Over the past 8 years, Formula D has grown to become one of if not the most elite drifting series in the entire world. In each of those 8 seasons, the finale has been held at the same iconic track that birthed the first professional drifting exhibition event back in 2003 under the guidance of Ryan Sage and Jim Liaw. This year’s event featured the most competitive championship chase to date, with 6 drivers eyeing the championship, and even as the final 4 begun, a season champion had yet to be determined.
Irwindale’s iconic high-speed banked track is linked with the more technical inner bank to feature a timeless drifting layout that has been idolized in video games and television commercials alike, and is one of the most exciting tracks on the 7-event circuit. Each year, Irwindale has some of the biggest attendance, but this year’s number smashed all previous records with an over-capacity crowd. Several new bleachers were brought in specifically for this event which increased Irwindale’s 10,000+ person capacity to a new standing-room-only maximum.
As qualifying wound down on Friday evening, 5 drivers still had a mathematical chance to win the championship. Sam Hubinette looked to be back in top form earning the top qualifier position along with the Retaks insane entry award, while Justin Pawlak took the second qualifier position, Tyler McQuarrie qualified 3rd, Ryan Tuerck landed in 4th, and Rhys Millen scored a 5th place finish. Dai Yoshihara, who was leading the championship chase for much of the second half of the season, would only muster up a 6th place qualifying effort, handing valuable championship points to Pawlak. With the way the brackets would line up, Pawlak and Yoshihara would control their own destiny while Chris Forsberg and Darren McNamara would need some help from both Yoshihara and Pawlak to have a chance at the title.
Top 32 tandems went relatively smoothly for nearly all the top drivers, minus the defending 2010 Formula D champion. Vaughn Gittin Jr’s Monster Energy Drink Ford Mustang has slowly been crawling back from a DNQ at the first event of the season, but an early top 32 knockout after a one-more-time battle with Mike Essa’s GSR Autosport BMW Z4 Roadster left him watching the rest of the Top 16 battles from the sidelines. Once the Top 16 bracket shook out, several of the sports top names all stood to battle each other for the final Formula D Carbon Fiber trophy of the season.
In top 16, Dai Yoshihara made a few key mistakes against Scion Racing’s Ken Gushi, leaving the championship chase up for grabs. Forsberg and McNamara would need to win the event in order to have a chance to overtake Dai while Pawlak would just need to outlast D-Mac to earn his crown. As fate would have it, Pawlak and D-mac would meet in the top 8 with the winner having a chance at the championship and the loser left on the sidelines. A small mistake by Pawlak handed D-mac the opportunity to chase down the title, although his championship hopes would be dashed by his Falken Tire teammate Tyler McQuarrie in the round of 4. At that point in the evening, it had been mathematically confirmed that Dai Yoshihara had won his first Formula D championship. The crowd erupted and Yoshihara was lifted on the shoulders of his team and crew, celebrating a hard fought battle and the closest championship finish in FD history.
Earlier in the top 4, Rhys Millen had eliminated Chris Forsberg to end Forsberg’s shot at a second Formula D championship, and leaving Millen to battle McQuarrie for the event win. Rumors before the event had implicated that both drivers may be moving on from their current ride (Millen was rumored to run his team strictly as an owner while McQuarrie was rumored to be out from the Falken Tire camp), so both would be battling for bragging rights and one last paycheck for the season. In the end, McQuarrie ousted Millen, earning his first win of the season and a 5th place overall finish in the championship.
With all the points tabulated, Falken earned both 1st and 2nd place overall in the championship chase, with 4 of the top 5 drivers being on Falken rubber. Dai Yoshihara earned the Tires.com triple crown which rewarded the drivers for the highest overall total in 3 select events (Atlanta, Seattle, and Irwindale). Although the drifting season has ended, the rumors for 2012 have only just begun!
Formula DRIFT Professional Championship 2011 Final Point Standings
1. Daijiro Yoshihara, America's Tire / Falken Tire Nissan S13 528 Points
2. Justin Pawlak, Falken Tire Ford Mustang 522.25 Points
3. Chris Forsberg, NOS Energy Drink / Hankook Nissan 370Z 508 Points
4. Darren McNamara, Falken Tire Saturn Sky 504.75 Points
5. Tyler McQuarrie, Falken Tire Nissan 350Z 449.50 Points
6. Matt Powers, Need for Speed / Nitto Nissan S14 444.50 Points
7. Ryan Tuerck, Gardella Racing / Mobil 1 Chevrolet Camaro 437 Points
8. Conrad Grunewald, Hankook Tire Chevy Camaro 413 Points
9. Rhys Millen, Red Bull / Hankook Hyundai Genesis Coupe 409 Points
10. Kyle Mohan, Nexen Tire / Mazdatrix Mazda RX-8 377.50 Points
11. Vaughn Gittin JR, Monster Energy / Falken Ford Mustang 375 Points
12. Fredric Aasbo, Need for Speed / Hankook Scion TC 329.50 Points
13. Toshiki Yoshioka, Retaks Nissan S13 324.25 Points
14. Ken Gushi, RS*R / Hankook / Scion Racing TC 314.75 Points
15. Ross Petty, Garage Boso / Falken Nissan S15 263 Points
16. Aurimas Bakchis, Bakchis Racing / Forged Racing Nissan 240SX 255 Points
Round 7: Title Fight Event Results
1. Tyler McQuarrie, Falken Tire Nissan 350Z Winner
2. Rhys Millen, Red Bull / Hankook Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2nd Place
3. Chris Forsberg, NOS Energy Drink / Hankook Nissan 370Z 3rd Place
Tires.com Triple Crown Final Standings
1. Daijiro Yoshihara, Discount Tire / Falken Tire Nissan S13 270 Points
2. Tyler McQuarrie, Falken Tire Nissan 350Z 239 Points
3. Chris Forsberg, NOS Energy Drink / Hankook Nissan 370Z 232 Points