New Jersey is known for a lot of negative things - pollution, fist pumping, and bad fake tans to name a few - but in the world of drifting, it could be considered hallowed ground thanks to "The Gauntlet." Formula D has been running Wall Stadium Speedway since its inception in 2005, barring 2008 when the event was held at Englishtown's Raceway Park road course. The 1/3-mile oval is nestled in the woods right off of NJ Route 34 and sunken into the ground, making it what Voice of Formula D Jarod De Anda calls a "salad bowl."
The Formula D layout hasn't changed much over the last 10 years, with drivers rocketing counter-clockwise down the 16-degree banked back straight into the 33-degree turn 2, then transitioning down into the inner oval for the rest of the run. The long sweeping outer clipping zones are both right turns, and so is the bank. This leads to some serious problems with rear left tire wear and some interesting setup solutions to help mitigate those issues.
The Gauntlet - round 4 of 7 this season for those keeping score - always promises carnage and upsets, and this year was no exception. In practice on Thursday, Ken Gushi found himself in the guardrail after getting a little too crazy on the bank. His Greddy Scion Racing team had no problem getting the car back together for qualifying, and he ended up in 25th for qualifying.
One of the big stories coming into this round of the 2014 Formula D Championship was the news of Finnish driver Juha Rintanen coming over to compete from the Drift Allstars series in Europe. It's great to see new drivers entering FD from all over the world, but sadly he caught the wall hard in practice only a few hours before qualifying. Although his team got the car back together, he failed to qualify in the Top 32.
The Top 32 held plenty of excitement and upsets, including Ryan Tuerck taking out Daigo Saito in a One More Time battle and Dean Kearney defeating defending champion Michael Essa. Formula D 2009 champion Chris Forsberg qualified first for the second event in a row and easily moved onto the Top 16 by beating Joon Maeng, again showing he is determined and focused to win another championship.
Chelsea DeNofa is no stranger to carnage at Wall, and this year was no exception; although he threw down one of the best qualifying passes of all time at this track (putting him in second), he ended up catching the guardrail during his Top 32 battle with Pat Mordaunt. The front and rear left tires ended up coming off mid-run, but Denofa decided to stay on throttle and slide on the rims until he finally couldn't continue on. Needless to say the crowd loved every moment.
Odi Bakchis and Matt Field met each other in the Top 16 in what could be considered one of the best battles in FD history. Both drivers had great chase runs, but Bakchis' proximity to Field was exceptionally close throughout the entire course. Little did everyone know that this level of tandem would be indicative of the course of the event.
Another upset in the Top 16 was that of Dean Kearney defeating Vaughn Gittin Jr., who had been sitting second in the championship standings after his back-to-back wins in Atlanta and Miami. Gittin got into the wall and straightened out on his lead run, giving Kearney the win and giving Forsberg an even greater lead in the standings.
The Great 8 was full of intense action and even contact. Forsberg met up with Conrad Grunewald and was bumped coming into the second outer zone in what is being considered a controversial call. There was no clear camera view that was indicative of contact between the two cars, but the judges ruled that the contact had occurred and Forsberg moved on.
Bakchis faced off against 2011 champ Daijiro Yoshihara next, and after another great chase run Yoshihara had to push hard for the win. He ended up pushing too hard coming into the last turn, hitting Bakchis' rear quarter panel and spinning both drivers out. Bakchis moved on, and secured his first podium of his FD career due to his qualifying rank (fifth) being higher than any of the drivers left on the other side of the bracket.