It was a competition that came down to the wire at the premiere of the Formula Drift 2015 season in California on Saturday, April 11. The streets of Long Beach are set up annually for the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix, and this year Formula D was sandwiched on a Friday and Saturday between Formula e and the Grand Prix weekends. The first turn of the drift course is Grand Prix turn 9, then the competitors drift around turn 10 to finish around the turn 11’s hairpin.
For those who have never given Formula Drift a first look: it’s not a race, it’s a battle of skill and finesse. Drivers follow a line around the course and are judged on how well they follow that line, how smoothly they execute the turns, all in tandem with another driver. In qualifying, they perform two passes with another driver – once leading around the course and once following the other driver, being scored by judges on a scale of one to 100. The top 32 then compete for a spot in the final battle; by the end of the two days the course is almost a centimeter thick with rubber and the pit lanes littered with various parts torn off the cars after spinning out, scraping the wall, or fortunately quite rarely in Long Beach, colliding with each other. This is the 12th season of Formula D, and the stands in Long Beach were completely sold out and filled to capacity.
2014’s champion Chris Forsberg returned for 2015 in a 1,000 hp Nissan 370z, along with Vaughn Gitten Jr. driving a Ford Mustang RTR, Ken Gushi drifting in a Scion,and Fredric Aasbo driving a Scion Racing tC. Another fan favorite – Tanner Foust – is returning for a limited schedule after a five year hiatus in a 900 hp Volkswagen Passat.
Heading into the Final 32, Forrest Wang was first in points with a 97. He was knocked out of the first round on Saturday by Matt Coffman, who, in turn, was knocked out of competition by Robbie Nishida. Chris Forsberg made it to the top 16, but was then bested by Patrick Mordaunt. After spinning out and losing a tire on Friday, Tanner Foust just made it into the final 32 with 67 points, but fell to Justin Pawlak.
The final 4 battling for the podium was Matt Field in his 1997 CX Racing Yokohama Tire Nissan 240SX against Aurimas Bakchis, also in a Nissan 240SX, and Ryan Tuerck (Retaks Maxxis Tires Nameless Performance FR-S) against Fredric Aasbo. After several re-dos and a few five-minute breaks for repairs, Bakchis and Aasbo faced each other with the clock ticking towards Long Beach’s mandatory 6 pm cut-off. With only minutes to spare, Aasbo took the win with Bakchis in second and Tuerck in third.
Formula Drift has nine more events on the schedule. The next competition will be at Road Atlanta (Georgia, USA) May 8-9. The eight event will take place in Montreal, Québec, September 6-7 – check the Formula D website for complete schedule and ticket information.