On Saturday, I had the chance to go and see Formula D’s “The Finals” at Irwindale Speedway (yes, I did get stuck on Interstate 5 on the way down from San Francisco due to that massive accident), and I must say, if you’re at all a fan of the four wheeled machine, make sure you check out one of Formula Drift’s events at a track near you.
If you’re not familiar with the sport, think of drifting as two automotive ballerinas battling it out in a boxing match. It’s gracefully controlled mayhem, and in my opinion, it’s easily the best form of four-wheeled entertainment on the planet.
Part race, part show, and part art, drifting is the bastard stepchild of rally, and takes everything that is good about racing and rolls it into one loud and smoky package.
Starting on the streets of Japan approximately 15 years ago, drifting has only recently gained popularity in the states. Though illegal and underground drifting has been going on here for almost 10 years, sanctioned drifting has only been around since 2003, when Formula Drift gave rules and regulations to the otherwise unruly activity.
In just the few short years though, the fan base for drifting has quickly grown (due in part to movies like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), and as with most things, more fans means more sponsorships, and more sponsorships means more money, so the competition has quickly climbed from its humble beginnings to the big dollar spectator sport that it is today.
The event started with an open set of qualifying runs. Each driver takes to the track by himself to establish a score, and judging is based on speed, angle, accuracy and the ability to follow, so it’s also more of a subjective judgment than a typical race.
Notable names include Tanner Foust, Rhys Millen, Sam Hubinette, and Chris Forsberg, so you can see that the driving talent is definitely there.
The cars themselves have also improved greatly since I went to my first drifting event. Gone are the homebuilt heroes and the garage gearheads. Instead, pro drivers are now piloting 600 horsepower rockets at speeds that would earn you a ticket on the freeway.
A full gamut of cars make up the field, from a drop top Viper to a 350Z with Titan V8, a Charger and a Mustang to a Solstice and a Subaru, and each one has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.
The bigger cars like the Charger and the Mustangs carry weight well, but they need a lot more power to get going. The smaller cars like the Solstice and the Subaru spin the tires easier, but they also tend to spin the rest of the car as well, so they need a delicate foot and a lot of momentum to stay straight on the track.
Tanner Foust started the event in the lead, and managed to hold on throughout the day to capture his first championship, so I’m sure he was a happy guy come Sunday. The rest of the pack did try to chase him down, but with a constant level of near perfect performances, Tanner was a tough act to follow.
Another exciting part of the event was the motorcycle stunt show that performed during ‘halftime’. Five bikers were there to show off wheelies, stoppies, headstands and hand waves, and it almost looked like they were going for a quiet Saturday drive. I can only imagine what it must takes to scare those guys with that amount of talent.
All in all, the Formula Drift event made for an excellent day, so again, I highly encourage you to check out one of their events if you’re ever in the area. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.