ROBERT THORNE WINS 2022 FORMULA DRIFT PROSPEC CHAMPIONSHIP AT ROUND 4 IN UTAH, GUSHI WINS FD PRO ROUND 7
For the first time in the 19-year history of the Formula DRIFT series, Utah Motorsports Campus in Grantsville, UT hosted both the FD PRO Championship Round 7: Type S Elevated presented by Autozone as well as the Final Round of the Link ECU PROSPEC Championship.
As the fastest course on the 2022 schedule that saw the drivers initiating into the first turn at more than 100mph, the track presented a unique challenge. Teams would need to find enough grip to accelerate hard into the first turn, but not too much that the car wouldn’t transition smoothly. With three Outside Zones and two Inside Clips, the drivers also needed precision to hit the marks and advance to the final rounds.
The pressure on the Link ECU PROSPEC drivers was immense. With 31 points separating the top six positions and 14 drivers having a mathematical chance off winning the 2022 Championship title, the FCP Euro qualifying session would be critical. Not only would it allocate valuable points to the top three positions but also determine the competition match-ups and, as it transpired, would provide the top three qualifiers with bye runs through the Top 32 competition heats.
With names like Thorne, Brutskiy and Bogovich stealing the headlines in the first three rounds, Kasey Kohl (USA) made a surprise appearance at the top of the PROSPEC qualifying table. Scoring 86 points in his Mspek Performance Nissan S14.9, the 2022 series Rookie would be the cat among the pigeons as he not only claimed three Championship points but also a bye run. Sitting 11th overall and 84 points from the title lead, he’d be an unlikely Champion but was undoubtedly keen to make an impact in the final round.
In second place, Andy Hateley (USA) proved he’s still in contention in the Hateley Motorsports BMW E46 after winning the opening round in Orlando. Thirty-one points from the PROSPEC lead, Hateley had a genuine chance to claim the 2022 title, as did third-placed Jagger, who arrived in Utah fourth overall and 22 points from the top.
Link ECU PROSPEC Championship leader Robert Thorne (USA) put his ASMotorsport / Kats Coin BMW M3 in eighth position, one place ahead of Dmitriy Brutskiy who was in second, a single point behind Thorne and eager to win a third PROSPEC title with his DriftHQ / Link ECU / ISC Suspension / Enkei Wheels BMW M3 with Royal Purple.
Thirty-one drivers attempted to qualify for the Top 32 competition heats, with the bottom eight running a second time as part of the Knockout Qualifying Format (KQF). And with seven ruled incomplete on their first run, they needed to score points to avoid elimination. However, Rye O’Connor and Dustin Miles were unsuccessful and ended their 2022 season early. As a result, the top three drivers received a bye run through the Top 32 competition heats to further aid their championship aspirations.
A revised schedule saw the 2022 Link ECU PROSPEC Championship take place on Friday in front of packed grandstands and the Formula DRIFT livestream audience. The action unfold extremely quickly, with the first key battle coming in the Top 16 heats. It paired the title protagonists, Thorne against Brutskiy, with the loser ending their 2022 aspirations.
Typical of many runs, the combatants displayed their nerves and lack of track experience by making a series of mistakes. On the first run, Thorne ran incredibly wide in the final Outside Zone but managed to avoid being ruled incomplete. While Brutskiy in the chase position missed Outside Zone 1 (OZ1) and Inside Clip 1 before appearing to possibly straighten as he made a big correction to regain control. On the second run, Brutskiy performed well in the lead while Thorne missed several zones. A number of tense minutes passed as the judges assessed the combined performances and gave the win to Thorne on a split decision. The consensus was that Thorne made fewer mistakes and Brutskiy’s third title chase was decimated. He would end the year in fourth place overall.
Thorne faced top qualifier Kohl in the Top 8 in what was another messy heat. Thorne slid into Kohl at the start of the run and straightened twice before it was completed. However, Kohl ran off the track just before the finish line, meaning both drivers were ruled incomplete. After Kohl took time to check his Mspek Performance Nissan S14.9, Thorne executed a good lead run while Kohl ran deep in OZ1 and missed part of OZ2 and OZ3. The subsequent win allowed Thorne to move into the Top 4 and claim the 2022 Link ECU PROSPEC Championship title thanks to an unbeatable points tally.
He would be eliminated by Blake Olsen (USA) in the TNVC / Koruworks E92 BMW, who hit a phenomenal speed on his approach to the first turn, only to be hit soon after by Thorne who fought to keep proximity. The tap required a big correction from Thorne. And with his run ruled incomplete, the 2022 champion’s weekend was over and fourth place was one of his many rewards. A $10,000 payout from the FCP Euro Cup for being the top driver in a European car was another reward.
Olsen won Round 4 after defeating Derek Madison (USA) in the Final in his Fuelab Fuel Systems / Team Infamous Nissan S14. An untidy chase run gave Madison an impossible task on the lead run, and Olsen did enough to claim his first win, becoming the fourth victor of the four-round season.
“I was looking forward to this weekend because I have a lot of experience on road courses,” Olsen told us after the podium ceremony. “I struggled in qualifying because the track seemed slick but this morning it felt like we flicked a switch. The Top 32 went well and then we had the call in Top 16 with Tommy Lemaire where his trunk came open. Luckily, the judges saw it and that allowed us to build momentum to the Final. I can’t express how great this feels. Everything we’ve put together over the past eight years has finally paid off and I’d like to jump up to the FD PRO Championship if we can put the funding together. But this win was the icing on the cake after a tough year where I felt I was driving better than ever, but so was everybody else. I had a couple of podiums over the last couple of years but it feels great to finally win.”
We also spoke to Robert Thorne about his Championship title: “It was a stressful weekend; the Link ECU Championship was not easy,” Thorne recounted. “We came to FD with low expectations and assumed a big learning curve. Yet I seemed to figure out each round just in time and all of a sudden we were leading, and today we finally got the job done. I’m super-excited to take home the Link ECU Championship and FCP Euro Cup. The team had been killing it, which made my job easy; I just drove the car. But we have a long off-season to decide what to do next; we’ll either be back in PRO or defending the PROSPEC title and aiming for a second!”
With Matt Field (USA) taking a commanding lead in the 2022 PRO Championship title race, his opponents undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief as he tumbled to 23rd during the K&N Qualifying session at FD SLC. After making uncharacteristic mistakes on his run, Field would face a challenging route in the competition heats compared to his closest rival, Fredric Aasbo (Norway).
Qualifying first in the Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra, Aasbo was one of 14 drivers to score 90 points or more. Aasbo topped the list on 94 points, but was one of three drivers with an identical score. He took the top spot thanks to a superior style score over second place Dylan Hughes (USA) and Jhonnattan Castro (Dominican Republic) in third.
The top Rookie qualifier was Nick Noback (USA) who put his KoruWorks E46 BMW in 11th. He currently sits second in the Rookie title chase behind Mike Power (USA).
With 36 drivers attempting to qualify for the Top 32 competition heats, four would be eliminated in the Knockout Qualifying Format (KQF). These included Dan Burkett, Adam LZ, Yves Meyer and Joao Barion, who took no further part in the event.
With only two rounds remaining in the 2022 Formula DRIFT PRO Championship, the attention was on the leading title challengers. And with a different winner from each round, everybody was asking if it could possibly happen again.
Arriving in Utah in third place, Ryan Tuerck (USA) was the first title hopeful eliminated. He was knocked out of the Top 32 heats after a “One More Time” (OMT) battle with Mike Power (USA). While trying to apply pressure to Power in the chase position, Tuerck ran his Rain-X / Nitto Tire Toyota GR Corolla onto dirt in the high-speed Outside Zone 3 (OZ3). Bouncing off the tire barrier, the collision resulted in considerable damage and would drop Tuerck to fifth position in the Championship.
Championship leader, Matt Field (USA) was eliminated from the Top 16 heats after OMT with Ken Gushi (Japan). Field’s Drift Cave / Falken Tire C6 Corvette collided with the Ken Gushi Racing / Toyota Gazoo Racing NA GR86 on their third run. The damage meant Field required his 5min Competition Time Out (CTO) to make repairs. And on their fourth run, Field ran off the track at Inside Clip 2 (IC2). Despite the premature retirement, Field retained the Championship lead but his advantage has been reduced from 56 to 14 points as he contemplates the Irwindale Final.
The Top 8 heats saw the demise of fourth-placed Chris Forsberg (USA) and sixth-placed Dylan Hughes (USA). Forsberg lost to a charging Chelsea DeNofa (USA) who initiated into the first turn at 108mph, giving the driver of the NOS Energy Drink Nissan Z on GT Radials a tough chase. Hughes got lost in Gushi’s smoke trail and his DHR / Royal Purple / Falken Tire BMW ran off the track at OZ2. Both drivers retained their Championship positions and reduced the points deficit.
The Top 4 heats saw fifth-place DeNofa defeated by Fredric Aasbo (Norway) after the two collided in OZ2. DeNofa was ruled at fault for being off-throttle in the Pennzoil / BC Racing Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD, giving Aasbo nowhere to go. DeNofa finished the event in third and jumped from fifth to third in the 2022 title race.
The Final would match Toyota GR drivers Aasbo and Gushi. However, Papadakis Racing was unable to complete extensive repairs to the Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra in the allotted time following the DeNofa collision. This handed the win to Gushi and saw the seventh winner from seven rounds of the 2022 FD PRO Championship. It also represented Gushi’s first victory since the Irwindale Final in 2019. The win bumped him from tenth to seventh in the standings.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming to the Utah Motorsports Campus. All I’d seen was some video of Justin Pawlak driving a few laps but it looked like a fun track,” Gushi explained from the podium. “When I got here I was blown away by how hard the track was and couldn’t complete a single lap in practice. I got lucky in qualifying and placed seventh, which gave me some good battles against Kyle Mohan in Top 32 and then Matt Field in Top 16, which I won after some contact. Again there was contact with Dylan Hughes in Top 8 but I advanced to the Top 4 against Simen Olsen, although I’m not really sure how I got that decision. And then in the Final I should have met Toyota Gazoo Racing USA teammate Fredric Aasbo but he couldn’t run and I got a bye. And honestly, that final run on my own was where the track finally clicked. I’d felt uncomfortable all weekend but my team kept the car running and I’m really stoked to have won. The engine sounded a little hurt on the final run but we have a few weeks to check it and get the car running so I can try to repeat my 2019 Irwindale win.”
The leading FD PRO Rookie at FD SLC was Mike Power (USA) driving the Power Racing Nissan Silvia. He finished eighth and extended his lead in the Rookie title race, sitting in 15th place overall.
After Round 7, Toyota remains at the top of the 2022 Formula DRIFT PRO Auto Cup while Nitto regained the lead of the Tire Cup.
With the PRO Championship tightening, everybody is looking forward to the Final Round at Irwindale Speedway on October 14-15 when the new Champion will be crowned. So we turned to Formula DRIFT President Ryan Sage for his final thoughts: “It’s been an incredible weekend and a great proof of concept for the new venue, which saw fans attend in larger numbers than we expected”, Sage told us. “The track was super-fast, which made the action incredibly exciting. We crowned a new Champion in PROSPEC and saw new winners in both the PROSPEC and PRO Championships. We also saw the PRO Championship constrict as Matt Field went out in the Top 16 and opened the door to Aasbo, with DeNofa and Forsberg still having a chance. It means we again have an exciting prospect going into the Final Round, which is what this sport is all about.”
2022 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
ROUND 7 FD PRO TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS
2022 FD PRO TOP 16 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
2022 AUTO CUP TOP FIVE STANDINGS
2022 TIRE CUP STANDINGS
ROUND 4 FD PROSPEC TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS
FD PROSPEC TOP 16 CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL STANDINGS
Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, CA is the destination for the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship Round 8: Title Fight on October 14-15. Please visit formulad.com for the competition schedule, ticket information, driver profiles, special content, and the event livestream