2017 Formula Drift Atlanta Top 32 Play-by-Play
Formula Drift returned to the track that spawned the series just 13 short years ago for the third stop on the 2017 schedule. Entering the event, Fredric Aasbo was leading the championship after a win in Orlando, and had high hopes entering the event as he podiumed at two previous events at this track.
ROAD ATLANTA COURSE
The Road Atlanta course layout remained unchanged from the past few seasons, with drivers starting from midway down the back straightaway before initiating drift at the bottom of the hill into turn 10 on the traditional track layout at speeds of nearly 100 mph. After the sharp 90-degree left turn with an inside clip at the foot of the hill, drivers immediately transition for a second 90-degree turn that shoots them up the hill towards the bridge at speeds around 70 mph.
In the early seasons of Formula Drift, the course layout pushed drivers into the first turn midway up the hill before looping around the "keyhole" area in counter-clockwise fashion, but a change in 2012 now leads drivers clockwise around the keyhole on a line that requires much more horsepower and grip. Drivers are asked to burn their tires along the outside edge of the keyhole at the top of the hill in front of the judges stand before hitting an inside clipping point midway through the keyhole, then transition back down the hill in front of the spectators and connecting the first two corners in reverse orientation to finish halfway up the back straight near the starting line.
(Photos: Jason Scott)
Friday’s qualifying session brought some familiar faces to the top of the table. Nitto Tire driver Alex Heilbrunn would earn the fifth place position with an 89-point run, tying the same score as Matt Field but losing the tiebreaker for fourth place by virtue of having a lower secondary run score. Kristaps Bluss earned third qualifier with a score of 90 points, also tying 2013 Formula Drift champion Michael Essa with the same score, but losing in the tiebreaker due to scoring an Incomplete on his secondary qualifying run. Essa has consistently qualified well at Atlanta, in large part to his big entries with tons of steering angle that the crowd loves.
At the top of the charts, Nitto Tire driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. scored 94 points to take the top qualifier award for the second consecutive season at Road Atlanta. With only 28 drivers making a qualifying pass on Friday, the top four qualifiers would earn a bye in the Top 32 round and automatically hear their name called for the Top 16 opening ceremonies.
AIR FORCE TOP 32
Vaughn Gittin Jr. – Bye Run
GITTIN JR. LEAD – In an effort to speed up the show, Formula Drift has decided to forego bye runs in the Top 32 round. Gittin Jr. earns his second top qualifier award of the season, gaining valuable championship points in addition to the bye run. Gittin Jr.’s Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR has looked smooth all weekend long. We’re excited to see him battle in the Top 16.
Matt Coffman vs. Pat Goodin
COFFMAN LEAD – The rain came down right the start of Top 32 and these guys were forced to do battle with a track that was about 60 percent wet and 30 percent dry. Coffman has a strong lead run, with very few corrections given the conditions. Goodin in chase was somewhat conservative and sloppy, but the weather really played a factor.
GOODIN LEAD – Goodin has a much smoother lead run, but it’s hardly a clean run overall. Coffman has good proximity through the course and looks much more experienced in the mixed conditions on the track. All three judges vote for Coffman to move on.
Alec Hohnadell vs. Juha Rintanen
HOHNADELL LEAD – Hohnadell came out quickly on this wet track and made it very clear he had one of the fastest cars of the weekend even in the wet. Rintanen struggled to keep up with him going up the hill and did barely catch up on the keyhole. As he tries to catch up to Hohnadell, Rintanen slides off-course near the finish line.
RINTANEN LEAD – Rintanen is unable to initiate cleanly and is driving straight through most of the course. There are several points when Rintanen tries to initiate drift, but the car is fighting him the entire way. This is nearly impossible for Hohnadell to follow, although he attempts to make the run look respectable a few different times. All three judges vote for Hohnadell. This was an easy run to judge.
Justin Pawlak vs. Jeff Jones
PAWLAK LEAD – While the wet course conditions continue, the drivers are being given a recon lap to feel out the grip levels on course. Pawlak went out and tested the track but Jones parked it at the start line, declining his option to go run the track down. On his lead, Pawlak slides off course and into the kitty litter shortly after initiation, giving him an Incomplete. Jones was far behind and managed to stay on course and finishes out his lap. Was skipping the recon lap a mental advantage for Jones? At any rate, he will have a huge advantage heading into the second run.
JONES LEAD – Jones, knowing he has a big advantage, looks to be on the conservative side on his lead run. The course has patches of wet and dry spots, which makes these runs even more difficult for the driver. As both drivers transition just before the finish line, Pawlak collides with Jones which further cements the decision. All three judges vote unanimously for Jones to move on to the Top 16.
Matt Field – Bye Run
FIELD LEAD – Field finished 2016 strong with back-to-back wins, but hasn’t looked the same this season through the first two events. This was his best qualifying effort of the season, and looks to be turning his results around. We will see how he does in his first tandem in the Top 16.
James Deane vs. Ken Gushi
DEANE LEAD – Since the last tandem battle, the track continues to dry out and we’re starting to see some tire smoke from the cars. Deane has as smooth of an initiation as you can expect given the conditions, Gushi isn’t far behind him. Gushi drops two tires after transitioning at the end of the hill, Deane extends a large lead up the hill but Gushi collapses on Deane through the keyhole. Both drivers look good exiting the keyhole, Gushi over-rotates just before the final turn and is unable to cross the finish line in drift. This will be a big advantage to Deane!
GUSHI LEAD – Gushi is flying down the hill and opens up a big gap on initiation, then continues to extend the gap heading up the hill. Deane cuts into the horseshoe to reduce the gap, but Gushi re-opens the gap exiting the keyhole and extends the gap around the final two corners. One judge votes for a “One More Time," likely feeling that Deane produced an inactive chase. The other two judges vote for Deane to move on, which means Deane has stamped his pass to the Top 16.
Alex Heilbrunn vs. Robbie Nishida
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn exits the start line in his Monster BMW, and we’re seeing tons of Nitto Tire smoke from initiation through the entirety of the course. We’re definitely seeing the track dry out quickly! Nishida struggles to keep his Nissan GTR sideways through the course, this is the first event for this GTR and Nishida seems to be still getting used to the car. Heilbrunn will carry a massive advantage into the second run.
NISHIDA LEAD – Nishida again has trouble initiating drift in the GTR, Heilbrunn takes a conservative approach and leaves plenty of room behind Nishida which is well-justified. Nishida slides wide through the keyhole and drops a tire off course before shutting it down. Heilbrunn passes Nishida and will take the pass into the Top 16. All three judges vote for Heilbrunn to move on.
Odi Bakchis vs. Chris Forsberg
BAKCHIS LEAD – Bakchis with a great lead run to start and did an amazing job actually getting to the outside zone in the keyhole that most drivers have been shying away from. Forsberg stays around three to four car lengths behind Bakchis through most of the course, mirroring the steering angle but a bit conservative on the proximity.
FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg flicks his Nissan 370z hard into the first turn with Bakchis hot in pursuit behind him. Bakchis falls back as both drivers head up the hill towards the horseshoe, Bakchis briefly closes the gap around the keyhole while Forsberg opens up the gap again around the final two turns. This is a tough battle to judge as there wasn’t a lot of proximity in either run. One judge votes for Bakchis while the other two vote for a “One More Time." Majority rules; we’re going to see these two battle again!
One More Time
BAKCHIS LEAD – Bakchis has another smooth run, Forsberg increases his aggressiveness and proximity for this One More Time battle. Bakchis drops a tire into the dirt near the finish line but finishes the lap with a pretty great lead run. It will be interesting to see how the judges deduct for the dirt drop as Bakchis definitely had the better run until that mistake.
FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg really pushes the pace in his lead run, forcing Bakchis to play catchup in his S14. Forsberg extends the gap to almost five car lengths heading up the hill, while Bakchis slides several tires off course near the finish line. Bakchis had better proximity than Forsberg but did straighten up going back up the hill while Forsberg extended the gap. While the judges do give a long look at this battle, all three select Forsberg as the winner.
We would later find out that Bakchis filed a protest after this battle, accusing Forsberg of crossing the red line on entry and impeding his path when he was the chase driver. Formula Drift did not agree with this protest and held the result of Forsberg as the winner of this battle will stand.
Michael Essa – Bye Run
ESSA LEAD – Essa has historically finished strongly at Road Atlanta, and he’s back in the same E46 chassis that he won the 2013 championship in. Essa looks very focused this weekend and should be tough to tandem against in his battles.
Dean Kearney vs. Dan Burkett
KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney came out of the gate flying around the course in his Dodge Viper. This car has to be one of the three fastest cars on grid over the weekend. Burkett struggled to keep up in his Supra, despite having a similar level of horsepower. This run just goes to show that horsepower isn’t everything as Kearney opened up a five-car gap shortly after initiation that he would keep through most of the course. This will be a big advantage for Kearney heading into the second run.
BURKETT LEAD – Burkett looks much stronger in his lead run with some good tire smoke coming from his Supra, but Kearney is ready to pounce. As both drivers round the keyhole, Kearney quickly reduces the gap from three car lengths down to around a single car length, and rides Burkett’s door around the second half of the course. One judge wants to see a “One More Time,” while the other two side with Kearney.
Chelsea DeNofa vs. Taylor Hull
DENOFA LEAD – DeNofa is set to battle against local driver and rookie Taylor Hull. DeNofa has a massive horsepower and grip advantage in his Ford Mustang RTR, and quickly opens up a big gap on Hull’s S14. Hull scrambles to try and catch up to DeNofa, but the struggle is real. DeNofa maintains a strong gap around the course and looks very comfortable in the car while Hull unfortunately looks like a rookie. Big advantage to DeNofa as we head to the second run.
HULL LEAD – Hull has a good initiation on his lead run, but DeNofa is very tight behind him. DeNofa looks to be taking a conservative approach, leaving a few car lengths of gap heading up the hill but closes the gap entering the horseshoe. Coming out of the keyhole, Hull shuts it down and DeNofa finishes the course solo. All three judges promote DeNofa to the Round of 16.
Ryan Tuerck vs. Dai Yoshihara
TUERCK LEAD – Tuerck has a great lead run, this is one of the better lead runs we’ve seen all day! Yoshihara initially is several car lengths behind Tuerck, but closes the gap down around the keyhole. Tuerck really powers out of the keyhole hard and opens up a gap heading down the hill. Looking at the replay, we can see that Yoshihara had a pretty big steering correction exiting the keyhole which is what allowed Tuerck to pull away. Tuerck will carry an advantage into the second run.
YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara looks much stronger in his lead run and pulls away from Tuerck heading up the hill, Tuerck briefly closes the gap down a bit, but Yoshihara pulls away again exiting the keyhole. This tandem battle was really back and forth, and it’s tough to call a win for either driver. One judge votes for Tuerck, while two other judges want to see them run again. We’re going “One More Time”!
One More Time
TUERCK LEAD – Tuerck starts off the lap at a blazing fast speed while Yoshihara is close behind him in pursuit. As the two drivers enter the keyhole, Yoshihara shuts down his car and doesn’t finish the lap. Tuerck has a full pull and will have a big advantage heading into the second run. It looks like Yoshihara had a mechanical issue with the car, this has been a frustrating season for Yoshihara and the team. Yoshihara calls his lone competition timeout of the weekend to try and fix the issue with his car.
YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara looks to have the car repaired, but we’ll have to see how he performs in this run. Yoshihara has a good initiation, Tuerck is very close behind him. Both drivers drop a tire as they transition to head up the hill, Tuerck continues to have an aggressive chase. Yoshihara has a good run around the keyhole and is able to finish the run, but his shutdown on his chase can’t be avenged. All three judges vote for Tuerck to move on to the Top 16.
Kristaps Bluss – Bye Run
BLUSS LEAD – Bluss’ BMW is one of the fastest cars on grid despite having slightly less horsepower than some of the other competitors. This weekend is no exception, and Bluss has thrived on his aggressive chase runs in tandem. Bluss often lets his temper get the best of him, and if he can avoid contact with the drivers he competes against, he could be a threat to the podium.
Jhonnattan Castro vs. Nate Hamilton
CASTRO LEAD – Castro is coming off a fantastic performance against James Deane at Orlando and is looking to build on that reputation this weekend. Castro has a good initiation, but Hamilton is very tight behind him. Castro briefly opens up the gap, but Hamilton stays close around the keyhole and applies the pressure. No major mistakes from either driver, but this is only the first run.
HAMILTON LEAD – Hamilton looks much more comfortable on his lead run, opening up the gap on Castro heading up the hill. Castro cuts the line heading into the horseshoe, but has to check up when Hamilton dumps a ton of steering angle near the inside clip midway through the keyhole. Hamilton extends the gap to several car lengths exiting the keyhole, and Castro isn’t able to make up for his mistake in the chase. All three judges side with Hamilton, who will be making his second consecutive Top 16 appearance.
Fredric Aasbo vs. Kyle Mohan
AASBO LEAD – Aasbo opens up a huge gap from the start line, leaving Mohan in the dust. Aasbo’s Corolla iM has a massive lead on Mohan’s Mazda MX-5 through the first two turns, then continues to extend the gap up the hill. Mohan doesn’t make any mistakes in his chase, he just isn’t able to close the gap down much. Exiting the keyhole, it appears that Aasbo has a mis-shift and his Corolla loses drift. Mohan adjusts nicely and maintains drift behind Aasbo, this is a huge mistake for the current championship leader!
MOHAN LEAD – Mohan has a very shaky initiation which doesn’t get much prettier as the run proceeds. Aasbo keeps the proximity close, and even dives in aggressively on Mohan’s door midway around the keyhole. Aasbo gets too aggressive and hits Mohan’s door. Looking at the replay, it’s unclear if Mohan was purposely slowing down or if Aasbo was too aggressive, but at any rate, Aasbo’s mistake on the first run will likely seal the deal. One judge votes for a “One More Time,” while the other two vote for Mohan. We will have a new points leader after this round as Aasbo has exited the show early!
Piotr Wiecek vs. Cameron Moore
WIECEK LEAD – Wiecek runs his lead run with precision, leaving Moore behind from the initial start and only extending his lead through the course. Moore isn’t able to make up much proximity, but doesn’t make any major mistakes around the course. Looking at the replay, Wiecek had shallow steering angle in several areas on the track, but the lack of proximity from Moore will likely put him at a disadvantage.
MOORE LEAD – Moore initiates with tons of speed, but it might be too much as he slides past the first clipping point and drops a tire on the far side of the track. Moore keeps it together and continues on the course, Wiecek is a conservative three car lengths behind Moore. We see a small bobble from Wiecek midway up the hill, but he maintains good proximity and steering angle around the keyhole. Moore’s big lack of proximity in his chase run will be his downfall as all three judges vote for Wiecek to move into the Top 16.
FORD TOP 16
Before we sing the National Anthem, eight young men and a young woman take the oath of service for the Air Force in front of the judges' stand. Two Air Force cadets sang the national anthem, and all 16 drivers are introduced to the rowdy Atlanta crowd. During introductions, Vaughn Gittin Jr. is presented the “bag o’ cash” from Black Magic as the top qualifier.
The drivers exit the keyhole area with rolling burnouts, which please the fans. The Atlanta crowd is known for being some of the most enthusiastic on the series schedule, with some of the most dedicated fans camping out overnight at the front gate to ensure they got a prime spot on the grassy hill that lines the east side of the amphitheater.
Gittin Jr. vs. Coffman
GITTIN JR. LEAD – Coffman jumps the start, which he’s allowed to do, in an attempt to makeup the horsepower difference between the two cars. Gittin Jr. passes him midway down the hill and initiates around four car lengths ahead of Coffman. Gittin Jr. has a good line with tons of tire smoke, increasing the gap slightly by the entry to the keyhole. Coffman cuts the line through the keyhole and successfully closes the gap to around two car lengths, but Gittin Jr. extends it back to four car lengths by the exit of the keyhole due to the amount of grip in his Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR. Gittin Jr. finishes the run around five car lengths ahead of Coffman, and likely has an advantage entering the second run.
COFFMAN LEAD – Coffman enters around two car lengths ahead of Gittin Jr. and hit the inner clip at the bottom of the hill spot on. Coffman’s line coming up the hill and entering the keyhole is much improved on this line, but Gittin Jr. is never more than two car lengths behind Coffman. Overall, the lead run from Coffman is much improved, but the chase run from Gittin Jr. was far superior both in line and proximity. All three judges vote for Gittin Jr. to move into the Great 8!
Hohnadell vs. Jones
HOHNADELL LEAD – Both of these drivers are running similar supercharged V8 setups in their Nissan S14 chassis, but they have very different driving styles. Hohnadell has an aggressive entry, but his line is a little off after the transition and has a pretty noticeable steering correction just before he heads up the hill towards the keyhole. Jones is around five car lengths behind Hohnadell heading up the hill, and has a similar steering correction midway up the hill. Hohnadell nudges one of the cones in the outside clipping point at the entry to the keyhole, but is off the inside clip in the middle of the keyhole. Jones has closed the gap down to around two car lengths exiting the keyhole but has another steering adjustment exiting the keyhole that may have been from a mis-shift. It’s not a pretty run from either driver, but Hohnadell seemed to have fewer mistakes.
Hohnadell calls his lone competition timeout of the weekend. As Hohnadell was about to approach the start line, Jones calls his competition timeout as well due to overheating, so we’ll move on to another matchup briefly.
JONES LEAD – Jones looks very slow on entry, there might be some transmission damage from the previous mis-shift that’s limiting his speed. Hohnadell adjusts nicely and mirrors Jones awkward line well, then closes the gap again on Jones at the top of the hill entering the keyhole to remind Jones that he’s there. Jones looks much better around the second half of the course, but it’s quite apparent that Jones’ car wasn’t running at 100 percent. Judges vote for Hohnadell to move into the Great 8.
Field vs. Deane
FIELD LEAD – Both drivers initiate almost simultaneously, Deane’s anticipation of Field’s entry is incredible! Deane holds his car less than a car length away from Field through the initiation and the first transition, Field dumps a ton of tire smoke heading up the hill and Deane briefly backs off before re-establishing proximity by the entry of the keyhole. Field looks to over-rotate near the middle of the keyhole, Deane has to slow substantially to avoid hitting Field. Field pulls away by around four car lengths across the exit of the keyhole and back up the hill. Looking at the replay, there was definitely contact, and the judges determine that the fault is on Field for over-rotating. Deane’s team will be given a chance to look over the car since Field is at fault, but Field would have to use his competition timeout to inspect his car. While the cars are inspected, we briefly move on to some other battles.
DEANE LEAD – Deane has a nice manji entry along the rumble strips on the outer edge of the track, while Field initiates and immediately moves towards the middle of the track to cutoff the line and stay close to Deane. The line Field takes pushes him off the line and drops at least a tire before transitioning up the hill. Deane takes the opportunity and extends the proximity to around three car lengths. Field cuts the line through the keyhole and briefly closes the gap, but misshifts and loses proximity again at the exit of the keyhole. All three judges vote for Deane to move on.
Heilbrunn vs. Forsberg
HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn initiates along the rumble strips, Forsberg initiates a short car length behind him but dumps a ton of angle at the bottom of the hill to avoid hitting Heilbrunn. Heilbrunn pulls a three car length lead through the transition at the bottom of the hill while Forsberg takes a shallower line in an attempt to catch up. The adjustment works as Forsberg enters the keyhole just a single car length behind Heilbrunn. Heilbrunn has good angle and line exiting the keyhole and heading back up the hill. It looks like Heilbrunn will have a slight advantage entering the second run.
FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg had a bit of a conservative initiation, Heilbrunn has a ton of angle behind Forsberg but keeps the proximity much closer through the first corner than Forsberg did in chase. Forsberg opens up a small two car gap up the hill, Heilbrunn takes the inside line heading into the keyhole to catch up but is too fast and has to over-rotate to avoid hitting Forsberg at the inner clip in the middle of the keyhole. The error will fall entirely on Heilbrunn; all three judges vote for Forsberg to move on.
Essa vs. Kearney
ESSA LEAD – Essa has a good initiation, Kearney’s initiation is noticeably snappier to get to full angle. Kearney has good proximity through the first two turns, Essa opens up the proximity to around three car lengths heading up the hill but Kearney closes in and keeps the gap to a single car length around the keyhole. Kearney anticipates the transition exiting the keyhole, cutting through Essa’s tire smoke and holding a single car length of proximity to Essa around the final two turns. It’s clear that Kearney was working off of muscle memory at points behind Essa as there was no way he could actually see the space he was driving into.
KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney had a strong initiation, this time Essa is the one who looks quicker to get to full steering lock in the chase position. Kearney opens up the proximity to around three car lengths heading up the hill, Essa cuts the line through the keyhole to close down the proximity but looks like he got lost and falls way behind Kearney exiting the keyhole and around the final two turns. Two judges vote for Kearney, one wants to see a “One More Time” battle, but majority rules. Kearney is moving on to the Great 8.
DeNofa vs. Tuerck
DENOFA LEAD – DeNofa initiates much earlier than Tuerck, but Tuerck closes the gap down very quickly to a single car length before the first turn. Tuerck is slow to transition between the first two corners, which allows DeNofa to extend the lead to around five car lengths. DeNofa has a great line around the keyhole, and Tuerck uses a shallow line with shallow steering angle to close down the gap. DeNofa and Tuerck exit the keyhole just a single car length apart; both drivers finish the final two turns cleanly with good proximity. This feels like a slight advantage to DeNofa.
TUERCK LEAD – Both cars are a bit slow to initiate; Tuerck is on a better line, but both cars are at full lock at the bottom of the hill. DeNofa closes the gap down from three car lengths down to a single car length as they work up the hill and head into the horseshoe. Both drivers maintain a single car length of proximity around the keyhole, but Tuerck extends the gap to around three car lengths exiting the keyhole and through the final two corners. One judge votes for DeNofa, while the other two vote for a “One More Time." We’re going to see these two again!
One More Time
DENOFA LEAD – DeNofa with a much smoother initiation, Tuerck is just two lengths behind him through the first turn. Tuerck transitions early and dives in to close the gap down to a single car length, but DeNofa extends it again to around two car lengths by the top of the hill. Tuerck sucks in tight to DeNofa around the keyhole, matching DeNofa’s adjustments nicely. DeNofa has substantially more steering angle exiting the keyhole and through the final two corners. This run could easily be judged in slight favor for either driver!
TUERCK LEAD – Tuerck again has a snappy initiation while DeNofa is a bit slower to get his Ford Mustang to full steering lock, but maintains good proximity. DeNofa closes what little gap there is between the cars quickly and maintains less than a single car length of proximity up the hill and around most of the keyhole. Tuerck pulls away exiting the keyhole and keeps a four car gap around the final two turns. DeNofa slides wide and drops at least one tire and possibly two tires off course near the finish line. Two judges vote for Tuerck; one judge wanted to see a “One More Time” battle but gets outvoted. We will see Tuerck in the Great 8!
Bluss vs. Hamilton
BLUSS LEAD – Bluss has a good initiation, Hamilton is slow to get to angle and several car lengths behind Bluss. Bluss extends the proximity from around three car lengths after initiation to around five car lengths entering the horseshoe. Hamilton cuts the line to try and get close to Bluss, which briefly works as they round the keyhole just two car lengths apart, but Bluss extends the lead back to five car lengths exiting the keyhole and heading back towards the start line. Looking at the replay, Hamilton actually missed the turn exiting the keyhole and put all four tires off course; that will be an Incomplete for Hamilton.
HAMILTON LEAD – Hamilton has a much better initiation on his lead run, Bluss looks a bit awkward on his initiation. Hamilton has very shallow steering angle heading up the hill, Bluss maintains around two car lengths of proximity behind Hamilton but with much better steering angle. Bluss maintains similar proximity through the keyhole and through the final two turns, this run was much more consistent for both drivers but likely a slight advantage to Bluss. All three judges vote for Bluss to move on to the Great 8.
Wiecek vs. Mohan
WIECEK LEAD – Wiecek initiates around five car lengths ahead of Mohan, there’s a clear difference in horsepower and mechanical grip between these two cars. Mohan tries cutting the line heading up the hill and around the keyhole, but Wiecek only lengthens his lead to around eight or nine car lengths by the end of the run. This will be a huge advantage for Wiecek entering the second run.
MOHAN LEAD – We have a false start due to Mohan knocking over a few cones, looks like he’s trying to make up for the horsepower disadvantage. The second start works out well for Mohan and we have a battle! Mohan initiates around five car lengths ahead of Wiecek, but Wiecek starts closing the gap shortly after the first turn. By the time both drivers enter the horseshoe, Wiecek is only a car length or two behind Mohan and starting to apply the pressure. Wiecek likely learned from the Aasbo battle and kept a safe distance behind Mohan in case there are any shenanigans from Mohan, but both drivers finish the run cleanly. All three judges vote for Wiecek; our Great 8 is now set!
Interestingly enough, four of our remaining drivers are American, while the other four are from Europe. At this point, we will definitely have a change in the championship points lead as Aasbo was knocked out early, and several of the remaining drivers could jump ahead of him depending on how they finish.
NOS ENERGY DRINK GREAT 8
Gittin Jr. vs. Hohnadell
GITTIN JR. LEAD – Both drivers have a clean initiation around two car lengths away from each other. Hohnadell drops back another car length heading up the hill, but has good steering angle and tire smoke. Hohnadell cuts the horseshoe entry a little tight to suck in close to Gittin Jr. around the keyhole, then drops a car length behind Gittin Jr., exiting the keyhole before finishing the last corner strong. There were a few tiny moments where Hohnadell lost a bit of proximity or had slightly shallower steering angle, but overall a solid lead run from Gittin Jr. and a solid chase run from Hohnadell!
HOHNADELL LEAD – Very similar initiation from both drivers, Gittin Jr. closes the gap down near the apex of the first corner but Hohnadell extends the gap heading up the hill. Gittin Jr. takes a similar line in the chase position as Hohnadell did, entering the horseshoe a little earlier to close down the gap. Hohnadell stays on his line and rounds the keyhole nicely, then pulls away exiting the keyhole. Overall, both of these runs seem very similar, but the judges have seen enough. All three judges vote for Hohnadell to move on to the Final 4; our top qualifier has been eliminated!
Deane vs. Forsberg
DEANE LEAD – Deane uses a feint entry while Forsberg uses an e-brake entry, but both get to the first corner just a single car length away from each other. Deane extends a huge four car lead heading up the hill, and Forsberg cuts the line entering the horseshoe to reduce the gap to two car lengths as they round the keyhole. Deane has good fluidity and steering angle through the course. Forsberg does a good job of staying close to Deane through all the speed changes in the course.
FORSBERG LEAD – Another great entry from both drives, Deane is less than a car length away after initiation and maintains an almost perfect distance from Forsberg before backing off just in time for Forsberg to transition. As Forsberg heads up the hill, he is unable to open up a gap from Deane and Deane maintains very consistent proximity around the keyhole. Both lead runs were nearly identical, but Deane’s chase run was masterful! All three judges vote for Deane to move on.
Tuerck vs. Kearney
TUERCK LEAD – Tuerck’s wastegate is spitting fireballs through the hood as he bangs through the gears, both drivers initiate and Kearney has a massive amount of steering angle behind Tuerck while maintain great proximity! The steering angle slows Kearney down between the first two corners, which allows Tuerck to open up a large four car lead heading up the hill. Kearney cuts the entry into the horseshoe as we’ve seen from several drivers and closes the gap down to around two car lengths, then mirrors Tuerck’s line and closes the gap down to a single car length before the final corner of the track. This chase run from Kearney looks very calculated and masterful from Kearney!
KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney initiates around 100 feet earlier than Tuerck, not sure whether this was planned from Tuerck or just a miscalculation. Kearney has a four car length lead after the first turn, but Tuerck cuts the line to reduce it to two car lengths heading up the hill. Kearney extends the lead heading up the hill, Tuerck closes the gap around the keyhole, but Kearney extends it again exiting the keyhole. Kearney had substantially more steering angle at nearly every point in this run. All three judges vote for Kearney to head to the Final 4.
Bluss vs. Wiecek
BLUSS LEAD – Bluss has a very straight-forward entry, while Wiecek has to make a few e-brake adjustments after his initial initiation. Wiecek is only a car length away from Bluss at the first inside clip, Bluss opens up an additional two car gap heading up the hill while Wiecek closes the gap briefly entering the horseshoe. Bluss opens the gap back up from one car length to around three car lengths exiting the keyhole, then adds another two car lengths ahead of Wiecek around the final two turns. Great run from Bluss, no major mistakes from Wiecek, but some inconsistency in proximity that may work against him in the judges' eyes.
WIECEK LEAD – Wiecek goes back to the manji entry after using the e-brake entry on his chase run, Bluss has some similar adjustments after the initial initiation similar to Wiecek’s chase. Bluss stays close to Wiecek heading up the hill, then holds a half car length of proximity around the keyhole and around the final two turns before dropping two tires near the finish line. Upon looking at the replay, it does look like Bluss dropped at least two tires off course before the finish line, this will likely be a massive deduction on Bluss. All three judges vote for a “One More Time.” We’ll see this battle again!
One More Time
BLUSS LEAD – Much cleaner initiation from both drivers, Wiecek is just a car length back through the first turn. Bluss drops at least one tire and possibly two tires after the transition at the bottom of the hill, Bluss briefly opens up the gap heading up the hill but Wiecek brakes late to close it back down to a single car length. Wiecek mimics Bluss’ angle while maintaining good proximity around the keyhole, and the final two corners make both drivers look like synchronized swimmers before crossing the finish line.
WIECEK LEAD – Another smooth initiation from both drivers, Wiecek maintains around a two car length lead ahead of Bluss through the first two corners and briefly opens up the gap heading up the hill before Bluss closes it down as they enter the horseshoe. Bluss stays very tight on Wiecek around the keyhole, Wiecek extends the lead briefly exiting the keyhole but with substantially more steering angle. This could be enough to give Wiecek the win, but the judges might have seen a mistake that gives the win to one of the drivers. All three judges vote for Bluss to move into the Final 4.
BLACKVUE FINAL 4
Deane vs. Hohnadell
DEANE LEAD – Both drivers have a good initiation, Hohnadell starts with a three car gap while Deane has much more steering angle. Hohnadell opens up the gap to around four car lengths by the top of the hill, Deane closes it down to around two car lengths through the keyhole. Oh no! Hohnadell loses drift exiting the keyhole and is completely straight! Deane is able to maintain drift behind him, Hohnadell gets the car sideways again and finishes the final two corners. Hohnadell likely had a major advantage until he lost drift, but this will probably be an Incomplete for Hohnadell.
HOHNADELL LEAD – Deane has a good initiation, Hohnadell enters around three car lengths behind him. Deane has much more steering angle heading up the hill, Hohnadell closes the gap down through the keyhole and stays aggressive on Deane’s door exiting the keyhole, this is what we needed to see from Hohnadell. Deane has tons of steering angle around the final two corners with Hohnadell close behind him. All three judges vote for Deane to move on to the Finals! This will be Deane’s second final round appearance in three events this season; he will have a massive points lead after this event.
Bluss vs. Kearney
BLUSS LEAD – Another great initiation from both drivers, Kearney is just a short car length behind Bluss at the first corner. Bluss opens up the gap again to nearly three car lengths heading up the hill, but Kearney keeps it tight around the keyhole. Bluss takes out the inner clipping point in the middle of the keyhole, Kearney maintains good proximity exiting the keyhole. Bluss is very shallow on steering angle after exiting the keyhole, but dumps some big steering angle around the final two turns. Deane over-rotates near the finish line and drops at least two tires; this mistake is almost identical to Bluss’ mistake when following Wiecek.
KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney has a very snappy initiation, Bluss’ car is much slower to rotate to angle. Kearney maintains good steering angle through the first two corners and carries a three car length gap up the hill, Bluss cuts the line through the horseshoe to close the gap to Kearney while Kearney maintains big angle around the keyhole. Kearney again extends the gap around the final two turns with big steering angle, this run would likely be an advantage to Kearney, but we’ll have to wait to see what the judges decide about his off-course excursion in the first run. One judge votes for Bluss, but two judges want to see this run again. We’re going “One More Time"!
One More Time
BLUSS LEAD – Bluss again has shallow angle on initiation, Kearney has big angle behind him but ends up colliding with Bluss before the first corner. Looking at the replay, we briefly see brake lights from Bluss as part of the initiation, but it doesn’t look like any obvious gamesmanship. Fault is given to Kearney for the contact, which means Bluss will be allowed to look over his vehicle, but Kearney would have to use his competition timeout to inspect and possibly repair the car.
KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney has a good initiation around three car lengths ahead of Bluss, Bluss takes out the inside clip at the bottom of the hill. Bluss closes the gap down to a single car length heading up the hill, both drivers are just inches away from each other and now we have contact midway through the keyhole! Bluss is stuck on track with damage to the front right suspension, looks like a broken tie rod at the very least. Looking at the replay, there aren’t any brake lights from Kearney around the keyhole, it looks like Bluss cut the line a bit too early in anticipation of Kearney’s line. All three judges vote for another “One More Time” run. Bluss has to be towed off course, so we’ll have to see if Bluss can repair his car in time.
One More Time x2
BLUSS LEAD – Unfortunately, Bluss was unable to finish his car within the five minute window. The car was nearly repaired with 10 seconds left; Bluss drove off the jackstands to show he was able to drive his car, but the competition director said that the car was unsafe to run in the current condition. Kearney makes a bye run to show his car is capable and will move on to the Final Battle! Kearney will face his fellow Irish driver James Deane in an all-Irish final. Bluss will earn third place due to being a higher qualifier than Hohnadell. It will be an all-Euro podium.
BLACK MAGIC FINAL BATTLE
Deane vs. Kearney
DEANE LEAD – Deane uses a manji entry while Kearney uses a more straight line approach. Kearney is only a car length away from Deane after the initiation but closes it down even tighter after the first two turns! Deane briefly opens up the gap midway up the hill but Kearney closes it down again before they enter the horseshoe. Deane has much more steering angle around the keyhole, and briefly opens up a gap exiting the keyhole but Kearney closes it down again around the final two turns.
KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney briefly drops a tire off-course on his initiation, Deane is tight to him through the first corner. Deane keeps a single car length of proximity between the two of them heading up the hill, Kearney is unable to open up much of a gap like he has all night on almost every other driver. Deane closes the gap even more midway through the keyhole and is just inches from Kearney through the keyhole in front of the judges' stand. Wow, this is an intense battle! Kearney briefly extends the gap by a car length exiting the keyhole, then adds another car length of gap around the final turn. Looking at the replay, there may have been contact between the two cars midway through the keyhole, but neither driver was affected.
ROUND 3 FINAL STANDINGS
We have a winner! Both drivers are brought in front of the crowd alongside Bluss where the winner will be announced. Bluss is announced as the third place winner. In a split decision, one judge votes for a “One More Time,” while the other two judges side with James Deane. Deane wins his second event of the season and now has a 59-point lead over Dean Kearney after three events. Fredric Aasbo slides from the championship lead to third place, 67 points behind Deane, with Ryan Tuerck 72 points behind in fourth place and Vaughn Gittin Jr. 85 points behind in fifth place.
Full standings can be found at FormulaD.com.