Formula Drift Atlanta has always held the reputation of being a high energy event. Not only did Round 2 fulfill this stigma, it went beyond these expectations in every way. The fans, weather, and driving were all absolutely insane.
Going into Thursday practice, everyone did their best to set up their cars but with a few variables in mind. A section of the track had been repaved and the weather called for rain on Friday and Saturday. The four hour practice session moved very slowly due to multiple cars going off track or suffering mechanical issues but by the end of practice most of the field had their cars completing "qualifying worthy" runs around the course.
Friday Practice. Group 1 goes into their practice session with a dry track but dark clouds looming over head. A quick look at the weather radar showed a massive storm cloud ready to sweep through Atlanta. Group 1 finished their practice and Group 2 starts to line up at the start line. Rain, and lots of it. The start grid is absolute madness. Visibility is low, every one is drenched, and the track is full of standing water. Group 2 practice proceeds with cars doing 360's, going off track, or putting together very twitchy runs around the course.
The rain continued into qualifying. Due to the rain being so bad, the FD officials made an executive decision to allow each driver a practice run before each of their qualifying runs. Unfortunately, this format took so long that they had to cancel top 32 practice for the night, which is infamous for being one of the best parts about Road Atlanta. By the end of the night Forrest Wang, the man known for drifting in the rain, would be the top qualifier. Something else to note is Geoff Stoneback won the Retaks Insane Entry Award during qualifying with an insane backwards entry in his second run. His first run he accidentally did a full 360 and continued to finish the course (essentially one-upping Matt Powers even though this would give him a 0 for his run) which was extremely entertaining. With his consistent qualifying and aggressive driving Geoff is definitely making a name for himself. The other rookie, Alec Hohnadell would qualify 27th on a motor that was down two cylinders.
Saturday. Top 32 practice was madness. The rain was gone and entry speeds were high. The tandem was close and we saw a lot of contact between the drivers. Top 32 battles were no different. Everyone was pushing and you could tell they were hungry make it into the top 16. The most memorable battle was definitely between Daigo Saito and Danny George due to a controversial call saying that Danny led Daigo to drop 2 tires off course when Danny only dropped one. After the call was made, the whole crowd went into an uproar. This is a call that's going to be discussed for the rest of the season amongst fans and bloggers and has set some sot of "benchmark" for people to look at when discussing the lead car leading a follow car into a bad line.
The energy in the Road Atlanta "Drift Arena" was continuously climbing throughout the top 16. With almost every battle containing some kind of contact or wild tandem, the fans continued to be rowdy. Thankfully, we only saw a light drizzle for all of about 5 minutes during the top 16 and then the rain subsided for good. By the time we got to the top 4 battles, the fans had turned it up to 11. People were pounding down beers and spectators driving on the through roads were doing burnouts as their favorite drifters battled it out. It was absolute madness but you can tell that these fans absolutely love the sport.
As the top 16 proceeded it was starting to look like we might have a Drift Alliance 1-2 battle with Chris Forsberg and Vaughn Gittin Jr. Fredric Aasbo had something to say about this in his battle with Forsberg. Chris had be driving with precision all day but on his entry he goes a little wide on his line through the first turn.
Aasbo would capitalize by laying into the throttle and passing Forsberg on the inside. The crowd goes wild. The pass was completely legal and they finish the run. Forsberg puts on a great follow run for his next run but his fate was decided when Aasbo made a pass on him. Forsberg is awarded third place and we move into the 1-2 battle with Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Aasbo. Now lets take a look at Vaughn's day today. His first battle was against the aggressive rookie Geoff Stoneback. Vaughn gets the win but Geoff definitely put up a fight. His first top 16 battle is against bitter Mustang rival, Justin Pawlak. This battle was taken to 2 one more times! Vaughn would eventually get the win due to Pawlak spinning on his lead run. Next he would battle Kenny Moen who was feeling good after a second place finish in Long Beach and then Robbie Nishida. Kenny and Robbie put up a tough fight but Vaughn would take the win in both battles. Vaughn and Aasbo line up for the final battle. After another one more time Vaughn, Fredric, and Chris drive up in front of the crowd to hear the Jarod DeAnda announce the winner. Vaughn Gittin Jr. wins Formula Drift Round 2 at Road Atlanta. The fans raise their arms in unison with Vaughn Gittin Jr. To go with Vaughn's first win since the controversial fine last year, Formula Drift also has it's first streaker. A man in only his boxers hops out of the crowd and runs across the track arms raised and then disappears into the night. A rowdy crowd, rowdy weather, and rowdy driving made for an amazing event. This win was a long time coming for Vaughn and with 3 one more times and the line up of amazing drivers to fight his way through, nobody can say he didn't earn this win. This lands Vaughn 2nd in points for the season, just behind Chris Forsberg who earned his second podium in a row. After last years controversy with the championship, it looks like Forsberg is ready to prove he deserved that trophy last year as well as the 2014 championship. Last years champion, Michael Essa, was knocked out in his top 32 battle against Odi Bakchis and is currently 8th in points.
Round 3 is in Miami. A brand new track for Formula Drift and all of the drivers. Will Vaughn be able to carry this momentum and stay in the winners circle? Will Forsberg continue to drive with consistency and obtain more points towards a 2nd championship? Or will we see the playing field leveled with a new course and see a driver claim their first podium? - Words and Photos by Max Fuerst