STILLEN Event Tracking
Formula Drift Round 1: The Streets of Long Beach
April 1, 2017
By Richard Fong
On the streets of Long Beach, April 1st was no Fool’s Day. Drivers waged fierce battles in the first round of the Formula Drift Championship, leaving no room for anyone faint of heart or too timid to push beyond the limit.
Now in its fourteenth year, Formula Drift kicked off the 2017 season on a moderate spring day in Long Beach. The weather could not have been more conducive for a day of tire-smoking fun and enjoyment for all. Attendees could walk through the competitor pits while also checking out the expanded vendor row that occupied the area adjacent to the pits as well as the infield behind the bleachers with the AutoCon Car Show.
Bye, Bye, Bye
As fans of drifting, we were bummed about the number of bye runs that kicked off the Top 32 eliminations. The top five drivers enjoyed automatic advances into the sweet 16 round for a couple of reasons. First, the usual attrition that comes with drifting, K-rails and tire barriers and, second, a reduction in the number of qualified drivers on the Pro roster. There just weren’t enough to fill a field of 32. We are hopeful that more drivers will see the opportunity to compete and fill the driver list in the near future.
Despite the number of bye runs, the 2017 season kicked off with a shake-up of the norm as numerous upsets throughout the eliminations by up-and-coming drivers sidelined veterans and champions alike. Top qualifier Vaughn Gittin Jr. faced elimination in the Top 16 round at the hands of Dean “Karnage” Kearney.
Former champions Dai Yoshihara and Michael Essa faced off in the first round. Yoshihara suffered an unfortunate mishap when he snapped a power steering belt just before finishing turn 10. This caused him to straighten out and almost collide with the K-rail, suffering a loss.
The 2015 champion Fredric Aasbo competed in his new Toyota Corolla iM drift car as if he’d been driving it for years. After his first round bye run, he beat Kristaps Bluss to move on to the Great 8 against Alex Heilbrunn. Heilbrunn also enjoyed a first round bye before beating Juha Rintanen to advance to his match up with Aasbo. Heilbrunn upset the Norwegian Hammer and advanced to the Final 4.
Three-time champion Chris Forsberg defeated Alec Hohnadell in the first round before facing Ken Gushi in a too-close-to-call second match. Forsberg and Gushi delivered a great battle that many felt could have gone for a one-more-time rebattle, but the judges ruled in Forsberg’s favor to the dismay of the crowd, who chanted a chorus of “One-More-Time” as the judges’ decision was posted on the Jumbotron. Forsberg faced elimination by the number two qualifier, James Deane in the Great 8. Deane enjoyed a bye run before defeating Essa on his way to face Forsberg. Deane’s victory over Forsberg put him into the Final 4.
First Time Finalists
Bakchis has competed for seven years and podiumed six times, while Tuerck has thirteen years in Formula Drift competition and twelve podiums to his credit, according to driftstats.com. By comparison, Heilbrunn has just one year in Formula Drift Pro2 and one year in the Pro Championship. Deane competed at four rounds of Formula Drift competition back in 2010 and returned for the first time since to compete in the USA at Long Beach. Bakchis paired with Heilbrunn while Tuerck matched up with Deane. The sophomore drivers each prevailed, putting both into the finals for the first time. When the smoke cleared and the contenders lined up in front of the grandstands, the judges awarded James Deane his first Formula Drift event victory as Heilbrunn proudly claimed his first podium as runner up. Since Tuerck qualified higher than Bakchis, he was awarded third spot on the podium.
With the first round in the books, Formula Drift and its roster of drivers prepare to make the trek across the US of A to Round 2 at Orlando Speed World. On the weekend of April 28-29, the state of Florida will feel the thunder as both the Pro and Pro2 divisions lay down rubber to the tarmac. This season is already shaping up to be an exciting one so be sure to keep your eyes focused on the Formula Drift Championship!