One week after the conclusion of Formula D Long Beach, the series’ Midwest pro-am division kicked off its opener at Gateway Motorsports Park just outside St. Louis. Entering into its fifth year of existence, the Midwest Drift Union once again aimed its sights at readying the next generation of Formula D heroes. More after the jump!
A walk around the pits found Dan Pina’s Foxbody being prepped for practice runs. Unfortunately for Pina, the car would make less than a handful of runs without even making it to qualifying.
And while Pina’s Mustang was the only American car in attendance, there were (to I’m sure many peoples’ dismay) a lot of non-American cars utilizing lots of American power, as found here in Steve Topping’s M3. Notice that little sticker off to the right-hand side?
Well, let’s just say the irony was strong with this one.
If this other BMW looks familiar to you, you may have recalled it from our coverage of DriftSTL’s finale of 2013, where it was being piloted by Timothy James. This time though, its driver (and new owner) is David Mesker, who made a ridiculously strong pre-season showing the weekend before last at Import Face Off (also at Gateway) after having the car less than a week. He stood a strong chance of landing high in the rankings, but he didn’t make it to competition. It wasn’t because of any mechanical issues, either. You see, Mesker is still in high school, and round one just happened to fall on prom night. It’s all about priorities…
Making a triumphant return after a year’s hiatus from the series, Chris Gonzalez was back in MDU action once again.
“It was a blast and I’m so glad to be back,” Gonzalez said. “I was last with MDU at round one in Indianapolis over a year ago. We had nothing but car issues, from motor to suspension to the steering rack. So pretty much over the last year I’ve been trying to figure out what the main issues with my car have been. Between me and my friends Garrett and Matt who have been helping figure out what’s wrong with the car throughout the whole year, we’ve been able to pinpoint what’s going on with it. We’ve got it figured out for the most part and I’m happy with it.”
As the series’ sole Canadian driver, Gonzalez almost always has the longest haul of any driver. And that long haul makes it all the more unfortunate when problems arise. Luckily for Gonzalez, the problems that did arise were minor.
“When we first hit the tire wall, my throttle got stuck and was revving non-stop,” Gonzalez said. “I had to get one of the other guys to run over and kill the switch because I was all strapped in and everything. I still don’t really know what it was. I turned off the car and the car was still almost redlining, almost like the throttle got stuck.”
That other guy running over to his car is Charlie Quatmann, whose car had spun off track due to breakage we showed on our Facebook the other day.
Contrary to what it seemed some of you seemed to believe, this Back-To-the Future style is not how he intended to have his camber set.
“I dirt dropped and broke the control arm and busted the axle,” Quatmann said, noting his welded diff is what allowed him to drive off. “They were going to tow me off but I was like just put me back on the track, I’ve still got one good wheel.”
Well, “good” may be relative term.
But the breakages would only continue from there. Nick Thomas had an impressive 2011 season with MDU, finishing in fifth overall before finding his way into Formula D. But having to wrap your day up during practice with two big holes in your engine block isn’t good, and Thomas, like many others, would fail to even qualify.
But Pina and Thomas weren’t the only two drivers on hand with Formula D experience, as 2010 MDU champion and former FD driver, Mike Feiock, was back on track with what finally seemed to be a trouble-free car.
“I struggled with that car all year last year,” Feiock said. “I haven’t honestly DRIVEN driven for a while, and I had a brand new engine this weekend. I literally drove it down the street to make sure it wasn’t leaking anything and then loaded it on the trailer Friday at 10 p.m.”
That new engine is a 13B-RE out of the Mazda Cosmos. The rotors have been narrowed and dynamically balanced with a large street port. Feiock also had the plates lapsed (think cylinder honing on traditional engines), which he said is “very involved and kind of expensive.” Other than those parts, the engine remains basically stock save for a Garrett GTX35R with Tial 103 housing and Tial wastegate. Though Feiock said he hasn’t dynoed the current setup, he conservatively estimated there were 455 horsepower coming out of the rotary.
Continuing with the Mazda theme, the 2011 MDU champion and last year’s fourth-place finisher Brian Peter was back again and sporting a new look.
“I’ve always had a decent car but not a very exciting looking car,” Peter said. “Being that it’s drifting and it’s a show it’s kind of what I’ve always wanted. I spent some money and got real wheels. I had Chaz Edwards of NERP Technologies make me that wing and he did a great job. Touge Factory designed the stickers. I told them I wanted early-2000s style Japanese drift car graphics, so they designed them, sent me different renderings and picked this one. I was super happy with it. I had my normal pit guys come help put them on because I stuck at putting on stickers. I always mess up the windshield banners so I was not fit to do that job. I gave them my heat gun and they did it.”
Unlike Feiock’s Mazda, there’s no rotary to be found on Peter’s car, which instead gets its power from the tried-and-true 2JZ-GTE. While the engine proved just fine last year, many other mechanical bits didn’t fare so well.
“I had tons of problems with breaking parts last year,” Peter said. “I broke a bunch of axles, so now I have Driveshaft Shop axles. I broke my outers so I had to upgrade to oversized hubs. I had never really tried them because the first event I had those in was Street Life Tour last year and my first run I broke the transmission. This event I had a G-Force NASCAR dog box and a different type of differential then I’ve used before. The diff is making noise again so I’m going to rebuilt it with better parts before round two. Aside from that, I had no issues and I’m extremely happy with the way the car works now.”
Prior to that qualifying session, the drivers who remained met up to get an idea of what the judges would be looking for. For 2014, Brian “B-Wagg” Waggoner put away the driving gloves and picked up the score cards to be the series’ newest judge along side veterans Brad “Chuski” Foy and Jon Gilliatt.
While Peters laid down the highest-scored qualifying pass, it was perhaps the second-highest qualifier, Kyle Crangle, that made the biggest splash.
“This is the first drift competition I’ve run in probably five years, and to come out and qualify second was mind blowing,” Crangle said. “A lot of the drivers were down with engine troubles, which is unfortunate, but I chalked my second place up to a lot of the other drivers not being able to compete. I drive the track a lot and I felt good on it, but I never thought it was second-place worthy.”
But qualifying almost didn’t come at all for Crangle.
“The day started off rough,” he said. “I drove the car to the track today and it was feeling weird. I drove a couple laps and it was coming to power ridiculously slow. I just upgraded the turbo and cranked it to 20psi and it just didn’t feel like it did when I installed it. I did a compression check and realized I basically had a dead cylinder. I ran three tuns on a dead cylinder, then did two more runs, didn’t drive the rest of the day, and hoped to God I made it to qualifying. I hoped that if I could get two runs out of qualifying, qualify, and get some points, I’d be good. I had probably two of the better runs I’ve ever had at this track in qualifying.”
Mike Feiock qualified third.
And fourth went to Evan Steiner. I have to say, those who go with matte finish cars make my job 10x easier.
“Danger” Dan Sommer qualified in the fifth spot.
“I came in with no real expectation,” Sommer said. “I wanted to be in top 10 just to have a better start than last season. My motor was on the ground last weekend. I threw it together because I was supposed to be driving another car so hopefully we’ll have it ready to go by next event.”
Gonzalez took the sixth spot. How he manages to see out that back window I may never know.
Rolando Alfaro and his stupid-clean 350Z landed the seventh place position.
And rounding out the eighth spot was Paul Beiswenger.
There were so many breakages that the new head of MDU, Nick Swann, made the decision to only run a top eight instead of the traditional sixteen. This mean those who otherwise qualified for those top 16 positions would get their points, but wouldn’t get to actually compete. The driver sitting on the ninth place bubble was Hooman Rahimi, who had placed second at the season opener last year in Indianapolis.
But just because the competition field had been halved didn’t mean the action was any less intense. After Peter knocked out Beiswenger and Sommer took out Steiner, it was time for Feiock and Gonzo to do battle, where Feiock got the win.
“I made a stupid mistake in competition against Mike Feiock,” Gonzalez said. “I went to grab by e-brake on initiation, and I had to re-grab for it, and by that point it was too late and I was in the dirt off track. But I had a blast and I’m not disappointed in any way. I’m here, the car worked and we did well.”
“I went against Gonzo and led well, and he apparently spun out on the entry or went in the grass, and I guess I got the advantage at that point,” Feiock said. “But when I followed him I caught up to him and basically straightened out a couple times, which I was awarded the win for whatever reason. I kind of thought it was going to be a one-more-time, but it wasn’t.”
When it was time for Crangle and Alfaro to do battle, Crangle switched to Mike O’Mara’s S13 due to it being more competition-ready than his mostly stock and still in very good shape S14.
“I’ve had that car for nine years now, so keeping it as nice as I have for as long as I have for how much driving I do with it, I’m happy,” Crangle said. “I don’t want to wad it up against somebody just for the sake of getting a trophy.”
“Kyle’s really consistent but he was in a new car so I gave him room,” Alfaro said. “When I led I think he went off at the end of the track so I got the win.”
Oh and what a dirt drop that was. Often teased for never leaving St. Louis to drift, Crangle said his high qualifying position might make him re-think that.
“Qualifying second and looking at some of the names on the list, and seeing my name on that list, it gave me a little bit of hunger,” Crangle said. “I don’t know if I’ll run the full tour but competition drifting has never really been my thing. I never considered myself good enough to be a competition driver. I don’t push hard enough, my car’s not a competition car, I drive it on the street. First motion is to get the engine running again and back into shape, and once I got that setup, the guys at Nocturnal Motorworks might set me up with a cage.”
After Peter took down Sommer, that meant Alfaro would face Feiock in the top four.
“I led pretty well,” Feiock said. “On the chase run I gave him a little too much room because I was afraid I was going to catch him again, because he’s got a pretty stock 350Z. I assumed I was going to catch him and had nowhere to go, so I left too much room and his car is actually surprisingly fast while drifting so he ended up getting the win.”
“(Mike’s) known as one of the best drivers in MDU,” Alfaro said. “I was a little nervous but I had to just go out there and give it my all. And somehow he kind of bobbled and I did pretty much my qualifying run with him leading so I got the win.”
Feiock’s loss meant he would be right back out to face Sommer for third place.
“With Feiock I had no idea if I could even keep up,” Sommer said. “I pulled a pretty good lead and had a pretty good follow run and it was a tighter match than I thought it was going to be and I got to move on.”
And with that, the final stage was set between Peter and Alfaro.
“The final battle was awesome,” Alfaro said. “It was probably one of the most memorable battles I’ve ever had. We ended up going one more time and on my follow run I dirt dropped and wasn’t able to link up after that. I knew I needed to throw down and make it my hardest run, and I thought I did. Brian even said he couldn’t keep up, which I thought was mind blowing. He ended up getting the win because I’m a little more underpowered. I think he deserves the win and the battle was amazing so I’m pretty happy with the day.”
Peter echoed some of those sentiments.
“That was a close battle,” Peter said. “I was expecting a slower car. I left a little bit of room on entry and once we were drifting, I was like, this dude’s pretty fast. I was catching him but not very quickly. I underestimated Rolando a lot. He’s a great driver and really cool dude. I’m really looking forward to driving with him some more.”
And when the smoke cleared, these were your podium finishers.
Midwest Drift Union round two will occur on Saturday, May 17 at Mid-America Motorplex in Pacific Junction, Iowa. We’ll bring you event details closer to the date and be there to give you the full breakdown of how everything transpires.