We Go Again At The Streets Of Long Beach
Evolution, Not Revolution

For those of us that know and love professional level drifting, the first round of Formula Drift each year is an obvious highlight on our calendar.

As you likely remember, I documented the entire 2017 Formula Drift season with Worthouse Drift Team, following the progress of James Deane and Piotr Więcek throughout their first full seasons in North America. While our coverage for 2018 will revert to an overall look at the series, it was immediately obvious that the two Worthouse drivers will once again feature prominently this season.

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2018 sees considerable additions to the Formula Drift paddock, most significantly the return of style king Forrest Wang. From the off, it was immediately obvious that Forrest has used his break away from the sport to reconsider his approach to competitive drifting. There’s a newfound sharpness to his style, along with a considerable increase in speed.

Italy’s Federico Sceriffo brought the wow factor with his new Ferrari 599 drift car. I’m sure we’re all aware by now how his weekend came to an abrupt halt, but it was an otherwise strong debut for the Italian. In fact, despite the fire, he was the second highest finishing rookie at Long Beach, behind Dirk Stratton.

Otherwise, it was a case of evolution rather than revolution for the season opener. Most of the Pro field chose to retain their 2017 vehicles, with some notable exceptions. Last year’s championship runner-up, Fredric Aasbø, has moved to an all new Corolla which he considers a significant upgrade over his 2017 car. Falken driver Matt Field has swapped his S14 for a C6 Corvette, with Latvian Kristaps Blušs sticking with the new HGK E92 Eurofighter which he debuted unexpectedly at Irwindale last season.

The obvious absence from Long Beach was Irishman Dean Kearney who had a motor fail before the event, preventing him from making the line for qualifying. He will return for the next event in Orlando. However, the grid has been bolstered by the addition of some of last year’s top-running Pro 2 drivers, although Long Beach was still two drivers short of a complete Top 32.

The Talking Points

There was always going to be questions asked if last year was just a one-off in the case of James Deane’s and Piotr Więcek’s immediate success in the series. After qualifying was done and dusted, that question was answered, and emphatically. Between both drivers, there were four 96-point scored runs, locking out the top two qualification spots with Piotr having the slightest edge over James under the judges’ style criteria. This would give both Worthouse drivers a bye run straight through to the Top 16.

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The Top 32 was largely straightforward, save for the last battle between Chelsea Denofa and Federico Sceriffo. On Chelsea’s lead run, he was hit on the first corner and went head-first into the tyres. On the second run, following some quick repairs to the Mustang, Federico had a mechanical failure on initiation and headed straight up the run-off and into the wall before the car caught fire. It’s thought that a damaged front suspension arm in the original clash with Chelsea broke on initiation, sending the car into the wall with the front left wheel then splitting a fuel line causing the fire. Thankfully, Federico escaped unharmed and the car will be back for the next round.

Speaking of the Mustangs, it was Chelsea who looked the strongest of the RTR twins throughout the event. I’m still not sold on the three-wheelin’ setup of either car, which seems to only highlight errors and throttle lifts, but it does make for great photographs. Vaughn Gittin Jr. definitely struggled on Saturday more so; I don’t recall ever seeing him spin so often in practice and it was a spin which would eliminate him from the Top 16 when facing Forrest Wang.

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Despite following the series so closely last year, I’m still not sure if I’ve seen the best of Ryan Tuerck. In his defence, he was plagued with engine problems last year, so 2018 should really be the season he can push forward provided those mechanical gremlins stay behind him.

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Another point of discussion was the Top 8 battle between James Deane and Alec Hohnadell. Deane’s lead run saw him take a small advantage into the second half of the battle, but from there, it all went a bit pear shaped for both drivers. Hohnadell appeared to go too hot through the first corner and make contact with the wall at the ‘touch and go’. This caused him to straighten and reinitiate, but earned him an incomplete in the process.

In an unrelated incident behind Hohnadell, Deane broke a rear suspension arm during his chase. He attempted to keep going but by doing so inflicted further damage to the rear left corner of the S15 before stranding the car at the hairpin. With both drivers on an incomplete, the judges deferred to the first run and awarded the win to James. Was it the right call? By the letter of the rules, yes. In spirit, I think we all would have liked to see them both go OMT. Rules are the rules, however.

The damage inflicted on the Worthouse car (which included a broken arm, axle and a damaged coilover) would prove too much to repair in time for Deane’s Top 4 battle with Forrest Wang, despite the use of a competition time-out. Forrest would get a bye through to the final, and we will have to wait for another day to see the Deane/Wang battle we all want.

The other Top 4 final would see Aasbø and Więcek go head to head. With the Pole first out of the trap, he lay down a lead run not that dissimilar to his first place qualifying run. Running from one wall to the next, with full commitment and maximum throttle, he was shadowed by Aasbø in what might be one of the all time great lead/chase runs. Magical.

With the roles reversed, Piotr somehow managed to improve on what Aasbø had done from the same position, right up until a small error forced a straighten at the hairpin. Aasbø would rightly march on towards the final. There would be no shame in Więcek’s defeat, who has followed up his victory at Irwindale with a podium in Long Beach. That’s confirmed another Worthouse driver that the rest of the paddock needs to worry about.

With an eerie fog consuming the waterfront at Long Beach, we watched as Aasbø and Wang went to battle. While the battle required a OMT, the second run of events provided a clear-cut winner, with Wang having a comparatively poor chase run behind Aasbø which saw him fall back and run shallow through the touch and go in order to make up lost ground on the yellow Papadakis Racing car.

First blood to Aasbø it is. After failing to beat James Deane to the overall title last season, it’s a signal of intent from the Norwegian. Considering it was the Corolla’s first competitive event, too, it could be an indicator of a strong season ahead for him and his team. Wang’s return to Formula Drift was about as impressive as he could have hoped for; he was solid all weekend and seems to have evolved and matured considerably as a driver during his time away from the sport. There’s a lot to be said for the strong team performance by both Więcek and Deane, who rounded out the Top 4.

I think 2018 is going to a much closer affair than some might realise. Next stop on the Formula Drift calendar is Orlando in just three weeks time.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos
paddy@speedhunters.com

Photographed by Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

The Fog of War
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30 comments

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1
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

I am truly excited for the start of this new season, partly fueled by new of Federico bringing the "Baller Drift" style with his Ferrari. This year sees more car variety as well. Mustangs, Corvettes, S-chassis, Supra, 86/BRZs, Z-cars, BMWs and THAT Corolla.

I'm pretty impressed about how Papadakis managed to make the car work right out of the box.

2

Also a Viper ;)

3

I'm truly impressed by both Aasbo's driving skill, and Papadakis' skill for making the car so right despite being a hatchback... which theoretically "not as good" when compare to bunch of car with longer overhang.

4

Lmao Aasbo didnt deserve the win in my opinion but tbh im a hater so im biased.

5

What's with aasbo hate? Hes the man. Just strategic. I mean they are there to win.

6

I'd love to hear why you think he shouldn't have won?

7

I watched Aasbo's runs, and they were good, but I think at some level a lot of us are waiting for Aasbo to do outstanding considering all of his wins. Personally, I'm kinda bored with the Aasbo/Forsberg/Tuerck podium finishing rounds that I feel like we got last year, which means that I'm stoked to see others up there. What I'm not saying is that they don't deserve to win, but sometimes it comes across as too easy for them.
Deane (imo one of the best drivers) consistently puts on a show, whether he wins, loses, dnfs... I love watching his runs.

8

Im pretty sure It has a longer wheel base than a schassis and a frs.

9

Yes, even iM were having longer wheelbase than any S-Chassis or FRS.

10

Wow...a Ferrari 599 drift car!? Now that's wild!

11

Sadly it burned down.

12

No, it didnt...the car is fine as you can read from the article and watching the aftermath interview with Federico

Author13

'Fine' is a strong word, it was quite badly damaged but should be repaired in time for Orlando

14
brianisthename

awesome photos larry, great start to the season!

15

These are all great photos but, we need more coverage on other drivers. It's the same drivers getting all the spotlight in all the photos. Anyways, keep up the great work.

Author16

I get you, but it's pretty standard for any event coverage to focus on the guys at the sharp end of the grid. Still, it's only the first round so we can try and adjust the balance at future events.

17

Please don't let SH be pretty standard. Showcase the bottom half of the competitors which are primarily privateers that could use the coverage.

18

There's like, one picture of Forrest's car.

You know, the ONE good looking car in Formula D & instead we get a billion photos of Mustangs that would look better on the Rubicon trail than they do drifting.

19
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

You can say Forrest's car is the "ONE good looking car" on the grid, but to me it looks worse than his previous looks. Looks are a subjective topic, mate.

20

drifting with 599 lol..

21

It was a real sad Long Beach to watch I must say :(

22
Patrick Peebles

I'm impressed Alec Hohnadell can drive with such a vision impairing handicap...

23

Any news on what the situation was with Josh Robinson not making the grid?

Author24

No idea, although his IG suggests something serious enough.

25

Thank you both for the incredible coverage, we are very lucky to have Paddy's write-up and Larry's incredible photos to enjoy for free. I've got wallpapers for months now!

26
Kolton Sinclaire

Larry, those remote mount camera shots are absolutely stunning! Well done.

27

No matter your opinion on Aasbo's drifting style or if Hohnadell straightened or not we can all agree on one thing, Denofa should've won against Foresberg

28

I see that most teams are running their respective sponsors own tires. I thought the rules were stipulated to only using Nexen has that changed or are they all paying the fine?

29
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

The rules allow only certain brands to be used. There's no restriction that only 1 brand is allowed.

30

Just a thought. Am I the only one who thinks that FD event coverage on youtube or their website is weak? I mean only overall shots, no inboards, no slo-mo. Compared to Stadium Super Trucks or FIA WRX it is just lame. Especially for a motorsport which grew up mostly in the social media era.

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