2016 Formula Drift Wall Speedway Top 32 Play-by-Play
Wall Speedway has been a mainstay on the Formula Drift circuit for 11 of the past 13 seasons, and is a track that drivers love to hate. The 30-degree banking is the steepest and most dramatic of the four banked courses on the Formula Drift schedule, and the transition from the bank to the infield can be a nightmare for teams to adjust for. In years past, the weather in New Jersey has been as much of a story as the driving on track, due to high humidity or passing thunderstorms-but this year, the driving looks to be the highlight as the weather outlook is sunny with clear skies and a tolerable humidity level.
This year, Formula Drift reverted back to a layout that had been used in years prior after the layout utilized last season caused high amounts of tire wear on the left side of the cars. Drivers initiate into the traditional turn two corner running the speedway in clockwise form, with entries around sixty miles per hour. The short run-up to the first corner combined with the high pitched banking leaves speeds much lower than other tracks on the circuit, but this leads to much tighter tandem battles.
After drifting on the bank through turns two and one of the traditional racing layout, drivers transition off the banking onto the flat apron just prior to a switchback clipping point on the traditional start finish line in front of the crowd and the judges stand. Drivers then follow the apron through turns 4 and 3 of the traditional racing layout, trying to keep their tires just below the transition between the apron and the banking, then hit a front clip just before the traditional back straight and cross over through the infield back onto the apron of turns 1 and 2 in clockwise fashion. While this may sound confusing, the overall layout is fairly similar to the shape of the Irwindale layout, just running in counter clockwise orientation instead of Irwindale’s clockwise orientation.
This round was the first since Long Beach without the Pro 2 class competing alongside the main Pro class, so the Friday schedule was a bit abbreviated.
Unfortunately, the grid would only contain 30 drivers by the time qualifying rolled around: Kenny Moen missed this event with mechanical issues that couldn’t be resolved in time, and “Mad” Mike Whiddett encountered engine issues with his RADBUL Mazda MX-5 right before qualifying, which left him in the pits at the wrong time. Whiddett attempted to secure a backup car for the weekend, but the Formula Drift rules restricted him from switching cars due to already turning a tire on track.
Of the 30 drivers, 14 of them scored at least 80 points on their qualifying run with five drivers earning a score of 90 or higher. Dai Yoshihara topped the qualifying charts after two runs with a pair of 93 point scores, topping Odi Bakchis for the top spot by virtue of a higher score in the “style” category. Long Beach winner Chelsea Denofa, Atlanta winner Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Orlando winner Fredric Aasbo rounded out the top five with scores of 92, 91 and 90 respectively.
With only 30 qualifying scores, the top two qualifiers were given bye runs in the Top 32 tandem eliminations. (View our Wall Speedway recap gallery.)
Fast forward to the Ford Top 16 or Blackvue Final 4.
AIR FORCE TOP 32
Dai Yoshihara – Bye Run
YOSIHARA LEAD – As the top qualifier, Yoshihara earned a bye run for the first round. His Subaru BR-Z has looked strong in recent rounds, even earning a podium finish in Atlanta for the first time in over a year. His qualifying run earned him 93 points, which tied him with Bakchis but Yoshihara won the tiebreaker with a higher style score. Yoshihara makes a full pass, although probably only around 80-percent of his qualifying run, to kick off the Top 32 for the fans.
Alec Hohnadell vs. Dean Kearney
HOHNADELL LEAD – Kearney has won the only tandem battle between these two drivers previously, but Hohnadell qualified higher. Hohnadell has a smooth entry, Kearney is very close behind him after the entry and sticks close to Hohnadell immediately all the way around the big bank. Kearney allows just enough room for Hohnadell to transition on the switchback, then sucks in close again on the sweeper around the second turn. Hohnadell opened up a bit of a gap through the center section, but is a bit shallow on his line around the second sweeper as Kearney sucks in tight again for the final portion of the turn. Great chase run from Kearney, he will likely have an advantage into the second run.
KEARNEY LEAD – Big angle from Kearney both on the bank and transitioning across the traditional start finish line, Hohnadell is much shallower on steering angle and an additional car length or two back from Kearney compared to Kearney’s chase run. Tons of tire smoke from Kearney’s Viper, Hohnadell takes a shallow line around the final sweeper yet is never really able to make up much of the gap. Kearney earns the unanimous win and will face Yoshihara in the first battle of the Top 16.
Robbie Nishida vs. Matt Coffman
NISHIDA LEAD – Nishida has had an up and down year in his G37, but is looking much stronger this event. Nishida’s run is nice and smooth, with good angle and good tire smoke, especially around the final turn, but nothing too spectacular. Coffman takes a lower line on the bank and a shallow line around the sweeper, but still doesn’t make up much proximity. Nishida finishes with around a four-to-five car gap ahead of Coffman, probably an advantage to Nishida due to lack of any major mistakes.
COFFMAN LEAD – Coffman has a big manji entry, Nishida stays around four-car lengths back through the bank but closes the gap quickly across the switchback and stays much tighter around both sweepers. Coffman had a clean lead run, but the aggressive chase from Nishida will likely earn him the win. Coffman’s steering angle around the final portion of the second sweeper looked strong, but was probably too little too late. All three judges side with Nishida.
Alex Heilbrunn vs. Geoff Stoneback
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn with a smooth entry high on the bank, Stoneback initiates much lower on the bank around three- or four-car lengths back. Heilbrunn keeps a pretty big gap around the entire track, extending it through the sweeper on the second turn and extending it again through the crossover in the midfield. Stoneback takes a shallower line around both sweepers but can’t make up much ground.
STONEBACK LEAD – Stoneback with a good initiation, Heilbrunn much lower on the bank but staying close to Stoneback. Stoneback has a smooth run, Heilbrunn takes out the clipping point at the exit of the second turn sweeper, but stays close to Stoneback. After the infield crossover, Heilbrunn has shallow steering angle then pushes the car to more angle, but the mistake is likely not enough to push Stoneback ahead of him. Heilbrunn’s car seems substantially faster (and is definitely substantially louder), his Nitto tires are really showing a lot of grip. Heilbrunn earns the win.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. vs. Cameron Moore
GITTIN JR. LEAD – By the time Gittin Jr. enters the first turn, he already has a four-car lead. Moore’s car is misfiring through most of the course, Gittin Jr. continues to extend his lead through the entirety of the course with plenty of tire smoke from his Nitto tires. Moore takes out a clipping point, but that’s the least of his problems in this run.
MOORE LEAD – Moore is very slow to initiate, Gittin Jr. sucks in close to him shortly after initiation. Moore’s lead run is much smoother than his chase run, his car appears to be running better this time. Gittin Jr. doesn’t leave any doubt with the judges and stays aggressive around the entire run, earning himself the unanimous decision of all three judges.
Kristaps Bluss vs. Andrew Gray
BLUSS LEAD – Bluss has a good initiation, but sinks down on the bank a bit away from the guardrail. Gray has good steering angle and a better line around the big bank, then uses some slightly shallower steering angle across the switchback to get close to Bluss. Gray uses the inside line around the second turn sweeper to get close to Bluss, then stays close to Bluss for the final sweeper. Good start from Bluss, but Gray’s chase may have been enough to keep the scoring even after the first run.
GRAY LEAD – Gray with big angle again around the bank, he’s using the length of his Toyota Chaser sedan to his advantage at this track. Gray is a bit shallow on line again around the second turn sweeper, Bluss really closes the gap around that sweeper. Gray transitions a bit early across the crossover and takes the inside line around the final sweeper. Apparently, taking an inside line around the final sweeper as a lead car was brought up in the drivers meeting, and that tactic was considered a deduction. Bluss is given the unanimous win.
Fredric Aasbo vs. Pat Mordaunt
AASBO LEAD – Mordaunt initiates almost identically behind Aasbo and stays tight to him through the full bank. Mordaunt has a slight correction on the switchback in front of the judges, but stays aggressive through the second sweeper and has almost identical angle through the second sweeper, crossover section and final sweeper. Aasbo may be in trouble if Mordaunt can put together a solid lead run!
MORDAUNT LEAD – Mordaunt goes to initiate into the first turn with a manji and appears to grip up at the wrong time, hitting the guard rail. Aasbo navigates around him and drifts the bank, Mordaunt’s car is clearly damaged and out of competition. What a shame, Mordaunt likely had an advantage going into this run. Aasbo is red-flagged to avoid any sort of collision, and will earn the win into the Top 16. Tough break for Mordaunt.
Justin Pawlak vs. Kyle Mohan
PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak is very quick to angle on entry, then rubs the guardrail briefly and stays into the throttle all the way around the top of the bank. WOW! Mohan has a smooth initiation and not too far behind Pawlak around the bank, but not overly aggressive with his chase. Pawlak continues through the crossover with plenty of smoke and angle, Mohan gets lost in the smoke on the crossover and loses drift. Pawlak finishes strong, Mohan clearly with a big disadvantage going into the second run.
MOHAN LEAD – Shortly after initiation, Mohan’s MX5 grips up and loses drift, Mohan has to re-initiate and tries to finish the run but has a lot of mistakes. Pawlak stays in drift and remains behind Mohan, adjusting quite nicely and maintaining drift behind Mohan. Mohan gets the car sideways again around the turn two sweeper, but it’s too little too late. Pawlak gets the win and is moving into the Top 16.
Odi Bakchis – Bye Run
BAKCHIS LEAD – With only 30 drivers earning a qualifying score, both of the top two qualifiers earned a bye run, fitting as both had an identical score on their runs. Bakchis makes a solo pass with good line and angle. He looks prepped for the Top 16!
Michael Essa vs. Jhonnathan Castro
ESSA LEAD – Essa has good steering angle and line through the big bank and across the switchback, Castro’s car seems a bit limited on steering angle. Castro continues to follow through the second turn sweeper, then loses some ground through the infield crossover. Essa finishes the final sweeper strong, Castro appears to lose track of where he’s at on track and is off line near the exit of the crossover, he continues around the final turn but is substantially behind Castro. Definitely a distinct advantage for Essa after the first run.
CASTRO LEAD – Castro has a much smoother lead run, but Essa has a smooth chase run with no major mistakes. Essa is never more than three cars back on Castro, narrowing the gap down to around a single car length in the big bank but keeping around two-car lengths through most of the track. Castro had a breakout performance in Orlando, but made one too many mistakes in his chase run this time around. Essa earns the win into the Top 16.
Chris Forsberg vs. Jeff Jones
FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg with a big, smoky drift around the top of the bank, Jones is a bit lower on the bank but much shallower steering angle. Jones closes the gap towards the end of the bank, then stays closer around the second turn sweeper. Forsberg dumps big angle towards the end of the second turn sweeper, Jones closes the gap but too aggressively and taps Forsberg. Forsberg transitions across the infield crossover but shuts it down midway through the final sweeper. It looks like there might be some suspension damage or something that Forsberg felt was out of spec, so he stopped drifting. Forsberg will be given time to inspect and possibly repair his car as Jones is considered at fault.
JONES LEAD – After briefly moving on to other tandem battles, we return for Jones’ lead run. Jones has a smooth lead run, but Forsberg’s aggressive chase is definitely the highlight of the run. Jones has looked great in his Pro 2 runs, but shaky in his Pro class runs. Shortly after the finish line, Jones shuts the car down and is leaking fluid. Forsberg gets the unanimous win, and we have some downtime to clean up the fluids from Jones.
Tyler McQuarrie vs. Forrest Wang
MCQUARRIE LEAD – McQuarrie has good angle, Wang is close behind, McQuarrie opens up the gap through the switchback, Wang has a deep line into the second sweeper and briefly closes down the gap to McQuarrie, but McQuarrie powers away from Wang and opens the gap back up to around three car lengths. It almost looked like Wang washed out entering the second sweeper. McQuarrie continues through the crossover and finishes the final sweeper with plenty of tire smoke, Wang slides wide after the crossover and gets his back wheels up on the bank which is a major deduction. This will likely be a big advantage to McQuarrie as Wang’s chase run was quite sloppy overall.
WANG LEAD – Slow start pulling away from the line, McQuarrie is inches away from Wang on the lead into the first corner. Wang has good angle around the bank, McQuarrie is very low on the bank with very shallow steering angle, McQuarrie closes the gap aggressively across the switchback, Wang has good angle around the second turn sweeper and again around the final turn sweeper. McQuarrie had moments of good proximity, but had very poor steering angle and a lot of corrections. The bank is very heavily weighted, so his mistake on the bank may be more damaging than Wang’s corrections. All three judges decide that the drivers should compete “One More Time” (OMT), likely due to mistakes from both drivers making the pair of runs a bit annoying.
ONE MORE TIME
MCQUARRIE LEAD – McQuarrie with an early initiation, Wang is very close on initiation with tons of angle, but the massive steering angle allows McQuarrie to open up a pretty big gap. Wang closes the gap a bit around the second turn sweeper, but McQuarrie keeps a good gap through the infield switchback and the final sweeper. Other than the lack of proximity on the bank, Wang doesn’t make any major mistakes. McQuarrie’s lead run isn’t a perfect qualifying line, but is fairly mistake-free as well.
WANG LEAD – Wang is high on the bank with big angle, McQuarrie has a good line but not as much angle. McQuarrie stays close through the switchback and second turn sweeper, McQuarrie has a noticeable steering correction exiting the second sweeper, but otherwise keeps good proximity in chase. Wang isn't on the good line that the judges requested, but his angle looks impressive!
ONE MORE TIME x2
MCQUARRIE LEAD – McQuarrie with a smooth initiation, Wang is fairly close on initiation and through the bank, McQuarrie opens up the gap again across the switchback and into the turn 2 sweeper. McQuarrie taps the clipping point at the exit of the turn two sweeper, but finishes the third turn sweeper smoothly with a two-car gap ahead of Wang.
WANG LEAD – Wang again has an impressive amount of angle around the bank and is on the high line, McQuarrie starts around two-car lengths back then narrows it down to a single car length by the end of the bank. Wang opens up the gap after transitioning onto the apron and across the switchback, then dumps huge angle in front of the judges. McQuarrie surges forward and closes the gap past the switchback clipping point, then has to slow substantially to avoid hitting Wang as Wang seems slower than McQuarrie expected. McQuarrie took out the switchback clip, but maintains drift the entire way and stays tight on Wang through the second turn sweeper and across the infield crossover and through the third turn sweeper. All three judges vote for Wang, and we finally have a winner. It seems that McQuarrie’s clipping point hits were the difference factor.
Chelsea DeNofa vs. Faruk Kugay
DENOFA LEAD – Kugay pulls to the line, but Denofa is nowhere to be found. We’re hearing that Denofa has mechanical issues and will not be able to compete. Kugay takes a bye run, which looks sloppy. Kugay spins out after the infield crossover. It doesn’t matter; Kugay will get the win and his second Top 16 appearance of the season.
Matt Field vs. Charles Ng
FIELD LEAD – Field with a high initiation, Ng not far behind but on a much lower line. Field’s line around the second turn sweeper is much deeper, Ng closes the gap a bit with a shallower line. Both drivers stay clean through the infield crossover and around the final sweeper. Field’s V8-powered S14 has much more tire smoke and steering angle, but Ng’s 2JZ-powered S14 had a fairly smooth follow run. Possibly a slight advantage to Field, but it will definitely come down to the second run.
NG LEAD – Ng has a very similar lead run, with good smoke and tire angle through the entire course. Field has better proximity to Ng especially around the second turn sweeper, and both drivers have good tire smoke and steering angle. This could go OMT as neither driver really made any major mistake. All three judges side with Field; looks like his superior proximity is what won the judges over.
Ryan Tuerck vs. Pat Goodin
TUERCK LEAD – Goodin initiates earlier than Tuerck, and both drivers look strong on the bank. Goodin is only a car length away from Tuerck, perhaps this could be a breakout run for Goodin. Tuerck extends the lead to around three-car lengths across the switchback, Goodin has shallow angle across the switchback but still loses ground. Goodin briefly closes the gap towards the end of the turn two sweeper, but Tuerck opens the gap back up to three-car lengths across the crossover and finishes the run with more angle than Goodin.
GOODIN LEAD – Goodin is slow to push the car to angle after initiation, Tuerck is around a car length behind him through the bank. Both cars transition across the switchback smoothly, but Goodin’s car doesn’t transition well heading into the turn 2 sweeper. Goodin is straight for the first portion of the sweeper, this is likely a major deduction. Tuerck is hard in drift behind Goodin, Goodin taps an outer clipping point; Tuerck stays aggressive through the crossover and the third turn sweeper to earn the unanimous win.
Ken Gushi vs. Juha Rintanen
GUSHI LEAD – Gushi has a quick left-foot brake tap to initiate, Rintanen is very aggressive on initiation and gets very close to Gushi, but safely backs off to avoid contact. Rintanen drops down to a slightly lower line on the bank, but stays fairly close to Gushi through the entire bank. Gushi opens up a gap across the switchback, Rintanen slows later for the turn two sweeper and closes the gap a bit again. Rintanen again surges forward near the end of the turn two sweeper, then Gushi opens up the gap across the infield crossover. Both cars finish the third turn sweeper cleanly. The inconsistent driving from Rintanen might give Gushi a small advantage, but this run could easily be called for either driver.
RINTANEN LEAD – Gushi is equally aggressive on initiation, Rintanen has good angle and line around the bank and across the switchback, then goes with the deep line entering the second turn sweeper and may have pushed a tire up onto the bank. Gushi takes out the clipping point on the switchback, closes the gap around the second turn sweeper, allows Rintanen to transition across the infield crossover, then takes out another clipping point entering the third turn sweeper to stay close to Rintanen. Rintanen finishes the final turn strong, but Gushi’s aggressive chase run is likely enough to earn the victory. All three judges side with Gushi; it will be an all FR-S final battle in the Top 16 against Tuerck.
FORD TOP 16
To kick off the Top 16 ceremony, a moment of silence is observed for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting that happened a short week prior. Seven new recruits to the Air Force are sworn in with an oath of enlistment, and Natalie Carter Young sings the National Anthem. Dai Yoshihara receives a $250 check from Black Magic for being the top qualifier, each of the Top 16 drivers is introduced and we finish with some burnouts and donuts prior to the Top 16 tandem bracket.
Yoshihara vs. Kearney
YOSHIHARA LEAD – Kearney is aggressive on Yoshihara shortly after initiation, and stays close to him around the entire bank. Yoshihara runs the deep line on the turn 2 sweeper, Kearney slows late to suck in tight to Yoshihara for the entirety of the second turn sweeper, Yoshihara adds angle exiting the sweeper and Kearney adjusts accordingly. Yoshihara takes the wide line around the third turn sweeper, Kearney uses the inside line to close the gap again, this is a great run! Kearney has a few steering corrections through the course, but overall, his proximity and control will likely give him an advantage entering his lead run.
KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney enters around three car lengths ahead of Yoshihara, and the gap doesn’t change much through the entirety of the bank. Similar gap through the second sweeper as what Kearney had in his chase run, Kearney has much more angle exiting the sweeper and opens up a gap on Yoshihara through the infield crossover section. Yoshihara stays clean and smooth around the third sweeper, but the gap is fairly substantial across the finish line. All three judges side with Kearney; our number one qualifier will be watching the rest of the competition from the sidelines!
Nishida vs. Heilbrunn
NISHIDA LEAD – Smooth entry from both drivers, big smoke from Nishida coming around the big bank, both drivers transition almost identically across the switchback and there’s around a two-car gap entering the second turn sweeper. Nishida takes out a clipping point, Heilbrunn gets aggressive around the third turn sweeper and makes contact with Nishida. Nishida slides off course, but this is likely due to contact. Fault is probably on Heilbrunn, Nishida should be allowed to inspect and/or fix his car if needed but both drivers come back to the line almost immediately.
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn initiating very high on the bank and rubbing his back bumper on the guard rail, WOW! Nishida has a clean bank run, clean switchback in front of the crowd, and dives in entering the second turn sweeper. Heilbrunn’s bumper is flailing for the second half of the bank and he finally sheds it entering the sweeper. Heilbrunn opens up the gap around the sweeper and through the infield crossover, Nishida loses drift midway through the infield crossover and coasts through the final turn. Heilbrunn takes out a clipping point, but at this point, both drivers have zeros while in chase. One judge votes for Nishida, but the other judges want to see a OMT battle. We’ll see this matchup again.
ONE MORE TIME
NISHIDA LEAD – Good run from Nishida, Heilbrunn keeps it close on the big bank and through the second sweeper. Heilbrunn has a few steering corrections especially on the third turn sweeper, and took the inside line to try and stay close. Nishida had a cleaner run overall, but Heilbrunn definitely put pressure on at times.
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn’s car has ton of grip and he opens up a huge gap by the end of the big bank. Nishida tries to transition late into the second turn sweeper to close the gap, but Heilbrunn’s car continues to open up the lead with tons of tire smoke as they transition across the infield crossover section. Nishida is running full throttle, but can’t make up the gap at all. All three judges vote for Heilbrunn to move on.
Gittin Jr. vs. Bluss
GITTIN JR. LEAD – Gittin Jr. is very fast into the first turn, Gittin Jr. is high on the bank, Bluss takes the low line on the bank but sucks in tight to Gittin Jr. before the end of the banking. Bluss collides with Gittin Jr. at the end of the banking, bumpers from both cars explode on track, but the cars continue. Gittin Jr. ends up driving around the outside clipping point that marks the start of the sweeper on the second turn, then gets back on track and continues drifting. Gittin Jr. shuts it down after the infield crossover. Fault is clearly on Bluss, both drivers head to the pits to look over their cars. Gittin Jr. will be allowed to make repairs, but Bluss will need to call his competition timeout if he needs to make any repairs. Advantage clearly sits for Gittin Jr.
BLUSS LEAD – Bluss leaves nothing behind and runs a fantastic line around the top of the bank, Gittin Jr. is around three cars behind Bluss but uses a slightly shallower line to stay close to Bluss through the bank. Both cars transition across the switchback smoothly, Bluss takes out the clipping point that Gittin Jr. drove around on his lead run, then continues to pour on the tire smoke around the second turn sweeper. Bluss opens up a bit gap across the infield crossover, Gittin Jr. takes a shallower line around the third turn sweeper to close the gap but has nowhere near the same amount of angle. Gittin Jr. earns the win; Bluss won’t be able to continue the success of his podium from Orlando.
Aasbo vs. Pawlak
AASBO LEAD – Aasbo looks much faster this weekend than what we saw in Orlando. Pawlak takes a slightly lower line around the bank to stay close to Aasbo, and is only a car length behind Aasbo exiting the bank. Both drivers stay clean through the second turn sweeper, Aasbo dumps big angle exiting the sweeper but Pawlak mirrors nicely. Aasbo opens up the gap to around three cars across the infield crossover, both drivers finish with tons of smoke across the finish line.
PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak is quick to angle on initiation, which the judges love to see; Aasbo is around three-car lengths behind Pawlak around the bank and then takes out the clipping point on the switchback in front of the judges stand. Pawlak uses the outside line around the second turn sweeper, Aasbo stays around three-car lengths back, but is consistent through the crossover section and the third turn sweeper. It looks like Pawlak may have dropped a tire onto the bank on the second turn sweeper, which is a big deduction. One judge votes for a OMT, two judges side with Aasbo.
Bakchis vs. Essa
BAKCHIS LEAD – This is Bakchis’ first tandem battle as he had a bye in the first run. Essa times his initiation to be almost identical to Bakchis, Essa stays around one car length behind Bakchis through the entire second turn sweeper. Bakchis adds angle exiting the sweeper, Essa adjusts well, and maintains good proximity through the infield crossover and the third turn sweeper. Overall, a clean run from Bakchis, but also an equally strong and consistent chase run from Essa.
ESSA LEAD – Essa with a good initiation, Bakchis is a bit further behind Essa than on the other run. Bakchis sucks in tight to Essa towards the end of the second sweeper, Essa opens up the gap through the infield crossover, then Bakchis overshoots the entry into the third turn sweeper and gets his back tires onto the bank. Dropping the tires onto the bank shoots him into the inside line of the third turn sweeper, possibly dropping another tire off course, but definitely a major deduction for Bakchis. Essa earns the win from all three judges.
Forsberg vs. Wang
FORSBERG LEAD – The initial start was red-flagged due to Forsberg knocking over a cone in the start chicane, so we have a re-run. Both drivers are able to stop prior to the first turn and save tires, thankfully. On the second attempt, Forsberg has a clean start and a great line along the high side of the bank. Wang stays fairly close behind him through the bank, both drivers transition onto the infield almost simultaneously, then Wang dives in on the door of Forsberg at the entry into the second turn sweeper. Forsberg opens the gap up through the second turn sweeper, Forsberg opens up the gap again across the infield crossover, then Wang closes the gap again around the third turn sweeper by taking a slightly inside line. Both of these drivers are putting out massive amounts of smoke, it’s very difficult to see the second half of the course due to the tire smoke and lack of wind.
WANG LEAD - Wang has very shallow angle after initiating, then slowly adds angle by midway through the bank. Forsberg keeps the gap close as they exit the bank, Wang dumps big angle on the switchback and Forsberg rams into Wang right in front of the judges. Replay shows that Wang had a huge amount of angle, but no visible brake lights. There’s no speed sensors or speed guns to be able to see if Wang was going substantially slower than in previous runs, it will be a tough decision to determine who is at fault for this collision. All three judges side with Forsberg, we got an explanation from the judges that Wang was slowing in an area that was not labeled as a ‘slowdown area’ in the judges meeting. Forsberg was likely blinded by the tire smoke, and had to expect Wang to be on throttle in that area, which is why the judges deemed Forsberg as the winner.
Field vs. Kugay
FIELD LEAD – This is a rematch of an Atlanta Top 32 battle that ended with car-to-car contact. Both drivers utilize the same transport, and are friends away from the track, so it will be interesting to see how this battle plays out. Field has a good initiation with big angle around the bank, Kugay has several steering corrections on the bank and has much less steering angle as they cross the switchback in front of the judges stand. Field establishes a four-car gap by the exit of the second turn sweeper, and increases that gap to around five or six cars by the third turn sweeper. Field has likely earned a big advantage for himself heading into the second run.
KUGAY LEAD – Kugay very low on the bank, shallow angle across the switchback in front of the fans, Field is able to maintain consistent proximity around two cars behind Kugay for most of the run. It looks like Field is giving Kugay room due to how inconsistent Kugay has been, which is completely understandable. Both drivers finish the run smoothly, but Field was clearly smoother in both runs. All three judges vote for Field to move on to the Top 8.
Tuerck vs. Gushi
TUERCK LEAD – Tuerck is quick to get the car to angle, Gushi is a little slower to get the car to angle after initiation but eventually matches Tuerck. Both cars are high on the bank, Gushi uses slightly shallower steering angle to stay close to Tuerck through the bank. Both drivers transition cleanly, Gushi sucks in tight to Tuerck through the start of the second turn sweeper and stays tight through the entire sweeper. Tuerck opens up a slight lead across the infield crossover, Gushi has a slight steering correction entering the third turn sweeper, but uses the inside line to suck back in close to Tuerck as they finish the course just a car length away from each other.
GUSHI LEAD – Tuerck jumps the start light to try and stay ahead of Gushi, which he is allowed to do as the chase car, but Gushi is much slower than Tuerck anticipated and has to wait for him to catch up. Gushi has much more angle and a higher line onto the bank, Tuerck closes the gap on Gushi and stays tight on him for most of the second sweeper until Gushi dumps massive amounts of angle just before the infield crossover. Tuerck adjusts nicely, both drivers transition smoothly and finish the third turn sweeper equally. Two judges vote for a OMT battle, one judge votes for Tuerck. That means we’ll see this battle again!
ONE MORE TIME
TUERCK LEAD – WOW! Tuerck runs the high line on the bank but the story of this run is Gushi’s chase! Although Gushi has slightly shallower steering angle, his proximity through the entirety of the bank is some of the best we’ve seen so far today! Gushi backs off and leaves enough room for Tuerck to transition, then sucks right back into Tuerck’s door. Both cars sing in harmony across the infield crossover, transitioning almost identically. Tuerck opens up a slight two-car gap around the final sweeper, but Gushi’s overall impact is incredible!
GUSHI LEAD – Tuerck starts the bank a car length or so behind Gushi, but Gushi opens that gap up to around two car lengths by the end of the bank. Tuerck closes the gap around the second sweeper, although sacrificing some steering angle to gain proximity, but Tuerck transitions too early across the infield crossover and takes out the inner clipping point before the final sweeper with his door. Both drivers finish the final sweeper smoothly, but it looked to be two tires off for Tuerck at the entry to the final sweeper. All three judges vote for Gushi; he is the last remaining FR-S in the field.
NITTO TIRE GREAT 8
Heilbrunn vs. Kearney
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn initiates later than we’ve seen other drivers initiating, Kearney is around two-car lengths back, diving in towards the end of turn 2 sweeper and then again at the end of the infield crossover section. Kearney has a steering correction after the entrance to the turn 3 sweeper, but stays tight on Heilbrunn through the finish. We definitely saw some moments of brilliance from Kearney, but not much consistency. It will be interesting to see how the judges feel about this run.
KEARNEY LEAD – Heilbrunn drops down pretty far on the bank in follow, Kearney is on the high line around the bank and looking strong. As they exit the bank, Kearney’s Viper straightens out and drives straight off the bank past the switchback, it looks like he missed a turn. Heilbrunn has to brake heavily to avoid hitting him. We find out that Kearney lost power steering on the Viper and shut it down for safety. All three judges vote for Heilbrunn to move into his first career Final 4.
Gittin Jr. vs. Aasbo
GITTIN JR. LEAD – These drivers have faced each other ten times already, with Gittin Jr. winning seven of those matchups. This is essentially a battle for the lead in the championship chase. Gittin Jr. is fast into the first corner, Aasbo initiated a bit later to keep the gap close. Gittin Jr. has a good line and steering angle around the bank, Aasbo sucks into Gittin Jr. midway through the second turn sweeper. Aasbo is late to get into the third turn sweeper and his back wheels might have slid up onto the bank, similar to what happened with Bakchis, which would be a major deduction. Gittin Jr. has a very clean run overall, no major mistakes or deductions, and will likely carry an advantage into the second run.
AASBO LEAD – Aasbo seems slow pulling away from the start line, then is quick to get the car to angle, but still seems off the pace into the first bank. Aasbo keeps a high line with good steering angle, Gittin Jr. is only a car length or two behind him on a slightly lower line. Both drivers transition across the switch back with a small, two-car gap between them, and enter the second sweeper in unison. Gittin Jr. has noticeably shallower steering angle, but closes the gap down to less than a car length by the end of the second turn sweeper. Aasbo opens up a gap of around three car lengths across the infield crossover, Gittin Jr. takes the inside line around the final sweeper to close the gap again. Gittin Jr. wins a split decision from the judges, probably due to the first run than the second.
Essa vs. Forsberg
FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg is high on the bank as expected, Essa is tight on proximity with slightly shallower line and angle. Both drivers transition through the switchback and into the second turn sweeper almost identically, Forsberg opens up a gap a bit through the infield crossover and extends his lead to around three car lengths. Essa dives in to try and make up some ground just before the third turn sweeper but is too early and finds himself on the wrong side of the inside clipping point at the end of the infield crossover. Essa stays close in the third sweeper, but will have a major deduction due to the clipping point mistake.
ESSA LEAD – Essa is higher on the bank on his lead run than on his chase run, but Forsberg looks much smoother chasing him. Forsberg closes the gap down from three car lengths down to around a single car length by the end of the second sweeper and leaves him barely enough room to transition across the infield switchback before staying tight on him around the third sweeper. Forsberg’s runs were nearly flawless while the small mistake from Essa at the exit of the infield crossover was likely too much to overcome. All three judges vote for Forsberg.
Field vs. Gushi
GUSHI LEAD – Gushi has a shaky initiation and again is slow to get the car to angle, Field sucks in very tight to Gushi mid-bank and stays tight through most of the bank. Field has to make some adjustments to match Gushi’s speed, Field stays hot on Gushi’s door through the second sweeper but makes a few steering corrections to keep the proximity. Both drivers transition across the infield crossover smoothly, Field has another steering correction midway through the third turn sweeper but again keeps the proximity impressively close. If the judges like proximity, Field has an advantage. If the judges reward smooth and consistent driving, then Gushi has an advantage.
FIELD LEAD – Field opens up a four-car gap by midway through the bank, and continues to extend the gap through the second turn sweeper. Gushi has a good line and angle, but the lack of proximity is concerning. Field looks fantastic and is making the potential championship contender look almost like a Pro 2 driver. Transitioning through the infield crossover, Field spins before the third turn sweeper! Gushi has to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting him, and thankfully avoids contact. Field was definitely on his way to a final four appearance but over-rotates and loses it. Gushi will get the win and move on to the final four to face Forsberg.
BLACKVUE FINAL 4
Gittin Jr. vs. Heilbrunn
As the top ranked driver in the final four, Gittin Jr. is guaranteed a podium appearance. Gittin Jr. and Heilbrunn both compete on Nitto tires, but there won’t be any tire sponsor team orders between these two.
GITTIN JR. LEAD – Big angle from Gittin Jr., rubbing the guardrail. Big angle from Gittin Jr. especially exiting the turn 2 sweeper. Heilbrunn maintains good proximity, but is a bit off on the line and angle compared to Gittin Jr. A major mistake from Gittin Jr. in chase could easily give Heilbrunn his first final appearance in the premiere Pro class.
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn with good angle through the bank, opens up a gap of around two-car lengths by the start of the second sweeper. Heilbrunn opens up a third car length in the gap between the cars through the infield crossover, Gittin Jr. has a good line and angle but can’t close the gap between the cars. Heilbrunn’s proximity in chase was better, but Gittin Jr’s runs were cleaner. All three judges want to see the drivers battle OMT.
ONE MORE TIME
GITTIN JR. LEAD – Gittin Jr. hits the line the judges wanted around the track, high on the bank, inches from each clipping point, and plenty of steering angle all over the course. Heilbrunn stays within one-to-two car lengths of Gittin Jr. along the entire track, Gittin Jr. has been one of the fastest cars all season long so it’s impressive to see someone stay so close to him. On replay, it looks like Heilbrunn had a major steering correction coming off the bank and across the switchback, which is immediately in front of the judges stand. Gittin Jr. likely has an advantage going into the second run.
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn increases the gap from one car length to around three car lengths on the bank, the amount of grip Heilbrunn has in drift is incredible! Gittin Jr. has a great line and doesn’t miss a beat in chase, but can’t make up much ground at all through the course. As the cars cross the finish line, Gittin Jr. is five- or six-car lengths back. One judge votes for another OMT battle, while the other two judges vote for Gittin Jr. to move on to the finals.
Forsberg vs. Gushi
FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg has huge angle exiting the bank, Gushi drives straight off the bank and enters the infield, ending his run early. Gushi might have tapped Forsberg in chase, which would probably be the fault of Gushi. Forsberg continues on the run but is red-flagged due to Gushi’s car being on the race track. Gushi calls his competition timeout to look over his car and possibly fix any damage. We hear an announcement that no fault is deemed for the contact, so Forsberg would have to call a competition timeout to fix his car. Forsberg chooses to keep his competition timeout in the bag, but we’ll have some downtime while Gushi makes fixes.
GUSHI LEAD – Gushi is high on the bank after initiation, he’s definitely looking to impress the judges since he knows he’s behind in the battle. Forsberg is around two-car lengths behind through the bank and the switchback, Forsberg seems to be respecting Gushi a bit more than he has respected several of his previous opponents. Forsberg closes the gap a bit through the second turn sweeper, then dumps some impressive steering angle at the exit of the sweeper before the infield crossover. Gushi transitions too early through the crossover and takes out the inside clipping point at the start of the third turn sweeper. Forsberg shallows up his line around the final sweeper with very little steering angle, but maintains drift. Judges give Forsberg the win. Since Gushi qualified lower than Heilbrunn, Heilbrunn will stand on the final podium position.
Gittin Jr. vs Forsberg
Both Gittin Jr. and Forsberg have eight event wins in their career, tied with Dai Yoshihara for second most all-time behind Sam Hubinette’s nine career event wins. The winner of this battle will tie Hubinette for the overall lead. Most impressively is that Hubinette hasn’t driven in the series in several seasons, this record is one that felt nearly unreachable many years ago.
GITTIN JR. LEAD – Gittin Jr. is much higher on the bank than Forsberg, Forsberg keeps around a single car length of proximity between the cars around the second turn sweeper. Forsberg maxes out angle existing the second sweeper, while Gittin Jr. transitions much earlier on the infield crossover and extends the gap to nearly four car lengths entering the third turn sweeper. Forsberg closes the gap a bit through the sweeper with a slightly shallower line, but have to think that Gittin Jr. has the advantage after this run.
Forsberg calls a competition timeout after the first run to make adjustments, so we have a quick break.
FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg starts the run with a big initiation and plenty of steering angle, Gittin Jr. is slightly lower on the bank but with good proximity. Gittin Jr. gives enough room for Forsberg to transition across the switchback, then stays tight on his door the rest of the run. It’s clear that these guys have driven countless laps against each other, and they know exactly what the other driver is going to do. Gittin Jr.’s chase run is clearly superior.
WE HAVE A WINNER...
Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s win at Wall Speedway ties him with Samuel Hubinette with a total of nine career wins. Gittin Jr. also takes over the points lead again from Aasbo at the halfway point of the season. Chris Forsberg earns second place, but stays in third place overall in the championship six points behind Aasbo.
Alex Heilbrunn earns his first career podium and takes over the lead in the Rookie of the Year race – an impressive accomplishment in his rookie season – and Nitto Tire places two drivers on the podium for the first time in Formula Drift history.
Formula Drift will move on to Saint Eustache Raceway in Quebec for the next stop on the series, a new stop for the championship chase.
(Photos: Brian Chin)
Catch up on more drift coverage with our Wall Speedway gallery recap.