Fredric Aasbo Conquers Formula Drift Round 6 in St. Louis
Formula Drift’s sixth round of competition on the 2018 schedule ventured to a new venue just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, the first new venue since the 2016 season. Gateway Motorsports Park sits on the Illinois side of the Mississippi river, and the round dubbed “Crossroads” was sure to shape the championship chase for the final two rounds. With an 85 point lead entering the event following his win in Seattle, James Deane looked like a sure thing to repeat as Formula Drift champion. However, Fredric Aasbo and Deane’s teammate Piotr Wiecek were looking to reel the championship into their sights.
Gateway Motorsports Park Course Layout
As a new track, the layout at Gateway Motorsports Park was guaranteed to be a relatively even learning curve for all drivers. While some drivers have driven at the track for grassroots or festival events, the way Formula Drift prescribes specific clipping points and zones ensured that all drivers required some time to get used to the proper line. Formula Drift used Turns 3 through 6 on the road course section of the track, which created a layout fairly similar to the original one at Texas Motor Speedway from 2013. Drivers enter a left hand chicane known as Turn 3 on the traditional roadcourse and hit an inside clipping point positioned on the traditional racing curb, then transition quickly to hit an outside clipping point on the opposite side of the same chicane.
They have to carry their speed all the way to the opposite side of the track before transitioning to a touch-and-go zone just before Turn 4. If drivers are on the right line and transition at the correct time, they brush the back end through the touch-and-go, slide the front bumper inches from the inner clipping point on the inside of Turn 4, then transition and ride the outside of the large Turn 5 sweeper before a final front clip at the apex of Turn 6. Drivers are carrying more than 100 mph of wheel speed through the entire sweeper, which makes this one of the longest full-throttle sections of any course on the series schedule.
With the championship chase in the balance, the top drivers were looking to gain vital points by finishing ahead of points leader James Deane. Fredric Aasbo laid down a first qualifying run that scored him 98 out of 100 points from the judges, which survived as the high-water mark through the entirety of the second set of runs to earn the top qualifier position. Matt Field and Ken Gushi both earned 95 points in their best runs, but a higher secondary run from Field gave him Q2 over Gushi. Odi Bakchis, James Deane and Nitto Tire driver Chelsea DeNofa earned scores of 93 points, 92 points and 91 points respectively, which slotted them into Q4, Q5 and Q6.
Only 29 drivers were able to put up a qualifying score, which gave the top three qualifiers bye runs in the first round of tandems. Unfortunately, one of the drivers who failed to earn a qualifying score was Nitto Tire driver Alex Heilbrunn, who had a catastrophic mechanical failure on his last practice run before qualifying and was unable to make repairs in time. Rounding out qualifying for the Nitto drivers, Vaughn Gittin Jr. qualified in 21st while Federico Sceriffo qualified in 23rd.
As we’ve seen several times this year, the higher qualified drivers won most of the matchups in the Top 32 outside of a few exceptions. Although Gittin Jr. qualified lower than Ryan Tuerck, he was able to win the battle between longtime friends when Tuerck over-rotated near the outside touch-and-go in front of the judges and went off-course. Similarly, Jeff Jones eliminated Alec Hohnadell when Hohnadell slid off-course midway through the sweeper, despite Jones qualifying in 22nd position compared to Hohnadell’s Q11 qualifying effort.
Championship contenders Aasbo (bye run), Deane (Austin Meeks), Wiecek (Dean Kearney), Forsberg (Matt Vankirk) and Pawlak (Kyle Mohan) all moved on by eliminating their Top 32 opponents. For Team Nitto, Gittin Jr. and DeNofa moved into the Top 16, while Sceriffo’s day ended after his Top 32 tandem battle with former series champ Dai Yoshihara.
The first four battles in the Ford Top 16 round all had championship implications. Aasbo defeated Jhonnattan Castro after a “One More Time” round, Forsberg moved past Essa, Wiecek defeated Bakchis and Deane ended Gittin Jr.’s day. On the other side of the bracket, Pawlak moved on to continue his championship hopes, and DeNofa moved into his second Top 8 of the season. Field and Gushi won their first tandem battles of the day in the Top 16 round, as they both had bye runs in the Top 32.
In the Nos Energy Drink Great 8, the championship chase shook up for the first time as both Forsberg and Deane bowed out of their battles due to mechanical issues. While Forsberg had been battling high engine temps all day, the engine in Deane’s Nissan S15 let go midway through his run with his teammate Wiecek. This gave Aasbo and Wiecek a huge opportunity to gain points in the championship as they were scheduled to face each other in the Final 4.
On the other side of the bracket, Field ended Pawlak’s day, while DeNofa defeated Gushi for his first Final 4 appearance of the season. Forsberg and Pawlak being eliminated in the same round as Deane effectively ended their championship hopes, but both have the chance to end the season strong by finishing well in the final two races.
In one of the best tandem matchups of the day, Wiecek and Aasbo pushed each other to a pair of One More Time battles. A slight mistake from Wiecek that pushed him up over the racing curb at the second inner clipping point in the third battle was the only difference between the drivers.
Field earned the win over DeNofa in the other tandem battle, as DeNofa got too aggressive in chase and made contact with Field. Although DeNofa was frustrated with the mistake, he earned the final podium position over Wiecek due to a higher qualifying position.
In the final, Aasbo narrowly defeated Field, earning his second victory and fourth podium of the season. The “perfect event” for Aasbo (top qualifier and event win) helped him narrow the championship deficit between him and Deane down to just 30 points with two events to go. Wiecek climbed to within 105 points of his championship-leading teammate, while Forsberg (125 points behind) and Pawlak (133 points behind) are far enough back that they are unlikely to be able to catch up for the championship.
The podium finish for DeNofa was his first of the season. DeNofa remains the highest ranked Nitto Tire driver in the championship in 13th position, with Gittin Jr. shortly behind him in 15th position. Heilbrunn (23rd overall) continues to fight gremlins in his BMW, while Sceriffo (28th overall) is still getting used to the pace of Formula Drift competition in his rookie season.
The Formula Drift championship rolls into Dallas, Texas for the seventh of eight rounds in just a few weeks before finishing out the season at Irwindale Speedway, just outside of Los Angeles, in October. We’ll keep you posted on all of the remaining rounds of competition here on Driving Line!