Ever since drifting first made its way stateside in the early 2000's, Falken Tire has been without question the biggest supporter of drifting in the United States. In the years since, Team Falken's iconic blue and green race cars, their drivers, the massive Team Falken transporters, and of course the Falken umbrella girls have become staples at drift events all over the country.The current economic climate has caused many companies to pull back on their motorsport activities, but Falken has remained totally committed to supporting drifting, and for 2009 they are fielding an even stronger roster, with new drivers and new cars all around.
Throughout the season, Speedhunters will be teaming up with Falken to deliver reports on the team's adventures at drift events (and other motorsport events) around the country. Last weekend at the Formula D Long Beach event, I was able to see Falken's new drift team in action, and get a closer look at some of the new cars wearing Falken colors this year. Since this is the first of our Falken reports for 2009, an introduction to the 2009 Falken drift lineup is in order.
Things kicked off on Thursday night when Formula D drivers and their cars gathered on the streets of downtown Long Beach for an informal gathering and autograph session. As you'd expect the sight and sound of these pro drift cars rolling down the streets drew a lot of attention from the locals. All of the Falken cars made it out for this event, including Tyler McQuarrie and his his all new V8-powered 350Z convertible. Parked behind Tyler's Z you can see the Saturn Sky driven by Darren McNamara, a returning driver for 2009.
Darren's V8-powered Sky was built by Autosport Dynamics in North Carolina. ASD has had a close relationship with Team Falken over the past couple years, building several of their competition drift cars.
Tyler's 350Z was also built by ASD, and with the Saturn Sky it adds more open-top V8 goodness to Team Falken's car lineup. The Long Beach event was the competition debut for the Z, and Tyler spent most of the weekend adjusting to the new car. Tyler said the biggest issue with the driving the new car was the softness of the suspension – something that will be addressed for the next Formula D event.
Rounding out the trio of ASD-prepared cars on Team Falken is fellow Speedhunter Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s 2010 Ford Mustang GT. Long Beach was the competition debut for the new 'Stang, but looking at the way JR was driving it all weekend, you'd think he was born in it. We'll be posting a full feature on the new Mustang later on.
Of course not all of Team Falken's drift cars are V8-powered monsters. Longtime Falken driver Calvin Wan debuted in his newly-prepared S15 Silvia in Long Beach. Calvin was very happy with the car, but the S15's right hand drive layout will certainly take some getting used to. If you consider yourself to be a purist when it comes to drift cars, you can do no better than a stylish S15 like Calvin's.
Next up we have the Discount Tire x Falken Lexus IS350, which is driven by longtime drifting star Daijiro Yoshihara. It took a while for Dai to get a hold of of the big V8-powered sedan, but on each run it was obvious that he was getting better and better at it.
Last, but certainly not least is the Garage BOSO x Falken Tire S15 Silvia, built and driven by Ross Petty. The "Rossta" S15 was one was one the most talked about cars at the event, and it drew a constant stream of people to the Team Falken paddock as they came to get a closer look at this wild machine.
If you've ever been to a Formula D event, then you know how active the Team Falken paddock is. Some people come to get autographs from the Team Falken drivers, as Vaughn Gittin Jr. is seen doing here…
…while some come to see the lovely Falken umbrella girls.
OR you come enter a drawing to win a custom-painted Falken guitar. There is going to be one of these given away at EVERY Formula Drift event this season. The guitar given away at Long Beach was designed by Dai Yoshihara. What do you think of his design?
Speaking of Dai, during morning practice on Saturday his Lexus took a pretty big hit to the rear, but the Falken crew was able to get it fixed in time for the start of competition.
Since all of them Team Falken drivers were able to qualify for the tandem competition, Falken crew members like Jonathon Bradford would have a busy day on Saturday as they overlooked the activities on the track.
Tyler McQuarrie was matched up with Sam Hubinette's Viper during the Top 32. Like a lot of the drivers that would end up facing Sam, Tyler was got caught up when the Viper braked hard at the entrance to the final hairpin, forcing Tyler to spin on this tricky part of the course.
The biggest setback for Team Falken came when Calvin Wan faced the eventual champion Ryan Tuerck during the Top 32. Calvin ended up hitting the wall, which sadly put some damage on the new car. Incidents like this are what have made the Long Beach course a notorious one among Formula D drivers. Hopefully the car will be fully repaired by the Formula D Atlanta event next month.
Ross Petty ended up facing Japanese drifter Katsuhiro Ueo during the top 32 in a match-up of S15 Silvias. Ross had been having a good weekend in his new car, but former D1GP champion Ueo was able to advance from this entertaining battle.
Dai Yoshihara faced off against Jeff Jones in the Top 32. Dai was still not totally comfortable in the Lexus, and his day would end here. Quite an unexpected outcome for an experienced driver like Dai, but something that comes with the territory of debuting a new car.
Darren McNamara first faced fellow Irishman Eric O'Sullivan in the Top 32. D-Mac drove solid against O'Sullivan and was awarded the victory here. In the Top 16 Darren was matched up with Tony Brakohiapa's Mustang. After a close fight between the two V8-powered machines, Darren spun the Saturn Sky – ending his weekend.
It was smooth sailing for Vaughn Gittin Jr. on the maiden voyage of his 2010 Mustang GT. He earned victories against Joon Maeng in the Top 32, and again versus Yasu Kondo in the Top 16. In the Great Eight he would be matched up the Samuel Hubinette…
What happened next was one of the most talked-about battles at the event.
When JR was following Sam into the final hairpin, Hubinette again put the brakes on hard. JR isn't one to back down in situations like this, so he just kept on it – spinning the Viper and mangling the bumper of his Mustang in the process. Although many disagreed, the judges ruled in Sam's favor after this controversial match up.
With that, Team Falken's day was over.
It was an eventful weekend for the Falken Drift Team. Although the results could have been better, it wasn't all too bad considering most of the team were driving new cars and the always-rising level of competition in Formula D. I, like many who attended the event, was left wondering what would have happened had the judges ruled the other way during JR's match with Hubinette.
Team Falken will now get to fixing the damage and preparing for the cross-country trip to the second round of Formula D in Atlanta less than a month from now.
Stay tuned to Speedhunters for more on Team Falken's activities throughout the season, including the debut of their ALMS Porsche at this weekend's Long Beach Grand Prix.