The 2016 Formula Drift season has officially begun! The first round of the season was only a few days ago, but we still haven’t gotten over how crazy it was on the Streets of Long Beach. Everything from rain, crashes, and upsets… if it could happen, it happened. The results are in and we have them for you! Drop on in and enjoy our report and gallery of Formula Drift Round 1 – Streets of Long Beach.
Not knowing what to expect, who would show up to compete, and even what some of the cars were dressed like this year, we hit Long Beach excited to have our curiosities fulfilled. One of the biggest fan complaints over the past couple of years, is that drivers have seemed to lose their sense of style and that most of the cars looked plain and ugly. Lots of flat liveries lined the grid, and we must admit, the fans were right. This year, things have definitely changed. The cars look wild, sharp, and liveries are unique and exciting. There are some killer looking cars on grid this year.
For the first time, or at least as far back as we can remember, FD Long Beach has never seen as much moisture as it did last weekend. Right off the bat it was drizzling, which occasionally turned into a light downpour. It wasn’t the frequency of rain that made the track difficult to drive on, it was the surface itself. All it took was a drizzle more than a few minutes to turn the track into an ice skating rink and send numerous cars into the wall. Long Beach isn’t like other tracks that grip when wet. When it rains in Long Beach, cars are going into the wall regardless of driver experience.
It’s the carnage and track conditions that forced Formula Drift staff to enact a never used provision of the Sporting Regulations, that effectively canceled qualifying and pre-seeded drivers into a Top 32 format based on 2015 rankings. “We spoke to the teams and the large majority felt it was better to have a full field of 32 drivers tomorrow than risk wrecks that would not be fixable due to the damage cause by the walls or have drivers with double zero’s that would disallow them to be placed in the bracket”, says Kevin Wells, Competition Director of Formula DRIFT. “Being that we had exactly 32 cars in competition, no one would be left out and so that seemed to be the prudent thing to do. We want the drivers to have a voice. The majority spoke and we answered.”
Our first opinions of the cancellation of Top 32 were mixed, but after hours of thinking about it and coming to terms with the decision, we are glad Formula Drift enacted the pre-seeding format. There were many bonuses that came with the decision, one being our Pro rookie friends such as Cameron Moore, Faruk Kugay, Juha Rintanen, and Alex Heilbrunn, had the opportunity to go head to head with the big names of Formula Drift. The exposure it would give them as a driver and team in front of a full crowd, would be the best thing to happen to their program, and wonderful for their sponsors as well.
The show did carry on, and shortly after a wet open practice session where drivers threw down some record breaking slow motion runs, hehe, the driver autograph session kicked off. In professional motorsports, fans keep the series afloat. Not everybody gets to know the drivers on a personal basis, and the majority of fans for the most part don’t have the opportunities to attend a drift event every single weekend, so providing a time for them to interact with the drivers and put smiles on their faces, is one of the reasons fans will keep coming back for years to come.
Going home and coming back to the track the next day, got us to thinking about who would face who in the Top 32 bracket. It was a pretty typical bracket with big names against big names, but some of the battles really stuck out to us and would cause significant reactions if underdogs took the win. Some of the battles we were super interested in were Fredric Aasbo vs Sheng Zhang, Ryan Tuerck vs Juha Rintanen, Odi Bakchis vs Alec Heilbrunn, Ken Gushi vs Faruk Kugay, Forrest Wang vs Matt Coffman, Kenny Moen vs Mike Essa both in a BMW E46, Chris Forsberg vs Cameron Moore, Justin Pawlak vs Jeff Jones (Jones has previously never taken a win against Pawlak), and Vaughn Gittin Jr. vs Robbie Nishida. What if the underdog took out a previous Formula Drift champion? It was completely possible, because the forecast called for some rain during Top 32.
Top 32 came and went. Anything, and we mean anything, could have happened. As fate would have it, all our underdog buddies were knocked out of competition except for Jeff Jones, who would face Vaughn Gittin Jr. in a DRY non rainy Top 16. The other boys battling would be Aasbo vs Whiddett, Field vs Bluss, Tuerck vs McQuarrie, Odi vs Kearney, Gushi vs Ng, Wang vs Essa, and Forsberg vs Denofa. You know how we roll. Immediately we cracked out our bracket and penciled in the underdogs as victors in their matches. The show goes on.
First out was Fredric Aasbo versus mad Mike Whiddett. Fredric being the difficult driver he is to follow, Mad Mike put forward his best effort on the chase. Come time for Mad Mike to lead, he failed to make the transition under the bridge, spun out, and Aasbo sped right by for the win.
Matt Field versus Kristaps Bluss was an absolute brutal battle. Field being the poster boy of Hardcore Japan, referring to it’s drivers as Hardcore Motherf##kers, went up against Bluss who only the day before had insulted a fellow drivers manhood for wanting to cancel qualifying due to the unsafe conditions. Yeah, this was gonna be intense. Both drivers traded paint several times during their extremely fast and aggressive runs, but after a OMT, Matt Field took the mighty Bluss down for the win.
Ryan Tuerck versus Tyler McQuarrie looked like it would be a decent battle. Tuerck had been wall bumping all weekend in practice, and McQuarrie was running deeper and deeper with every run. If it wasn’t for a mistake made by McQuarrie on his lead, the battle could have went OMT, but Tuerck grabs the win and moves on.
Odi Bakchis versus Kearney would be an interesting battle. Both drivers have proven to be surgically precise in the past with some killer follow runs. Both lead and chase runs for both drivers were great, but unfortunately for Kearney, he tapped a clipping point, obviously leading to the judges handing Odi the win.
Ken Gushi versus Charles Ng would be fun to watch. Gushi is a rock solid performer with an aggressive chase style, and Ng has pulled rabbits out of his hat off and on throughout the season last year. Both drivers complete solid runs, but like Kearney’s mistake in the previous battle, Ng hits a clipping point and Gushi gets the win.
Forrest Wang versus Mike Essa was tough for us to predict. Wang is a Vegas local who is always down to chill, and Essa is our hometown 2013 Formula Drift Champ. Forrest had the advantage being familiar with his S15 he drove in 2015, and Mike was just getting back into his E46 chassis this year. Wang takes the lead, but Essa straightens and shuts it down around the bridge area on the follow. Regardless of how great Essa’s lead run was, the shutdown on his follow would be the deciding factor that moved Forrest Wang on to the Great 8.
Chris Forsberg versus Chelsea Denofa was a very significant battle given Forsberg was Denofa’s first speed bump on the road to victory at Long Beach. Forsberg took his lead and tapped the wall which caused him to straighten, which gave Denofa the opportunity to make a pass on the inside and complete the run. Denofa makes a sick run on his lead with Forsberg going hard and spinning while trying to overcome the mistake on his own lead, and Denofa gets the win.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. takes his lead and leaves our buddy Jeff Jones struggling to retain proximity while way down on power compared to VGJr. Jones causes a restart by hitting a starting line cone on his lead. After making a lead run not as clean and controlled as Jr.’s, the judges award Jr. the win.
Fredric Aasbo versus Matt Field should have been a great battle with Field looking like he would move on after a super crazy follow on Aasbo. Aasbo ran a great lead, but couldn’t get rid of Field, who was only about half a car away the entire time. It was on Field’s lead where he made a huge mistake, and we never saw him come around the corner from under the bridge. It was Aasbo who came around the corner, and took the win against Field.
Ryan Tuerck versus Odi Bakchis turned out to be a not so glorious battle that we thought it would be. Tuerck rode the wall along the crowd after the bridge with Odi right behind him. After a quick review on the big screen, it was clear Odi had hit the clipping point going around the hairpin on the follow. Odi had to drive hard on his lead and shake Tuerck, which he did by causing Tuerck to spin out on the follow. Odi gets the win.
Forrest Wang versus Ken Gushi was a so-so matchup on the first run, with both drivers driving conservatively in the lead and follow positions. On the second run, Forrest Wang took lead, and spins out to the inside coming out from under the bridge. Fault goes to the lead driver, and Ken Gushi gets the win.
In the last battle of the Great 8, Chelsea Denofa faced Vaughn Gittin Jr. in a battle that most would have chosen Gittin to win. Denofa stuck on VGJr on the follow, and drove a great lead in which Jr. lacked the proximity that Denofa had on his follow. Chelsea Denofa continues his podium journey with the win.
Fredric Aasbo and Odi Bakchis’ first pair of runs in this battle resulted in a OMT. On the OMT, Aasbo outdrives Odi in what seems to be Odi holding back a little to avoid a bumper car incident between these 2 like last year. Aasbo moves on to prepare for the final battle, who would be against the winner of the next battle.
Ken Gushi versus Chelsea Denofa looked to be a battle of the Creme de la Creme on paper based on the day’s performances. Denofa had been taking down giants, but Gushi usually makes it this far in competition, so anything could happen. Gushi leads, and Denofa is all over him as if both cars are tied together with a rope. Denofa takes his lead, and 2 judges decide its better than Gushi’s lead, and Denofa gets the win and moves on to fight Fredric Aasbo for 1st.
In my opinion, Aasbo was either shaking in his socks thinking Denofa was going to take him down, or extremely confident that he would easily lay waste to Denofa. One of the 2, no middle. Aasbo takes his lead run which is surgically precise and aggressive like always, but Chelsea is on his ass from the get go, never letting Aasbo get further than a couple of inches away. Denofa took his lead, swinging into the course and crumbling his wing along the fence before the bridge in a IDGAF moment (google IDGAF if you don’t know what it means). Aasbo doesn’t retain the proximity that Denofa had, and you guessed it, DENOFA GETS THE WIN!!!
After a lame day of Top 32 in the rain, we were GIFTED by a dry and INTENSE Top 16 that was some of the most exciting we’ve ever seen in Long Beach. Congrats to Denofa, Aasbo, and Gushi for the 1-2-3 finishes!
Statistically, It’s likely that Denofa will have a hard time pulling off another podium finish this year despite his amazing performance in Long Beach. He is a great driver, but over the years his program hasn’t had the impact that it had during his rookie year in 2012 MAINLY due to constant mechanical issues at the absolute worst times. We have our fingers crossed and are praying to the drift gods for another Denofa podium finish this year.
This weekend we will be back in Long Beach for the Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge in the evening of the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Check out more info by clicking here.
Formula Drift Round 2 will be at Road Atlanta on May 6-7, so join us for a continuation of the madness!
Enjoy the galleries.