First there were 32, and then there 16. The first half of this weekend's Formula Drift competition saw some big upsets, and some developments that will really shake up the championship standings with just one event (make that 1.5 events) remaining in the season.
OK then, let's jump right into today's Top 32 tandem action from Formula Drift at Infineon Raceway.
The Top 32 kicked off with Katsuhiro Ueo facing Jeff Jones. Ueo easily moved on from this match, not a surprising outcome when the number one qualifier goes against the 32nd. The losers of the Top 32 got an early end to their weekend, while the winners will move on to tomorrow's Top 16 comp.
Next up were Darren McNamara and Pat Mordaunt. McNamara and his Saturn Sky would end up victorious in this battle of two drastically different FD machines.
Robbie Nishida v. Ken Gushi was an interesting match as both of these guys typically last beyond the Top 32. Today it was Gushi who moved on after Robbie came in a little shallow during their first run.
Dai Yoshihara easily moved on from the next match when his opponent Eric O'Sullivan spun early on. Even without the spin, Dai has been looking rather good in his new S13.
Next up Rhys Millen faced the blown G35 of Ron Ewerth. The good weekend for the Redbull Hyundai continued when Ewerth spun, allowing Rhys to easily move on to the Top 16.
Tyler McQuarrie was in the hunt for the championship until a faulty cam sensor caused him to bow out of his match against Kenji Yamanaka. Kenji moved on with an easy bye run. Tough luck for Tyler.
Alex Pfeiffer has been looking good this weekend in the Tanaka Racing Corvette. His victory over FD rookie Cody Parkhouse was an easy one.
No battle could better represent the diversity in FD than the one between Tanner Foust and Matt Powers. A full time works-backed pro driver versus a scrappy privateer.
Matt drove amazingly well, but just couldn't stand up to Tanner's NASCAR-powered smoke monster. Foust moved to the Best 16.
Two of Formula D's most stylish cars went at it next when Taka Aono faced Ryuji Miki. Taka's car appeared to have some engine trouble, and the Miki the former D1 champ was able to advance here.
The day's closest battle came when Kyle Mohan faced fellow Cooper Tires driver Tony Brakohiapa. This would be the day's first OMT.
In the end it was Mohan and his screaming rotary who was able outdrive Tony's 'Stang and earn the victory.
The next match was a big one as far as the season points race is concerned – second place driver Ryan Tuerck vs. fourth place driver Sam Hubinette. During their second run, Ryan Tuerck did a very un-Tuerck like thing and lost his drift for a moment. This allowed Hubinette to advance and pretty much eliminated Tuerck's championship hopes. Oh, the drama of drifting.
The next run was a bit less dramatic. Bill Sherman's S13 was unable to make it to the line following an engine failure, giving Yasu Kondo a bye.
The next match would be one of the biggest upsets of the season, and also one of the toughest from a judge's perspective. As Calvin Wan and Chris Forsberg entered the tear drop corner during their first run, Calvin's S15 made contact with Forsberg's Z – damaging his tie rod.
Because of the damage to his car, Forsberg's ability to make a clean run was lost and Calvin was eventually declared to the winner after an OMT match. This was a very tough call from a judging standpoint as Forsberg wasn't responsible for the damage on his car, but such is the unpredictable nature of drifting. The first place driver in the points race was eliminated in the Top 32, and that will surely shrink his lead heading into the Irwindale season closer.
During the next match Stephan Verdier defeated Kazu Hayashida's S15 after two mistake-free runs.
The smell of burnt Azenis filled the air next when Vaughn Gittin Jr. faced Ross Petty.
This battle was pretty much over before it started. Ross spun at the entrance to the tear drop, virtually handing the win to JR and the Stang (who'd been deailing with brake issues earlier in the day).
The final match of the Top 32 put the 3-rotor RX8 of Justin Pawlak against the V8 RX7 of Michael Essa.
It was a very close fight until Essa spun during their second run. JTP and the Bergenholtz RX8 would be the last car to earn a spot in the Top 16.
So there you have it.
To recap we saw the three of the biggest championship contenders (Forsberg, Tuerck, and McQuarrie) all eliminated in the Top 32 meaning it's going to come down to the wire for the '09 FD championship – no matter what happens tomorrow.
OK time to fill my stomach and gear up for the tomorrow's conclusion to what's turning out to be a very exciting round of competition in Sonoma.