This massive event, run by Formula D, and rumored to have cost in excess of what their whole 2008 season had cost
to put on (i.e a mind boggling figure), was always going to be a spectacle, but it was only when I first
arrived and saw with my own eyes, what they had turned a large car park into, that I really started to get the idea.
The track wasn’t just Lego style click together blocks, it was full on NASCAR style concrete walling with protective fencing so the crowd could get really close. At first glance it appeared slightly reminiscent of Irwindale (the usual choice for big drift events in California) But as they had enough space to pretty much do what they wanted with the layout, they had just taken some of the best elements, and improved on them with some technical sections.
The run up to the first corner was immense, a bonified 100mph, with a sharp right hand flick against a wall, then scrubbing a little speed as you turn in, and ride the wall around the outside to an outer clipping zone. This corner was around 225 degrees, so at about 170* you come off the wall, and tuck into a clipping point on the inside, then it required an extremely quick transition into a slowish left hander that throws you out to a clipping zone on another section of wall. The course then opened up again into the final fast right hander.
A few things I noticed that were different to how we run things over here: The line they want you to take is generally not the fastest, it’s what I would call a ‘show line’. I guess what the US crowds love to see is crashing, and there was certainly a lot of that. The correct line to do well here was a foot away from the wall at 60-70mph, and with varying traction throughout the day thanks to track temperature. Every run was a bit of a toss of the coin.
There was also no marker on the run up to make sure slower and faster cars stayed together up to a point. Making it pretty clear that they aren’t concerned with slow cars. Basically if your car isn’t fast enough, you need to make it faster or lose 20 car lengths on the straight to the 760bhp Corvette.
The other thing that was new was no practice run in the battles. You’d sit on the line, waiting, then it was two judged runs and that’s it. No tyre warming, and 5 out of the 16 first battles I saw one of the cars understeering on the first corner.
Other than that, the rest of the event was run in a very similar fashion, but a much bigger scale. It was extremely professionally run, and had some really cool elements, for instance, they brought one of the freeways to a near halt with a police escort taking all the competition cars from the track to park up in the streets of Long Beech as a publicity stunt.
Our weekend was more than a little hectic. I flew into LA on Wednesday, expecting the car to be unloaded and up on the ramps at HKS USA being inspected before being dropped at the track. It was not. Instead it was in a container at the docks still awaiting customs clearance. Apparently it would be delivered the morning of the Thursday, so no panic. We twiddled our thumbs for the evening. Thursday arrived, and the car didn’t. There was now an apparent serious problem with paperwork, and things were looking extremely grim as to whether the car would actually clear at all. Andy from EDC actually runs a shipping agent company, so was on the case with sorting it out. It turns out a member of Long Beech customs had misfiled the application for import and gone on holiday. After two days of battling with customs, and 10 minutes before they closed for the weekend, we got the call that the container would be delivered on Saturday morning to the track.
This meant we’d missed 3 days of practice, and the work we had to do to the car would have to be done in the 4 hours we had before qualification started.
So the car arrived, and all was going relatively well. We had to align the car as we’d fitted Driftworks CS2 coilovers to it before shipping it. Unfortunately while moving the unaligned steering getting the car out of the container, we actually broke a seal in the steering rack. No worries though, Bon had brought a spare steering rack in his suitcase just incase.
This was swapped in, and the rest of the car prepped. Bon managed four practice runs, and due to the immense Californian heat lost his brakes, lost his clutch, and overheated the engine. So back to the pits, and the bonnet vent was removed to let the heat around the manifold escape, which would stop the engine overheating and stop the brake master cylinder melting.
Then we bled the clutch, which was incredible fun having boiling brake fluid pooring over my hands. All sorted though and ready for qualification.
Bon obviously still didn’t even slightly know the complex course, and his first of the two qualification runs had a big spin. The second run was much more conservative, and he got round the course in one piece with one of the largest tyre smoke trails I’d seen on that track.
Qualification was more to find out who you drive against than anything, as there were 32 drivers and the competition was battles from 32. Bon’s qualification position left him up against Darren Mcnamara in the Sears Saturn Sky which is currently the most technically, and monetarily advanced car in America, and we all know Darren can really drive, so not the greatest of draws, but hey we were still going to work as hard as we could for the win.
Bons 2nd qualification run
Sunday was another early start, 7am drivers briefing, and straight out onto track for practice. While Bon was in the briefing, we replaced the brake master cylinder as it had been letting in air over time and had completely melted the pot in the heat the day before. I’ve got to say I really enjoyed lying on the floor at 7:30am having dirty burnt brake fluid running down my arm into my arm pit :D. Anyway, job done, and onto practice.
Bon went at it! He got a good 10 runs in, really keeping me on my toes between changing tyres, refueling, and cooling the rad and intercooler with a water spray bottle. It was all coming together though. He was getting more familiar with the track with every run, and after 3 sets of tyres he was really laying the rubber down.
This time he came in after abusing the car for an hour and a half, and we didn’t need to do anything except tyres and fuel. It was running perfectly. In a way that was kind of gutting as had customs not fcuked us about like they did, the car would have been on 100% form, and we would have had 3 days practice maybe allowing us to qualify higher, and not end up having to go against one of the top drifters and drift team in the US haha 😀 Oh well, drive on.
So the competition started. The drivers were all pushing hard. Even in the couple of runs before Bon landed on the startline with Darren, there were crashes.
So we finally pulled up, and there’s Bon in the car he’s built himself, lined up next to the Sears Saturn Sky, a $200,000, 900kg 650bhp space framed works car……… This was going to be interesting!
As I mentioned above, there is no marker cone, so the run starts with a drag launch from a flag straight to the first corner. To our surprise, the heavy Chaser really didn’t struggle here. They arrived at the first corner at circa 100mph, Darren leading and Bon chasing. Initiated and Bon was close after a very minor battle with the steering thanks to cold tyres. This meant he was forced into taking a slightly inner line to Darren, which is unfortunately something that FD mark down on. He remained close throughout the course though. They swapped positions and blew off the start line again. This time Bon went in too hot on the first corner, and he had to straighten slightly to avoid the wall, and Darren just tagged him as they sped up again and completed the course in a ball of smoke. It was obvious that Darren had won, but given the less than ideal leadup to this one chance run in the top 32, I was super proud of Bon, and we even managed to nearly stop him from beating himself up about
it too badly after a few Redbulls.
Watching the rest of the event from the sideline was the first time we really got to see the other guys drive properly (again another regret thanks to the intense time we’d spent there) and man it was a very serious competition! Some of the blatantly impossible moves tried just in the hope to gain a small advantage resulted in some spectacular crashes. Awesome to watch for sure, but the clean fast runs were what did it for me. Sticking out were Ueo, Tanner Foust, Daijiro Yoshihara and Rhys Millen. Some of the other international drivers were putting on a good show too. James Deane had been driving really well all weekend. Unfortunately in the competition he went in totally committed against Malaysia’s Tengku Djan smashing into the wall and the back of Djan’s S13. Paul Vlasblom had qualified in 3rd place, but the car apparently cut out mid corner in one of his battles. A couple of the most impressive drivers for me were Frederik Asbo in the Toyota Supra, who beat Tim Marshall, then went up against Ueo driving well enough to go one more time. Garry Whiter from New Zealand was also on form. I felt his run against Chris Forsberg was judged a little unfairly as he was closer to Chris every time. However given the strict judging on line even in battle drift, I presume this is where enough difference was noticed to knock him out.
The final was between Rhys Millen in the Red Bull Solstice, and Dai Yoshihara in the Rhys Millen racing Pontiac GTO. There was certainly no holding back from either driver. Some of the highest entry speeds, and some of the closest wall action was only finished off with a spin from Dai on the right to left crossover. So that was the end to this epic event. Rhys Millen went home with a $25,000 cheque, and we all came away with some new friends, and even more experience for the next time we head out there.
Thanks to everyone that made it possible for Bon to get out there:
The Driftworks community. Who donated money from their own pockets despite some people barely being able to afford to put petrol in their cars at the moment. You know who you are.
The European Drift Championship
Julian, Joycey, and crew that donated fund from the sale of the Omega they bought in Poland
Stephen at SKAY
Also thanks to my pit buddies Will and Doug who came over to the US at their own cost just to get covered in whatever fluids Bon’s car was excreting on that particular day 😀
And big thanks to all the teams that let us scrounge tools throughout the weekend.
Without the help of the people and companies above, this competition just would not have been possible.
Thankyou thankyou thankyou.
Well I guess that really is it for this year (thank god for that. I need a break haha). Driftworks have some big changes for the 09 season, so watch this space for updates.
Over and Out
Action photos kindly supplied by https://www.speedsyndicate.net/
A quick compilation of the event 🙂