Behind the Scenes: Formula Drift crew
by Sarah Forst
It's almost 11pm Friday night in Hole-in-the-Wall, New Jersey; my bad, near Wall Speedway… I'm sitting in a hotel room with Dai Yoshihara and Darren “D-Mac” Mcnamara and their crew from SPD Metal Works. I'd refer to them as “Team Git-R' Dun”, though Crew Chief Scott Dodgion and I threw around the name “Team Fuck Nuts” in jest. I tend to avoid NJ like a car accident, but I have been entrenched with the Falken Motorsports drift team to relate what it's like to be on the crew of one of the top teams in drifting.
|Dai and Taka battle it out in the Top 32 match.|
Currently the discussion revolves around Dai's first run during tomorrows Top 32 finals at the Round 4 Formula Drift: Wall Speedway against Taka Aono. Taka's AE86 is an iconic drifting choice but the Turbo 4 cylinder Toyota 2AZ-FE is underpowered against Dai's monster LS based V-8. Given this disadvantage, Mike Kojima, Dai's engineer and spotter advised Dai that the “Flying 86” would drive in a riskier, more committed way. Since Taka's style would be less consistent, Dai shouldn't follow his line directly in his follow run in case he makes a mistake. The team is also going through extensive datalogs downloaded from the cars Motec system, discussing drivers' styles and what the judges are looking for to score the big points, and strategizing for the tandem runs for the next day of competition. It's going to be a late night.
Let's back up to the qualifying runs earlier in the day. Dai managed to tie for the highest score during very slick wet conditions in his first run but his crew couldn't count on Formula D to equalize his score to dry conditions as the wet lack of grip caused him not to get critical radar speed points. This put more pressure on the team to make Dai's second round count. Weather conditions had been changing fast and furiously all day and the crew had changed setups twice while in line on pre grid, from slick wet to intermediate to an almost dry track. Just seconds before staging for his second run, the rear swaybar mounting hardware jammed on the Discount Tire S13 rendering it useless.
|This is Mike's “I got this” look of confidence. Don't let it scare you, girls!||KW Suspensions Chris Marion proves he can do more than look at a laptop and adjust shocks 😉|
With no time to fix it, radio communication flew between the crew. Mike mentally consulted the shock dyno charts and data logs. Losing the rear bar made about a 500 lb per 1.5 degree of roll difference in overall roll resistance. He radioed the information to KW Suspension tech Chris Marion in the hot pits who turned up the rear rebound damping to generate an intial 250-300 lb difference in roll resistance, spread out over 2 to 2.5 seconds. This would be enough time for Dai to initiate his drift into a steady drift state. Chris also turned up the rear compression damping another 30-40 lbs, which would help the car initiate and reduce the overall roll set of the chassis. These adjustments would make the car perform about the same as Dai was accustomed to during the first few critical seconds of the drift, important given Dai's radical flick entry driving style.
Wall Speedway is no beginner's course. The first turn is challenging, with a banked oval (16 degrees on the straightaway and 30 degrees on the turns) bordered by a wall that has a rapacious appetite for drifting cars. There was no time for testing this new setup; just an intelligent shot in the dark. Dai's confidence in his team showed during this run. Not only did he like how it felt, he scored 92 points, placing him 4th amongst the roughly 50 drivers that tried. Mike now says he considers this calculated guess one of the most successful on the fly judgements in his career.
|The wall into the first turn at Wall Stadium likes to collect bumpers and even whole cars as souvenirs.|
|If he spins perfectly enough, D-mac may be able to reattach his floating bumper.|
|New meaning to the “clipping point.”|