Photography by Larry Chen
The 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship and Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship arrived at the World Wide Technology Raceway this weekend for Pep Boys Crossroads presented by Rain-X.
Located five miles from St Louis, MO, the track recently expanded its road course, extending the track from 1.6 to 2.0 miles in total length. The track enhancement created dynamic options for the Formula DRIFT series, allowing multiple configurations to be considered. Additionally, the track offers the best grandstands, largest suite structure and an expanded pit-and-paddock area of all the venues on the 2019 calendar.
After discussions with the track and team representatives, Formula DRIFT selected a new track layout for the event. It would provide the drivers with a new challenge and guarantee great spectator views for the enthusiastic crowd. Furthermore, the revised course would level the playing field for all competitors; who would need to adapt quickly to qualify well.
Proving his two FD Championship titles were well deserved, James Deane (Ireland) dominated qualifying in the Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO category. He put his Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15 in first place thanks to a 97-point run in the first session, which was backed up by a 92-point second run. After a surprisingly inconsistent start to the season, Deane has maintained his momentum from the previous round where stood on the podium.
Shadowing the Irishman was his nemesis, Fredric Aasbo (Norway) who scored 96 points on his first qualifying run in the Rockstar Energy Drink / Nexen Tire Toyota Corolla. Unfortunately, he was unable to back it up on the second run and only scored 87 points.
Third place went to Chelsea Denofa (USA) in the BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D. Sitting 12th in the PRO Championship, he’s having a quiet season by his high standards but pushed his Mustang hard to record a best score of 94 points.
As always, qualifying for the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship was very close, with nine drivers scoring 90 points or more. Perhaps the biggest losers were early series leader, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) who could only get his Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S14 into 7th place. While 2011 FD Champion Daijiro Yoshihara (Japan), who has been qualifying consistently high this year, could on manage 11th place. An uncharacteristic engine failure during practice in his Turn 14 Distribution / Falken Tire / ENEOS Oil Subaru BRZ was undoubtedly a critical factor. Dai has been running the same Chevy LS turbo engine without problems for four seasons, and it clearly affected his weekend.
PRO COMPETITION HEATS
Friday’s qualifying results would be a useful indicator of form for Saturday’s main event, which came down to a titanic battle between the main protagonists; James Deane and Fredric Aasbo. Deane’s path to the Final began with a match-up against Sebastien Gauthier (Canada) in the SSG Motorsport Nissan S14. Having qualified in the final spot, the rookie had his work cut out to beat the double FD Champion, and a spin in the chase position on the first run ended his weekend early.
In the Sweet 16, Deane had a battle royale with Matt Coffman (USA) in the Coffman Racing / Thunderbolt Racing Fuel / Achilles Radial Nissan 240SX S13. Deane led on the first run while Coffman maintained good proximity, although lost some angle in the final turn. On the second run, Deane missed a “Touch & Go” despite seemingly infeasible proximity to Coffman. Their driving was enough to prompt a call for “One More Time” by the judges, requiring the drivers to repeat their runs since they were unable to separate them.
Lining up in the lead position, Deane again ran hard but Coffman was on him like a cheap suit. Although he missed the first outside zone, Coffman’s bigger problem was a damaged front wheel and suspension after making light contact with Deane in the final turn. As a result, the team called for a Competition Timeout to make repairs.
The parts were replaced with seconds to spare and Coffman returned to the line. He set a fast pace on his lead run but Deane shadowed him closely. Unfortunately, Deane collided with Coffman in the final “Touch & Go” zone and both cars came to a halt. The blame was apportioned to Coffman, who was assessed to have lifted off and started to spin before Deane made contact. Therefore, Deane took the win.
Moving on to the Great 8, the 2017 and 2018 FD Champion would face 2013 FD Champion Michael Essa (USA) in his Essa Autosport / Achilles Tire BMW M3. With Deane leading on the first run he initiated hard in his Worthouse Nissan, causing Essa to lose some ground as he tried to keep up. However, the pair would end the run together and set up an epic battle on the second run. Getting some great angle throughout the course, Essa showed his huge ability but Deane got the judges’ decision thanks to superior proximity throughout the run.
In the Final 4, Deane would meet teammate Piotr Wiecek (Poland) in the identical Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15. Wiecek started the weekend ahead of Deane in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship standings and both drivers are on blistering form. On the first run, Deane had the lead position with Wiecek in very close company. Again, another tandem run would end with contact in the final turn as Wiecek’s front corner impacted Deane’s rear. The damage was sufficient to merit a Competition Timeout and Wiecek was awarded ten minutes to make repairs after Deane was assessed to have been at fault. Fortunately, the car was fixed in time to return to the grid for the second run, with Wiecek in the lead position and having a distinct advantage following Deane’s mistake. As the pair attacked the course, Wiecek went hard but Deane mimicked him perfectly until he span as the cars transitioned into the final Touch & Go. After reviewing the run the judges unanimously awarded the win to Deane because lead drivers were instructed not to decelerate before transitioning to the final Touch & Go. However, the replay showed Wiecek didn’t transition before slowing for the turn and that caused Deane to spin. Wiecek’s error was penalized more severely than Deane’s error on the first run, eliminating the Polish driver.
With incidents occurring throughout the weekend on the new track layout, it wasn’t only Deane who had a rocky route to the Final. Fredric Aasbo would have a similarly tough journey, although it started well in the Top 32 heats where he met Taylor Hull (USA) driving the Comp Cams / Achilles Tire Cadillac ATS-V. Despite mistakes by both drivers, Aasbo proceeded to the Sweet 16 by virtue of more consistent lines.
His next opponent was Justin “JTP” Pawlak (USA) in the Roush Performance / Falken Tire Ford Mustang. On his lead run, Aasbo performed a wicked Scandinavian flick to initiate and then set a furious pace through the course, which Pawlak struggled to match. On the second run, Aasbo span out in the second turn, seemingly handing the win to Pawlak, until Pawlak himself spun out in the final turn under no pressure. With both drivers getting “incomplete” scores, the judges referred to their previous run and awarded the win to Aasbo while his Toyota Corolla was being loaded onto a flatbed.
With his car repaired, the pressure continued to mount for the 2015 FD Champion as he reached the Great 8 to meet early series leader, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania) in the Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S14. With both drivers having everything to lose, this was one of the tightest and cleanest runs of the weekend, with Bakchis acheiving great proximity in the chase position. And with Bakchis leading on the second run, he put everything on the line and executed another perfect run. And to the delight of the St Louis fans, the judges requested OMT since it was too close to separate them.
At the second time of asking, Bakchis anticipated everything Aasbo did, initiating before the lead driver and getting a great look at the paintwork on the Toyota’s door on the first run. In the chase position, Aasbo needed a magic spell to proceed and was awarded the split decision based on tiny differences between the two drivers’ runs.
In the Final 4, Aasbo had another tumultuous battle against Ryan Tuerck (USA) in the Ryan Tuerck Racing / Gumout / Nitto Tire Toyota 86. However, Tuerck made a small mistake on his lead run, failing to get out to Zone 1. And in the chase position, his proximity wasn’t as good as Aasbo, allowing the judges to decide in his favor.
The Final would see the top two qualifiers battle under the lights at World Wide Technology Raceway. Deane led the first run and set a phenomenal pace, drifting close to the wall in the transition and giving Aasbo a serious workout. However, the Norwegian driver was equal to the task and remained in close proximity throughout. On the second run, Aasbo’s lines weren’t as deep, but Deane didn’t have the same proximity as his rival. However, Deane won with a split decision and jumped to the top of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship by a single point.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d won but I tried my best on a really challenging night and a challenging season,” Deane said before the podium celebrations. “All I wanted was to get a win this year after all the struggles, but the team has been working so hard to keep us on track. It was great battling Piotr [in the heats] again. Huge congratulations to Fredric for some awesome driving all day. And, wow, this place is full of surprises!”
As the champagne sprayed we caught up with Formula DRIFT president, Jim Liaw to get his thoughts: “We knew this would be a challenging event for the drivers because the course layout was new for everybody. But rather than a dark horse emerging, we’ve seen the top of the Championship points race tighten. And with two rounds remaining, the series is going to be ultra-competitive to finish the year. So, overall, we’re very happy with the St Louis round because the expanded facility has given us great potential for future growth, and we’re glad to be coming back for at least another two years with our current contract.”
PRO 2 QUALIFYING
Qualifying for the third round of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship threw up some surprises, not least of which was Adam Lizotte-Ziesler (USA) qualifying first. And this wasn’t simply because he’s a rookie who’s only been drifting for three years. Nor that he’s currently languishing in 21st place in the PRO2 category. It’s actually because he blew a head gasket on his Enjuku Racing / Achilles Tire Nissan S15 and there was some doubt he’d even make it to qualifying. However, he got to grips with the new track layout at World Wide Technology Raceway quicker than his competitors and scored 94 points on his first run. He then backed it up with 90 points on the second run, putting him top of the charts.
Second place went to Donovan Brockway (USA) in the Red Baron Racing / Nexen Tire / 418 BMW M2, who pushed Adam hard with a 93-point first run. They would be the only two drivers to score 90 points or more.
Third place went to Dalton Gernhart (USA) in the Dalton Gernhart Racing / PAC International / Nexen Tire Nissan S15, who wasn’t even classified in the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship points table before this weekend.
Current PRO2 points leader, Trenton Beechum (USA), could only qualify in tenth place in his Roush Performance / Clonex Racing / Nexen Tire Ford Mustang and would be under pressure to perform in the main event.
PRO 2 COMPETITION HEATS
The 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship would continue to serve up surprises as the Sweet 16 Competition Heats began on Friday evening. The series gods threw the chips in the air and the expectant crowd waited to see where they’d fall.
Top qualifier, Adam Lizotte-Ziesler, wasn’t able to capitalize on his early form and was knocked out in his first match-up by 16th place qualifier Dustin Miles (USA). Driving the Dustin Miles Garage / Moon Power / Rays / Achilles Tire Nissan 240SX S13, he was able to outdrive Lizotte-Ziesler on both runs to take the win.
Unfortunately, Miles met Alec Robbins (USA) in the Great 8. This might not be a problem at previous rounds, but Robbins was on fire in St Louis and pushed his Dayton One / Achilles Tire Nissan 350Z hard throughout the course to win the round.
Having beaten rookie Josh Robinson (Australia) in the Duralast / Nexen Tire Holden Ute in the previous round, Robbins proceeded to the Final 4 where he faced Garrett Denton (USA) in the Koruworks / Nexen Nissan S14. Despite competitive runs from Denton, he also submitted to Robbins, who ran fast and deep on the new course, making him very difficult to beat.
In the Final, Robbins would meet Jorn “Rome” Charpentier in his Imaginegarage / Feal Suspension / Achilles Tire BMW M3. This again defied expectations because the rookie had only qualified in 15th position and faced second-placed qualifier Donovan Brockway in the first round. In their match-up, Charpentier spun while in the chase position, and then Brockway went off course in the final turn during his chase run. With both of them making mistakes, the judges called for OMT. Another mistake by Brockway meant the decision was eventually given to Charpentier.
Things didn’t get any easier in the Great 8, where Charpentier would have to defeat series leader Trenton Beechum to continue in the competition. As it happens, the rookie was driving like a rockstar and forced the judges to request OMT in order to find a winner. And after the two runs were repeated, the decision went to Charpentier thanks in part to a light collision on the first run. With Beechum in the lead, he appeared to slow in the first transition and Charpentier made contact before aborting the run. After a Competition Timeout, Beechum was adjudged to have caused the impact and Charpentier completed a strong lead run, allowing him to take the win on a split decision from the judges.
Heading into the Final 4, Charpentier was matched against Aaron J Muss (USA) in the YipTV / Achilles Tire E46 BMW. However, Muss couldn’t match his opponents lines and concedes the victory.
In the Final, Charpentier’s green/black E46 BMW lined up alongside the red/white 350Z of Robbins. With Robbins leading the first run, both would make small mistakes and the BMW was forced to make several corrections to catch Robbins. On the second run, with Charpentier in the lead, the two drivers again had flawed runs but Robbins was judged to have superior proximity and took the round win, leapfrogging him up the 2019 Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship table into fifth place. Charpentier is now in second place, just five points behind Championship leader, Beechum.
We spoke to Alec Robbins after the podium celebrations: “I’m super-stoked after this weekend. The track was a blast to drive, although it was a little intimidating at the start because we didn’t know what to expect in terms of the flow and running in tandem. But it worked out awesome and I’m super-stoked that Formula DRIFT made this change. It was a tough Final but we’re super-excited about the win.”
The 2019 Formula DRIFT series continues on September 12-14 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, TX for the Advance Auto Parts Showdown presented by Rain-X. It will be the seventh and penultimate round of the Formula DRIFT Black Magic PRO Championship as well as the fourth and final round of the Formula DRIFT Link ECU PRO2 Championship. Visit formulad.com for event details, ticket purchases, driver profiles and livestream information.