At Formula D New Jersey last month, Team Falken had their most successful drift event of all time. Lead by event winner Darren McNamara, Falken drivers occupied all three spots on the podium. It was a big moment for the Falken drift organization, but the celebration couldn't go on forever. Just after the cars returned to their respective homes in Southern California and North Carolina, it was time to prepare for Formula D round four in Las Vegas. Last Thursday the pair of Falken transporters rolled across the desert and into the blazing confines of Las Vegas Motor Speedway – loaded with drift cars, spare parts, and enough Azenis rubber to last through an entire weekend of destruction.
As with the other Formula D events this year, we have used our media partnership and access with Team Falken to tag along with them and document their weekend.
Before the cars took to the track, I spent a little time in the Team Falken pit area looking over the cars. For the next few reports, we thought it would be cool to compare and contrast some of the details on the six cars that make up the team. Wheels make or break a car, so that's a good place to start. The tires on the cars may be the same, but their wheels are as varied as the cars themselves, with several different makers and styles represented.
Let's start with Tyler McQuarrie's 350Z. The wheels should be instantly recognizable as Enkei RPF1's – one of the most popular wheels in the motorsport world. They might not be the most exotic wheels around, but they can take a beating and the white paint looks nice against the green and blue Falken livery.
Dai Yoshihara's Lexus IS is far from the smooth luxury sedan it once was, but the multi-piece Iforged wheels help keep this monster four door classy. You might notice that the car was running a new set of white colored wheels in Vegas, as opposed to the black ones seen in earlier in the year.
Ross Petty's Garage Boso S15 Silvia wears a set of sexy Work XSA 03C's. They fit perfectly with the laid back personality of the Rossta machine.
Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s Mustang runs 18" wheels from HRE's Comp series. You'll see in a moment the fate that awaited one of these poor wheels…
Calvin Wan's S15 Silvia is sitting on SSR Professor MS1R's (18×10 front and 18×10.5 rear to be exact). It's a perfect design to match the lines of the S15.
Finally we have Darren McNamara's Saturn Sky, which is also running wheels from SSR. Unlike Calvin's multi-piece wheels, these are single piece SSR Type F's. The exterior of this car has been made over since the last time we saw it, and the wheels have been redone in black with green stripe to complement the graphics.
Here's a better view of the fresh DMac-mobile. Besides the cosmetic changes, Autosport Dynamics has also added a rear GT wing and front splitter to the car. Unfortunately none of these changes were able to tested because the car the developed engine trouble early on and was not able to run in the event. This was a major setback for Darren, who came into Vegas leading the FD point standings. As qualifying drew closer, the team tried to figure out a way to somehow get DMac onto the track.
Meanwhile, the fans lined up for Friday evening's driver autograph session – something that Dai and Tyler seemed to enjoy to despite wearing their racing suits in the 105 degree heat.
Another bit of misfortune came during practice when Vaughn Gittin Jr. scrubbed the wall in his Mustang. A questionable setup on the K-rails caused the damage to be much worse than it would have been otherwise. Essentially the entire front passenger side corner of the car was destroyed…
The car was in need of heavy repairs. To me it looked like the JR's weekend was done, and everyone else who saw the crash agreed. A bit later JR told us that they were gonna try to get the car fixed in time for qualifying. "No problem" he said, "I've got my green tape…". I thought he was joking, but he was dead serious…
The damage was extensive, but the ASD crew jumped into action as they tried to get the Mustang repaired in a short amount of time. One saving grace was that the crash happened very early in the practice session, meaning there were a couple hours to work on the car before it was JR's time to qualify. Would the guys be able to get the pony rolling again?
With the Mustang still under the knife, qualifying got under way. Dai Yoshihara impressed with an 89-point run, putting himself in fifth position for the Top 32 on Saturday night.
Ross Petty also got into the show with a decent run in his Silvia.
As did Tyler McQuarrie, putting on his usual smoke show…
Amazingly, the ASD mechanics somehow got JR's Mustang back into running condition in time for his qualifying runs. They may have got the car working, but would it drift?
Yes it would. With the front end plastered in his trusty tape, JR took the battered Mustang out and drove it as hard as it would go. A 71-point run earned him 19th overall. Thanks in large part to the quick work of his crew, JR and the 'Stang were ready to rock for Saturday's competition!
While JR had successfully bounced back from his crash, there was the still the issue of Darren McNamara's lack of a working vehicle. Considering Darren's position on top of the standings and after some hard thinking it was decided that he would borrow his teammate Calvin Wan's S15 in an attempt to get into the Top 32. Darren made two runs in the Silvia and despite his and the crew's efforts, was unable to score enough points to earn a spot in the Top 32. Not only was Darren unfamiliar with the car, but he didn't have much time to learn the course. In a major setback for his championship hopes, the points leader would have to watch Saturday's action from the sidelines.
Back at the track on Saturday, the crew continued working to get the JR's Mustang as back to normal as possible. By the time they were done, you wouldn't believe the car had taken such a hard hit the day before.
As the sun began to set and the air began to cool (slightly), the Top 32 began. Tyler McQuarrie's first opponent was Ken Gushi, and after a One More Time match, Tyler and the Z moved onto the Top 16. Ross Petty would also move on from his Top 32 battle with Stephan Verdier.
Vaughn Gittin Jr. faced Kenji Yamanaka, and emerged as the victor on his way to the Top 16. The crash had become a distant memory…
JR has a bit of captain in him as he chats with some fans during the half-time break between the Top 32 and Top 16.
A bit later in the Top 16, JR would face Justin Pawlak in a V8 vs. rotary battle. Justin came way with the victory here, ending the dramatic weekend for Vaughn Gittin Jr. and his crew. They hoped to go further of course, but after defying the odds to get the car running again, JR was able to come out of the event holding a solid position in the standings.
By the Final Four, it was Tyler McQuarrie who was left to fly the Falken colors. He had beaten Robbie Nishida in the Top 16, Mike Essa in the Top 8, and his opponent in the semi-final would be Tanner Foust. Tyler put up a huge fight, and it wasn't until after an OMT when Tanner was finally awarded the victory. Tyler's night wasn't over yet though, as he still had a chance to earn a podium spot in his battle with Chris Forsberg for third.
After another tough battle, Chris Forsberg would advance from this battle of V8 Z roadsters. Tyler McQuarrie just missed his second consecutive podium finish, but another solid performance left him sitting nicely in the season standings.
It was a weekend full of up and downs for Team Falken, but thanks to perseverance from the repair crew, and a big helping of driving talent, The team emerged from Las Vegas in good shape. Vaughn Gittin Jr. is now fourth in the standings with Tyler McQuarrie right behind him in fifth. Down but certainly not out is Darren McNamara, who's holding sixth place. With the Seattle event looming in just a few weeks from now, it's time for Team Falken repair the scars and dig in for the second half of the season.