Formula Drift Round 2 in Hotlanta was full of rowdy crowds, awesome battles, a brand new layout, and some surprising calls. To kick off the Formula Drift festivities, Thursday was a full day dedicated to practice and at night, the long awaited Keep Drifting Fun movie was scheduled to premiere. If you haven’t watched it yet, do so NOW.
If you’re familiar with the layout for FD Round 2 at Road Atlanta, the course has typically started with turns 10A and 10B, but taking the bottom of the “P” first, then drifting around the horseshoe and heading back the way they came. This year, however, the course layout was changed so that instead of taking the bottom of the “P” first, they were to head to the top. This therefore created a new layout for both rookie and veteran drivers to adapt to. Throughout practice, it was clear to see that many drivers were struggling with the change as they inadvertently scrubbed speed at the top of the “P” or spun out trying to maintain drift. Drifting uphill was proving to be a challenge for some.
One of the awesome aspects of Formula Drift is that everyone is able to walk through the paddock area where the drivers, the cars, and pit crews are set up. Jeremy Lowe had a special guest hanging out in his Enjuku Racing Mazda RX7.
During practice, Michael Essa was throwing down mantries every single run in his GSR Autosport/Nitto Tire BMW Z4R. Even though the judges specifically stated that they didn’t want drivers to pull backwards entries, Essa asked if it was appropriate if speed and line weren’t sacrificed. He pulled it off, and qualified 1st with an almost perfect score of 98!
Vaughn Gittin Jr. wasn’t far behind in his 2013 Monster Energy/Falken Tire Ford Mustang, putting down a score of 97.5. JR was pushing hard all weekend.
As you may have heard, the Formula D staff and judges had some issues with the speed gun during qualifying. Only a few drivers out of the entire field were able to reach the 35mph minimum speed. This was later found to not be an issue with the speed gun itself, but with track temperature and slower overall speeds.
Because of this issue, every qualifier was given the 10 points for speed, leaving the few drivers who earned those points fuming. Above you can see Kyle Mohan and Rhys Millen, two of those drivers, discussing the problems of the situation with Ryan Sage and the judges.
The Top 32 battles were just as exciting as the finals, and one such battle was between Tony Angelo in the Scion Racing tC and Conrad Grunewald in the Hankook Tire Chevy Camaro. Tony’s hatch popped open on his lead run, which made the huge crowd go wild. Conrad pushed too hard on the exit of the run and ended up smashing into the outside barrier, giving Tony the win.
The rumble strips can be unforgiving if you run across them and Danny George found out the hard way. During Saturday’s practice before the main competition, Danny George and Joon Maeng had a tandem run that went awry. Danny ended up running across the rumble strips and cracked his oil pan in his Crab Broker NA8CE Mazda Miata.
Danny was set to go up against Matt Field during top 32 but because he was unable to fix his car, Matt was given a bye-run in his CX Racing Nissan 240SX.
The Top 16 battle between Walker Wilkerson and Tony Angelo was over pretty quickly…Tony entered right on Walker’s door, but gripped up and went flying into the Falken Tire S13. Obviously, Walker was given the win and advanced to the Top 8.
One of the many talked about highlights of the night was Joon Maeng’s run in his Nitto Tire/Lucas Oil Mazda RX8 against Tyler McQuarrie in his Mobile 1 Chevrolet Camaro SS. In their second tandem competition run, Tyler had some mechanical issues that caused him to mess up his run towards the end of the course. The “five minutes” rule was then called in order to give him a chance to fix his car for another run for a spot in the top 16. After what seemed like more than five minutes, it was announced that Tyler was unable to fix his car and get to start within the time limit and Joon was to move on. However, not long after, another announcement was made stating that Tyler’s team had protested and argued that the rule doesn’t actually state that the car has to be at the start line within the five minutes, just fixed.
As a result, Joon and Tyler were set to run again. With Tyler in the lead, Joon had a 93 mph entry speed and did a great job of following Tyler up until the end of the course as he dropped a couple tires off track. At this point, nobody knew what call would be made and the judges decided on a “one more time,” noting that neither of their runs were perfect and there wasn’t a clear winner yet. This next time as they drifted, Joon dropped tires again and Tyler passed him, causing the crowd to go wild. In the past, drivers have been told to not pass the lead car since the purpose of the lead car is for them to be a moving clipping point for the follow car. However, the judges discussed in the driver’s meeting the previous night that if a situation where a car is off line and off track, then a pass could be performed so that they weren’t following the car off track as well. Like many calls this night, the ones made for Joon and Tyler’s runs were controversial and some people are still arguing about which driver should’ve moved on.
The Team Rowdy crowd at the NOS Energy Drink tents had a multitude of different homemade signs for the event. One motivational sign happened to be, “Don’t Suck.” Words of wisdom.
After beating Tyler McQuarrie for a spot in the top 16, Joon Maeng and Walker Wilkerson were pitted against each other for the chance to fight Daigo Saito for a podium finish. Throughout the night we witnessed Joon’s more aggressive driving style with some 90+ mph entry speeds and an almost completely successful backwards entry. However, in Joon’s run up against Walker, as they drifted around the horseshoe in the “P”, Joon straightened out and made contact with the passenger side of Walker’s car. This was now the second time within the same day Walker was hit.
Another call that caused controversy among people was Daigo Saito’s win in his Achilles Radial Lexus SC430 against Walker Wilkerson. Walker put down some amazing runs against Daigo and did a great job of keeping up with him and all of his 1200 hp throughout the course, while still throwing down angle and smoke. It’s amazing how anyone is able to follow Daigo with how much smoke he creates. As Daigo and Walker went head to head for the third place finish, their first run went smoothly with Daigo in the lead and Walker following. However, on the second run, coming out of the “P”, Daigo made a correction that caused him to lose speed, leaving a noticeable gap between himself and Walker. Due to this, a “OMT” was called.
Once Daigo and Walker put fresh tires on, they were ready to go again. With Daigo in the lead again, he left the line but noticed that Walker was having issues taking off and instead of continuing, Daigo decided to slow down and restart for a fair battle. Like the previous run with Daigo in the lead, both drivers did well maintaining speed and angle throughout the course, although Walker did lose some angle trying to keep up with Daigo. In the second run, Daigo appeared to make the same correction in the same spot as before, losing speed and creating a gap again. On top of that, at the end of the course he mistakenly dropped what appeared to be two tires in the dirt. Many close friends, family, and fans of Walker’s were hopeful that he had third place locked in but as Daigo was announced as the winner, there were many upset and confused outcries mixed in with the cheers for Daigo. No doubt, this was a tough call for the judges. This gave Daigo his second, third place win in the US Formula Drift Series.