The final round of the 2018 Formula Drift season held in California on October 12-13 at Irwindale Speedway – the House of Drift, can only be described as a surprising series of events. Going into Round 8, James Deane had a narrow 40 point lead over Fredric Aasbo in the quest to be the 2018 Formula Drift series Champion.
Everyone knew the Top 16 battles would determine the champion.
Deane had been on fire in qualifying and expectations were high for him to win his Sweet 16 round against fan favorite, Forrest Wang in the Vapetasia Nissan S15, and subsequently the title. However, Wang maintained great proximity to the champion-elect on the first run.
On the second run, Deane struggled to initiate his drift into the first banking and lost ground to Wang. A collective gasp could be heard among the crowd as the unthinkable unfolded. The judges awarded Wang the win and eliminated Deane.
To win the championship, Aasbo needed the event win. His first battle was against Jhonnattan Castro in the GPP Toyota Racing 86. Nearly too close to call, the judges gave the win to Aasbo due to a mistake by Castro.
Wiecek was coming off a win at the previous round in Texas and faced Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis in the Falken Tires Nissan S14. He had qualified 15th but wasn’t about to be intimidated. He pushed Wiecek hard, with both drivers made contact with the wall in their effort to dominate. The crowd was expecting Wiecek to reach the final against Aasbo but the judge’s decision went to Odi after they reviewed the live drone footage and found that Wiecek had dropped back slightly on his chase run.
Yoshihara in the Turn 14 BRZ faced Stratton, who brushed the wall with his Corvette. The contact knocked him into Dai, damaging the BRZ. After a short break to check the car, Stratton hit the wall on his second run, allowing Yoshihara to win the round.
The Great Eight
In the Great 8, Wang beat Kenshiro Gushi after his GPP Toyota Racing 86 was forced to retire from the second run with mechanical issues.
Aasbo defeated Dean Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Dodge Viper after two runs.
The intensity jumped up another notch when Gittin Jr. faced Odi. Both drivers were so close that Gittin Jr.’s rear bumper was knocked off by Odi’s front bumper as they maneuvered through the first transition point. The Mustang’s bumper went under Odi’s front wheels, causing him to spin. Gittin Jr. stumbled but was able to continue. The pair went back at it on the second run but Gittin Jr. had done enough to win.
Earlier in the evening, Gittin Jr. had announced this has been the worst season in his Formula Drift career, but his driving showed that he intended to improve.
In the final battle of the Great Eight heat, Yoshihara went against Chelsea Denofa in the BC Racing Ford Performance Mustang RTR. The judges called for “One More Time” as both drivers maintained excellent proximity.
Unfortunately, the Turn 14 BRZ had enough and on the fourth run was unable to keep pace with Denofa, thus relinquishing the win.
The Final Four
Stepping up to the Final Four, Wang went against Aasbo and the crowd went into a frenzy. Wang drove hard but Aasbo stayed in control, and advanced.
Gittin Jr took on his teammate Chelsea Denofa in the Final Four. Denofa hit Gittin Jr.’s rear bumper in the first transition. Both drivers were able to continue but Denofa made a mistake on the second run and the decision went to Gittin Jr.
Aasbo’s smooth driving was perfectly matched by Gittin Jr.’s aggression, leaving nothing between them. The judges called for “One More Time” to the delight of the capacity crowd who were on their feet. They ran two more times but still couldn’t be separated. The judges again needed them to run “One More Time” before they could reach a decision.
The fifth run was a repeat of the previous four, with both drivers fully committed and inseparable. By the sixth they were getting tired, adrenaline was running low and the cars were hot. Both brushed the wall on the second banking and had to correct. Gittin Jr. was judged to have recovered better and took the win. The worst year of his career turned over a new leaf, he was the Formula Drift Irwindale winner.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Gittin Jr. said to the crowd. He continued, “All the teams continue to push and make it a constant challenge. The fans are amazing and bring such great energy every time we’re on the track. I’m so grateful to all of them and the teams. I’m also extremely grateful to our team because there’s something humbling about our fall but we’ve made a lot of changes and continued to fight. This win represents how we keep fighting. I’m extremely proud of Chelsea who has added a lot to the team. And Fredric – we had some epic battles tonight. And congratulations to James and his entire team – I’m looking forward to battling with you next year.”
James Deane, who watched 30 rounds from the pit wall, managed to keep a miniscule four-point lead over Fredric Aasbo and became the 2018 Formula Drift Black Magic Pro Champion. His victory is one of the closest finishes in series history and makes him the second FD driver to win consecutive titles since Tanner Foust in 2007 and 2008.
“This has been the most ridiculous night of my life. It was so intense,” said JamesDeane. “I had 100-percent faith in Fredric to go all the way. I have so much respect for what he did because this track is so hard to drive without any pressure, and he almost made it. I also have so much respect for Vaughn. He drove so well and was amazing to watch. I put years on my life by watching tonight but it was so entertaining. All the FD drivers have really upped their level and I can’t even imagine what next season will be like because the level is getting ridiculous.”
The schedule for the 2019 Formula Drift Championship is still being finalized. The new schedule will be announced at SEMA 2018.