After a two year absence from Gateway Motorsports Park, the Midwest Drift Union returned last weekend to host round two of its 2013 competition season. Tires were shred, bumpers were decimated and the points bracket jumbled. More after the jump!
Many drivers had sat in this very room at No-Star Bash earlier this year, so the course was plenty familiar.
For the competition, however, the course length was shortened to end just after the long sweeper at the north end of the track.
Meeting adjourned, it was time for the practice session. Drivers were split into two run groups, each given an hour and a half of practice in the first session, followed immediately by the second session also lasting the same amount of time. Matt Lynch had the only right hand drive car in attendance, much less the only right hand drive LS-swapped 240.
Josh Collins threw down hard early on. He would eventually make it to top 16, ultimately being defeated by Rolando Alfaro.
Tire wear due to the track’s rough surface was something many drivers ran into problems with. While some opted to conserve their tires in practice by either limiting their runs or holding off on aggressive driving, others had no worries about doing big burnouts on the grid.
But not every driver was in it for the competition (nor was the vehicle even competition legal). Mike O’Mara brought back out the “Coyote,” which we first showed you at No-Star Bash.
Steve Topping came to do battle in the only German platform on the entry list.While the platform may be from Deutschland, it finds motivation courtesy of an LS1.
Other local drivers included the ever-fast Andrew Lewis, who went on to top 16 and finished the event in sixth.
There was also Cory Conrad, piloting his S15-befaced S13 hatch. That S15 front end wouldn’t last long, as later in the day, a tandem run went awry and he hit nose-to-nose with this guy, Eric Daugherty.
Unfortunately, I happened to be off track at the time of the incident and subsequently have no photos of the wreck or its aftermath…
…but I WAS there when Travis Lacombe used his Mustang-powered S13 hatch to test the impact force reduction properties of the tire wall on the outside of the big sweeper.
Brian Peter, who came into the second round as the points leader, fared much better than the last time his FC was competing at Gateway.
“The last time we were here, we had really bad luck,” Peter said. “It was my first time driving the car and we broke a lot of parts. (This time) I didn’t break anything, so that was a big highlight.”
Peter’s car wasn’t without a few problems, however. Reverting to stock axles and a borrowed diff, his car was plagued by transmission problems, failing to shift into third and causing him to have to directly shift from second to fourth. Despite this setback, he managed to qualify third and draw Stu Kelley in the first round of top 16.
“I had a pretty strong advantage,” Peter said of the pairing. “We both have RX-7s, but mine is substantially more built and has more power.”
Peter met Tyson Schmidt in the top eight, allowing for a re-match of their battle from round one in Indianapolis. This time, though, Schmidt got the win. Peter still retains his series points lead.
“On my lead run, he stuck with me, but they told us there was no advantage because we’d stayed pretty even, so I wanted to push really hard and stay with him on my chase run,” Peter said. “I did the first-second-fourth thing, but this time it didn’t go into fourth gear. He pulled a few car lengths on me and we just kind of kept that gap through the whole thing and the judges gave him the win, which was justified.”
Alex “Aled” Ledbetter came in to the competition sitting fourteenth in points, but the local driver put on an impressive performance notching him up a few positions by the end of the event.
“I’m doing a lot better this year about being able to motivate myself and putting my nerves off to the side and just go out there and do what I need to do,” Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter was no stranger to the tire wear problem
“We were busting through tires,” he said. “We were lucky to get three runs off a brand new set of tires. We really had to employ tire strategy. In the two hour and a half practices sessions we had, I made a total of maybe eight runs.”
Ledbetter went on to qualify second.
“We were fortunate enough on our first run to lay down a very solid qualifying score,” he said. “In my second run, all the nerves were gone, and I was just ready to go out there for the number one spot. We ended up qualifying second, which was fantastic. I was actually a bit leery as Edgar was reading up the list, and I was like, ‘man I hope I qualified.’”
That qualifying position saw him draw his best friend in the first round.
“As soon as I knew I qualified second, I knew I was going up against my best friend Dan Sommer,” Ledbetter said. “I mean, of all people, he’s built half my cars. I know his driving style and he knows mine, so it was kind of fitting that it went to a one-more-time. I never really heard why it went to one-more-time. I just drove my line and then tried to mimic his as much as possible.”
Ledbetter then eliminated Rolando Alfaro, who was driving a borrowed S13 hatch, on his way to face Tyson Schmidt. In doing so, Ledbetter went off course and busted his radiator, causing him to end his day then and there (you can see the coolant in the photo).
“I was in the top four and never thought I’d make it that far, and I was really pleased with the car and myself,” Ledbetter said. “We went in, and unfortunately it was just one of those things. After turn two into the long connection to turn three, my option was to hit him or go off course, I and opted for the latter and unfortunately I lost both bumpers and cracked my radiator, so we were not able to do a follow run from there. I came back to the pit because I had somebody offer me tires so I’d have a brand new set out there, and that’s when somebody noticed a coolant leak where my radiator cracked from hitting the rumble strips.”
Despite the day-ending damage, Ledbetter remained optimistic about the day as a whole.
“At the end of the day, that is probably the best driving I’ve done in my entire life,” he said. “I can’t complain one bit.”
Geoff Stoneback made the trek from Philadelphia to compete, but it wasn’t his first time at Gateway.
“We were here for No-Star Bash so we knew the layout of the course, so today when we got on track we knew what we had to do to mess with tires pressures and suspensions to get it really dialed in,” Stoneback said. “It felt really good during practice.”
Stoneback said the course was rapidly eating through tires, so he opted to cut his practice time short.
“The Kendas usually last a long time but I think with being in fourth gear and the extra power we got from R/T Tuning when they dynoed us, we were just smoking tires up,” Stoneback said. “We didn’t practice as much in the second session, but we felt comfortable enough to go into qualifying.”
Stoneback said on his first qualifying run, he got his front tires on the rumble strip so he faced deductions on that front. On his second run, he said he straightened a little going into the second clipping point, but the run was good enough to qualify fifth.
“We wanted to be top qualifier for the points, but fifth wasn’t bad,” he said. “There were tons of good drivers out here today and it was anyone’s game. We got the brackets, checked it out, and knew what we had to focus on mentally.”
Stoneback defeated the LS-powered 350Z of Keith Carlos in top 16 to advance on to the top eight, where he met Andrew Lewis, much as he did in Indianapolis.
“Me and him have insane battles like every time,” Stoneback said. “I wish we’d have met in the top four or the finals because it would be good for the fans. He led first and I tried to be on him as much as possible, but through the rear sweeper he smoked me out. I still kept on it because I knew he wasn’t going to lift. He’s a solid driver and always consistent. During my lead run, I tried to throw as much angle (as I could) and be as fast as possible. I thought we were going to get a one-more-time but we got the win. I was pumped for that.”
That win placed him against Mike Skudlarek.
“He’s been coming out to Club Loose and we also do U.S. Drift together, another pro-am series, so we always tandem in practice and know how each other drives and each other’s styles,” Stoneback said. “On his lead run, I tried to be on his door throughout the whole track. I caught him at some points, but I guess I straightened a bit and he had the advantage. On my lead run, I guess he was just more consistent and got the win. I thought we should have went for a one-more-time. It is what it is.”
This loss positioned Stoneback against Ledbetter, who, as mentioned earlier, couldn’t get his car back out, essentially gifting Stoneback the bronze podium.
Ledbetter’s car problems are also part of the reason Tyson Schmidt ended up in the finals, but we’ll get to that after we break down the rest of Schmidt’s performances.
Like Stoneback, Schmidt held off from doing too many pre-competition runs.
“The track was eating tires up pretty good,” he said. “I just did a couple runs and saved them all until the last.”
Gateway being his home field, the lack of practice runs earlier in the day didn’t hurt him when the competition rolled around. He set off qualifying sixth, where he drew Paul “Budweiser” Beiswenger.
After putting him away, Schmidt, as stated earlier, went on to face Brian Peter.
“I got him this time,” Schmidt said. “It was a really good run between me and him and I was really happy. It just kind of traded out from last time.”
As stated earlier, Ledbetter’s mechanical difficulties gave Stoneback the win in their match, which resulted in Tyson battling Mike Skudlarek for first. Before we get to that, let’s rewind a bit to how Skudlarek made it to the finals.
In much the same fashion as others who made it to the to four, the American Dream held back in practice to conserve tires.
“In practice we started out in the first run group and we were only getting like three laps out of a pair of tires, so I knew if I continued practicing we’d have an issue of running out of tires by the time qualifying rolled around,” Skudlarek said. “We just did three laps in the first practice and then relaxed and tried to have fun with everything at the event.”
But when it was time for qualifying, Skudlarek gave it everything he had.
“I went out and did the first qualifying run, and a mental mistake,” Skudlarek said, not specifying what that mistake was. “Just kind of messed up. On the second run I, guess it was a pretty cool run because I got first.”
After defeating the sole German entry of Steve Topping, Skudlarek ended up being paired with his friend and fellow Michigan driver, Jake Maturen.
“He’s my buddy from Michigan up in Traverse City,” Skudlarek said. “Him and I have driven together for the past four or five years now, and it was really great to be able to drive with him again. We ended up advancing past him, but he did an awesome job. It was one of the most fun battles I had throughout the whole competition.”
As stated earlier, Skudlarek faced Stoneback next.
“It was a really close battle,” Skudlarke said. “I think it could have very easily gone one more time, but somehow or another I ended up getting the win on that.”
That win put Skudlarek against Schmidt (whose fender can barely be seen to the left of Skudlarek’s car), resulting in a very smokey and fast battle, ultimately seeing Skudlarek emerge as the victor.
“(Tyson’s) a really fast and really consistent driver,” Skudlarek said. ” I’ve seen what he’s done in MDU the past year or two. I tried to stay focused on what I had been running, with my line and everything, throughout the whole day. I guess consistency just paid off.”
Director of operations at Midwest Drift Union, Edgar Sarmiento, weighed in on the event, as well as Skudlarek’s victory.
“It was a great event overall,” he said. “I’m very happy how it ended up. I’ve said it before, but today really proved that the Midwest has stepped up tandem competition. It was some of the best driving we’ve ever seen in this area – today kind of topped everything. I’m speechless. The American Dream Mike Skudlarek is back. This is the Skudlarek that we never would have envisioned four years ago. I’m very proud for him.”
The Midwest Drift Union will hold round three on August 17 on the streets of Detroit. We’ll bring you more information on that event as it gets closer, but early indications are there will be limited positions available to drive.
As of round two, the points standings are as follows:
1.) Brian Peter (84)
2.) Geoff Stoneback (77)
3.) Andrew Lewis (66)
4.) Tyson Schmidt (65)
5.) Jake Maturen (54)
6.)Mike Skudlarek (51)
7.) Alex Ledbetter (44)
8.) Hooman Rahimi (31)
9.) Bill Cook (26)
10.) Rolando Alfaro (23)
Shane Whalley (23)
Travis Lacombe (23)
13.) Josh Collins (21)
14.) Calin Gogonea (20)
15.) Brian Waggoner (18)
Kris Hackenson (18)
17.) Adam Ouziel (15)
18.) Paul Beiswenger (14)
19.) Cody Grim (11)
Keith Carlos (11)
21.) Michael Tung (10)
22.)Stu Kelly (5)
23.) Dan Sommer (3)
24.) Steve Topping (1)