I’ve been a fan of Formula Drift since 2008 and even ventured across the pond to watch a round in Atlanta in 2012. There really isn’t much hype for FD on this side of the Atlantic though. I suppose people tend to focus on the series that are most local to them and so here the majority of people talk about the British Drift Championship, Drift Allstars, King of Europe and the Irish Drift Championship. However, that changed when it was announced that Piotr Wiecek and James Deane would be taking two Worthouse liveried 2JZ S15s over to compete in.
James Deane is a bit of a sensation here. He has been competing/dominating and judging numerous competitions across Europe and the Middle East. For the past few years it has been a commonly held belief that if he got another shot at Formula Drift that he would do well so when it was announced that he was competing it sparked a new interest in the American series.
For the past 12 years the Formula Drift season has begun on corners 9, 10 and 11 of the street circuit used for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The course is a brutal corridor flanked on either side by high concrete walls and no run offs, the only protection comes for the tyre walls put in place at the ends of the actual corners to dampen the impact of the circuit racing cars in the following weekend’s racing.
To begin with the cars leave the start line and head down the left hand side of the straight before initiating into a right hand 90 degree corner. The trick here seems to be to take the racing line, sweeping the front of the car against the apex of the corner to be thrown out towards the first of the concrete walls. This wall is called a touch and go, the closer you can get the rear of your car to that wall the higher the judges will mark you but it is not as vital as a regular clipping point.
One the cars have brushed that wall they will transition underneath a footbridge and swing the car around to the first outer clipping point which is at the end of a concrete wall. In times past Cal Club Flag Marshall Bil Baldwin would stand by that clipping point. The cars would literally pass inches from his face.
This brings us to outer clip two which is in the centre of a long sweeping left hand turn. Once the cars come out of this turn they swing back towards the wall on the other side to get the second rear touch and go and into the final hairpin turn with the Black Magic inner clipping point.
In qualifying the drivers get two runs and their top score counts. Our chap Deane did well qualifying second with a score of 96 out of a possible 100. Equal in points to Formula Drift veteran Ryan Tuerck and only one point behind Vaughn Gittin Jr. If you get a chance to watch FD this season be sure to check out Vaughn’s Mustang. The suspension is surprisingly soft; it squats and dives it’s way around the course.
Deane’s high qualification meant he was able to bypass the first bracket of battles (top 32) as only 30 cars attended. His first battle would be against 2013 champion Michael Essa.
Since he was the higher qualifier Deane would lead first. Deane would tag the first clipping point just after the bridge with the rear of his car pulling the rear bumper off and right hand rear light out. He had to make a small correction but was not deterred as he smoked his way through the rest of the course. Essa was planted on his door throughout the course but came in a little too strong into the final hairpin and had to spin to avoid contact with the chase car. It was this mistake that would be the ultimate decider in the battle and saw James through to the top 8.
The next battle would be against 2016 champion and Drift Alliance driver Chris Forsberg. Forsberg has been competing in FD since day 1 in 2004 and has grown with the series. He is also defending champion so will certainly not go easy on Deane.
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Neither driver made any mistakes as such but Deane was clearly dominant. How chase run was simply wall to wall and exactly what the judges were looking for. Forsberg was able to keep up without issue but was certainly not as close to the walls. When the roles reversed Deane was able to mirror Forsberg’s line perfectly to take the victory.
The next battle would be in the semi-finals and against another Drift Alliance driver who has been there since nearly the beginning Ryan Tuerck.
Deane simply repeated his performance with Forsberg. A fantastic chase run hitting the line perfectly followed by a exact mirroring run.
The final would be between James Deane and Alex Heilbrunn. Heilbrunn is the U.S’s version of Danny Grundy. He has worked his way up through a Pro-Am program into Pro 2 and is now playing against the Pros. In my eyes Heilbrunn was one of the most consistent drivers of the weekend and thoroughly deserved his spot in the final.
The battle that ensued was one of those battles that from my perspective is just impossible to judge. Both ran fantastic lines on their lead runs, both had good proximity in the chase and both mirrored each other well. I was surprised it didn’t go to a one more time but the judges found an advantage in Deane and so he took the win!
So in conclusion it was FD rookie James Deane who took the win with Alex Heilbrunn second and Ryan Tuerck third. A good start to the season for Deane but there are many new tracks ahead of him each with many battles to be fought.
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