Less than a month after the 2009 Formula Drift season kicked off in Long Beach, Team Falken headed to the green hills of Georgia last weekend for the second round of FD action at Road Atlanta. The unforgiving Long Beach course presented some challenges to the new and improved Falken drift team, but now that the drivers had some seat time and the crews had a chance to adjust the cars, everyone was looking to step things up in Atlanta. Late in the week, the two Falken transporters (one from California and one from nearby North Carolina) arrived at Road Atlanta to unload and prepare for a long weekend of drifting action.
Here we see one of the crew members from Autosport Dynamics making some adjustments to Darren McNamara's Saturn Sky before practice begins on Friday afternoon. DMac has had success at Road Atlanta in the past, so everyone was expecting big things from him here.
As you saw during my last Team Falken report from Long Beach, Daijiro Yoshihara's new Lexus IS350 was still needed some work following the event. In the time since Long Beach, the steering rack on the IS was adjusted and suspension guru Mike Kojima helped the team get the car properly dialed in for its second round of competition in Atlanta. Would the new adjustments pay off?
Here's Dai and Tyler McQuarrie enjoying a quick chat during the autograph session on Friday. The Atlanta drift fans came out in droves to get autographs from their favorite FD drivers.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. and his 2010 Mustang were crowd-favorites in Atlanta. JR needed no time before he started attacking the course at full bore. Look at that steering angle!
The first setback for Team Falken came when Calvin Wan's S15 took some damage to the rear spindle during the opening moments of Friday afternoon's practice session. The car was taken to the pits where the crew rushed to get the car fixed in time for qualifying.
On Friday evening qualifying kicked off. One of the first Falken cars on the track was Dai's IS350. The changes made to the car since Long Beach paid off, because was Dai was able to lay down an 88.1 point qualifying run in the big Lexus. This impressive run was good for second overall.
On Friday afternoon Tyler McQuarrie's 350Z convertible developed some engine trouble caused by a bad cam sensor. Things didn't look good for the Z as qualifying began. In a great showing of team work and strategy, Darren McNamara (who had already made the Top 32) gave up his second qualifying run and donated his cam sensor to McQuarrie. Tyler repaid Darren and the team for their quick thinking and hard work by securing 13th overall during his one and only qualifying run. When everything was said and done, all six of the Falken-supported cars were able to qualify for the Top 32, including Calvin Wan who bounced back from his car damage to take the final 32nd spot.
It was a successful day for Team Falken, who put all of their cars on the grid after overcoming mechanical problems. Now it was time to get ready for Saturday's tandem competition.
As with the rest of their events this year, Falken gave away a customized guitar at Road Atlanta. As you might guess from the four-leaf clover there, this particular guitar was designed by Irishman Darren McNamara.
Tyler's Z is shined up before Saturday's tandem competition begins. Looking good is a big part of drifting, right?
After one final practice session on Saturday afternoon, it was time to start the main event.
The first match was of the Top-32 was Calvin Wan vs. the number one qualifier Tanner Foust. Calvin fought hard, but just couldn't match Tanner on the faster parts of the course. The first Falken driver had been eliminated.
The next Falken car to run was Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s Mustang, which was matched up against the AE86 Corolla of Taka Aono. It was clear that the AE86 couldn't run head to head with the powerful Mustang, but JR was a good sport and made sure to keep the Mustang as close as he could to Taka's Corolla. Vaughn and the 'Stang would advance to the Top 16.
Next up was Tyler McQuarrie (with a new cam sensor that had been rushed down from ASD in Charlotte), who was matched against of the FC3S RX7 of rookie Mike Essa. This exciting battle required a "One More Time" to finish, but Tyler eventually advanced when Essa's FC spun in the first corner.
The next Falken car to run was Daijiro Yoshihara , who faced the S14 of Pat Mordaunt. What followed was on the most intense battles of the entire weekend. After a One More Time and some of the tightest competition I've ever seen in Formula D, the judges finally gave the win to Pat. Dai's weekend was over a bit earlier than he had hoped for, but it was still a much better showing than he and the new Lexus had in Long Beach.
For his Top 32 match, Darren McNamara faced the 350Z driven by Carl Rydquist. This was another of the many fights that required a OMT to determine a winner. Carl put up a great fight, but it was DMac who advanced to the Top 16 after this tough battle.
Last but not least, Ross Petty took to the track in his "Rossta" S15 to run against the R34 Skyline of Kenji Yamanaka. After an incredible run where Ross put his S15 door-to-door with Kenji's Skyline, he was awarded victory in this battle of the JDM machines.
With the Top 32 over with, all but two of the Falken drivers had advanced to the next round.
A scary moment came during the driver introductions for the Top 16 when Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s Mustang suffered an engine fire. Thanks to quick action from the Road Atlanta safety crew, the fire was quickly extinguished and the Mustang was OK for the Top 16.
JR's opponent in the Top 16 was his good friend and current Formula D points leader Ryan Tuerck. The first run with Vaughn leading was a fantastic one as he ran alongside his Drift Alliance teammate. During the second run, the Mustang's engine cut out and briefly lost its drift at the exit of the horse shoe curve. This was enough to give the win to the Tuerck. JR had obviously hoped for a better finish, but it was a good fight between two of FD's top drivers.
Next up was Tyler McQuarrie, who faced the RX7 of Ryuji Miki for his Top 16 match. Tyler easily advanced to the Great Eight when Miki swung way wide into the dirt around the horse shoe.
Next, two Falken drivers squared off when Darren McNamara faced Ross Petty in the Best 16. This was both good and bad for Falken as it guaranteed that one of them would advance to the Great Eight, but also that one of them would not. In the end it was Darren who advanced when Ross entered the first corner too hot and spun his Silvia into the sand pit.
It was time to move onto the Great Eight, with Darren McNamara and Tyler McQuarrie remaining to represent Falken.
In the Great Eight, Tyler was matched up against Chris Forsberg in a battle of the V8-powered 350Z convertibles. Tyler drove hard, but Chris earned the victory here. It should also be noted that Chris displayed some great sportsmanship when Tyler's car stalled at the line and Chris waited for Tyler when some drivers would use that opportunity to take a big lead. With Tyler being eliminated, Team Falken was down to just one car remaining.
Darren McNamara's opponent in the Great Eight was Robbie Nishida, one of FD's toughest drivers. During their first run, Robbie spun his 350Z at the first corner and all Darren had to do was put down another clean run to advance. This was no problem for DMac, who was feeling totally at home on the Road Atlanta course. He would now move onto the Final Four.
In the Final Four Darren McNamara went against the S13 driven by Joon Maeng. Unfortunately for Joon, he lost a cylinder on his car and wasn't able to put up much of a fight against Darren. With that, DMac would head to the final to face off against Chris Forsberg.
And so McNamara and Forsberg began their incredible fight for victory at Formula D Atlanta. The crowd was on their feet as these two V8-powered open roof machines battled it out under the lights.
Neither driver would give up an inch, and as you can see here, Darren kept the pressure on Chris when he was following. The judges needed a second run before they could determine a winner. After the second match, the judges announced they had found a winner. Unlike most battles though, it was hard to predict who they would choose. In the end it was Chris Forsberg who won the event, but Darren had an incredible night, earning Team Falken its first podium of the season.
And so the second round of the 2009 Formula Drift season was in the books. Before the champagne had even dried, the cars were loaded back into the Falken transporters for the trip back to their shops in North Carolina and Southern California.
After a night of celebration at the local Irish pub (fitting for DMac isn't it?), it was time to head home and start gearing up for Formula D round three, which will be held in just over three weeks from now at Wall Speedway in New Jersey.
Following their success in Atlanta, Team Falken will certainly be hungry for more in Jersey.