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2017 Formula Drift Finals Irwindale Top 32 Play-by-Play

This season’s Irwindale season finale is a bittersweet one. Not only does it close out the fourteenth season of Formula Drift, but it will be the final event that happens at the track that spawned professional drifting in the United States. Before there was a Formula Drift, Japanese event company D1 Grand Prix held an exhibition match at Irwindale Speedway—proving the appetite for competitive drifting in the United States and promoted by the same staff who now runs Formula Drift.

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale

A few years back, the Irwindale Speedway complex was sold to an investor who started plans to build a shopping mall in its place. After a few false alarms that the speedway may close down, a final closing date was set just a short month ago which appears to mark the end of this famed facility. Over 20,000 people are in attendance for this season finale, including visitors from around the world who have flown in to be able to experience the track that has been dubbed “The House of Drift” due to its historical importance to this motorsport. Hear Vaughn Gittin Jr. recount his memories of being involved in these very first U.S. drifting competitions, here.

Irwindale Course Layout

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

Irwindale’s course layout has remained largely unchanged over the thirteen previous Formula Drift events, although the infield portion was changed slightly a few seasons back. Drivers leave the start line on what is normally the back straight of the banked 1/8th mile oval track, initiating into turn 3 of the traditional configuration at speeds around 80 mph. Riding the wall around the top of the bank, the first judged clipping zone is midway through turn 4 of the traditional configuration. Drivers will be asked to stay high on the wall for as much of the bank as possible—although the track isn’t a perfect oval shape, so drivers are expected to dip down a bit lower midway through the bank to account for the oblong shape. Coming off the bank, drivers will switchback in front of the grandstands to hit an inner clipping point that is placed midway through the traditional start / finish line before transitioning again to enter the inner bank. Temporary concrete barriers line the track from midway through the traditional front straightaway to direct the drivers towards the inner bank and protect the media members from the cars, all the while adding a slight element of danger. On the inner bank, drivers will be asked to push the rear end of the car as close to the permanent concrete wall where it meets the temporary barrier for an outer clipping zone. Drivers will navigate the car off the concrete wall that lines the inner bank midway around the turn towards the flat bottom infield. After drifting near an inner clipping point on the flat bottom, drivers will power out of the turn and finish on the flat bottom facing the crowd.

QUALIFYING

Friday’s qualifying session was intense, with 26 drivers making passes in an attempt to qualify for Saturday’s tandem competition. The way the grid would shake out, the top six drivers would earn a highly-coveted "bye" into the Top 16 round of action. Five drivers would put a score above 90 points on the board, with Chelsea Denofa leading the way with a personal season-best score of 98 points. Worthouse Drift teammates Piotr Wiecek and James Deane took up second and third qualifying positions, with Wiecek besting Deane’s score of 94 with a 95 himself. While Daijiro Yoshihara would also earn 94 points on his best qualifying run, Deane’s secondary score of 91 earned him the higher position over Yoshihara’s backup score of 86. Chris Forsberg rounded out the Top 5 qualifiers with a score of 92. To show just how close the runs were, sixth through nineteenth were separated by just 7 qualifying points, with multiple positions requiring tiebreakers to slot drivers into the tandem ladder.

TOP 32

Chelsea Denofa – Bye Run

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale

DENOFA LEAD – Denofa out-qualified his Ford Mustang RTR boss, Vaughn Gittin Jr., for the fourth time this season—while also taking the top qualifying spot for the second time. Between the two Nitto Tire drivers, half of the top qualifier positions this season have landed in the Mustang RTR pits. Denofa’s qualifying run was visibly better than anyone else’s, brushing the wall multiple times and only narrowly missing a perfect score due to his distance from the first inner clip on the switchback and to tapping the wall near the finish line, which wasn’t specifically an outside zone. Denofa takes his bye run a bit conservatively, which is understandable since the run isn’t scored. He could potentially face his Ford Mustang RTR and Nitto Tire teammate Vaughn Gittin Jr. in the next round, pending the outcome of the next battle.

Vaughn Gittin Jr. vs. Robbie Nishida

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

Nishida announced prior to this event that he would be retiring from Formula Drift competition after Irwindale, so this tandem battle may be his swan song.

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Gittin Jr. has a smooth transition near the wall, Nishida initiates later allowing him to close the gap down to around two car lengths before getting his Nissan GTR sideways. Gittin Jr. is on a medium to high line, while Nishida is a bit lower but with good steering angle. Gittin Jr. extends the gap to about four car lengths across the switchback, then holds a big gap around the entire inner bank. Nishida took out the final inner clip, but his lack of proximity through most of the run will probably leave him at a slight disadvantage. Nishida didn’t make any major mistakes, so a big mistake from either driver in the second run could really tilt this battle the other way.

NISHIDA LEAD – Nishida is higher on the bank than Gittin Jr., looks like Gittin Jr. is taking a slightly more conservative line to give some space to Nishida in case of a major mistake and is around three car lengths behind Nishida. Both cars have a smooth transition, Gittin Jr. has noticeably less steering angle on the interior and is lower on the inner bank. Nishida dumps a ton of steering angle as he passes the final clipping point, and crosses the finish line with plenty of style. All three judges vote for Gittin Jr. to move into the Top 16.

Justin Pawlak vs. Kyle Mohan

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale Kyle Mohan

PAWLAK LEAD – Mohan initiates almost simultaneously as Pawlak, but is around three car lengths behind Pawlak and on a much lower line. Pawlak has a good run around the big bank, and hits the inside clip on the start finish line almost perfectly. Mohan doesn’t make up much ground on the infield portion, and ends up spinning out midway through the infield. Mohan’s car stops prior to the finish line, but he’s able to make it there before needing to utilize a competition timeout.

MOHAN LEAD – Mohan initiates very early ahead of Pawlak, Pawlak’s Mustang is very slow to rotate and narrowly gets into drift before smashing into the wall midway through the big bank. Mohan continues through the course and is still held to the same judging criteria as qualifying. Mohan completes the run successfully, Pawlak has to be towed off the course due to severely damaged suspension. The judges verdict is in, and all three judges have voted for Justin Pawlak to move on to the Top 16. Since both drivers had incomplete runs in chase, the lead runs were compared head-to-head. The judges felt that Pawlak stuck to the qualifying criteria better than Mohan, which earned him the victory.

Matt Field vs. Cameron Moore

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FIELD LEAD – Field runs the high line around the wall, Moore is much lower on the bank. Moore started around five car lengths behind Field, but closed it down to around three car lengths by the end of the big bank. Moore braked late heading into the inner bank to close the gap down to a car length-and-a-half, but Field pulls away again around the inner bank thanks to superior mechanical grip.

MOORE LEAD – Moore has a good initiation on the big bank, Field is around a car length behind Moore. Around halfway around the bank, Moore floats up and hits the bank wall, Field shuts it down behind Moore to avoid making contact. Moore appears frustrated and cuts across the course back to the staging area, Field doesn’t have to complete the course because of Moore’s collision. Thankfully, Moore’s FR-S doesn’t look to be in too bad of shape, but it won’t be moving on in this competition. All three judges vote for Field to move into the Top 16.

Daijiro Yoshihara – Bye Run

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale Dai Yoshihara

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara has had a roller coaster season—getting knocked out in the Top 32 twice this season, but earning a podium in Orlando and sitting in the Top 10 in points overall. His fourth place qualifying effort will earn him a bye into the Top 16, but Yoshihara makes a solo pass around the course anyways to give the fans a taste of what he can do in the next round.

Pat Goodin vs. Jhonnattan Castro

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

GOODIN LEAD – Goodin and Castro initiate almost simultaneously, Castro has a much lower line around the bank. Goodin maintains three car lengths ahead of Castro for the start of the bank with Castro closing the gap down to two car lengths by the exit of the bank. Goodin transitions nicely in front of the fans and rides the outside line around the inner bank, Castro is on a lower line again on the inner bank. Castro never really put much pressure on Goodin, so it feels like Goodin will have a slight advantage going into the second run.

CASTRO LEAD – Castro is much higher on the bank for his initiation, but takes a lower line than Goodin on the previous run. Behind Castro, Goodin had some steering corrections shortly after initiation and shut his car down midway through the bank. Castro finishes the course well, while Goodin’s car stops mid-track. Goodin will be given an “incomplete” for this run, while Castro completed both his chase and lead runs. All three judges vote for Castro to move into the Top 16.

Chris Forsberg – Bye Run

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg had a run-in with the wall during Thursday’s practice session, but the Nameless Performance team got the car repaired in time for qualifying. Forsberg is coming off of his first podium finish of the year in Texas, and is looking for his first event win in way-too-long to close out his Irwindale memories. Forsberg is one of only four drivers who have driven at every Formula Drift event to date, so he’s sure to have plenty of memories at the House of Drift.

Ryan Tuerck vs. Alex Heilbrunn

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

TUERCK LEAD – Tuerck has good initiation, Heilbrunn starts two car lengths ahead of Tuerck but closes it down quickly. Heilbrunn briefly taps the wall, but maintains drift and only briefly loses proximity to Tuerck. Tuerck has some steering corrections after transitioning onto the inner bank, but is starting to lose drift into the inner bank when Heilbrunn taps Tuerck from behind. Tuerck doesn’t finish the course, and has to be towed off. Tuerck has to call his competition timeout to fix whatever potentially went wrong here.

HEILBRUNN LEAD – Tuerck is unable to repair his car in time, so Heilbrunn makes a bye run into the Top 16. Heilbrunn burns a set of Nitto Tires for the fans, and all three judges vote for Heilbrunn to move on.

Piotr Wiecek – Bye Run

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale Piotr Wiecek

WIECEK LEAD – Wiecek has been in the shadow of his teammate James Deane for most of the season, but is still out to prove he’s equally as capable as a driver. Outqualifying Deane yesterday was the first step in Wiecek making a name for himself, but a strong showing today will go a long ways towards leaving a lasting impression going into next season. Wiecek is the highest ranked rookie driver heading into the final event, so he can clinch Rookie-of-the-Year honors with a strong result.

Dan Burkett vs. Kristaps Bluss

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

BURKETT LEAD – Burkett initiates five car lengths ahead of Bluss and rides the high line around the bank. Bluss is on a much shallower line, but slowly closes the proximity down to three car lengths by the end of the run. Burkett has good steering angle across the infield transition, he takes a slightly shallower line around the inner bank but finishes the course strong overall. Bluss has a good chase run, but doesn’t put too much pressure on Burkett through the course. Burkett slows down after the finish line, Bluss comes in hot across the finish line and collides with Burkett, but both cars appear to be ok after the contact. Burkett is considered at fault for the contact, which gives Bluss an opportunity to look over his car and possibly make repairs without utilizing his competition timeout.

BLUSS LEAD – Bluss makes repairs to the car and is able to get the car back on the line. Both cars leave the start line and shortly after initiation, Burkett collides with Bluss and spins out. Bluss finishes the run and will likely move into the Top 16, while Burkett turns the car around and returns back to the staging area. Bluss spins a 360* after the finish line to give the fans a proper show. All three judges vote for Bluss to move into the Top 16.

Fredric Aasbo vs. Faruk Kugay

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

AASBO LEAD – Kugay jumps the start light to try and get a head start on Aasbo, but Aasbo quickly passes him and extends the lead to more than five cars by the initiation point. Aasbo is high around the big bank, Kugay continues to lose ground to Aasbo around the course. Aasbo has a good line around the inner bank, Kugay is more than ten car lengths behind Aasbo as Aasbo crosses the finish line. This will probably be a large advantage to Aasbo, but following the much slower car may prove to be a challenge.

KUGAY LEAD – Kugay initiates low on the bank, Aasbo is three car lengths behind Kugay but on a much better line around the big bank. Aasbo is noticeably feathering the throttle through the bank to avoid getting too close to Kugay. Kugay carries a three car lead into the inner bank, Aasbo quickly closes that down to a single car length and has to back off to avoid hitting Kugay. All three judges vote for Aasbo to move into the Top 16.

Alec Hohnadell vs. Jeff Jones

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale

HOHNADELL LEAD – Hohnadell initiates with a three car lead on Jones and runs the high line around the big bank, Jones is on a lower line with shallower steering angle but still can’t make up much ground on Hohnadell. Hohnadell continues the strong line around the inner bank while Jones continues to struggle to make up the proximity on Hohnadell. Both of these cars are utilizing supercharged V8 engine packages, but Hohnadell’s car has substantially more grip dialed into his setup.

JONES LEAD – Jones initiates high on the bank but sinks down to a lower line. Hohnadell is around two car lengths behind Jones at initiation but closes the gap down by the exit of the bank. Jones has good angle across the transition, Hohnadell is noticeably shallower. Hohnadell closes the gap on Jones shortly after the infield transition and stays tight to Jones around the entire inner bank. The chase run from Hohnadell around the infield is one of the best chase runs we’ve seen so far! All three judges vote for Hohnadell to move into the Top 16.

James Deane – Bye Run

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale James Deane

DEANE LEAD – By qualifying on Friday, Deane has earned enough points to clinch the championship. Deane makes a bye run and finishes it off with some massive donuts around the infield. His Worthouse Drift teammates storm his car in the staging lanes to celebrate the championship win. Deane also happens to be celebrating his birthday today, which will make this championship that much sweeter. Deane still has a chance to set a record should he win the event, becoming the first driver to ever win five events in a single Formula Drift season.

Dean Kearney vs. Ken Gushi

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale Dean Kearney

KEARNEY LEAD – Kearney initiates with a fairly large lead ahead of Gushi, Gushi initiates much later to close the gap to Kearney from five car lengths to two car lengths. Gushi has a few steering corrections on the bank to avoid hitting Kearney. Kearney has a three car length lead heading into the inner bank, Gushi closes the gap down but makes contact with the wall. Kearney continues on around the inner bank, but something under Kearney’s car catches fire just before the finish line. Kearney completes the run in drift, but shuts it down shortly after the finish line and the fire safety team has to come extinguish a fire from under the hood. Kearney looks disgusted with the situation and hikes back to the pits while his car is towed off, Gushi also gets towed off simultaneously. There may have been something leaking from Kearney’s car that caused the crash from Gushi, FD officials will have to determine if that’s the case by inspecting the track.

We have some downtime for surface cleanup due to the fluid or oil that may be on the race track. During that downtime, it’s determined that both drivers will be given an opportunity to fix their vehicles during the halftime break and the second pass of the run will occur just prior to the Top 16 opening ceremonies.

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale Dean Kearney

GUSHI LEAD – Both drivers are introduced as part of the Top 16 17 ceremonies, but the result is anti-climatic. Kearney’s engine failure was catastrophic and could not be swapped in time, while Gushi’s team is unable to repair the vehicle in time. Gushi will earn the points for making the Top 16, but will not be allowed to continue in the competition due to missing the window for repairs.

Michael Essa - Bye Run

ESSA LEAD – After a lengthy cleanup, Essa makes his bye run around the track. He’s noticeably conservative, especially around the inner bank, but given the circumstances that really isn’t much of a surprise. Essa has had a much better season than many people give him credit for, currently sitting in sixth place overall with a pair of podium finishes in Orlando and New Jersey. Essa hasn’t had much success at Irwindale despite it being his home track, so he’ll be hunting for a strong finish to cap off his strongest season since he won the championship in 2013.

Odi Bakchis vs. Matt Coffman

BAKCHIS LEAD – Bakchis has a good initiation, Coffman is around three car lengths behind Bakchis on initiation but closes it down to two car lengths by the exit of the big bank. Bakchis’ line around the big bank was very strong, and he looks good through the switchback and heading into the inner bank. Coffman is closing the gap down heading into the inner bank, but never gets the car to transition after the switchback and crashes into the inner bank wall. Bakchis finishes the run cleanly, it’s not clear whether Coffman’s crash was partially due to the oil on the track or if it was independent of that. Coffman will need to be towed off course, and will utilize his competition timeout to fix the car.

COFFMAN LEAD – Unfortunately, Coffman is unable to finish the repairs in time and will drop out of the competition. Bakchis warms up the tires again and pulls to the starting line for a bye run. This is almost an exact repeat of what happened in New Jersey where Coffman retired due to missing the competition timeout window by just seconds, which also happened against Bakchis. Bakchis makes his bye run, and all three judges announce their vote for Bakchis to move into the Top 16.

FORD TOP 16

Before we sing the National Anthem, we witness 19 men and women take an oath of enlistment into the United States Air Force. After a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, we get some brief fireworks as a sendoff to the Irwindale Speedway track. There are actually seventeen drivers announced as the second half of the Gushi vs. Kearney battle is still to take place. Both Gushi and Kearney are introduced in front of Kearney’s “show car” Dodge Viper, keeping us in the dark as to whether one or both vehicles are fixed and ready for battle. Chelsea Denofa earned the “big bag o’ cash” from Black Magic Tire Care as the top qualifier, which has an estimated street value of $500.

Chelsea Denofa vs. Vaughn Gittin Jr.

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

DENOFA LEAD – Denofa initiates just ahead of Gittin Jr. with some good steering angle, then takes the high line around the big bank while Gittin Jr. is only a single car length behind. Denofa goes deep into the inner bank and holds a good line around it, finally pulling away from Gittin in the final section of the track. Gittin Jr. had good pressure on the big bank, and a good line overall, but not as good as Denofa's.

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Gittin Jr. has a great initiation and similarly strong line around the big bank, Denofa is a bit further behind Gittin Jr. in chase than on the previous run. Denofa over-rotates on the exit of the big bank, and Gittin Jr. is effectively on a solo run around the inner bank. Gittin Jr. doesn’t back down and stays deep around the inside bank, continuing across the finish line with tons of Nitto tire smoke. Denofa tried to get back on the throttle and stay close to Gittin, but really wasn’t a factor on the second half of the run. Judges asked to see the second run again to evaluate if Gittin Jr. might have led Denofa off-course, but this definitely looks like a self-imposed mistake from Denofa. All three judges vote for Gittin Jr. to move into the Top 8. On one hand, the Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR team will be happy to have one car in the Top 8—but on the other hand, they will be disappointed that it was at the cost of the other teammate.

Justin Pawlak vs. Matt Field

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak initiates very early and with a ton of angle, Field rolls into the initiation but with much less style. Pawlak takes the high line around the big bank, Field is only a single car length behind Pawlak but with substantially less steering angle. Pawlak again shows a ton of steering angle across the traditional start / finish line, Field stays in close proximity around the inner bank, but again with less steering angle. This is a great run from Pawlak, and a good chase run from Field but with slightly less steering angle and proximity.

FIELD LEAD – Field has a smoother initiation this time, Pawlak initiates three car lengths behind him but sucks in tight to Field midway through the bank. Field has a strong run around the big bank, Pawlak has a few small steering corrections on the bank but stays in good proximity. Field transitions across the start finish line with Pawlak around two car lengths behind him, then extends his lead to three car lengths by the end of the inner bank. This is a great set of runs from both drivers! All three judges vote to see this tandem battle again, we’ll see our first “One More Time” sudden death battle between these two drivers!

One More Time

PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak again runs the high line around the big bank, Field is only a car length behind Pawlak. Pawlak again has more steering angle through the big bank while Field is only a single car length behind Pawlak. Both drivers transition smoothly across the switchback, and the inner bank has almost an identical story. Pawlak is higher along the wall with substantially more steering angle, but Field keeps a single car of proximity behind Pawlak. Judges will like the proximity from Field, but prefer to see more angle. This battle could really go either way at this point.

FIELD LEAD – Field has a slower initiation, Pawlak is on a slightly lower line but keeps good proximity to Field. Field is only a single car length ahead of Pawlak and can’t open up much of a gap through the inner bank. Pawlak has a very consistent pair of runs overall. All three judges vote for Pawlak to move into the Great 8 where he will face his Ford Mustang rival Vaughn Gittin Jr.

Daijiro Yoshihara vs. Jhonnattan Castro

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara initiates ahead of Castro, Castro is on a lower and shallower line but stays a consistent two car lengths behind Yoshihara around the big bank. Castro has good proximity through the inner bank but on a slightly shallower line. Overall, Yoshihara did exactly what the judges requested, while Castro looked to be sacrificing some of the judging criteria to keep up with Yoshihara.

CASTRO LEAD – Castro has much more angle on initiation, but Yoshihara is less than a car length behind him with almost identical steering angle! Wow, this is a great run from Yoshihara, Castro is on a good line but Yoshihara’s chase is impressive! Castro briefly opened up a gap to three car lengths after the infield switchback, but closes the gap down to two car lengths around most of the inner bank. All three judges vote for Yoshihara to move into the Top 8.

Chris Forsberg vs. Alex Heilbrunn

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

FORSBERG LEAD – Forsberg has a snappy initiation, Heilbrunn initiates and sits less than a car length away from Forsberg after initiation, wow that was impressive! Heilbrunn backs off briefly and Forsberg has a higher line around the bank, Heilbrunn leaves just enough room for Forsberg to transition across the start / finish line then closes the gap down again on the inner bank. Forsberg has a great line around the entire track, Heilbrunn has a great chase run, this is one of the better battles we’ve had so far!

HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn has a good initiation, Forsberg is two car lengths behind Heilbrunn. Neither driver is on the same high line as before, but Forsberg keeps fairly consistent proximity. Heilbrunn taps the wall near the middle of the traditional turn 4 corner, Forsberg stays a very consistent proximity behind Heilbrunn entering the inner bank and both drivers finish the second half of the course cleanly. This is a clean run, neither driver really made any mistakes, it will be interesting to see how the judges look at this. All three judges vote for Heilbrunn to move into the Great 8!

Piotr Wiecek vs. Kristaps Bluss

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

These two drivers are very familiar with each other as they have competed against each other for years in Europe.

WIECEK LEAD – Wiecek uses a feint entry while Bluss enters four car lengths behind Wiecek. Bluss briefly closes the gap down to two car lengths by using a slightly shallower line, but Wiecek opens the gap back up to three car lengths by the switchback. Wiecek has great steering angle, especially across the final clipping point. Bluss has a good run, but Wiecek really set the bar high for a lead run.

BLUSS LEAD – Bluss initiates with Wiecek a single car length behind him, Bluss adds some big angle in the middle of the big bank. Bluss has a snappy transition across the infield transition, Wiecek appears to get lost in the smoke and transition too early by going off course before the inner bank. Bluss continues on the inner bank and slides off course himself, both drivers independently will earn incomplete scores. Judges will evaluate the first run as the basis for judging, and all three judges vote for Wiecek to move into the Great 8. We hear an explanation that Wiecek’s lead run was effectively a fantastic qualifying run while Bluss had some noticeable adjustments behind him.

Fredrik Aasbo vs. Alec Hohnadell

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

AASBO LEAD – Aasbo had a high initiation while Hohnadell’s car is slower to get to angle. Aasbo continues on a higher line with more steering angle, Aasbo dumps big angle exiting the big bank and Hohnadell collides with Aasbo. We can now see through the side of Aasbo’s rear quarter panel as he loses the widebody panel and a side skirt. Looking at the replay, there’s a noticeable difference in speed between the drivers, but it’s up to the chase driver to adjust to the lead drivers’ line. Hohnadell is going to be considered at fault for the collision, which will allow Aasbo’s team to make repairs if necessary.

HOHNADELL LEAD – Hohnadell initiates then we immediately see brake lights. Aasbo is two car lengths behind Aasbo and takes a slightly conservative line around the bank. Hohnadell has a good line around the bank, Aasbo then sucks in tight to Hohnadell into the inner bank and stays within a single car length behind Hohnadell around the second half of the course. All three judges vote for Aasbo to move into the Great 8. The contact on the first run was very unfortunate as Hohnadell might have won this tandem if it were a straight-up pair of runs.

James Deane vs. Ken Gushi

DEANE LEAD – Deane has a bye run in the Top 16 as Gushi was unable to fix his car in time for his run against Kearney. Gushi gets points for the Top 16 finish but isn’t allowed to compete against Deane. Deane takes yet another victory lap, which will further increase his championship points total for the year. Deane still has a chance to set a new record for most event wins in a season, and tie Samuel Hubinette’s record of three consecutive event wins if he can go all the way. Deane will earn the victory and move into the Top 8.

Michael Essa vs. Odi Bakchis

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

ESSA LEAD – Essa has a good initiation, Bakchis is one car length behind Essa but has some steering corrections to keep the proximity consistent. Essa has a great line around the big bank on a mid to high line, Bakchis does a good job adjusting for Essa’s line. Essa enters the inner bank three car lengths ahead of Bakchis, Bakchis surges ahead to close that down to a single car length and holds good proximity through the entire inner bank. This was really a back and forth battle, the advantage will depend on how the judges prioritize different sections of the track.

BAKCHIS LEAD – Bakchis enters two car lengths ahead of Essa and immediately extends the lead to four car lengths. Essa uses slightly shallower steering angle to try and close the gap but can’t make up much ground over the course of the run. Bakchis had a deeper line around the inner bank, Essa sacrificed his line a bit to try and keep up, but it’s clear that Bakchis has a considerable grip advantage. All three judges vote for Bakchis to move into the Great 8.

NOS ENERGY DRINK GREAT 8

Pawlak vs. Gittin Jr.

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

PAWLAK LEAD – Pawlak has a ton of angle after initiation, Gittin Jr. slowly gets the car to the same angle then Pawlak adds more angle mid-bank. The cars are one car length away from each other, Pawlak gets much higher on the big bank and nearly brushes the big bank. Pawlak again goes deeper into the inner bank, Gittin Jr. stays one car length behind Pawlak around the entire inner bank but with a bit less steering angle. Again, a case could be made for either driver to have the advantage, we’ll have to see how the next run goes.

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Pawlak has a manji entry behind Gittin Jr. and ends up on a much lower line around the bank. Gittin Jr. stays high on the big bank and has much more steering angle, Pawlak looks to be sacrificing his line and at times his steering angle to try and close the proximity down to Gittin Jr. We definitely see Gittin Jr. deeper on the inner bank than on the previous run, this was a very similar lead run from Gittin Jr. as we saw previously from Pawlak but a much less impressive chase run from Pawlak. All three judges vote for Gittin Jr. to move into the Final 4.

Yoshihara vs. Heilbrunn

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara initiates ahead of Heilbrunn, Heilbrunn’s car is slow to rotate but he keeps a consistent car length of gap around the big bank. Yoshihara extends the gap to three car lengths across the switchback, Heilbrunn dumps a ton of angle and narrowly avoids backing into the wall. Heilbrunn recovers nicely and sucks in tight to Yoshihara around the second portion of the inner bank, that was a very unexpected but nice adaptation from the mistake. It feels like Yoshihara has a slight advantage, but it will be tight going into the second run.

HEILBRUNN LEAD – Heilbrunn has a smoother initiation this time and quickly opens up a three car gap, Yoshihara struggles to keep up through the big bank. Heilbrunn again goes deep into the inner bank, Yoshihara slowly closes up the gap to two car lengths by the end of the inner bank, but this run seems to be in Heilbrunn’s favor as they cross the finish line. One judge votes for “One more time”, two judges vote for Yoshihara. This is the first split decision we’ve had all night.

Wiecek vs. Aasbo

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

WIECEK LEAD – Wiecek is snappy to get to angle, Aasbo is two car lengths behind him around the big bank. Wiecek is very high with tons of steering angle, Aasbo has noticeably less steering angle. Wiecek pulls away from Aasbo as they transition across the switchback, it looks like Aasbo just slightly over-rotated and lost a ton of momentum. Aasbo recovers nicely and closes the gap down to Wiecek a bit around the inside bank by taking a shallower line, but Wiecek’s run is nearly flawless from start to finish.

AASBO LEAD – Aasbo initiates almost two car lengths ahead of Wiecek and is almost immediately on the brakes, Wiecek closes that gap down quickly to a half car length while on the high line. Wow, this is a great chase run from Wiecek! Aasbo briefly opens the gap back up to two car lengths across the switchback, then Wiecek immediately closes it back down to a single car length around the inner bank. This is easily the best chase run of the night, Wiecek looks to be on a tear to prove he’s equally as good as his Worthouse Drift teammate. All three judges vote for Wiecek to move into the Top 4. As the highest remaining qualified driver, he is now guaranteed to be on the podium. This will be Wiecek’s first podium of his Formula Drift career, and will guarantee he earns Rookie of the Year honors!

Deane vs. Bakchis

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale

DEANE LEAD – Deane has a good entry two car lengths ahead of Bakchis, Bakchis closes it down to a single car length quite quickly. Deane stays high on the bank while Bakchis has some steering corrections and drops to a lower line, but still within good proximity. Both drivers come across the switchback smoothly with good angle, then Bakchis surges ahead exiting the switchback and collides with Deane. Deane attempts to continue on but spins out shortly after. Both drivers will need to be towed off course due to suspension issues. Looking at the replay, it looks like Bakchis made contact in the deceleration zone, so he may be considered at fault. We have some downtime while both cars get towed back to the hot pits.

BAKCHIS LEAD – With Bakchis being deemed at fault, Deane is given ten minutes to try and fix the car. When that time expires, Deane is forced to use his competition timeout. Unfortunately, the team is unable to finish the repair, which gives Deane the win by default into the Final 4.

BLACKVUE FINAL 4

Yoshihara vs. Gittin Jr.

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara is high on the bank, Gittin Jr. is on a slightly lower line around two car lengths behind Yoshihara but consistent around the bank. Yoshihara continues the two car gap across the switchback and into the inner bank, Gittin Jr. takes a slightly lower line again around the inner bank and closes the gap slightly. Yoshihara has much more steering angle and looks strong coming across the finish line. Yoshihara had a good line, Gittin Jr. had some corrections but overall a good chase run.

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Gittin Jr. initiates with Yoshihara right behind him, Yoshihara closes the gap down from a single car length to half of a car length by the end of the big bank. Gittin Jr. opens up the gap to around three car lengths across the switchback, Yoshihara takes a slightly shallower line to try and suck in close to Gittin Jr. again. Yoshihara gets the gap down to around two car lengths, then takes out the inner clipping point before crossing the finish line. The crowd cheers louder for Yoshihara, but the judges hold the decision in their cards. All three judges vote for a “One More Time”, we’ll see these two run again!

One More Time

FDIRW - 2017 Formula Drift Irwindale VGJ

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara again is high on the big bank, Gittin Jr. is on a lower line but stays around two car lengths behind Yoshihara. Yoshihara opens up the gap across the switchback, Gittin Jr. transitions late and tries to go deep into the inner bank but collides with the wall and backs off the throttle. Yoshihara continues around the inner bank and finishes cleanly. Gittin Jr. cruises around the final turn. Gittin Jr. will utilize his competition timeout to attempt to fix his Ford Mustang RTR. The loser of this match will finish in fourth place as both Wiecek and Deane finished ahead of him, so both drivers will be fighting hard!

GITTIN JR. LEAD – Both drivers initiate almost simultaneously, Gittin Jr. is two car lengths ahead of Yoshihara but Yoshihara closes that down to a single car length by the exit of the big bank. Gittin Jr. extends the lead to three car lengths across the switch back, Yoshihara closes that gap down to a single car length by midway through the inner bank. Yoshihara has shallow steering angle as he passes the final inner clipping point, but it’s not a big enough mistake to overcome the incomplete run from Gittin Jr. on the previous run. All three judges vote for Yoshihara to move on to the finals!

Wiecek vs. Deane

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

WIECEK LEAD – Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to see this tandem battle happen. Deane earned the win in the Great 8 over Bakchis by default due to Bakchis running into him, and earned Final 4 points but isn’t allowed to compete. Wiecek gets a bye run into the Final round, but Deane is guaranteed a podium finish as he is qualified higher than Yoshihara and Gittin Jr. Deane effectively earned his way onto the podium without battling any driver from start to finish. Wiecek makes a pass in front of the fans between the previous battle and the “one more time” round, but we already know we will see him in the final.

BLACK MAGIC FINAL BATTLE

Wiecek vs. Yoshihara

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017

WIECEK LEAD – Wiecek initiates two car lengths ahead of Yoshihara, then extends the lead by a car length or so while taking the high line. Yoshihara dives in on Wiecek across the switchback and entering the inner bank, Wiecek is unable to open up the gap much around the inner bank. Wiecek crosses the finish line with more steering angle and a two car gap on Yoshihara. Wiecek had a better first half of the run, while Yoshihara made up for it on the second half of the course.

YOSHIHARA LEAD – Yoshihara initiates on the high line, this time Wiecek is on a slightly lower line but with a single car length of proximity. Wiecek maintains very consistent proximity, Yoshihara adds a bit more angle but Wiecek keeps very consistent proximity. Yoshihara briefly opens up a small gap across the switchback, Wiecek sucks in tight again to Yoshihara around the inner bank and holds a consistent distance to Yoshihara. Wiecek has been on a tear all night, and it looks like this is his event to win.

FDIRW - Formula Drift Irwindale 2017 Podium Photos by Cory Mader, Luke Munnell and Randy Wilcox.

We have a winner! The drivers are brought in front of the crowd for the announcement. James Deane comes out with both Yoshihara and Wiecek, and is announced as the third place podium finisher. Wiecek comes over to shake hands with Yoshihara, then pats his car on the hood—it's treated him well all season, but especially so at this event. Wiecek is announced as the winner, and the Worthouse Drift team lifts him on his shoulders in celebration. Yoshihara grabs his second podium of the season and his third Top 4 finish.

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