Formula Drift Pulls Off Another Pandemic Year With Final Round Excitement In Irwindale
The Hollywood-handsome, lantern-jawed Fredric “The Norwegian Hammer” Aasbo won his second championship in Formula Drift by manhandling his Toyota Supra all the way to the final round in front of 10,000 screaming, vaping fans who packed the oval at Irwindale, Calif. Saturday night.
“I have so much respect for everybody here, Chelsea (DeNofa) and Matt (Field) have been on my tail all year, Odi (Bakchis), everyone else,” Aasbo said through tears of relief and joy. “This is by far a much, much harder-fought championship than the one we won in 2015, and I’ve been here chomping at the bit every single freakin’ year.”
Aasbo’s Supra manages 1,000 hp out of just four cylinders, too.
“We have this amazing car, it’s half the displacement of the rest of the field,” Aasbo said, referring to the mostly V8-powered Fords and Chevies in the field.
“As (2004 champ) Rhys Millen said, ‘It’s hard to drive like a man in a chick car.”
No doubt words sponsor Toyota will be speaking to him about. Look for media training for The Hammer in the off-season.
Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis beat Aasbo in the final at Irwindale in one of the closest-fought “battles” of the weekend.
“We’ve been hunting for that championship forever,” said Bakchis, who finished second in the title chase this year. “We start out the season strong (he won at Road Atlanta) and we end it strong (he won at Long Beach and Irwindale), it’s just that middle section that we have to work on.”
Aasbo was Formula Drift champion in 2015 and runnerup in 2016, ’17 and ’18 driving for the powerhouse team of Papadakis Racing, which is kind of the Penske or Ganassi of Formula Drift. That team has now won four championships, the most of any team in Formula Drift’s 18-year history. The team won two titles with Tanner Foust at the wheel and now two with Aasbo. Team owner Steph Papadakis is something of a motorsports icon, a drag racer who was one of the luminaries of The Import Scene in the mid-90s and, some say, though he denies it, the model on which the Vin Diesel/Dom Toretto character was based in all those Fast & Furious movies.
Aasbo didn’t actually win the season championship until rival DeNofa lost to Matt Field in the third round Saturday night. Field, who started the weekend third in points and who also had a definite shot at the championship this year, almost took the title with aggressive driving and near-perfect performance throughout the Top 32 elimination bracket in his C7 Corvette. His round against privateer Travis Reeder’s BMW, for instance, may have been one of the best pairings of the year. Field was eliminated in the semifinals against Bakchis.
So this year it was Bakchis who won the battle and Aasbo who won the war. Third place at Irwindale went to two-time champ Vaughn Gittin Jr. driving an RTR Mustang.
As Formula Drift wound up its 18th season, the series goes into the future with a few big changes. The biggest is the departure of series co-founder and president Jim Liaw, who is leaving Formula D after 18 years to be general manager of trade show company PRI. The series is also losing two veteran drivers. 18-year veteran and 2011 champ Dai Yoshihara announced his retirement from the sport. He lost in the first round at Irwindale but got a rousing sendoff from the fans. Social media star Vaughn Gittin Jr. said he was “stepping away” from FD after this year. He got all the way to the semi-final, where he was eliminated by Aasbo but finished third for the night in his likely final event. And even though the parking was the usual Irwindale mess trying to get in, the stands had, what looked like from the drone shots, some patches of empty seats. So there are a few things Formula Drift has to contend with next year.
The biggest of those changes is undoubtedly the departure of Liaw from his post as president, which he has held throughout the existence of Formula D. While he will retain a spot on the FD board, day-to-day management of Formula Drift will now go to co-founder and former VP Ryan Sage, who has also been with the organization since day one.
“Change can be difficult but is sometimes necessary,” Liaw said without elaborating when his departure was announced on formulad.com. “This is simply a new chapter in my life and the career I’ve established in the industry I love. Stepping down from my day-to-day role doesn’t mean I’m done with FD. On the contrary, I have full faith in the upward trajectory of the series and the team that will take it forward. The FD team has grown into one the best series operators in the world, taking it through the initial growing pains, the Great Recession, and now the Global Pandemic.
“(Successor) Ryan (Sage) and I have been Davids battling industry Goliaths for 20 years. And although we have formal titles, we’ve truly been equal partners in building Slipstream (Marketing, the precursor to FD) and then Formula Drift. I have complete faith that FD will reach new heights under his stewardship.”
The pandemic forced several changes last year, causing the series to double up events at the few venues where they were allowed to run, and socially distancing what fans were allowed to watch. This year Formula Drift was able to return to an eight-event schedule, with rounds held all across the U.S. from Road Atlanta, Orlando, Englishtown and Erie, PA to Monroe, Washington near Seattle, Long Beach (twice, one being a non-points invitational) and the traditional season finale in Irwindale, Calif.
The series has persisted through good times and bad, through the Great Recession and the Covid 19 pandemic, and seems, through good management and all-around resourcefulness, to continue to thrive. So congratulations to Formula Drift for continuing to provide its unique, sideways take on motorsports. See you in 2022.
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