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2016 Formula Drift Irwindale Finals Top 32 Play-by-Play

Formula Drift caps off their 13th season with a trip to the fabled “House of Drift” track at Irwindale Speedway. Irwindale has played host to the final round of the championship in each of the previous 12 seasons, and although there are mumblings of the track possibly closing in the near future to make way for a shopping mall, the track is internationally heralded as one that requires drivers to be at their peak driving performance to earn the win.

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This year, Irwindale's somewhat iconic track layout on the ½-mile banked oval was slightly modified.

The counter-clockwise entry into the traditional turns three and four of the NASCAR layout allows the drifters to get up to around 80 to 85 mph before flicking the car sideways. Drivers were asked to stay high on the bank for as long as possible, with an outside zone towards the end of turn four before hitting an inside clip at the exit of the bank and switching back to an inner clipping point on the traditional start/finish line facing the fans.

This year’s switchback clipping point was moved towards the grandstands, which makes the transition less dramatic and allows the drivers to carry more speed into the inner bank. Transitioning into the inner bank, drivers were asked to ride the inner bank wall for substantially longer than in past years, and the exit of the outside bank was extended much further before hitting an inside clip at the foot of the bank and extending the drift along the flat infield asphalt.

This year’s finish line was moved much later onto the flat infield, which required drivers to show car control by maintaining drift for much longer than previous years, causing a handful of them to lose qualifying scores due to their inability to hold their drift past the painted finish line.

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Friday’s qualifying session featured dramatically changing conditions: the combination of the hot sun and a recent late-model race provided an unparalleled level of grip during the day, while the cooling conditions past dusk required drivers to drastically adjust their setup to keep up with the changing level of grip.

Typically, the top five to ten drivers will earn scores in the 90s, but this time, the highest qualifying score was 89 points, awarded to Dai Yoshihara in his Subaru BR-Z. Ryan Tuerck and Forrest Wang were close behind with 88 points and 86 points respectively, with 2016 championship leader Chris Forsberg slotted into fourth place with 85 points. Championship hopefuls Fredric Aasbo (11th) and Vaughn Gittin Jr. (13th) lost ground on Forsberg by qualifying lower than him, but they still have a shot at the championship in the event that Forsberg gets knocked out early. Forsberg and Gittin Jr. will have the opportunity to battle in the Top 16 should they both win their first round Top 32 tandem battles, so it will be interesting to see how the championship race plays out.

In total, only 29 drivers put up a score in qualifying to lock in their spot for the tandem battles, meaning that we will only have a “Top 29” in the first round, and the top three qualifiers will earn a bye run.

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AIR FORCE TOP 32

Dai Yoshihara – Bye Run

YOSIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara puts down a run that looks to be around 85 percent of his qualifying run, staying a little conservative on the big bank, but otherwise running a strong one, putting on a show for the fans. Yoshihara has qualified well at Irwindale in past years, and a win at the final event of the season would help make an impact on current and future sponsors, sending the message that he is set up for a serious run in 2017. He is also looking to help cement a tire championship for Falken Tire, which hasn’t seen season-ending honors since 2011.

Geoff Stoneback vs. Robbie Nishida

STONEBACK LEAD – Stoneback with a good initiation, Nishida initiates a moment later and is around a car length behind Stoneback shortly after initiation. Stoneback extends the lead to about two car lengths by mid-bank, and is much higher on the wall around the big bank. Nishida is lower as they exit the bank, loses another car length or two across the start/finish line switchback, and continues both a shallow line and steering angle through the inner bank. Stoneback likely has an advantage here.

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NISHIDA LEAD – After a false start, Nishida’s car needs to be towed off course. Turns out, something catastrophic broke on his car, and Stoneback will earn the easy win into the Top 16.

Michael Essa vs. Kristaps Bluss

ESSA LEAD – It's battle of the E46 BMWs as they get off the start line cleanly. Essa is quick to initiate and gets the car to full steering angle, while Bluss has several small steering corrections to get the car on the right line, looking very shaky. Essa has around a four-car length lead ahead of Bluss with a much better line around the big bank. Bluss starts to close the gap on the infield; Essa stays on the outside line on the inner bank for too long and is too late to get to inner clip two, which may be a slight deduction.

BLUSS LEAD – Essa initiates from the chase position before Bluss is sideways. Bluss opens up a four or five-car gap through the big bank, Essa closes the gap briefly across the infield switchback, but Bluss has a major steering correction entering the inner bank while Essa looks much smoother. Bluss finishes around four or five car lengths ahead of Essa as they cross the finish line. One judge votes for Bluss, one judge votes for Essa and one judge wants to see a “One More Time” (OMT).

ONE MORE TIME

ESSA LEAD – Essa again initiates much earlier than Bluss, while Bluss initiates around two car lengths behind Essa but closes the gap down to around a half car length by midway through the bank. Essa stays high on the big bank; Bluss is a bit shallower on the line, then backs off to allow Essa to transition across the switchback but loses around four car lengths behind Essa before taking out the switchback clipping point. Bluss closes the gap down pretty well on the inner bank, but Essa is on a much better line and has fewer steering corrections overall.

BLUSS LEAD – As a former champion in this chassis, we always expect the best from Essa. Bluss puts down a lead run that was on par with his qualifying run, but Essa has problems following on the inner bank and loses drift. Bluss has some corrections, but Essa is unable to finish his run and straightens out. Bluss gets the win!

Matt Coffman vs. Juha Rintanen

COFFMAN LEAD – Coffman has a rolling burnout from the start line that turns into a big manji entry into the first turn, very high on the bank. Rintanen uses shallow steering angle to catch up to Coffman mid-bank, but is on a much shallower line. Coffman goes into the inner bank very late and high on the wall; this run almost looks better than any of the previous qualifying runs!

RINTANEN LEAD – Coffman has had a record year, and all he has to do is put down a conservative run to earn the win. Rintanen is a checkers or wreckers type of driver, but has had corrections in almost every run this weekend. With everything to gain, Coffman just can’t hold it together and crashes out, handing off a gift to his opponent. Rintanen will get the unanimous nod into the Top 16 battles.

Chris Forsberg vs. Faruk Kugay

FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg lays down a qualifying-level run, while Kugay looks like he’s struggling to keep his car in drift. Kugay had posted on social media that his car was down on power; Forsberg looks like he has a championship to claim. Forsberg is deep on the inner bank and opens up the proximity, while Kugay has many corrections and ultimately appears to be a step behind. The Advantage goes to Forsberg heading into the second run.

KUGAY LEAD – Kugay has a huge manji entry, then loses a ton of angle, then re-initiates again. Forsberg tries to stay behind Kugay but has to slow down substantially to avoid hitting Kugay. Kugay is extremely low on the bank, then gets back into drift and continues the course with several adjustments. Forsberg re-initiates mid-bank after slowing to avoid Kugay and maintains drift through the rest of the course, closing the gap behind Kugay again to stay close towards the end of the track. This run is a catastrophe; Forsberg gets the win vote from all three judges.

Vaughn Gittin Jr. vs. Pat Mordaunt

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Mordaunt is around three car lengths back after initiation, and through the big bank, Gittin Jr. opens it up to around four car lengths across the switchback, keeping the gap fairly large around the entire inside bank. Mordaunt takes a slightly shallower line around the inner bank and closes the gap down to about two car lengths near the end of the inner bank, finishing strongly. This is a good lead run from Gittin Jr, so it's up to him to avoid any major mistakes on his chase run.

MORDAUNT LEAD – Mordaunt initiates around three car lengths ahead of Gittin Jr., almost the same distance as the first run. Mordaunt stays tight to the wall on the inner bank, while Gittin Jr. taps the rear bank and needs to make a major steering correction to keep the car sideways, losing a bit of distance on Mordaunt. By the end of the run, Gittin Jr. has closed down the gap pretty well to Mordaunt, so it will be interesting to see how the judges handle his steering correction behind Mordaunt in chase. One judge votes for Gittin Jr., but the other two judges want to see these guys battle OMT.

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ONE MORE TIME

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Gittin Jr. initiates very close to the wall, while Mordaunt is on a shallower line. Mordaunt uses slightly lower steering angle to try and stay close to Gittin Jr., but exits the bank around three car lengths behind Gittin Jr. Mordaunt slows late getting into the inner bank to close the gap down to Gittin Jr. to around two car lengths, staying fairly close through the rest of the bank. Looking at the replay, Gittin Jr. has shallow steering angle around some of the big bank and is also shallow on steering angle through part of the inner bank; it will be interesting to see if the judges give him major deductions for those adjustments.

MORDAUNT LEAD – Mordaunt again initiates a bit shallowly on the bank but allows the car to ride up towards the wall. Gittin Jr. starts around three car lengths behind Mordaunt but closes it down to around two car lengths exiting the bank. Gittin Jr. closes the gap again around the inner bank, but again with some small steering corrections. Two judges again vote for OMT, Gittin Jr. gets one vote. We’ll go for another round!

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ONE MORE TIME x2

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Mordaunt initiates his car earlier than Gittin Jr., while Gittin Jr. rubs his rear end on the wall early in the bank, then tagging the wall hard midway through the bank; he is unable to recover from the second hit. Mordaunt slows and avoids contact with Gittin Jr., but this will be a major blow to Gittin Jr.’s championship hopes. If only he can get his car back together, he would probably need Mordaunt to crash or spin in order to get another OMT battle to try and get the win.

MORDAUNT LEAD – Gittin Jr. is unable to get his car repaired, and Mordaunt will move on. This closes Gittin Jr.’s championship chapter. Mordaunt was probably excited to defeat Gittin Jr. for the third time in his career, even if it came at the expense of him crashing his Ford Mustang RTR.

Justin Pawlak vs. Alec Hohnadell

PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak is high on the wall on initiation. Hohnadell initiates close to Pawlak but loses a ton of ground starting from the middle of the big bank, and is around seven or eight car lengths behind by the exit of the bank. He stops drifting midway through the course; Pawlak continues around the inner bank with plenty of tire smoke and steering angle. He will have a major advantage over Hohnadell.

HOHNADELL LEAD – Hohnadell’s car has been down a cylinder all weekend, and it looks like the engine has decided to make Hohnadell’s chase run to be his final lap of the weekend. Pawlak is given the win into the Top 16 due to Hohnadell’s retirement.

Alex Heilbrunn vs. Kyle Mohan

HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn initiates very high on the bank and stays high all the way around the bank. Mohan struggles to keep up, taking a slightly shallower line around the bank but doesn’t close the gap down much. Mohan closes the gap briefly on the inner bank, but has a steering correction midway through the inner bank, which means Heilbrunn will likely have an advantage entering the second run.

MOHAN LEAD – Mohan looks great on the big bank with plenty of angle, while Heilbrunn stays close with him around most of the bank. Mohan extends his lead briefly across the switchback, but shuts it down shortly after entering the inner bank, and Heilbrunn passes him on the outside. There might have been a mechanical issue with Mohan’s car, but at any rate, Heilbrunn will move into the Top 16.

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This tandem win locks in Heilbrunn's title as the Rookie of the Year; congratulations to him! What a great way to back up his Pro 2 championship last season, with both accomplishments achieved on Nitto NT05 tires!

Ryan Tuerck – Bye Run

TUERCK LEAD – Tuerck’s team has recently upgraded the turbo on the car and has to adjust the anti-lag to help keep the turbo spooling when off throttle, and now his car has crazy pops and bangs. Tuerck lays down a solid run around the course and will slide into the Top 16 in his new, beautiful green O’Reilly’s livery that would fit in perfectly at a St. Patty’s day celebration.

Ken Gushi vs. “Mad” Mike Whiddett

GUSHI LEAD – Gushi and Whiddett both initiate almost simultaneously; both of these cars are very slow to rotate to angle but look smooth together. Whiddett starts the battle around two car lengths behind Gushi and stays close around the big bank with slightly shallower steering angle than what we have seen from other competitors. Going into the inner bank, Whiddett does a great job maintaining proximity, although he has notably shallower steering angle to stay close. Both cars are emitting plenty of tire smoke, although it appears that Whiddett’s Nittos may be smoking slightly more than Gushi’s tires.

WHIDDETT LEAD – Whiddett initiates a bit earlier than Gushi; he has a steering correction shortly after initiation, but Gushi adjusts well. Gushi sucks in very tightly to Whiddett on his chase as both cars enter into the inner bank, maintaining between one and two car lengths around the entire inner bank. The attacking prowess of Gushi coming off the switchback is very well timed, and he stays very close to Whiddett through the inner bank. This is one of the more exciting chase runs we’ve seen! One judge votes for Gushi; the other two want to see the drivers compete OMT.

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ONE MORE TIME

GUSHI LEAD – Whiddett has very shallow angle on the big bank to stay close to Gushi. Coming across the switchback in front of the fans, Gushi dumps a ton of steering angle, then rotates 270 degrees entering the inner bank and ends up facing the wrong way. Whiddett tries to slow down to avoid contact with Gushi, but both drivers end up crashing into each other before hitting the inner bank K-rail. Both cars will likely need a tow off course, so this could be a lengthy cleanup.

WHIDDETT LEAD – Gushi has retired for the day; Whiddett will be given the win into the Top 16.

Tyler McQuarrie vs. Cameron Moore

MCQUARRIE LEAD – McQuarrie initiates very high on the bank, but slides onto a lower line shortly after initiation. Moore is very sloppy on initiation and needs a major steering correction to keep the car sideways; he moves onto a higher line almost at the same time as McQuarrie is moving onto a shallower line, putting him in a good chase position. Moore stays fairly close to McQuarrie around the inner bank, but both drivers have mistakes, which won’t make it easy to decipher which one of them has an advantage after this run.

MOORE LEAD – Both drivers again dip onto a shallower line shortly after initiation, but they both proceed to make almost identical errors. Moore is much deeper along the wall on the inner bank and taps the k-rail barrier near the end of the track, but he maintains drift along the finish line. McQuarrie has some steering corrections on the big bank and shallow steering angle on the inner bank; this is likely going to come down to who made the fewest mistakes, with the judges picking the lesser of two losers. Judges unanimously opt to see the drivers go for a OMT due to all those mistakes.

ONE MORE TIME

MCQUARRIE LEAD – McQuarrie has a great run, much cleaner than his first lead run. McQuarrie has a mid to high line around the big bank with plenty of steering angle. Moore has a slightly shallower line and steering angle through the bank, but keeps around three car lengths of proximity. He closes the gap through the inner bank with shallow angle; McQuarrie stays on a better line through the inner bank and likely has the advantage.

MOORE LEAD – Moore initiates and immediately drops to a lower line. McQuarrie sucks in tightly to Moore as they cross the switchback. Moore gets out on the wall on the inner bank, while McQuarrie takes a much shallower line with much shallower steering angle and narrowly avoids straightening out completely. He continues with good pressure on the inner bank, while Moore has a few steering corrections but stays sideways with more angle. All three judges side with McQuarrie, who had fewer corrections overall.

Charles Ng vs. Jhonnattan Castro

NG LEAD – Ng maintains around two to three car lengths ahead of Castro around the big bank. Castro has a shallower angle to try and catch up, but Ng keeps the lead with bigger angle. Ng maintains big angle across the switchback. Castro has very shallow steering angle after the transition on the inner bank, while Ng has big angle and is much closer to the wall. Castro closes the gap via a shallower line, but Ng has the better run overall. Ng likely has an advantage going into the second run.

CASTRO LEAD – Castro has a good run around the bank; Ng starts around three car lengths back and slowly closes the gap on the big bank. Castro is smooth across the switchback; Ng sucks in even tighter on the inner bank and nearly touches Castro’s rear bumper near inner clip two. Looking at the replay, there are some steering corrections from both drivers, but the aggression and proximity from Ng are quite impressive. All three judges side with Ng to move into the Top 32.

Forrest Wang – Bye Run

WANG LEAD – Wang is in his backup S14 as he had a major engine failure in his main S15 competition car on Thursday. Wang piloted this S14 into a third place qualifying position, so don’t underestimate his ability to compete in this chassis. Wang lays down a solid run and will begin to prepare for the opening ceremonies and Top 16.

Odi Bakchis vs. Pat Goodin

BAKCHIS LEAD – Bakchis has a smooth initiation and his car is quick to get to angle, which the judges like to see. Goodin is very late to initiate and has shallow angle through most of the bank. Goodin closes the gap by the end of the bank, but closed the gap with fairly shallow angle. Bakchis did what he needed to do, Goodin struggled to keep the battle close but looks strong overall. It feels like Bakchis has an advantage, but it’s not too much for Goodin to overcome in his lead.

GOODIN LEAD – Again, Goodin is late to initiate, but stays high on the bank and may have been the first to actually rub his bumper on the wall without crashing. Bakchis closes the gap and has good steering angle. Both drivers finish the run strong with tons of tire smoke lingering around the track now more so than it was earlier in the day. All three judges side with Bakchis, and one judge explains on the PA system that the late initiation by Goodin was a major deduction and a big part of why they voted for Bakchis.

Matt Field vs. Kenny Moen

FIELD LEAD – Field has good steering angle and a great line around the bank. Moen initiates late and almost immediately closes the gap from around three car lengths down to just a single car length shortly after initiation; he keeps good proximity around the big bank while still on the high line. Field opens up the proximity gap by a few car lengths across the switchback, then takes the high line around the inner bank as requested from the judges. Moen is on a shallower line and closes the gap briefly, but Field isn't affected and finishes strongly. It looks like Moen may have lost drift before he crosses the finish line, which will count as a zero against him.

MOEN LEAD – Moen isn’t as high on the bank as Field was in his lead, but has good steering angle. Field stays close to Moen around the bank, then drops back briefly through the switchback and sucks in tight to Moen around the inner bank. Moen takes the low line through the inner bank with very shallow steering angle, Field stays on the higher line as requested from the judges and stays close to Moen who is off the line. Both drivers cross the finish line in drift. All three judges vote for Field to move on.

Fredric Aasbo vs. Dean Kearney

AASBO LEAD – Kearney initiates a car length behind Aasbo and closes the gap down to just a few inches by the middle of the bank in the fastest part of the course! Wow, this is insane! Kearney stays aggressive; Aasbo slowly adds angle and Kearney matches him almost perfectly. Both drivers transition smoothly across the switchback. Kearney gets very aggressive and closes the gap on Aasbo, but is closing too fast and has to spin to avoid contact. Aasbo maintains drift and finishes the course cleanly. Looking at the replay, there is a huge difference in the amount of tire smoke coming from both cars across the switch back; Aasbo has much less smoke and is clearly slowing while Kearney looks to be full throttle and accelerating. This will be a huge advantage to Aasbo.

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KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney has a much smoother lead run. Aasbo initiates around two car lengths behind Kearney and keeps a similar proximity through the entire track. Aasbo briefly backs off across the switch back, then closes the gap again into the inner bank and mirrors Kearney nicely all the way around the inner bank. Had Kearney avoided the spin on his chase run, this likely would have gone for a OMT, but with the spin, it’s too much for Kearney to overcome. All three judges vote for Aasbo.

 

FORD TOP 16

Before the Top 16, 28 young men and women are sworn into service with the Air Force Academy, and we hear a rousing live rendition of the National Anthem. During driver’s introductions, Dai Yoshihara earns a big fat check from Black Magic for being the top qualifier.

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Fredric Aasbo and Chris Forsberg are the final competitors for the championship. While Forsberg holds his own fate in his hands, Aasbo needs some help from his competitors to take home his second consecutive championship.

Yoshihara vs. Stoneback

YOSHIHARI LEAD – Yoshihara with another good initiation, Stoneback on a slightly shallower line but good steering angle. Stoneback maintains around a two-car gap around the big bank. Yoshihara extends a slight lead ahead of the switchback, but Stoneback closes the gap back up to around two car lengths entering the inner bank. He closes the gap even more midway through the inner bank and puts some pressure on Yoshihara around the last turn, but overall a pretty strong run from both drivers.

STONEBACK LEAD – Stoneback with a feint entry, Yoshihara hot on his tail around a car length back from Stoneback through most of the big bank. Both drivers are shallower on their line around the bank, but with good proximity. Stoneback taps the wall on the inner bank and has to make a steering correction to stay sideways, but keeps control. Yoshihara closes the gap around the final turn and looks like he’s about to spin out before the finish line, but he keeps the car in drift enough to satisfy the judges. All three judges vote for Yoshihara to move on.

Bluss vs. Rintanen

RINTANEN LEAD – Bluss and Rintanen initiate almost simultaneously, Bluss is hot on Rintanen shortly after initiation but requires a lot of steering corrections through the big bank to stay close to Rintanen. Both drivers aren’t as smooth, Rintanen gets deeper both in the big bank and again on the inner bank, Bluss had good proximity at times, but the amount of corrections he needed to maintain that proximity is not impressive.

BLUSS LEAD – Bluss initiates pretty early, but takes a lower line through the first portion of the big bank before getting back up towards the wall. Rintanen has shallow angle and a mid to high line through the bank but very shallow steering angle on the switchback and isn’t very close through the inner bank. Both drivers with very shaky runs, but Bluss appears to have the better line around the track on both runs. One judge votes for Bluss, the other two vote for a OMT battle.

ONE MORE TIME

RINTANEN LEAD – Bluss again initiates a few feet from Rintanen, but has to make several steering adjustments in the first portion of the course to avoid hitting Rintanen. Rintanen has a higher line on most of the bank, while Bluss has a shallow line and many corrections. Rintanen has an adjustment entering the inner bank, but overall has a much smoother run with fewer corrections and a better line than his opponent.

BLUSS LEAD – This is almost a mirror image of the other run, with Rintanen making several corrections shortly after initiation and Bluss on the higher line. Both drivers have a few correctiong through the bank although Bluss looks much more stable on his line, Rintanen closes the gap aggressively across the switchback but then backs off for most of the inner bank. A lot of corrections from both drivers, this feels like a game of “biggest loser” where judges need to pick the driver who had the fewest corrections. Two judges vote for Rintanen, one judge votes for Bluss. Rintanen gets the win, but it’s not pretty.

Forsberg vs. Mordaunt

FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg again shows why he’s a two-time champion with an impressive line around the bank, much higher on the wall than the previous runs. Mordaunt initiates around three car lengths behind Forsberg and has a few small steering corrections through the big bank, but loses another car worth of proximity. Forsberg stays deep into the outside zone on the inner bank; Mordaunt briefly closes the door to around three car lengths behind Forsberg, but can’t keep that through the inner bank.

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MORDAUNT LEAD – Mordaunt has a slight manji I entry. Forsberg starts around three car lengths back from Mordaunt on initiation, and quickly closes it down to around two car lengths by midway through the bank. Both drivers look smooth through the big bank; Mordaunt briefly opens the lead up across the switchback, then closes it again after the switchback. Forsberg closes too fast, slams on the brakes and ends up crashing into the K-rail barrier. Whoa, this is a major mistake from the championship leader!

Replay shows that Mordaunt slows in an area that is listed as a deceleration zone in the drivers meeting, which is fully expected and permitted. Looks like Forsberg is too anxious to close the gap, and isn’t able to adjust accordingly. Forsberg needs to be towed off; judges vote for Mordaunt to move on. For Aasbo to win the championship, he must make the final round. Anything less, including a third place finish, would give Forsberg the championship win.

Pawlak vs. Heilbrunn

PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak with a snappy initiation, Heilbrunn is shallow on angle on initiation but slowly adds angle. Pawlak looks great through the course, rubbing the wall on the top of the big bank like it’s nothing. Heilbrunn has several steering corrections on the big bank, Heilbrunn is way shallow on his line exiting the bank and ends up shutting the car down midway through the inner bank, which will definitely give him a zero. Looking at the replay, Heilbrunn may have had a double initiation, which would also have earned a zero. Heilbrunn needs a tow to get off the course and will have to call his competition timeout.

HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn is unable to fix his vehicle, which gives Pawlak a bye run into the next round.

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Tuerck vs. Whiddett

TUERCK LEAD – Whiddett is unable to fix his car after the collision with Gushi and won’t be allowed to battle Tuerck in this round. Tuerck takes a full run to get used to the track under the current conditions, and has an impressive amount of smoke on the inner bank. Tuerck has now had two consecutive bye runs, earning 48 championship points solely by proving his car can move on its own power.

McQuarrie vs. Ng

MCQUARRIE LEAD – McQuarrie has one of the smoother runs around the bank, a bit lower on his line but with much more consistent steering angle than most of the previous runs. Ng has shallow line and angle through the bank, but fairly good proximity through the entirety of the bank. McQuarrie has a dynamic transition on the switchback while Ng has very shallow angle, McQuarrie continues on the inner bank with good angle and tire smoke while Ng again has shallower line and steering angle to stay close to McQuarrie. Overall, McQuarrie’s run isn’t a 100-point run due to being shallower on his line, but overall is much smoother than many other lines.

NG LEAD – Ng is late to initiate and very shallow in his steering angle through most of the big bank. McQuarrie is a little conservative on his proximity early in the bank, but closes the gap mid-bank and stays consistent through the end of the bank and across off the switchback. McQuarrie has to dump big angle as he’s closing aggressively on the inner bank, then loses some angle to stay close to Ng around the entire inner bank. A few corrections from both drivers on the inner bank, but overall good proximity from McQuarrie given the inconsistency from Ng. Judges vote for McQuarrie unanimously.

Wang vs. Bakchis

WANG LEAD – Wang is down on power in this car compared to his normal S14, but it hasn’t looked like it’s holding him back at all. He initiates on the high line and carries tons of speed around the top of the bank. Bakchis initiates just behind Wang, and keeps around one car length of proximity around the entire bank on just a slightly shallower line. Wang shows tons of steering angle across the switchback and opens the gap up to around three car lengths; Bakchis quickly closes that gap down again entering the inner bank. He has a steering correction midway through the inner bank and loses a lot of angle, but maintains drift and gets back to full steering lock within one car length of Wang. That will likely be a small deduction from Bakchis; the pressure will be on Wang to keep his composure in his chase run.

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BAKCHIS LEAD - Bakchis attempts to enter, but loses drift almost immediately and Wang nearly collides with him—not once, but twice. On replay, it looks like Wang actually taps Bakchis when attempting to slow down as Bakchis slides down the track after failing to initiate. Bakchis and his team indicate that they had an issue on initiation; Wang will be given the win based on Bakchis not being able to complete his lead run.

Field vs. Aasbo

FIELD LEAD – Field with a good initiation, a slight correction mid-bank from Field to add some angle to his line. Aasbo starts about two car lengths behind Field, but closes it down to a single car length by midway through the bank. Field is on a good line with good steering angle and Aasbo hot in chase, both drivers transition smoothly across the switchback, Field is tight on the wall through the inner bank as Aasbo sucks in tightly right towards the final outside zone at the exit of the inner bank and collides with Field! Whoa, this is a championship-deciding moment! We look through the replay several times over; this area is a deceleration zone, and it looks like Aasbo simply doesn’t account for Field to slow in that area. Aasbo is deemed to be at fault, and Field will be given adequate time to look over his car to ensure nothing is broken before we continue the battles.

AASBO LEAD – Aasbo is quick to angle with tons of smoke on the big bank; Field is never more than car length or two behind Aasbo on the big bank. Field has a small correction midway through the inner bank, but keeps pressure on Aasbo through the entirety of the course. No major mistakes on this run will cause the judges to look back on the first run, and with Aasbo being deemed at fault, he will undoubtedly be knocked out here. Judges scores are in: Aasbo is out. Field wins the battle; Forsberg wins the championship!

Forsberg is lifted on the shoulders of his closest friends, and crew members to celebrate his record third championship; amazingly enough, he did so without winning a single event.

 

NITTO TIRE GREAT 8

Yoshihara vs. Rintanen

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara has an early initiation. Rintanen is very shallow on angle after initiation and has several corrections through the big bank. Yoshihara stays focused on his run with good angle and a good line through the course. Rintanen looks shaky and never closes more than three car lengths in proximity. This will likely be an advantage to Yoshihara as his runs are much more consistent and smoother than Rintanen.

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RINTANEN LEAD – Rintanen again with shallow angle and middle line through the bank, Yoshihara is around two car lengths behind Rintanen and stays consistent. Yoshihara follows Rintanen’s line, then closes the gap on the inner bank and is within a single car length through the second half of the inner bank to apply pressure and show amazing car control! Yoshihara gets the win, and as the top qualifier, is guaranteed a podium position.

Pawlak vs. Mordaunt

PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak with a good initiation, Mordaunt a little slow to get his car to angle but relatively good angle. Mordaunt closes the gap before the end of the bank and the switchback, allows Pawlak to transition, then closes the gap again entering the inner bank. Mordaunt stays tight to Pawlak through the inner bank. Pawlak has a steering adjustment or two on the inner bank, so Mordaunt has to adjust accordingly. Mistakes from both drivers, no obvious advantage to either driver.

MORDAUNT LEAD – Mordaunt is again slow to angle on initiation. Pawlak looks to be prepared and enters slowly as well before closing the gap through the big bank. As they exit the big bank, both drivers are within a car length of each other. Pawlak accelerates to close the gap but has to slam on the brakes and spins as he hits the switchback cone in front of the grandstands. Mordaunt continues the course cleanly and gets the win, sending him to his first Final 4 appearance of the season.

Tuerck vs. McQuarrie

TUERCK LEAD – This is the first battle for Tuerck all day as he has had two bye runs on his previous battles. Tuerck doesn’t look rusty as all as he has a great run, high on the wall with plenty of steering angle. McQuarrie starts around three car lengths back, but closes it down to around a single car length by the end of the bank. Tuerck opens up the gap to around three car lengths across the switch back, then McQuarrie tries to close the gap again on the inner bank with little success. Both drivers look smooth through the inner bank, no major mistakes from either driver and relatively decent proximity. This will likely be a slight advantage for Tuerck, but nothing that can’t be overcome by McQuarrie either from a stellar run or a major mistake from Tuerck in chase.

MCQUARRIE LEAD – McQuarrie is very smooth to transition with tons of smoke, Tuerck definitely has a shallower line and angle, but really good proximity. McQuarrie stays consistent on the inner bank, Tuerck again has shallow proximity and line while McQuarrie hits the final inside clip smoothly. Tuerck looks to be nearly spinning out across the finish line but manages to stay in drift. All three judges vote for Tuerck to move into the Final 4.

Wang vs. Field

WANG LEAD - Wang again very quick to angle on initiation while Field is slower to angle but looks more controlled. Wang doesn’t have the optimal line on the bank, but has fewer steering corrections than Field who’s chasing him down. Wang enters the infield bank around three car lengths ahead of Field, Field dives in tight to Wang towards the end of the final outside zone and stays tight around the final turn. This is another run where both drivers make small mistakes and it will come down to how the judges weigh those mistakes.

FIELD LEAD – Field initiates around five car lengths ahead of Wang and keeps that gap around most of the track. Wang uses shallow steering angle and a lower line to try and close the gap on Field, but can’t make up much ground. Field continues his smooth line and angle into the infield and finishes the course strong, while Wang is clearly overpowered and out-gripped in this battle of S14s. All three judges side with Field to move on to his second consecutive Final 4.

 

BLACKVUE FINAL 4

Yoshihara vs. Mordaunt

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara has looked dialed all weekend, with a great run on the bank and no steering corrections at all. Mordaunt initiates around two car lengths back but immediately loses another car length in proximity, then closes the gap mostly due to taking a slightly shallower line around the bank. Yoshihara opens up the gap across the switchback, then Mordaunt closes the gap slightly again entering the inner bank. Mordaunt choses to run the high line along the wall instead of trying to take a shallow line, Yoshihara again uses shallow steering angle to suck into Mordaunt on the inner bank and apply pressure, Mordaunt stays focused and finishes the run strongly. All three judges vote for Yoshihara, Mordaunt will be stuck with fourth place as he qualified lower than the other two drivers in the competition.

MORDAUNT LEAD - Mordaunt initiates on a middle line, Yoshihara takes a much lower line and sucks in tight to Mordaunt midway through the bank due to shallower line and angle. Yoshihara adds angle to mirror Mordaunt and continues the run in close proximity to Mordaunt. Both drivers transition in unison across the switchback and stay around a car length or so away as they enter the inner bank. Yoshihara slowly closes the gap down to just inches by midway through the inner bank, using a lot of left foot braking to keep the speed controlled as he closes the gap. This is one of the best chase runs we've seen all day from a proximity perspective, and will likely solidify the run win for Yoshihara! All three judges vote for Yoshihara to move on.

Tuerck vs. Field

TUERCK LEAD – Before this battle can start, Tuerck has to call his competition timeout. There apparently are some issues with his car not wanting to start, they’ve been working through some issues since the Great 8 battle ended. Tuerck is unable to get the car fixed, which gives Field a bye run into the finals. As Tuerck is the higher qualified driver, he will earn the final podium spot over Mordaunt despite only winning a single tandem battle today. Field takes a blast of the course to ensure the car is dialed for the finals.

 

BLACKVUE FINAL ROUND

Yoshihara vs. Field

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Field enters around two car lengths behind Yoshihara, but stays tight to Yoshihara and closes the gap to a single car length by midway through the bank. Yoshihara transitions across the switchback cleanly, Field closes the gap entering the inner bank, both drivers are taking turns making corrections and surging ahead. Near the final outside clipping zone, Field surges ahead one last time and makes contact with Yoshihara, then spins out while Yoshihara continues in drift across the finish line. Yoshihara will have a major advantage entering the next run.

FIELD LEAD – Field initiates smoothly, Yoshihara doesn’t initiate behind him which could be catastrophic for Yoshihara. Both drivers were able to complete their lead runs, which gives the judges an opportunity to make a decision based solely on the lead runs. Looking at a side-by-side replay, both lead runs actually look quite similar. Two judges vote for a One More Time, the other judge votes for Yoshihara. We aren’t done yet; we have a OMT!

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ONE MORE TIME

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara initiates into the first corner, which is an accomplishment in itself. Yoshihara looks good around the big bank, Field is about three car lengths behind Yoshihara through the bank. Both drivers transition across the switchback smoothly, then Yoshihara goes too deep into the inner bank and crashes. Field passes in drift and continues smoothly, but it won’t matter as Yoshihara was the lead car. Yoshihara tries to waive off the tow truck, but can’t get the car started and will have to retire. Field gets the win and becomes the first back-to-back winner since Aasbo in New Jersey and Seattle last season.

FIELD LEAD – Yoshihara and his team can’t get the car back together, so we can’t continue. This is an anticlimactic end to an amazing event. Drivers are called in front of the fans for the results.

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Tuerck is announced as the third place winner, his first podium of the season. In second place, Yoshihara claims his second podium of the season, backing up his podium in Atlanta. Field wins his second consecutive event and catapults into fifth place overall in the final season standings, his best career finish. The one-two finish for Falken Tire helps them clinch the tire championship.

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The final championship standings have Forsberg winning his third career championship, while Aasbo remains in second place just a season after claiming his first championship. Gittin Jr. clinches third, the fourth time in Gittin’s career he has finished in the top three overall.

Forsberg becomes the first driver to win three championships overall, while also becoming the first driver to win a championship without a single event win. Since no other driver claimed more than three events, Forsberg’s consistency trumped the extreme peaks and valleys that all other drivers faced.

(Photos: TK Akiyama and Jonathan Wong)

See more photos from FD Irwindale in our Finals Recap Gallery.

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