It takes about, oh, five minutes to understand why Atlanta is one of the favourite destinations on the Formula DRIFT calendar. Beautiful weather, great atmosphere and, for the spectators, a vantage point that allows you to see the entire track.
The Atlanta round runs well into the evening, allowing for some spectacular images like this gem from Linhbergh.
For the drivers, it was time to get serious. While the mood in the pits was more jovial on Thursday and Friday, for race day it was all about getting down to business…
…And at Road Atlanta, that means careening down hill for a quick left-hander, before climbing up hill for the horseshoe. The drivers then loop around and head back towards the start line. You can check out the course layout here.
Before the FD cars descended onto the track, I trekked through the parking lot to check out some of the cars.
Don’t we all have a soft spot for old school Zs?
It wouldn’t be a drift event without some S14s in the parking lot!
This BMW sleeper certainly caught me by surprise!
I’ve been tossing around the idea of picking up an EVO X, so I was immediately drawn to this dust covered example in the parking lot.
Nearby was this facelift black-on-black Z33.
While pottering around in our golf cart, Linhbergh and I were spotting quite a few Miatas…
Old vs new? Honda vs Toyota? Two NA FR machines wearing matching shoes.
Kicking off the day (along with a nice cloud of dust) was the practice session for the Top 32.
With the majority of drivers concentrating on solo runs in the Friday practice, today’s session allowed them to prepare for the tandem battles.
Canadian Pat Cyr and his S2000 F20C-powered Hachi is a popular car with the FD crowd. Here he gets nice and close to Aurimas Bakchis, who is in his second year of professional drifting.
During a practice run with Ken Gushi, Matt Powers ran wide; the track chewing off the Rocket Bunny rear bar.
Matt wasn’t the only driver sporting the dragging bumper look.
Matt’s team mate Fredric Aasbo suffered an issue with an engine valve, however the Papadakis Racing crew were able to get the Scion up and running before the battles begun.
Ken Gushi’s last run for the day would be against Charles Ng in the Top 32. Although Gushi won the battle, mechanical issues forced him to retire the Scion.
A coolant hose came off Kyle Mohan’s Mazda RX-8, and with nowhere to go Eric O’Sullivan made contact, sending both of them into the gravel trap.
O’Sullivan, who signed with Gardella Racing this year, put on an impressive display all weekend. Fortunately for Eric, the team were able to repair the Solstice in time for his Top 16 battle.
The first corner saw more action, with Jeff Jones spinning in front of Dai.
The Top 32 also saw the battle of the Matt V8 S14s, with Matt Powers going up against Matt Field. MTP progressed through.
Joon Maeng had a devastating end to his weekend. After qualifying in third, Joon suffered mechanical problems in the Top 32…
…Meaning Fatlace’s Walker Wilkerson went on to the Top 16.
With the sun setting, it was time for the Top 16 Parade.
The crowd really comes alive for the parade, and it’s a chance for them to see the drivers out of their cars. Here Fredric poses with Team Need for Speed’s Courtney Day.
Ryan Tuerck jumped from the Red Bull Soltice to a new Camaro, and was doing surprisingly well in what is a new car for him. He couldn’t do enough however, with JTP making it through to the Great 8 after this battle between Chevrolet and Ford.
Chris Forsberg was another driver continuing his form from Long Beach…
…Knocking out Eric O’Sullivan with some very aggressive driving.
Vaughn had a point to prove this weekend, having failed to qualify at Long Beach. Falken Tire team mate Tyler McQuarrie is certainly no slouch, and their Top 16 battle was extremely close.
Vaughn was given the nod, and he’d face off with the winner of Aasbo vs Yoshihara in the Great 8.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the battle between Dai and Fredric.
Here’s the first run, with Dai Yoshihara leading and Aasbo chasing.
In the second run, Fredric threw down an incredible entry into the first turn…
…But in Turn 2 Fredric ran a little wide, dropping one of the Scion’s wheels off the course.
The win was given to Dai Yoshihara. After this round, Fredric is currently 7th in the championship standings. Although Fredric might be a little disappointed, I’m sure he won plenty of fans in Atlanta with his aggressive driving!
Dai had the unenviable task of going up against Fredric in the Top 16, followed quickly with a battle against JR. The Japanese driver continued his winning streak however, knocking out the reigning champ.
Matt Powers made a couple of small errors in his lead lap against Darren McNamara, so in his chase run he cranked it up a couple of notches.
And then some. There was contact between the two drivers, as can be seen by D-Mac’s door!
Patrick Mordaunt was another driver who was dealt a heavy blow. With Ken Gushi ruled out, Patrick was given a bye in his Top 16 battle, needing only to do a solo pass to make it through to the Great 8.
Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.
The on-track drama continued. As the sun dropped behind the horizon and the track lights came on, it was time for the Great 8. Chris Forsberg came in a little too hot into turn one…
….Spinning out and narrowly missing John Russakoff’s AE86.
…Which meant Russakoff progressed through to the Top 4. The Megan Racing crew must have been over the moon!
My ears are still ringing from the crowds screaming when the Dai vs Vaughn battle got under way.
Although Vaughn was beaten by Yoshihara, it was important for Vaughn to take home a healthy chunk of points from Atlanta. With five rounds to go, literally anything can happen.
JTP was looking to back up his Long Beach win…
…But unfortunately he spun in his Great 8 battle, handing team mate D-Mac the last remaining spot in the top four.
So far, 2011 has proven to be John Russakoff’s best season. I’m sure he must’ve been pinching himself when he lined up against Dai Yoshihara in their Top 4 battle.
In the other Top 4 round, D-Mac squared off with Yoshioka…
…Darren’s Saturn proved too strong for Yoshioka, with D-Mac and Yoshihara progressing to make the Final Battle an all Falken affair.
In the consolation battle, Yoshioka did enough to edge out Russakoff for the final step on the podium.
The crowd was on their feet for the Final Battle, and McNamara and Yoshihara certainly didn’t disappoint. Both drivers were extremely committed, clocking 93mph on the entry of this run.
Dai was all over the back-end of the Saturn Sky…
…And the judges were unanimous in their decision, giving the round win to Yoshihara.
Congratulations to Dai Yoshihara, Darren McNamara, and Toshiki Yoshioka!
FD Atlanta threw up plenty of action and a good handful of on-track drama, making for an awesome event. And judging by the huge traffic jam to get out of Road Atlanta, there was a great turnout to soak it all up.
The next round will see the FD circus visit South Florida for the very first time. A new track layout will be used, which should make for a very interesting event!
– Charles Kha