Chelsea DeNofa Insider: New Year, New Team
With Formula Drift Long Beach just a few days away, the announcement of Chelsea DeNofa as the newest driver on the Ford Mustang RTR drift team that dropped earlier this week had us anxious to get to know more about him. We saw DeNofa conquer Formula Drift Long Beach last year, his first career Formula Drift win, but struggle with mechanical gremlins throughout the remainder of the schedule. We were able to steal some time with DeNofa shortly before his second testing session behind the Nitto Tire-wrapped Mustang and dive deeper into one of the biggest announcements of the off-season.
Driving Line: First of all, congrats on this new partnership! A lot of people seem to be excited to see you in the Ford Mustang. How did this partnership come together?
Chelsea DeNofa: Vaughn Gittin Jr. and I have been chatting over the past few years, and there was a turning point at the end of last season where I needed to make some decisions about my career. I figured why not go to the best team on the grid! I went over to his trailer at Irwindale last season, and told him that I was going to drive for him and asked him what it was going to take. He kind of laughed at first, but I told him why I should be his choice if he wanted to run a second car for 2017.
There was some business to take care of behind the scenes, and BC Racing came in to help connect the dots on a lot of that, but we made it all work out nicely. I think he understood that I was struggling a bit with keeping my car going, and knew I was missing some of the big picture getting buried in maintaining my current BMW. Thankfully, he saw the potential that I can bring to the team. I’m glad we got it all worked out, and after driving the cars in that first testing session we had, I can’t wait for the season to get started!
DL: What are you most looking forward to with this new partnership?
CD: I’m really looking forward to having a reliable car, and being a part of the team that has been running a competitive program forever. When I was running my own program, I always had to balance my time wrenching on the car, running the business and logistics of my program, and I barely had time to actually drive. I’ve also exited more rounds due to mechanical failure than being outdriven in a run; I think that will become a thing of the past. The RTR Drift team clearly has the formula for getting the Ford Mustang sideways figured out, which will allow me to just focus on the driving. I really want to earn another podium, and I think this team can help make that happen.
DL: What were your first impressions of the Ford Mustang? How does it compare to previous cars you’ve driven like your BMW E46 or Mazda RX-8?
CD: It’s a really good car! That Mustang is very easy to drive, and is especially easy to drive fast. At first, I didn’t think I was driving very fast, but looking at the data, that feeling was very misleading. It’s definitely as fast as my BMW, if not faster. Overall, it’s a very balanced car; it’s almost like driving my BMW on “easy mode” if there were such a thing. The overall driving feel is very similar to the BMW, which I think will make it easy to adapt. There’s a few things you can do to as far as the setup of a car to make it handle well at speed, and I had figured most of those out, but the ASD team had figured the rest of it out. I just want it to be Long Beach already!
DL: You’ve driven on Nitto Tires before with Bergenholtz Racing. How does it feel to be back on Nitto after driving on other brands for the past few seasons?
CD: It’s huge for me. I feel like I did my best driving in Formula D on Nitto Tires. I may not have won events with Nitto, but I feel like my driving and overall drifting style suffered when I drove on other tires. Nittos have really good forward grip and balance, which makes it very easy to drive. The Mustang runs a 295 / 40 tire on it, which will have great side bite. There’s no question that the Nitto Tire is one of the best in drifting, so it’s great to be back on them. I’ve always been friends with the guys at Nitto too; even when I wasn’t driving for them, I still hung out with everyone over there at events. It almost feels like a family reunion.
DL: You recently completed a “Drifting Clinic” at Pat’s Acres Complex just outside of Portland, Oregon. What made you want to run your own drifting clinic?
CD: I go to a good amount of events that I don’t drive at, and I always try to help people out when I’m at those events to give some small pointers and tips. I realized I could go around the country and run 20-person clinics, since there’s probably 20 people in every region that want to learn to drift just a little better. I’m not a teacher by trade, but I’ve been drifting long enough that I’ve figured out a lot of the nuances of drifting. There’s a lot of small tricks both in car setup and overall driving habits that you can teach people which will help people improve quickly.
I haven’t left a clinic yet where every single person hasn’t been able to link the entire track and do it with style, which I’m pretty proud of. My goal for each clinic is to make everyone suck less, which gives the drivers more confidence and makes it more entertaining for the crowd. I’ve also been ramping up my YouTube game, giving critique and feedback on past runs so people can understand what’s going on at the professional level. It’s all been received pretty well so far. If we as drivers can educate people on competitive drifting and fun drifting, we can grow the sport overall as a whole.
DL: You’ve been in FD for several seasons now. What one piece of advice would you give to the aspiring Pro-Am or Pro 2 driver who wants to be the next Chelsea DeNofa, driving a Ford Mustang competitively?
CD: In general, keep it as simple as possible. For a Pro-Am driver, keep your car super light with a simple powerplant, don’t go overboard on power, and just drive as many events as you can. Stick to around 400 horsepower max, and just get your seat time in. Car control only comes with experience, don’t worry about trying to make your car look good until you know how the car handles on any track.
For the aspiring Pro 2 guys, try to focus on driving at 80 to 85 percent of your abilities during competition. Most of the Pro 2 battles I have watched are won by one driver making a mistake. Don’t be the driver who takes himself out of the competition with a spin, and you’ll probably see some success.
For the graduating Pro 2 guys who are joining the top tier, be prepared to spend a minimum of $100,000 per year on your program. The full Pro championship is easily 10 times as much work as Pro 2. If you aren’t ready for that, stay in Pro 2 and try to keep winning. Formula Drift is fun when you’re competing, but it takes many long hours behind the scenes for every run you see on track.