Round 5 of the 7-stop Formula D season - which the last bunch of years has been at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington, about a 45-minute drive outside of Seattle - is important because by this point in the year we are "over the hump" and indeed hurtling toward the finish. Usually at the close of Round 5, drifting nerds will whip out their calculators and start to crunch the numbers to see who can still viably take the points championship.
This year, everyone has been trying to keep up with Chris Forsberg, 2009 series champ and driver of the Hankook Tire Nissan 370Z. He's podiumed in every event so far, and while not exactly running away with the title (yet), he's got a good cushion between himself and his next closest challenger, currently Fredric Aasbo in the Papadakis Racing Hankook Scion tC.
Evergreen's course for the July 17 and 18 affair (a place where Forsberg won in 2009) was basically the same as it has been in previous Seattle rounds, with drivers streaking toward a big bank - like at Wall or Irwindale - and then transitioning from an extended rear clipping zone to the so-called "Power Alley" and another rear clip. From there, drivers move through snaking, somewhat slower speed turns with two front clipping points before crossing the finish stripe. Added to the course this year was a chicane just beyond the start line to help keep the cars bunched up (and eliminate the drag race start to initiation).
As he did in 2013 at Evergreen, Darren McNamara in the Falken S14 took the top qualifying spot of Round 5, trailed by Robbie Nishida in the Achilles SC300 and Odi Bakchis in the Feal Suspension 240SX. All three of the top drivers in season points notably had better second laps through the course, moving up the order guys like Vaughn Gittin, Jr., in the Monster Energy Mustang (qualified P8), Aasbo in the tC (P6) and Forsberg in his Z (P4).
Meanwhile struggles continued for drivers like reigning series champion Mike Essa, whose Essa Autosport M3 had a misfire issue pretty much the entire weekend; he made just one run in qualifying but still passed muster for Top 32, landing 19th. 2012 champ Daigo Saito in the Achilles SC430 also had engine issues with his 2JZ, forcing him to miss his first lap; when he took to the track for his second he couldn't finish the pass, falling out of drift after some contact with the bank wall, netting a zero score, and by that virtue failing to make the cut for the big dance.
For sure the walls were biting in Monroe - off the bank near the end of the first rear clipping zone, along the Power Alley for that second rear clip - one of two elements really testing drivers this weekend, the other area being the exit to the bank, which pilots seemed to take wide and sometimes too wide, dropping tires off course.
Wall love plagued competitors like Tony Angelo in the Tangelo Racing FR-S, who incurred damage in his chase lap with McNamara and called it a night, and Karl Osaki in the DNA Motoring 240SX, who got out of shape after a scrape in the Power Alley, allowing chaser Justin Pawlak in the Falken Mustang to pass him. The bank wall also claimed Carl Rydquist in the Road Race Engineering Z33 during his battle with Bakchis, and caused Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab S14 to bump into Essa's BMW; Wang was found at fault and the penalty - along with a lackluster chase lap - ended his weekend early.
Arguably the biggest moment of the first round of eliminations came in JR's bout with Kenny Moen in the Bridges Racing 240. The Mustang pilot and 2010 champ really had two great passes, save for the end of his lead lap when he fell out of drift just ahead of the finish line (we hear because the Ford possibly popped out of gear). Moen did all he could to equal his challenger, and were it not for Gittin's zero the Norwegian driver probably would have been eliminated; instead, the number three in points ended up hitting the showers early.
Judges were handing out zeroes left and right during Top 32. Chelsea DeNofa in the BC Racing 3-Series - who admittedly "wasn't feeling it" in Washington - surrendered to Joon Maeng in the Lucas Oil S13, while Nate Hamilton in the ONE44 Motorsports 240SX had his own struggles against Aasbo, both DeNofa and Hamilton shutting down and getting dinged for it. Tyler McQuarrie in the GoPro Mobil 1 Camaro put two off exiting the bank against Ken Gushi in the Greddy Scion, picking up a zero, while Jhonnattan Castro in the Progreso Z spun out past the final front clip against Kyle Mohan's GT Radial Energy-X RX-8, garnering his own non score. In the Power Alley, Mike Pollard straightened and almost took out Ryan Tuerck's Retaks FR-S for a zero, and Charles Ng in the Maximum Attack Infiniti did take out Dean Kearney's Oracle Lighting Viper, also for zilch in points.
In the Top 32's remaining scraps, experience appeared to trump all else. Lead Rookie of the Year contender Geoff Stoneback in his GSR S14 couldn't mount a clean lap against 2011 champ Dai Yoshihara in the Falken BRZ; Matt Coffman in the Coffman Racing S13 had the same problem with Forsberg. Both young guns fell to their accomplished foes. He didn't face an ex-champ but Ryan Kado in the DNA Motoring 350Z still could barely keep pace with series vet Conrad Grunewald in the Megan Racing Chevy.
If it wasn't the walls, or a zero score, or an experience gap, it was something mechanical - like when a steering arm broke on Pat Goodin's Enjuku Racing Nissan against Matt Field's CX Racing S14; Goodin's team couldn't fix the problem in time and thus Field moved on. Finally, Nishida had a bye run when opponent Taka Aono could not make the start line due to problems with the Megan Racing AE86.