former, however, is a zero. Ryan Lanteigne, the line judge for this round, said that he and the other judges did not see Goodin go off with two tires, but did see that his rear tire stayed on the line. That had to be a clear thing to happen as well and, looking at the replays I have found, have to say that it’s not that clear. For the judges, it wasn’t, because it looks like less than half of it is still on the line and not fully over, and that is their argument for it being only one tire off.
There was another issue I think everyone misses with Field’s follow run. He drops a lane in the bank earlier than the judges wanted, and that line also made him miss the “touch-and-go.” According to Lanteigne on Wrecked Magazine about the run, “In the driver’s meeting I was very clear on OZ1 (the bank) being an extremely important part of the track. So much so that I, as the line judge for qualifying, allotted 15 points to that area alone (I combined my 10 style points with the 5 points allotted from my 25 points for line overall). The fact that Field missed such a large portion of it by dropping down a whole lane while chasing Goodin, while also missing the Touch & Go, was a large enough mistake in my eyes to equal the 1 tire off that Goodin performed on the previous lap.” The result is a One More Time, where Goodin takes the win as once again, Field would drop down early to give himself the deficit.
Finally, I think the event that’s been barely talked about due to Goodin/Field and Pawlak/McQuarrie overshadowing it, has been the second place finish for Alec Hohnadell and the Get Nuts Labs 240SX. He didn’t have an easy run to the finals and I think a lot of people have really discredited his finish, which is a real shame. He first had to face Kyle Mohan in the Mazdatrix RX8. I won’t say this was a difficult battle, but Mohan has made some impressive runs to ruin a champion’s day many times in the past. Hohnadell moved on to run and defeat Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy 370Z after a OMT battle. He then had to face off against a rising Daigo Saito in the Achilles Radial GT-R, then against an angry Justin Pawlak in the Roush Performance Mustang… and Justin never makes anything easy.
However, much like Heilbrunn in Pro 2, Hohnadell would take himself out when he went up against Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy tC. Well, he wouldn’t really take himself out, as the fuel pump failed on his car on the follow run and shut down the car before the finish, resulting in a zero. His lead run really showed that if his car had stayed together, he would have been a threat for the win over Aasbo.
(Seattle Pro podium: 1st, Fredric Aasbo. 2nd, Alec Hohnadell. 3rd, Justin Pawlak) It is also a tremendous win for Fredric Aasbo, as this was his second Formula Drift US win in a row, and his third win for 2015. He now leads Ryan Tuerck by 76 points, and Odi Bakchis, thanks to his Top 32 exit, now sits in third place at only 80-points and not out of the championship by a long shot. Ken Gushi sits in fourth, while Chris Forsberg in fifth closes out the Top Five in points as of Round 5.
(Seattle Pro 2 podium: 1st, James Evans. 2nd, Alex Heilbrunn. 3rd, Faruk Kugay) In Pro 2, Alex Heilbrunn holds on to his lead with 51 points over James Evans, while Andrew Gray is only 57 points back in third place. Faruk Kugay and Tayler Hull, thanks to their Final Four appearances in this round, are fourth and fifth respectively in points as of Round 2.
The next round for both Pro and Pro 2 will be at Texas Motor Speedway, and marks the third year for that track to be on the Formula Drift schedule. It has been the scene for some upsets and setting up close championship races at the finals in Irwindale, so we’re in for a good one if history holds up.
PRO 2 TOP 16 GALLERY