The last round of Formula DRIFT, appropriately called “Title Fight,” takes place annually at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California. The championship was definitely on the line at this event, which resulted in a noticeable electricity in the air even during Friday’s practice, despite the fact that NWMotiv brought some of the good old Northwest rain and cold with them to the track. It had rained rather heavily during Thursday’s practice, which in turn created puddles that covered up a few of the lines of the track, causing some confusion and tension during Friday’s Drivers Meeting. Formula DRIFT judges had to take some extra time to explain what was expected of the drivers, and assured them that freshly painted lines would be available for Saturday’s main event. However, for Friday, the drivers would all just have to do their best without the lines in place for their qualifying runs.
Photos by Armin Ausejo and Andy K. – Story by Armin Ausejo
For many drivers, there was simply nothing to lose for this final round of the season, so even during qualifying, the action was fast and unpredictable. There were a few crashes against the infamous second bank, but the biggest surprise of all was Formula DRIFT rookie Daigo Saito not even completing any of his practice runs and getting a zero on his first qualifying run due to what seemed to be electrical problems. The pressure was turned up a notch as current third ranked driver Rhys Millen, who’s just behind Daigo in the overall points standings, wowed the crowd with a near perfect qualifying score. This seemed to inspire all the other drivers to push themselves to their limits for qualifying. Unfortunately for fans from the Northwest, this kept Northwest drivers Mike Phillips, Roland Gallagher, Ian Fournier, and Andrew Coomes out of the Top 32, with Walker Wilkerson barely hanging on in the 31st spot and Calgary’s Alex Lee holding a solid 15th place in qualifying.
After a few swapped ECUs and last-minute fixes, Daigo was up for his last qualifying run, which could’ve easily spelled the end to his remarkable rookie Formula DRIFT season. In his one and only complete run of the day, Daigo was able to qualify in 13th place, pitting him against fellow Japanese driver Taka Aono on the Saturday’s Top 32 ladder. With the Top 32 in place, the teams wrapped up and prepared for the main event the next day, which would prove to be one of the most intense and surprising Formula DRIFT events that NWMotiv has ever witnessed.
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