Chris Forsberg Scorches the Competition at Formula Drift Orlando
Chris Forsberg’s name is synonymous with winning in Formula Drift. As a three-time series champion, eight-time event winner, and 34-time podium finisher (in just 97 events), it’s hard to believe that Forsberg entered Orlando with a spell of 22 events without a win, the longest of his career. Spoiler alert: Forsberg defeated defending series champion James Deane in the final round to re-claim the top spot of the podium and jump back into championship contention.
Orlando Speedworld Course Layout
In its fourth year on the Formula Drift schedule, the Orlando Speedworld course remains unchanged and is the shortest Formula Drift course. Drivers start on the backstraight of the 3/8-mile banked oval and initiate clockwise into the first turn as high on the bank as possible, riding the guardrail around the turn through an outside clipping zone before hitting an inside clipping point on the flat bottom of the infield.
The momentum carries the cars diagonally across the infield in a figure-8 pattern before transitioning and riding the outside of the second turn in a counter-clockwise orientation. While only two turns, the rough asphalt of the track tears through a set of tires faster than any other course on the circuit, and several drivers had problems completing two full laps on the same set of tires.
While 32 drivers made it to the grid for qualifying, only 30 drivers put a score up on the board in qualifying. Fredric Aasbo topped all qualifiers with a score of 99 points in his Rockstar Energy Drink Toyota Corolla, while James Deane piloted his Worthouse Drift Nissan S15 to a score of 97 points for Q2. Since only thirty scores were put on the board, both Aasbo and Deane earned a bye run in the first round of tandem, facing their first battles in the round of Top 16.
Justin Pawlak, Piotr Wiecek and Alec Hohnadell rounded out the top five qualifying positions, each earning a score in the high 90s. Taylor Hull, who missed the first round of the season in Long Beach due to his new competition car not being ready in time, made a qualifying pass in Orlando but failed to earn a score in the debut of his Cadillac ATS. Nitto Tire drivers Chelsea Denofa (Q18), Alex Heilbrunn (Q19), Vaughn Gittin Jr. (Q21) and Federico Sceriffo (Q30) all qualified in the lower half of the bracket, but earned a score that put them into the "big show" of tandem eliminations on Saturday.
Saturday’s tandem action was relatively lackluster in both the Top 32 and Ford Top 16 rounds, with only a few battles requiring the judges to actually put thought into the decision. Several drivers either spun out, had mechanical issues or otherwise earned an "incomplete run" in at least one of their two tandem rounds, which allowed the judges to give the decision to the driver who simply completed two full runs. Unfortunately, all four Nitto tire drivers blew out in the round of 32.
The lone upset of the round of Top 32 happened when Alec Hohnadell debeaded a tire at the end of his lead run against Jhonnattan Castro, handing Castro a bye run into the Top 16. All other Top 32 battles ended with the higher qualifying driver defeating the underdog in their battles. The Top 16 was much of the same, with Forsberg as the lone driver who qualified outside of the top eight winning, with his battle against 28th-qualified Castro.
Once we got to the NOS Energy Drink Top 8 round, we started to see some fierce battles. Aasbo dispatched Ken Gushi’s Toyota GT86 in the first battle of the Top 8, while Piotr Wiecek’s Worthouse Drift Nissan S15 was upset by Forsberg. Defending champion Deane took out Odi Bakchis, with Ryan Tuerck taking out the Ford Mustang from Justin Pawlak in one of the closest battles.
In both the Tuerck vs. Pawlak battle as well as the Wiecek vs. Forsberg battle, the eliminated drivers appeared to lose a substantial amount of grip on the tail end of their second run, resulting in losing proximity to the opposing driver, a sign of just how great the tire wear was all weekend. Formula Drift rules require drivers to make two full tandem passes on each set of tires, and that was clearly pushing the limits of wear and grip on some of the stickier tires on the course.
The Permatex Final 4 gave us two great battles between some of the most iconic names in the sport. Former champions Aasbo and Forsberg required a “one more time” battle before Forsberg moved on to the final, although Aasbo’s consolation prize was a guaranteed third place finish due to qualifying first on Friday. Tuerck put up a strong battle against Deane, but in the end, Deane earned the decision from the judges to move into the final.
Our Black Magic final battle between the past two champions was shaping up to be our best battle of the weekend, but a mechanical failure under Deane’s car put him into the wall on his chase run and gave Forsberg the win, an unexpected outcome on an overall unexciting day of tandem battles. The win was Forsberg’s ninth of his career, tying him with Formula Drift legends Sam Hubinette and Vaughn Gittin Jr. for second all-time behind Aasbo.
This season’s championship appears to be a three-horse race after two events with Aasbo (175 pts), Deane (156 pts) and Forsberg (155 pts) leading the pack. Wiecek (123 pts), Wang (120 pts) and Tuerck (120 pts) could make a championship push with a pair of podiums in the upcoming events, but they can’t wait too long if they want to have a chance at becoming champion of Formula Drift’s fifteenth season.
The series rolls into the track that birthed the series, Road Atlanta, for the third round over Mother’s Day weekend. Stay tuned for more coverage of the entire season of Formula Drift action! Check out the full gallery below to see everything that went down in Orlando.