“Anything can happen” – this was a phrase uttered by many throughout the weekend of Formula DRIFT’s final round of the season at “The House of Drift” in Irwindale, California. As it turned out, during the main event on Saturday nothing could be further from the truth. The surprisingly cool, Pacific Northwest temperatures and clouds from Friday’s practice were nowhere to be found, giving way to the typical Southern California sun and heat that was normally expected. As our NWMotiv photographers baked in the sunshine, the almost magical electricity in the air reminded everyone that the heat was definitely on for each of the drivers and teams to quite literally go for broke and push hard to the very end.
Photos by Andy K and Armin Ausejo – Story by Armin Ausejo
With freshly painted yellow lines on the ground to indicate the course, each of the drivers made the most of their practice tandem runs with their newfound guides on the ground. The lines seemed to help elevate the quality of each of the driver’s practice runs, making it easily look like the practice runs were actually competition runs. Proximity to each other remained tight and billows of tire smoke easily blinded both drivers and photographers alike. As the sold-out crowd began trickling in, the Top 32 erupted with an amazing run by #1 qualifier Rhys Millen and #32 qualifier Kenneth Moen. Moen kept Millen honest with a tough fight, but Millen moved forward toward seeking his second Formula DRIFT championship. Each tandem match-up showed off some of the best driving ever seen at Formula DRIFT, with each driver pushing as hard as possible to seek the judges’ approval. This ultimately took its toll on the likes of Chris Forsberg and the Northwest’s own Walker Wilkerson, both of whom hit the second bank with body pieces coming off of their respective cars.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Matt Field in the Reckless Drifting 240SX, who wowed the crowd with decisive victories over both Jeremy Lowe and Ken Gushi. This set up a showdown with Daigo Saito, who just managed to qualify on his final qualifying run the night before due to electrical problems. Field gave Saito a run for his money, forcing a one-more-time that many in the crowd felt that Field had also won. Nevertheless, Saito went on to face none other than Rhys Millen, while Justin Pawlak advanced to take on Ryan Tuerck to complete the final four. Current Formula DRIFT points championship leader Vaughn Gitten, Jr. was knocked out in the Round of 16 by Patrick Mordaunt, so all he could do was watch from the sidelines and root for Saito to lose so that he could win the overall championship.
Unfortunately for Gitten, this would not be the case. A Millen victory over Saito would’ve sealed the deal, but while Millen threw down a tough lead run for Saito to follow, Millen ultimately ended up crashing into the wall on the second bank, causing his entire passenger side front suspension and wheel to break off. After fending off Tuerck, Pawlak was the last hope for an overall points victory for Gitten, but he too succumbed to the second bank wall on his chase run, complete with sparks and debris flying as he hit. It was a remarkably dramatic finish to a crazy Formula DRIFT season, resulting in Daigo Saito winning both the event and the overall Formula DRIFT Championship in his rookie season.
On behalf of everyone at NWMotiv, we’d like to thank Formula DRIFT for allowing us to be a Regional Media Partner this year, and we already cannot wait until the 2013 season starts up again at Long Beach next April. Tickets are already on sale on Ticketmaster and NWMotiv is already making plans to be there to kick off our coverage of the 2013 Formula DRIFT season. With three newly licensed Northwest Formula DRIFT drivers for 2013, we definitely can’t wait to see what they can do against some of the best drivers in the drifting world.
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