Formula Drift 2013 Round 7 at Irwindale Speedway: We Crown A New Champion!
When it was announced that Ford would come in as a major sponsor for Formula Drift, there was a ton of talk about how they would be guaranteed a championship in 2013. Now that we've ended the season, not only did Ford not win a championship with one of their drivers but they also failed to take the manufacturer's championship, but more on that later. Instead, both the manufacturer's and driver's championships went to makes that have nothing to do with drifting. Well, BMW likes to say they have no interest in drifting despite featuring it in their commercials. You can also forget about the final round being less controversial and we didn't even have to break out of the Top 32 for the controversy to happen!
First, lets start off on how the points were shaped just after qualifying. In his best qualifying effort since Atlanta in 2012, Mike Essa in the GSR Autosport BMW M3 captured the number one qualifying position giving him a 12 point boost to his lead. With Daigo Saito in the Achilles Radial Lexus SC430 qualifying in 16th, Justin Pawlak in the Falken Tires Ford Mustang qualifying in 17th, and Fredric Aasbo in the Hankook Tires/Motegi Racing Scion tC qualifying in 14th meant that it would be a two man race to the championship. Those two men would be Essa and Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z.
To put a final exclamation point on the end of his 2013 season, Vaughn Gittin, Jr. was able to qualify in second place in the Monster Energy/Nitto Tires Ford Mustang. While it was not a pole winning run, it was done after the disastrous end to Round 6 and the removal of points after the Seattle round. Don't forget, Ford was supposed to own 2013 according to the drift bible thumpers.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this round opened with controversy on the first battle of the Top 32 with Luke Paluka in the FR Sport Toyota Corolla and Mike Essa. Luke would end up with a zero point run as his car would not hold drift in the outer bank and did not complete the full course. Essa finished his run, but his engine went south. His team called for five minutes to investigate what was going on. A few moments later, Luke also called for five minutes to investigate why his car could not drift the bank like it had been all weekend. Then news came that Mike Essa had suffered an engine failure while Luke had suffered angearbox failure.
What happened next was unclear, it was reported that Luke threw in the towel after he discovered that his transmission let go and even did so before Essa made his call. Luke, according to him, also did not know that Essa's car had a major failure that would not allow him to continue. Like many privateers Luke does not have a spotter, so there was no information fed to him about Essa until after he called it quits. Formula Drift then ruled that Mike Essa moved on to Top 16. Essa and Paluka were also once competitors in Top Drift and, with that information in hand, Chris Forsberg filed a Protest under a violation of Rule 6.7. This is the competition time out rule and the specific item was that a competition time out could not be used for “strategic purposes.” However, with no proof of “strategic purpose”, Formula Drift rejected the protest. Now Chris Forsberg would have to take second place in order to win the championship.
While all of that was going on, there was still a Top 32 being run. Even though Daigo Saito and JTP did not have a chance at the championship, the event win and third place overall were still up for grabs. Daigo took no chances and put Justin away after Saito appeared to slow exiting the inner bank and caught JTP off guard. Pawlak's season was now done and Daigo would look to finish 2013 off better than he had started.
While Saito would look to end his 2013 season on a high note, Daijiro Yoshihara in the Discount Tire/Falken Tire Nissan 240SX would end his 2013 season worse. After losing an engine in Thursday practice, he and the SPD Metal Works team would end up changing the engine overnight and go back to their 2012 engine which made only 500 horsepower. That lack of power was evident with a 25th place qualification and overwhelming loss to Chris Forsberg. This win also meant that Forsberg remained in the hunt for the 2013 championship.