Formula DRIFT’s 2017 season started off with a shake-up at the top in Long Beach April 1st. Taking place annually on turns nine, ten, and eleven on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Formula D drivers kill all tires on the course the weekend before IndyCar and Pirelli World Challenge drivers race on the street course.
Driving one of three Mustangs on the track this year, Vaughn Gittin Jr. came in first in qualifying with 97 points, with 2015 champion Frederic Aasbo qualifying fourth. This was Aasbo’s first competition in a Toyota Corolla iM; the Scion brand was phased out in early 2016, but supported their motorsports teams through the end of the year. Three-time and 2016 champ Chris Forsberg qualified sixth in his Nissan 370Z, with rookie Piotr Wiechek competing in his first Formula D event right behind in ninth.
After a group of recruits were sworn into the United States Air Force, the drivers were introduced to a capacity crowd. The Top 16 started their battles, and the shake-up began. Vaughn Gittin Jr., after such a brilliant start in qualifying, made a huge mistake against Dean Kearney in the Viper, and didn’t make it to the finals after spinning on the last turn.
The Final 8 saw some breathtaking driving. There were chants from the crowds for several third passes, but the only two drivers that ended up doing a “One More Time” pass were Alex Heilbrunn (BMW M3) and Odi Bakchis in a Nissan 240 SX. Heilbrunn won, and was then up against James Deane in the Finals. Contrary to his namesake, this James Deane pilots a Nissan, not a Porsche.
Five-time Irish Drift and five-time European Drift champion, Deane hasn’t competed in Formula D since 2010. The Irishman drove spectacularly and setting a high bar for himself for the 2017 season, took the win against Heilbrunn. Deane commented after winning, “Man, what a way to start back in Formula DRIFT after missing out on the last seven years. I owe a lot to my good friend and teammate, Piotr Wiecek, who came up with this whole idea to come back to the Series as a two-car team. To come out with the win is just mind blowing. What a feeling!” Rounding out the podium was the affable Ryan Tuerck, also having switched from a Scion to Toyota. Deane’s teammate, rookie Wiecek, finished at a not-too-shabby 9th place.
Formula DRIFT will come to Montreal, Quebec for True North July 14-15, 2017. Formula D also livestreams their events through their website, and a replay of the Top 32 and Top16 can be seen on YouTube.