With new cars, drivers and teams attacking the corners for the long-awaited opening round of Formula DRIFT, the Streets of Long Beach promised a great deal of excitement and did not disappoint.
Highlights among the 2018 field included 2016 FD champion, Fredric Aasbo, driving his Rockstar Energy Drink / Nexen Tire 2019 Toyota Corolla, unveiled days earlier at the New York International Auto Show. Matt Field also debuted his Wish / Borla / Falken Tire Chevrolet Corvette, while Federico Sceriffo would bring his unique Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano Drift Spec (aka Fiorella) to the Californian street circuit.
With a number of brand new cars and almost every team carrying out modifications and upgrades during the off-season, the first round always brings a degree of trepidation as the drivers get to grips with a “green” track. However, the front runners started to emerge during practice, and qualifying highlighted the drivers to watch.
Qualifying was dominated by the Worthouse Drift Team, with its pair of Worthouse / Falken Tire / Nissan Silvia S15s placed in first and second position. Top of the table was Polish driver Piotr Wiecek, who was awarded 2017 Formula DRIFT Rookie of the year and ended the previous season with a victory at the final round at Irwindale Speedway. He appeared to be maintaining his momentum into 2018, as did teammate and 2017 Formula DRIFT Pro champion, James Deane. The Irishman qualified in a strong second place and put all FD competitors on notice that he meant business.
Best of the rest was Forrest Wang’s Vapetasia / Achilles Radial / NRG Innovations Nissan S15 in third, Justin “JTP” Pawlak’s Roush Performance / Falken Tires / 2018 Ford Mustang in fourth, and Fredric Aasbo in fifth driving his brand new Corolla.
“I was delighted to take first place in qualifying,” said Wiecek, “because we started the qualification session without all the parts we needed. One of our containers was delayed for a month while being shipped from Europe and only arrived on Friday during qualification. This made the team’s finish in first and second all the more special.”
After Friday qualifying, Saturday would bring the intensity and excitement of full-blooded competition to the Streets of Long Beach. The threat of rain was averted, to the relief of competitors and spectators alike. The capacity crowd was treated to high-speed, high-octane action from 9am when practice began, to the final showdown at 530pm.
Formula DRIFT: Streets of Long Beach was won by Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Drink / Nexen Tire 2019 Toyota Corolla. Despite limited seat time in the brand new car, Fredric conceded that it had some similarities to last year’s car, which helped the team with set up. And while everybody at Papadakis Racing was optimistic about the car’s chances, even they couldn’t have expected to be on the top step of the podium.
Aasbo’s path to the final saw matchups with Matt Vankirk in the Top 32, Kristaps Bluss in Sweet 16, Justin Pawlak in the quarter-final, top qualifier Piotr Wiecek in the semi-final, and Forrest Wang in the final.
Both Wang and Aasbo drove perfect lines in the final, causing the judges to request they run “One More Time” before giving the decision to the Toyota driver.
Aasbo was delighted with the result and gracious towards his competitor: “I used to watch Formula DRIFT from Europe and I saw Forrest rise through the ranks, retire and now he’s come back swinging. He’s a real artist and one of the OG drifters. He has conducted a masterclass here, taking out everybody except us. I’m really stoked to see him back but even more excited to see us on the top step of the podium.
“Coming second in the 2017 season we knew we had our work cut out. We weren’t fastest and I wasn’t the most talented,” said a reflective Aasbo. “But we had an opportunity to build a new car and Papadakis Racing took it to the next level. In the meantime, I went back to Norway and practiced drifting on the frozen lakes during the winter so I would be ready for the ultimate test today.”
Forrest Wang driving the Vapetasia / Achilles Radial / NRG Innovations Nissan S15 had a challenging path to the final. Starting with Kazuya Taguchi, he then had to overcome Vaughn Gittin Jr, Chris Forsberg in quarter-finals, and the 2017 champion James Deane in the semi-finals. What makes his achievement even more special is that Forrest took a hiatus from the series for a year, and this was his first event back in Formula DRIFT.
After the final he had this to say: “Coming into the weekend I had a lot of anxiety after taking a year off, but the car was great through all the sessions. It was fast and had a ton of grip so I had a lot of confidence. The team was working great and the Achilles Radial tires were working well so we have a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. Having qualified third and finished second we couldn’t have hoped for a better result at Streets of Long Beach.”
Formula DRIFT moves on to Orlando, FL for round two on April 27-28 and series president, Jim Liaw, was able to reflect on a successful opening round. “The Streets of Long Beach are always a challenging start to the season for the competitors, but the teams who perform well assume an advantageous position as we move into the next round. We’re also delighted that the sport continues to grow, and that Long Beach was sold-out. More people came to see the action than last year and it sets a good tone for the rest of the 2018 season as well as our return to Irwindale Speedway for the final round in October.”