I’ve shot at a lot of tracks over the last few years, Silverstone, Mondello, even indoors at Green Glens arena in Ireland for an IDC event but there was something special driving into 500 Speedway Drive for round 8 of this years Formula Drift. For the last 14 years the House of Drift has played an important role in bringing Drifting to the USA and the global stage but the iconic track has had an axe hovering over it for the last couple of years after being purchased by a property developer to build a mall on the site, and now it appears to have fallen and this is billed as its final event.
Adding to the buzz this weekend Irish driver James Deane has the title in the bag just needing points from qualifying in the top 32. With a bye run, normally qualifying would have been good enough but FD moved the goal posts after Texas meaning to score the points James had to complete his top 32 run as well. While on paper that should be a celebration lap this is motorsport and things can go wrong.
This isn’t my first FD event but I still wander the paddock with a stupid grin amazed at the setup. Everything really is bigger in America with numerous trade stalls between the working pit areas, and it’s the first time I’ve seen a F16 parked up next to the cars.
It’s not just the competition cars which catch the eye when wandering the pits. Vendors bring their own builds to show off their work and draw people to their stands. I loved this old-school Mustang with a Coyote heart transplant. The build team had ideas of huge arches and lowering it but the owner was having none of it, wanting to keep the car looking as original as possible
Saturday also hosted the AutoCon, a first for an FD event. AutoCon bring together some of the best builds and that showed.
A car that would put many of the Autocon cars to shame is Kristaps Bluss’s E92. When you blow your race car engine on a dyno and have your SEMA car with you, well there is only one thing you can do
Running over three days, Thursday and Friday were practice and qualifying. The speed down the straight into the long bank is insane and when Chris Forsberg went nose first into the wall it proved things can go wrong even for the most experienced drivers. Luckily it looked worse than it was and the car was fixed and back the following day for qualifying.
With all the days running late into the evening the light on the west coast circuit as the sun set was amazing.
The high speed of the track along with running into darkness meant there were limited places to shoot from, and with a large media turnout it made things tight.
Practice on Friday morning give the drivers more seat time to learn the layout and light up their tyres some more. Chris Forsberg takes this to another level and it’s a cool party trick
With a 91 from his first run in qualifying, t looked like everything was dropping into place for James Deane. By the end of the day, James was 3rd place with a score of 94. His Worthouse teammate Piotr Więcek took 2nd qualifying spot with a 95 and Chelsea Denofa pulled an amazing run out the back to take the top spot with a 98.
Friday finished with the customary FD driver autograph session. This has been tried a couple of times in the UK but never really caught on and now signing are done as part of the time when all the cars and drivers line up on track and the fans are allowed on as a meet and greet. Over here this setup seems to work really well with huge queues forming and fans getting everything from teeshirts, helmets and even tyres signed.
The qualifying run a large portion of the crowd were waiting for. As James crossed the finish line with the customary hand out the window the epic journey which started back in March at Long Beach was complete and job done. By changing the rules on points FD had given him the perfect birthday present and on the day he turned 26 he also become FD champion 2017.
James and Piotr had a huge following from Europe and the Irish fans were on their feet celebrating his run. It was surreal wandering around the pits as there were familiar faces and Irish accents everywhere. Talking to togs and marshals everyone was blown away by the support and the number of fans who had crossed the Atlantic to cheer on their drivers. Among those fans were this years BDC champion Matt Carter and IDC champion Jack Shanahan.
After the high of James winning the championship, the next run was gutting to see with the other Irish driver Dean Kearney going out when his engine blew in the most spectacular fashion
A VIP ticket at FD gets you a track walk and trackside position for the driver line up and national anthem. As the final event at Irwindale, I would imagine this would have been very popular but FD also announced at the last minute that all fans would be allowed on the track for the podium ceremony.
As the last of the fireworks died the smoke moved down to the track for the final top 16 battles of 2017
By the time we got to the top 4 we were left with Piotr, Gittin, Dia and Deane.
In Deane’s top 8 battle against Odi Bakchis his competitor made an error and in trying to catch up Odi hit the rear of Deane’s car sending him into the wall. Odi was judged to be at fault putting James into the top 4. Unfortunately, they were unable to fix the car in the time allotted giving his teammate Piotr a bye run.
In the other top 4 run, Gittin hit the wall putting Dai Yoshihara into the final against Piotr
I still can’t believe they are planning to bulldoze this place to build a mall. With the stand full the atmosphere is amazing and I really hope it gets a last minute reprieve. There are more than enough malls already in the area or more than enough land to build one somewhere else.
As things stand though this is the final battle at Irwindale with veteran Yoshihara against on form rookie Piotr. The Pole has been on fire this weekend and kept his foot on the gas, literally, in the final. Hugging the wall in his lead run and then sitting right on Dai’s door when chasing his fans in the stand were on their feet and walking to the podium everyone was talking about a Worthouse double win today.
Sure enough, Piotr took the top step, and unsurprisingly Rookie of the year, and his teammate looked happier than anyone.
And that left the champion to collect the 2017 trophy. James and Piotr have been a breath of fresh air in FD this year with both winning fans in the US. I know that after round 1 many fans who didn’t know James thought his win would be a one-off. The fans from Europe who have watched him dominate every event he enters with his consistency and on the door chase runs knew different.
The Irish fans especially this weekend were amazing. I knew a large amount were coming over but I was still blown away by the numbers who had flown 9+ hours to support their man in winning the championship