The season 16 opening round of Formula Drift is now in the books after a weekend that seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. Great weather and hard driving summed up the weekend. Good times were had by many. That doesn’t make up for the havoc and destruction the walls of the Long Beach circuit can cause to these rocket ships and their pilots.
Thirty six drivers showed up to play in this first round. Some were taken out early. Either by the walls, themselves, or by mechanical failures. Still, 32 drivers made it through to see each other in battle during Saturday’s Top 32 competition. Some new folks from Pro2 made the leap as well.
Speaking of newbies, there were some fresh faces this year that were really bringing the heat.
Manuel Vacca from Italy showed up in a fresh E46 built by Essa Autosport, but due to mechanical issues, he failed to qualify after two incomplete runs. It’d like to see more of what this car and driver are capable of in the future rounds.
Joao Barion really turned some heads in the paddock this weekend debuting his C7 Z06 Corvette. This car is essentially as stock as you can get while keeping it a Formula Drift spec car. This car is running the stock Z06 LT4 motor and 7-speed transmission. The upgrades are in the suspension, differential, and it’s got a big bottle of NOS bolted in the rear. This car is a constant development and it is so cool to see this thing progress in the season. Unfortunately, Joao had a date with the wall during practice. This probably caused some jitters on his end and caused him to score low on his first run and zero out on his second. He was pushed out of the 32 bracket, sadly.
Ozzie Man Mitch Larner has joined the Pro ranks in a familiar green vehicle. The Get Nuts Lab S14 once again showed what it was capable of this weekend by taking on Michael Essa during the Top 32. Essa, being a veteran and series champion, did better in both the lead and chase positions thus knocking Larner out for the weekend.
Sebastian Gauthier was someone hard to find in the paddock being that his car is no longer highlighter yellow. However, he made himself noticed by giving Dai Yoshihara a run for his money. Both drivers zeroed out on their chase runs causing them to go into a one-more-time. During that battle, Dai had the better of both runs and moved onto the Top 16.
Dylan Hughes was driver people were excited to see duke it out in tandem on Saturday. Sadly, his two qualifying runs resulted in a spin and then a blown clutch. While a shame that he didn’t make it to the main event, he survived Long Beach unscathed in a car he’s driven for maybe the second time. That is a feat in itself.
Lastly, we talk about our 2018 Pro2 champion and talk of the town Travis Reeder. Reeder was supposed to debut his all-electric 2019 ZL1 Camaro drift car on the Streets of Long Beach, but those dreams were stopped due to some “unforeseen circumstances.” Word around the paddock is that the fire and safety crew working the Long Beach circuit are not trained in extinguishing electrical fires and while for the time that Formula E made its rounds in Long Beach during their 2015 and 2016 seasons, the safety crews were trained in electrical fires. While they may have been trained to deal with electrical fires in the past, none of that training would be up-to-date for the 2019 season.
Therefore, the city of Long Beach was forced to disallow Travis and Napoleon Motorsports from running the Camaro in competition. There is hope we will see Reeder behind the wheel of the Camaro at the next round in Orlando. Reeder’s team was wise enough to bring the backup Pro2 car to compete in. Travis still drove his way to the Top 16 and is now the rookie points leader being 16 points ahead of Mitch Larner.
The main event itself came down to a shootout between Forrest Wang and Odi Bakchis. Former champion Chris Forsberg found himself on the third spot of the podium as Wang and Bakchis did battle. Forrest has tremendous style but Odi claimed victory on the streets of Long Beach. The whole way through, the competition was great in every battle.
The Rookie of the Year title this season is already looking out to be some fun competition. Innovation and ingenuity are what dominate this sport and we are constantly seeing it at all levels of the sport. 2019 is going to be a wild year and you better be buckled up for Orlando just less than three weeks away.
[Images copyright 2019 Redusernab/Matt Ulfelder]