2016 Formula Drift Pro 2 Round 4 Recap
Formula Drift capped off their third season of Pro 2 competition with a first of its kind standalone event at Wildhorse Pass Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona. Entering the final event, Canadian driver Marc Landreville had nearly wrapped up the championship chase, but with eight drivers earning their 2017 Formula Drift Pro license based on the final standings, most of the field still had something to prove at this round. Additionally, the Southwest Drift ProAm series operated by Vegas Drift acted as the supporting series on the weekend, with the top three drivers in that series earning an invite to compete in Formula Drift’s Pro 2 class for the 2017 season. Both series had some excellent tandem action, setting the standard for the graduation of several drivers to the next level for the upcoming season.
The Southwest Drift series kicked off the weekend, with qualifying on Friday narrowing the field of 20 down to 12 drivers. Ideally, the tandem bracket would have been filled with 16 competitors, but only 12 drivers were able to impress the judges enough to earn a score. Blake Olsen drove his S13 coupe to the top qualifier position with a score of 85, followed closely by Bear Rzesnowiecky earning a score of 84, and Kasey Kohl earning a score of 83, which put him in third. As the tandem ladder shook out, Olsen and Rzesnowiecky would battle in the final for the event win, with Olsen completing a “perfect event” by earning the event win alongside his top qualifying effort. The win pushed Olsen into second place overall in the championship, narrowly ahead of Rzesnowiecky but behind series champion Andy Hateley, who finished the event in third place. Hateley, Olsen and Rzesnowiecky all stated that they plan to compete in Formula Drift’s Pro 2 class next season.
Qualifying for the Pro 2 class would narrow the field of 23 down to the Top 16 who would compete for the event win and a chance to compete in the top tier of Formula Drift in 2017. Marc Landreville continued his amazing season by earning the top qualifying spot with a score of 93 points, the only score in the 90s for the event and his third top qualifying effort of the season. NorCal native Matt Madrigali would earn the second qualifying position with a score of 89 points, while Texan Nate Hamilton and Ohio native Dirk Stratton tied with matching scores of 88 points. Hamilton would be awarded the third qualifying position by virtue of a tiebreaker, while a total of 12 drivers earned a qualifying score in the 80s or higher. Making the Top 16 meant earning at least 74 points in qualifying, a cutoff that again raised the bar to a season-high level.
Tandem action on Saturday took place under the lights and in front of a fairly robust crowd. For being the first Formula Drift event in Arizona, the crowd was larger than expected and also quite knowledgeable. Several (past and present) Formula Drift drivers have continued to stay involved in drifting in the Phoenix area, which has helped raise the talent and awareness of the sport in the Southwestern market. Tandem action got underway with a fairly predictable first few battles as favorites Landreville, Ryan Litteral, Stratton and Waters all won their early tandem battles. The first upset of the day came as Madrigali made a major mistake while leading Kasey King, allowing King to pass and take the tandem win. “Rad” Dan Burkett piloted his Toyota Supra past Matt Vankirk in a slight upset, while experienced drivers Hamilton and Jeff Jones dispatched their first round opponents. By Landreville winning his Top 16 battle with Lewis, he clinched the Pro 2 championship for 2016, although he was looking to add to his collection of Formula Drift hardware by continuing to push for the event win.
Landreville took on Literral in the second round, a battle that was one of the better ones of the evening between a pair of 6-cylinder powered S14 cars. Landreville’s Toyota 2JZ-powered car earned the win against Litteral’s Nissan RB26-powered car, although both drivers had effectively clinched their Formula Drift Pro licenses prior to the battle. Stratton took out Waters in a tight battle, while Burkett moved past King into his second Final Four round of the season and was joined by Hamilton. As the highest qualified driver in the Final Four, Landreville was guaranteed a podium finish, his fourth of the season and a new high watermark for the Pro 2 series as a whole. He wasn’t happy with that as he vowed to earn his fourth consecutive Final Round appearance, which he did with a win over Stratton in the semi-finals. Burkett and Hamilton had a great battle in the other semi-final with Hamilton besting Burkett and earning his first final round appearance of the season. As the lower qualified driver, Burkett would have to be satisfied with a fourth place finish, while Stratton earned the final podium position due to qualifying higher.
In the final round, Hamilton would give a good fight to Landreville, but wouldn’t have enough to overcome the series champion. After pushing Landreville to a “One More Time” battle, Hamilton would be forced to retire after a mechanical gremlin left him unable to compete in the sudden death battle. Landreville capped off his second “perfect event” of the season by taking both top qualifier and the event win, and earned three of four wins on the season in Pro 2. The only carbon fiber trophy on his mantle that doesn’t have a first place plaque on it came from a second place event in Atlanta where his car was unable to battle in the final due to contact from an opponent in the semi-finals. For Hamilton, the second place appearance launched him into seventh overall in the series standings, which guaranteed his license for the Formula Drift Pro class in 2017. Stratton’s podium finish was his first of the season, although he finished in fourth in Texas, narrowly missing the glamour shot moment in the event press release. All four of the final drivers will move on to compete in the Pro class in 2017 should they so choose.
The following eight drivers earned their Formula Drift Pro licenses for 2017:
As the lone rookie to earn his Pro license, Stratton also takes home the honor of being Pro 2 Rookie of the Year. A big congratulations to all the drivers who earned their stripes, and we look forward to watching them progress into the Formula Drift Pro class in 2017!
View more photos from Formula Drift's Pro 2 Round 4 event in the gallery below, and get caught up on all of the Pro coverage leading up to the Pro finals this weekend in Irwindale!