Vaughn Gittin Jr. sweeps 2020 Formula Drift Seattle doubleheader, Tuerck slides into championship lead
When the Formula Drift COVID-19 adjusted schedule was released in August, the weekend doubleheaders were expected to be a battle of mental, physical, and even mechanical warfare amongst the 29 drivers and teams who slotted into the Formula Drift PRO Championship grid for the season. After the first weekend of Formula Drift competition in St. Louis earlier in September, Papadakis Racing teammates Fredric Aasbo and Ryan Tuerck looked prime for a championship run, with Ford Mustang RTR driver Chelsea Denofa also notching a win under the belt of his driving suit. The conclusion of rounds 3 and 4 at Evergreen Speedway, just outside of Seattle, Washington, would mark the halfway point of the season, and the championship chase would definitely change following these two rounds.
Saturday Round 3
While the initial weather forecast for the weekend was for wet conditions all weekend long, Saturday’s event started wet but dried out quickly. After his win at Round 2 in St. Louis, Chelsea Denofa would draw number 15 out of the random hat of seeding, which would slot him against Formula Drift rookie Alec Robbins. Denofa’s team owner and Ford Mustang RTR teammate Vaughn Gittin Jr. would benefit the most from Denofa’s draw as he ended up with a bye run in the first round, while Round 1 winner Fredric Aasbo would face rookie Jonathan Nerren, and Ryan Tuerck would face Jhonnattan Castro.
All four Nitto Tire drivers would win their Top 32 battles, but several fan-favorite drivers in the Top 32 would find themselves on the outside for the Top 16 opening ceremonies. Jeff Jones, who was granted the #1 qualifying position and a bye in the Top 32 from the random draw, had a crash late in practice and was unable to make the line for his Top 32 bye run. Another fan favorite, Ken Gushi, was eliminated by rookie and Youtube sensation Adam LZ in his Top 32 battle.
The Top 16 bracket pitted teammates Aasbo and Tuerck against each other, which was unfortunate as both are in contention for the championship. Aasbo would emerge the winner, and the team would focus their attention on pushing his 1,000+ hp Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra as far as possible in the competition. Unfortunately, Denofa would fall to Daijiro Yoshihara, but Gittin Jr. would move past Odi Bakchis in a tough tandem battle. As the brackets progressed, the final four would come down to four former Formula Drift series champions with 2013 champion Michael Essa facing 2015 champion Fredric Aasbo on one side of the bracket, and 2011 champion Daijiro Yoshihara facing 2010 champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. on the other side of the bracket. Aasbo used a superior chase to pilot his Supra into the final, while Gittin Jr. used a pair of consistent runs to eliminate Yoshihara.
For the second time this season, the final would feature a pair of Nitto drivers, both burning up a set of Nitto NT555 G2 tires under the rear wheels. The first time around, Fredric Aasbo eliminated Ryan Tuerck in the first round of the season, and Aasbo defeated Gittin Jr. on his way to that event win.
This time around, Gittin Jr. would avenge that matchup by defeating Aasbo in the final. Rounding out the podium, Essa defeated Yoshihara to earn his first podium of the season. In the winner’s circle, Gittin Jr. was emotional, saying he missed his family but was thankful for all the work that the team put in to get him back to where he knows he should be.
Sunday Round 4
Whilie most wins are celebrated with champagne and shenanigans, Gittin Jr. and the entire podium lineup would be sure to get to bed early on Saturday as a whole new competition started up just 12 hours later on Sunday morning. Gittin Jr. drew seeding number #14 in the random draw, which put him up against Travis Reeder. The bye runs went to Adam LZ, Denofa, and Bakchis, while Tuerck was slotted up against Nerren and Aasbo was slotted against Robbins. In a fluky chain of events, both Tuerck and Aasbo would run into trouble late in the practice session that proceeds the Top 32 tandem battles, with Tuerck crashing with a fellow competitor in one of the final runs in practice, while Aasbo blew apart the welds on his custom 3d printed intake manifold.
The Papadakis Racing team went to work on both cars, and while they were able to fully repair the damaged suspension and brake components on Tuerck’s Corolla, Aasbo’s manifold wasn’t repairable prior to their matchup. After a podium finish on Saturday, bowing out in the Top 32 due to a mechanical DNF was definitely unexpected for Aasbo, and showed that nothing is guaranteed in this compressed 2020 season.
Amazingly enough, Denofa, Gittin Jr., and Tuerck would all make it to the Final 4 on Sunday, which guaranteed at least two Nitto Tire drivers on the podium. Justin Pawlak would pilot his Roush Mustang to the other Final 4 position, facing Tuerck in his semi-final battle. Pawlak would earn the win against Tuerck, while Gittin Jr. would keep the momentum going by defeating his teammate Denofa in their semi-final showdown, but not without both cars smacking the wall in the first lead run. Denofa’s Ford RTR Mustang would need some subframe and control arm repairs, but was driveable for the second run. Denofa would spin in the second run, which gave Gittin Jr. the ticket to the final. In the consolation run, Tuerck would defeat Denofa, which prevented an all Mustang podium from happening. In the final, Gittin Jr. and Pawlak ended up colliding in the first run, but both cars were able to make a second run. Gittin Jr. would complete perfect weekend, earning the win against Pawlak and carrying a perfect 200 championship points on the weekend.
At the halfway point in the championship, the top three drivers in the series points are all sitting on Nitto Tires, with Denofa rounding out four of the top five in the championship table. Tuerck leads with 272 championship points thanks to podium finishes at three of the four events, Gittin Jr. jumps up into second overall with 264 championship points, and Aasbo sits in third with 236 championship points. Pawlak moves into fourth overall with 232 championship points, with Denofa and Bakchies tied for fifth with 228 championship points. Denofa is considered to be in fifth place overall despite the tie due to having better results at the most recent round, but neither him or Bakchis should be considered “out” of championship contention by any means!
The next stop on the Formula Drift championship circuit will take place at Texas Motor Speedway. In an unavoidable change due to COVID19, the initially announced date of October 16th through 18th had to be shifted to October 30th to November 1st. This gives the teams five full weeks to make repairs and up their game in contention for the second half of the Formula Drift season.
The series will slide into Texas Motor Speedway on Halloween Weekend! Be sure to stay tuned for the third of four doubleheader weekends of Formula Drift action!