After an impressive number of challenges, 2017 champion James Deane earned the victory against Matt Field in the final battle for the Gauntlet during the 2018 Formula Drift series, held at Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey.
“We had a tough round in Atlanta after our crash in Orlando,” said James Deane, driver of the Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15. Deane added his team, and he had been chasing problems all weekend but managed to overcome the challenges to take the win. “I don’t know what gave us the decision, but I’ll take it,” he said.
Justin “JTP” Pawlak driving the Roush Performance / Falken Tires 2018 Ford Mustang had qualified in the top position and kicked off the elimination battles with a bye run. “It took me a while to find the best line,” Pawlak said. “I need to do a better job of turning this qualifying form into results during the heats.”
Scoring just three points less than Pawlak, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis in the Falken Tires / Maxxoil / Drifz Wheels Nissan S14 had a consistent pair of runs. Rounding out the top five were the usual suspects, with James Deane in third, Fredric Aasbo in fourth and Matt Field in fifth with his new-for-2018 Wish / Borla / Falken Tire Chevrolet Corvette.
Top 16 battles
In the main event, Pawlak took advantage of his bye run in the Top 32 to replace a broken driveshaft that snapped during a free run. It meant he only just made the grid for the Top 16 where he faced Alec Hohnadell in the Rain-X / Permatex / Nexen / Hoonigan Nissan S14.
Pawlak’s win then pitted him against the FD Orlando round winner, Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z on Nexen Tires.
Forsberg qualified ninth and would eventually finish fifth overall but had no intention of giving Pawlak a comfortable ride. Their first runs were too close to call, so the Judges requested “One More Time” resulting in repeated runs and a victory to Pawlak courtesy of a mechanical issue for Forsberg on the final race.
Pawlak’s good fortune ended when the Ford driver faced Matt Field in his Chevrolet. It was another titanic battle, with the Judges requesting “One More Time” and still struggling to separate them. The decision would fall to Field who headed to the Final.
Field had battled Jeff Jones in the Doc X / Falken Nissan 370Z, faced Ryan Tuerck in the Ryan Tuerck Racing / Gumout / Black Magic / Nexen Tire Toyota 86, and collided with Forrest Wang and his Vapetasia / Achilles Radial / NRG Innovations Nissan S15 in the Great 8.
The Judges ruled that the incident occurred when Wang braked before the Decel Zone, causing Field to make contact. The decision would see Field advance to the final against James Deane.
Having qualified third in his Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15, the 2017 Formula DRIFT champion also had a challenging path to the final. It started against Kazuya Taguchi in the Achilles Radial / Up Garage / Top 1 Oil Nissan GT-R.
Deane then met his team-mate – Piotr Wiecek in an identical Worthouse / Falken Tire Nissan Silvia S15. The Irishman moved on to face Kenshiro Gushi in the GPP Toyota Racing / Falken Tire Toyota 86.
In the “Final Four,” Deane took on the number two qualifier, Odi Bakchis. Bakchis pushed Deane hard and a “One More Time” battle forced Deane to use his five-minute technical time-out to make repairs to the car.
The final battle between James Deane and Matt Field earned Deane the victory.
Looking ahead to the next round, Deane said he is happy with the win and wants to maintain the momentum. “I’m really happy with the team and the car but the level of driving in 2018 has jumped up, and everybody is pushing so hard. This is making it really difficult to get a win in Formula Drift but we got one, and I’m so happy.”
For Matt Field, his decision to build a new car for the 2018 season was finally producing results. “It’s been a long off-season for us,” he explained. “It was five months of hell in the shop every day, but today it’s finally starting to pay off. Up until this point, we’ve only been reaching the Top 16. It gets a little boring.”
Field added that driving the new car has been a considerable learning curve. “It’s not something you can buy off the shelf and magically works – it took a lot of work and a lot of learning to get here. I’m fortunate to have the partners behind me that helped to develop it, and the car was working really well.”
With his second-place finish, Field moves to ninth in the 2018 Formula Drift championship. James Deane moves to first, displacing Fredric Aasbo for the first time since he won the opening round.
Round Four of the 2018 season also represents a milestone for Formula Drift, with this being the 100th round in the series’ history. “Realizing we’ve completed 100 rounds allows us to see how we’ve grown. This event was part of season two,” said Jim Liaw, president of Formula Drift. “The track itself makes it a unique experience with its banked speedway oval taking drivers from 30-degrees to zero. We’re delighted how the event turned out, bringing together such great teams for the 100th round in front of awesome fans. It’s been a great event.”
Round Five: Autozone Throwdown presented by Rain-X takes place in Monroe, WA on July 20-21.
Photography courtesy of Formula Drift | Larry Chen