Two years ago the final FD round, my first visit to Irwindale, was ramping up to be special for two reasons. Firstly this was ‘defiantly the last ever, no-way we’re coming back here’ round at The House Of Drift, and secondly, James Deane was on track for taking the championship in his first season back in America. Well since I’m back turning onto Speedway Drive with James on track to be the first FD driver to take three champions back to back we know how that all went.
Thursday afternoon gives media who can attend the chance to get a briefing and signing on out the way and then 3 hours of open practice. There were a couple of spots I hadn’t shot from on my previous visit so first it was up to the roof and then to the left in front of the grandstand.
The roof gives a great view of all the action at once and if you’re feeling a little arty, some amazing sunsets over LA.
After being on the roof, shooting through the fence gets you back up close and personal to the action. With a long lens, you can shoot directly through the fence without it showing but the shots I really like here are with a wide fast lens from the holes in the fence.
During practice on Thursday and Friday, the main talking point was Wiecek ‘s wall runs. The Candyman was pulling off incredible angles and proximity run after run.
Qualifying on Friday afternoon give a few surprises and some interesting battles in the top 32 on Saturday. With only 3 bye runs up for grabs the top 3 qualifiers were DeNofa, Gushi, and Tuerck, meaning Deane and his competitors for the championship were all in top 32 battles. Looking down the battles the one that jumped out was a possible meeting between Wiecek and Aasbo in the top 16. After their crash in Texas being the big talking point of that round, and so much still being up for grabs, this would be an interesting rematch if it happened.
With qualifying out the way there was the traditional autograph session. I’ve only seen this a few times in the UK, mainly at TRAX and possibly one BDC event. BAck home the drivers normally signing posters etc as part of the meet and greet on track. The more formal layout seems to work well with everyone getting a chance to get items signed, a quick hello with each driver and a good opportunity for the promotion girls to do their thing. As well as working damn hard all weekend some of these girls have a scary 6th sense for knowing when a camera is pointing at them.
James Deane has fans of all shapes and sizes….
After the late afternoon starts of Thursday and Friday, Saturday kicks off with practice at a much earlier 11:30 and running till 13:30 which took us straight into the top 32 battles at 13:45. The top 32 pretty much followed the script with no real surprises
I didn’t find much information about Forrest Wang’s new carbon kevlar s14 demo car other than it looks EPIC
The half time interval gives fans a chance to check out the paddock and grab some food and FD goodies while the VIP pass holders get a track walk and then a ringside seat for the top 16 line up and National Anthem. With a huge firework display bringing the break to it a close it was time for drivers to start their engines and get back to business.
With the championship still within reach for a handful of drivers, Odi Bakchis knocked out Kazuya Taguchi, who had been exciting the crowd all weekend. But with only 2 of the votes, Odi knew he had to step his game up.
Forsberg went out in his battle against Gittin when he got caught out by a section of the wall which claims a few drivers over the weekend.
Piotr Wiecek lined up against Fredric Aasbo in a repeat of their Texas battle. This time, with the added prospect that if Aasbo when out then the championship would be in James Deane’s, Wiecek’s teammate, own hands in his battle against Forrest Wang. No drama this time, just Wiecek putting himself tight on Aasbo’s door and ending the Norwegian’s hopes of the championship.
With Ryan Tuerck taking out Castro that only left that battle between Deane and Wang. With Wang being a local boy, the Hawaiian now lives in LA where is runs Get Nuts Lab, there was no doubting who the fans, apart from a distinctly Irish looking section, were cheering for. And they had a lot of cheering to do with the battle going to two OMTs! Now drifting is a judged sport so there will always be different views on battles. The judges have their own unique view of the course, access to replays and know exactly what the drivers were told in the briefing but I’m going to stick to my guns and say I don’t know how Forrest didn’t get at least the first battle. I thought both drivers did well but James chase runs were very shallow and he took out the final clipping point on every chase run. The fans agreed being vocal in their disappointment when Deane took the 3rd OMT battle. For a driver I’m used to seeing only 100% approval it was a strange moment. But the decision was made and by advancing to the great 8, and with Aasbo out, James was too far ahead in the championship for anyone to catch him and became the first FD driver to take 3 championships back to back. After watching him take the DMEC championship in Ireland back in September I don’t think anyone, including the Irwindale fans, would argue against him currently being the best in the world.
With the championship decided there was still a podium and positions to fight for. Wiecek pushed Gushi to a OMT but then spun on his chase run handing him the win.
Under the floodlights, after the fireworks, the cars put on their own little light shows with exhausts and screamer pipes throwing flames and turbos and manifolds glowing red hot
Essa v Odi was also decided by a spin. After leaving Essa for dead in the first run Odi spun in his chase. I’m not sure if it was due to the drop in temperature catching the drivers out on the cooler track but there were a lot more mistakes than I expected in the final.
No spins this time but James Deane put in a poor chase run against Gushi with shallow angles off the line while Gushi put in a couple of drives right onto Deane’s door. As the highest qualifier, James now had 3rd spot on the podium while Gushi went onto the final against his teammate Michael Essa.
And finally, for 2019 we had Gushi v Essa. Again we had a mixture of some good twinning but also shallow angles. In the second run Gushi seemed to almost straighten but them immediately Essa over-rotated and spun out in front of him. If it hadn’t been for the spin I think Essa had done enough for the win and we still had to wait for the judges to decide if Gushi had fully straightened before the spin.
With a decision made I don’t think anyone was surprised when Ken Gushi was awarded 1st place. With his first podium in 10 years and win since 2005, Ken was more than a little excited.
After starting the year at Long Beach it was great to get the chance to come back to California finish it at Irwindale. The high-speed wall runs in front of a packed cheering foot-stomping grandstand make this a great event.
For a more in-depth writeup of the event check out the press release
Extra – Race Services
While over in LA I got a ping off Emilija Paliulyte, who was over at FD shooting for Odi, suggesting I should check out the Race Services Rise and Shine coffee morning. This is def worth doing if you’re in LA. Nice chilled time checking out some cool cars and having a natter with petrol heads.
From here I took a drive up to a little fish restaurant on the PCH. I wasn’t smoking any Ferraris in my Suburban lol Apart from the obvious cool factor due to F&F this place is also definitely worth checking out with a relaxed surf feel and great food.
Cutting room floor
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