Its time once again for another year of professional drifting. Lots have changed in the few months of the offseason. Some new rules, new drivers, and of course plenty of new cars.
Round 1 – Long Beach, CA
April 8-9, 2016
Words and photos by: Jay Canter – HighRevPhotos.com
One thing that seems to have not changed since the last season is the “formula d curse”. Basically it is expected to rain at some point during the weekend. This being beautiful southern California where it doesn’t rain a whole lot everyone was excited to go into season 13 with some beautiful weather. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Long Beach course is a road course set up with zero run off and concrete walls on both sides of the track, leaving zero room for error. You add in super wet and slick conditions (part of the drift track is used the rest of the year as a parking lot so lots of oil and gunk seeped up to the surface leaving literally zero grip in spots), as well as high horsepower racecars you are bound to have some high-energy action. All weekend there was NO shortage of that!!!! Despite the poor weather conditions, everyone came out to play including the hard-core fans. It was a complete sell out and the fans stuck through the weather and was one of the best crowds ever to experience top level professional drifting.
Due to the weather, Formula D decided to do something they never have done before. Call off qualifying. There were enough people doing major damage to their vehicles during practice, they didn’t want to have anything catastrophic happen during qualifying. So what they did is they took the final standings from last year and that was their qualifying number. Then the few rookies were ranked at the bottom. Honestly it made for a super exciting actual top 32. You can count on some drivers not going 100% during qualifying so not having it meant during those tandem battles you couldn’t leave anything out on the track. Making for seriously some of the best battles Formula D has ever had!
Having said that, in years past you can sort of look at the bracket and pick the usual suspects who will be advancing rounds. Not so much this event which makes it not only more interesting for the fans, but those of the media who might have been jaded over the years being able to predict who will make the final 4.
While there is plenty to talk about the love it or hate it graphics on the vehicles as most are waaaay out there and not that pleasing to look at, what for SURE was the talk of the weekend was how long time pro driver and “underdog” Chelsea Denofa would destroy the field. Denofa has been basically a privateer with no major dollar sponsors and driving a BMW that has been crashed more times than you can count on your fingers and toes. But what has changed this season??? He has a fantastic engine program that was super reliable and he just has the feeling it is his time to shine. Denofa had hands down the most difficult pairings all the way from top 32 to the finals having to go through champion after champion after champion. Top 32 battle he faced off against super talented driver Geoff Stoneback. Stoneback is part of champion team Chris Forsberg Racing, driving one of Forsbergs amazing Nissan 370z. He had some mechanical issues causing Denofa to be able to pull away and claim a top 32 victory. That might have been his easiest pairing all weekend. Top 16 he had to face two time champion from 2009 and 2014 Chris Forsberg.
Forsberg got a bit too close to one of the transition points and hit the wall enabling Denofa to make a clean pass basically giving him the win. From there in the Great 8 battle Denofa had to face another champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. Denfoa just flat out drive the wheels off of his BMW to get this win versus one of the top drivers ever in professional drifting. Moving on to the Final 4 he had to face what was some of the best battles of the weekend again Ken Gushi driving a 2jz powered SR by Toyota FRS (scion is no longer being branded in the USA so this is their new name currently) Gushi ended up 2nd in points last season and was on a tear all weekend. It was two super close battles but the judges just saw some errors by Gushi allowing Denofa to move on.
At this point I should let you know that not Denofa has never made it this far to get this close to being on the podium to collect one of those sweet carbon fiber trophies.
Going into the finals, Denofa had to face another Champion. Who just so happens to be the 2015 reigning champion Frederic Aasbo. On the first run with Denofa chasing, he got a bit too close to one of the walls and really smashed up his wing bad, but was able to hold drift and keep right on Aasbo’s door the entire run. Without calling a 5 minute time out to fix the wing the 2nd run was just more of the same wheels off driving by bother drivers. Aasbo ran into Denfoa on the hairpin causing him to slow down just enough for Denofa to pull away giving him the win.
Chelsea Denofa had never podiumed before and just like that he is on the number one spot. Lets see if he can keep that momentum going into round 2 at Road Atlanta next month. There are 31 other drivers looking to knock him off the top spot.
For more info about Formula Drift please visit www.FormulaD.com
Round 2 will be at Road Atlanta May 6-7, 2016