Formula D Road Atlanta 2014 Details:
- Vaughn Gittin, Jr. in Monster Energy Mustang earns first win since 2012
- Rain wreaked havoc on qualifying | Forrest Wang took top spot in Get Nuts Lab S14
- Tandem eliminations rife with car-to-car contact
- Action included near-reverse entries and a rare clean pass
They say Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. - home of the very first Formula D event back in 2004, and this year site of round 2 of the 2014 championship - has the best crowds and most exciting action out of all the places the pro drift series visits. Nobody could argue otherwise after this year's comp; Mother Nature made sure the latter would be true, introducing rain into the proceedings over May 9 and 10 and facilitating lots of carnage. The capacity crowd also got to see plenty of close matches that led to tiebreakers, and there was even a rare legal pass as the competition boiled down to one.
Indeed, rain made a mess of Friday qualifying. In an abundance of caution, drivers were allowed to take a "shakedown run" ahead of each of their actual qualifying laps to acclimate to the slick conditions; this in turn dragged out the session, prompting Formula D to start allowing two cars on track (though not in tandem) for shakedowns in order to speed things up.
With just minutes to go before the track's 11p.m. noise curfew, the nearly four-hour qualifier wrapped up, with Forrest Wang in his 2JZ-motivated Nissan 240SX staking claim to the top spot with a score of 83 out of 100 - not a great score but respectable given how dudes were slipping and sliding out there.
Saturday eliminations were much drier, and as a result entry speeds crept north of 90mph. However, the way cars were smashing into each other, you'd think the circuit was still wet.
In the Top 32 round alone, we had four different incidents - Matt Field running his CX Racing S14 into Fredric Aasbo's Papadakis Racing Scion tC (and losing a door in the process), Dan Savage using his Sikky Mazda RX-8 to knock around Chris Forsberg's Hankook 370Z in Turn 1, Jonathan Castro's Progreso Z bumping into Dean Kearney's Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper on the second downhill, and finally Alec Hohnadell sticking the nose of his Enjuku Racing 240SX into the side of Chelsea DeNofa's BC Racing BMW 3-Series, also on the second downhill. None was all that serious, but in each the aggressor - Field, Savage, Castro and Hohnadell - found himself watching the rest of the event from the sidelines.
The surprises didn't end there. Upstart low seeds in qualifying had some decisive victories over higher seeds, like Pat Mordaunt in the rented Retaks 240SX taking out the car's former driver, Ryan Tuerck in his Retaks FR-S. Charles Ng in the Maximum Attack Infiniti G Coupe toppled Kuniaki Takahashi's APEX Lexus SC, which had trouble staying sideways. And while not an upset, Odi Bakchis in the Feal Suspension S14 got by reigning series champion and round 1 podium finisher Mike Essa in his Essa Autosport M3.
Ken Gushi in the Greddy FR-S, Kenny Moen in the Achilles Tire Nissan and Robbie Nishida in the Achilles SC300 went unopposed in their respective openers; foes Ryan Kado in the DNA Motoring 350Z, Dai Yoshihara in the Falken Subaru BRZ, and Tyler McQuarrie in the GoPro Chevy Camaro could not make their starts due to vehicle issues. Finally, Wang and Jeff Jones in another CX Racing S14 drove to a One-More-Time (OMT) tiebreaker, where Wang wound up on top in the rubber match.
Number-one qualifier Wang went no deeper, though, as 2012 Formula D champ Daigo Saito in his Achilles Lexus took him out to begin Top 16. In spite of an incredible near-reverse entry by Conrad Grunewald in the Megan Racing Camaro, Aasbo had the better laps and advanced. Bakchis beat a sloppy Mordaunt, Forsberg out-drove Ng, Nishida did the same to Darren McNamara in the Falken S14 - and then the rain returned.
It wasn't much, just a spritzing really, but it was enough to ruin or nearly ruin some drivers' day. It may explain why Gushi, chasing down Kearney's Viper, almost ran into the wall on the right side of the finish line after trying to avoid his challenger's car. Luckily no harm, no foul, and The Gush moved on to Great 8.
It got a little more hairy for the Ford Mustang battle between 2010 Formula D champ Vaughn Gittin, Jr. and Justin Pawlak. In front, JR's Monster Energy machine wound up in the dirt outside of Turn 1, returning to the course and getting bumped from behind by Pawlak's Falken pony car. When it was JTP's turn to lead, he botched the entry and earned a zero. Judges called for a OMT.
A second OMT was called for after both drivers had clear mistakes in their respective chase laps. Throwing caution to the wind, JTP went hard in the second tiebreaker, running into Gittin's Mustang as they entered Turn 1 and prematurely stopping the tandem battle. Needing a miracle, Pawlak was putting together a great run until he spun out in the horseshoe, handing the round to JR.
The last fight of Top 16 pitted DeNofa against Moen. It wasn't pretty but Moen got the judges' approval to advance to the Great 8.