The most highly anticipated round of the 2020 Formula DRIFT season was undoubtedly the return to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. The former NHRA drag strip had been transformed into a purpose-built drift arena; the first of its kind in the US and an indication of the growth and influence of Formula DRIFT. It also reflects the affinity of the track staff and management for the drift community – both the teams and fans. And with FD NJ wiped from the 2020 schedule by COVID-19 restrictions, the series was delighted to finally be running its first competitive Championships on the brand-new figure-8 course in front of packed grandstands.
Similar to the previous round in Orlando, Raceway Park hosted teams for both the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship Round 3: Autozone Gauntlet presented by TYPE S, and the Link ECU PROSPEC Championship Round 2. This translated into a packed schedule that saw teams practice on Thursday to create some muscle memory for the sinuous course. Friday would see both Championships qualify, which once again saw the new Knockout Qualifying Format (KQF) decide the positions. Unfortunately, a lighting problem meant some of the FD PRO qualifying places had to be set on Saturday morning, which simply resulted in even more action for the fans to enjoy that day.
LINK ECU PROSPEC QUALIFYING
With almost half the teams entering rookie drivers in the 2021 Link ECU PROSPEC Championship, the new Englishtown course would provide a level playing field in terms of vehicle settings and ideal drift lines. However, there were 35 drivers vying for 32 competition places, so the pressure was on everybody to find a clean run.
The new track allowed some unfamiliar names to climb the qualifying ladder, including Josiah Fallaise (Canada), who qualified fifth driving the DriftHQ / FDF Raceshop Nissan S14, making him the best placed rookie.
Qualifying in first place was reigning 2020 Champion, Dmitriy Brutskiy (Belarus) driving the Essa Autosport / ISC Suspension BMW E46. His score would have seen him among the top FD PRO drivers thanks to maintaining deep lines throughout the course.
Second place went to Mike Power (USA) driving the Power Racing / MA Motorsport Nissan Silvia S15. He was sitting in 19th place in the Link ECU PROSPEC Championship after the first round but nailed his single qualifying run.
Third place went to the Link ECU PROSPEC Championship leader, Nick Noback (USA). Having won the opening round in his KoruWorks BMW E46, he let everybody know he intended to build his points lead, particularly with the absence of second-place Blake Olsen (USA). Technical problems with teammate Olsen’s KoruWorks / GT Radial BMW E92 meant he didn’t travel to Raceway Park, potentially gifting points to his rivals.
LINK ECU PROSPEC COMPETITION HEATS
With Noback qualifying first and winning the opening round of the 2021 Link ECU PROSPEC Championship, there was a question as to whether Brutskiy could do the same in Round 2. And he didn’t disappoint!
With 31 drivers eventually qualifying for the Top 32 heats, Brutskiy earned himself a bye round into the Top 16 where he met Kelsey Rowlings (USA) driving the Top 1 Oil / Drift Chick Nissan S14. And while both drivers set good lead runs, a mistake by Rowlings in the chase position, together with a consistent performance from Brutskiy, gave him the win.
Moving into the Top 8, his opponent was Micah Diaz (USA) driving the HoldFast / GT Radial / Proper Fabworks BMW E46. The all-BMW battle would again see Brutskiy emerge victorious, but not before the judges called for One More Time (OMT). When the runs were repeated, Brutskiy again set a fast pace, pressuring Diaz into a mistake as he tried to maintain proximity. With a cleaner chase run by the Champ, Brutskiy headed to the Top 4 to meet rookie Fallaise.
Showing the rookie no mercy, Brutskiy again took the win thanks to a superior chase run. And with Noback taking third place by virtue of a better qualifying position than Fallaise (who would finish the day in fourth and as the top rookie), Brutskiy simply had to eliminate Austin Matta (USA) in the Final.
Sticking with a winning formula, Brutskiy ran deep and clean in the lead position. And while Matta had great proximity at the wheel of the Don’t Matta Racing Nissan S14, he knew his own lead run would need to be on the money. Unfortunately, Matta pushed a little too hard and collided with the wall in Outside Zone 3. With three wheels on his wagon, Matta took the second step on the podium as Brutskiy climbed to the summit.
“This win meant so much to me because Englishtown is the closest track to my home,” Brutskiy told us after the trophy ceremony. “I had lots of friends and family here, so it was awesome to put on a show and actually make it to the top. I was hoping for a perfect weekend and we pulled it off thanks to my team who put me out in a great car every time. We tried different set ups during practice, and while not everything worked, it let us know what we needed to do. We stuck to the plan, everything worked out and we’re here, collecting the trophy. We also plan to keep doing this, keep it clean, put on a good show, and defend the Championship throughout the remainder of the season.”
Just like PROSPEC, the 2021 FD PRO Championship is bursting at the seams with talented drivers. In fact, 33 of them attempted to qualify for the 32 available places at FD NJ, which meant somebody would take an early shower. Unfortunately, it was Ryan Litteral (USA) whose Powerstop Brakes Nissan S15 was eliminated, narrowly losing out to Adam LZ (USA) in the LZ S15 by a single qualification point.
By some glitch in the Matrix, the top four FD PRO qualifiers at FD NJ placed in exactly the same order as at the previous round. This meant Chelsea DeNofa (USA) was again on top and keen to see if he could have another perfect weekend by qualifying and finishing first.
The BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D was #1 thanks to DeNofa scoring 95 qualifying points. He fractionally beat second-placed Justin Pawlak (USA), who received the same score in his Falken Tire Ford Mustang. However, the decision went to DeNofa thanks to one more style point than Pawlak.
The 2015 FD Champion, Fredric Aasbo (Norway), put his Rockstar Energy Drink Toyota GR Supra in third, while the 2021 FD PRO Championship points leader, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis (Lithuania), again qualified fourth in his Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S15 to keep him in contention.
Top placed FD PRO rookie was again 17 year-old Branden Sorensen (USA) driving the 212 Performance / Sorensen Motorsports BMW. He qualified 16th with a confidence that belied his youth.
PRO COMPETITION HEATS
Ultimately, DeNofa was unable to complete another perfect weekend. He’d be knocked out of the Top 8 heats by Ryan Tuerck (USA) in the Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobile1 Toyota Corolla Hatchback as he pushed to fourth place.
Despite a wet track for the duration of the Autozone Gauntlet presented by TYPE S, a different fairytale was being written by three-time FD Champion (2009, 2014, 2016) Chris Forsberg (USA). His weekend started poorly when bolts backed out of the flywheel, damaging the crank and requiring an engine swap before Friday qualifying. With ensuing throttle body and alternator failures, Forsberg could only qualify the NOS Energy / GT Radial Nissan 370Z in 31st place, narrowly avoiding disqualification. However, the team battled through to the Final against Matt Field (USA) before fate again sidelined Forsberg when his electrical gremlins resurfaced, cutting power in the middle of the first run. Despite a 5min Competition Time Out (CTO), Forsberg was forced to retire from the Final but claimed a valiant second place trophy.
For Matt Field, the inaugural Formula DRIFT event at the Raceway Park drift arena is not only his first round win since the Irwindale Final in 2016, but also the first time he’s won in the Falken Tire / Drift Cave Chevrolet Corvette since he introduced it in 2018.
Field’s path to the podium was probably the toughest of any driver. It began in the Top 32 where he ran six times against Jonathan Hurst (USA) in the Cash Racing Infiniti G37. While undoubtedly grueling, it gave Field more experience running on the wet track than all his opponents.
The rain had arrived shortly after the FD PRO Championship teams were introduced to the capacity crowd. And since nobody had practiced in the changing conditions, the drivers were allowed one sighting lap before each heat.
With heavy rain at the start of the Top 32, grip was almost impossible to find, causing the tires to scrabble for purchase. Despite this, both Field and Hurst committed to the track and ran deep into the course on their respective lead runs, flirting with the solid barriers. It was actually the chase position that proved more challenging as the drivers struggled to find proximity while anticipating the lead car’s trajectory.
After their first runs, the judges requested OMT since Field and Hurst were equally commanding in the lead and scrappy in the chase. Runs three and four were tidier but again they were both as good and as bad as each other. So the drivers again went OMT.
It was run five that finally separated Field from Hurst. A light collision between the two, with Hurst in the chase position, pushed Field off line. With Hurst assessed at fault, Field simply had to complete a clean run six to advance.
Things didn’t get any easier in the Top 16 as Field, sitting second in the FD PRO Championship, faced Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis, the current points leader and Falken Tire teammate.
Bakchis isn’t on top by chance. His precision and aggression are legendary, seemingly able to place his Falken Tires / Feal Suspension Nissan S15 exactly where it needs to be. However, Bakchis struggled with his lines in the chase position, running shallower than Field. His early elimination was a huge opportunity for his opponents, but Bakchis would only drop to second place behind Field in the FD PRO Championship once the points were tallied from FD NJ.
In the Top 8, Field was matched against Dean Kearney (Ireland) in the Oracle Lighting / Team Karnage Viper.This would be another fight to the death since the Irishman is at the top of his game and the Viper always has enough power. Unfortunately, that power may have contributed to a spin through the central transition, leaving Kearney with an incomplete run. Needing to pile on the pressure in the second run, Kearney collided with Field, causing him to abort the drift and putting him out of contention.
In the Top 4, Field met Tuerck and another epic battle ensued. After their first runs the judges requested OMT because both drivers had hit the marks perfectly in the lead position, while maintaining infeasible proximity in the chase. With the runs repeated, the decision went to Field by virtue of marginally deeper lines on his chase run.
Which brings us to the Final and Forsberg’s fairytale ending being crushed by technical issues. And despite returning to the start line after a Competition Time Out, Forsberg conceded before the second run could start.
“It’s pretty freakin’ cool to get the win tonight,” said an exuberant Field after the podium celebrations. “I’ve had a bit of a dry spell, to say the least: my last win was in the S14 at Irwindale 2016 when we had Gears of War sponsorship. We’ve had lots of podiums and second place finishes since then, but not a win – even though we were so close in Atlanta this year. But we finally did it! The team turned it up, I kept my right foot to the floor, and we now lead the FD PRO Championship! This win has been overdue and it’s great to finally get a win in the Corvette. We just need to focus on building on our momentum, making it to the Irwindale Finals and the 2021 Championship title.”
Among the celebrations at FD NJ, Federico Sceriffo won his Top 32 heat driving the FFF Drifting Department Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorella and finally advanced to the Top 16 for the first time in three years of FD competition. He would place 14th overall, one place behind Branden Sorensen (USA) driving the 212 Performance / Sorensen Motorsports BMW. Brandon currently shares the lead in the 2021 Rookie of the Year battle with Simen Olsen (Norway) driving the Race Supply Toyota GR Supra.
As always, we give the final word to Formula DRIFT President, Jim Liaw, “We made history this weekend with the biggest ever Formula DRIFT event on the East Coast. We surpassed the recent capacity crowd at Road Atlanta and may have even surpassed our big Long Beach and Irwindale events. We always knew we had the potential here because our previous venue always sold out, but by doubling the seating capacity at Raceway Park we were still able to fill it with diehard fans who stayed through the changing weather and a very long day packed with the best drifting action in the world. This is such a great way to kick off our partnership with Raceway Park and we’re looking forward to returning for many years to come. We’re also looking at how we can make the event even bigger and better in the future!”
2021 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
ROUND THREE FD PRO TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS
2021 FD PRO CHAMPIONSHIP TOP 16 STANDINGS
|9||Vaughn Gittin Jr||182|
2021 AUTO CUP TOP FIVE STANDINGS
2021 TIRE CUP STANDINGS
ROUND TWO PROSPEC TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS
|14||Javier Martinez Jr||52|
2021 FD PROSPEC TOP 16 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
Lake Erie Speedway will host Round Four of the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship on July 9-10. Please visit formulad.com for the competition schedule, ticket information, driver profiles, special content and the event livestream