Tricky Business: Top Drift Round 3
Four events—just four little events! For Top Drift's SoCal pro-am drifting competition series, that’s all that stands between hopeful amateur drifters and a Formula D Pro 2 license. With all of the four competition rounds happening at Willow Springs Raceway, it might be tempting to think that it’s all a bit too easy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Willow Springs is possibly the perfect place to hold a challenging four-event drift season, offering four varied tracks that can be put to use while track-day drivers take to the facility’s most popular road courses. We saw the season kick off at a more aggressive configuration of the Balcony track. After that it was off to the hilly and tight Horse Thief Mile. This most recent event took place at the double sweeping banks, rough pavement and more aggressive configuration of the Walt James oval, and the season will finish with a night event at the wall-laden Willow Speedway.
Then there’s the matter of the competition. Pro-am competition brings out all sorts of participants in all manner of vehicles: serious contenders looking for the next step, talented grassroots drivers content with dominating the local scene, beginners in need of seat time and competition experience, and locals just in it for a good time. To rise to the top, you’ve got to be successful against all these guys, and catch a little bit of luck along the way.
The Season So Far
If we've learned anything from the 2018 Top Drift season, it’s that it’s virtually impossible to predict an outcome. Right when we thought we knew which V8-powered S13 drivers would dominate this year, underdog Brian Nimmo won second place at Round 1 in his JZ-powered Tacoma pickup truck (a pickup truck!) and has looked strong ever since. Ace driver Alex Grimm got an awesome new Camaro over the winter, failed to qualify for Round 1, ended up winning Round 2 and unfortunately, had a tough time of it again in this third round.
Meanwhile, perennial threats Rome Charpentier and Shaun Doom have really stepped up their game throughout the season, and nearly won their brackets this time against some stiff competition. They also put on the show of the round when they battled each other for third place.
Fifty-two-year-old rookie Don Boline has been steadily progressing since his competition debut at Round 1, and with some persistent mechanical issues seemingly behind him, he qualified for Top 16 competition for the first time at Round 3. However, the real surprise action was from Amir Falahi. Amir quietly emerged last year and has been on the come-up ever since. His Top 8 performance last round was strong, but after ousting Noah Nelson, Daryl Priyono and Rome Charpentier this time around—and nearly knocking out Dom Martinez for the win—we were straight-up impressed with his abilities behind the wheel of the no. 110 V8-swapped BMW E30.
Even our top pick Dominic Martinez (who sports some of Formula Drift's Matt Field’s retired gear) has proven difficult to predict. He impressively almost won Round 1 last year, but he made some rookie mistakes throughout the season that led to him finishing 10th for the year. He qualified mid-pack for Round 1 this year but won the event, and nearly did the same in Round 2, nabbing third. This time, however, he was spot on.
After qualifying in the top spot, he had a bye run in Top 16. He then he beat Raz Naor in Top 8, inched past Shaun Doom in Top 4 and kept his head against Amir in the finals to win the show.
With three of four Top Drift rounds behind us, Dominic Martinez is still topping the points list and looks most likely to emerge as Formula D Pro 2’s newest competitor. Right behind him are Rome Charpentier and Shaun Doom, where we thought Alex Grimm would be, and Amir Falahi is catching up fast. All are within striking distance for the overall win, and a total 12 drivers could hypothetically earn those Pro 2 licenses, depending on the outcome of the fourth round.
Alas, only three drivers will make it, and only one will win. Stay with us as we find out who it’ll be, in just a few short weeks.