Formula Drift Round 3: Palm Beach International Raceway
By Justin Banner
Teething problems are common in all things new, doesn’t matter if it’s a person, car, or even a track. Coming into the event, we had a preview of the course layout that promised triple digit entry speeds and a very technical center section. From the view of the judges, the drivers would enter from behind them going through turn three, then follow into turn two with two other clipping points going left to right and onto the front straight. The starting point was going to be nearly 500 to 600 feet long, longer than Road Atlanta and would have been the fastest course on Formula Drift’s schedule. However, that all changed on Thursday practice with two very spectacular single car incidents.
|Even with a battle scarred, rear bumper-less Gardella Racing Pontiac Solstice, Eric O’Sullivan still came out to qualify!|
First was Eric O’Sullivan, who came into turn three very fast, too fast, as he lost his drift and hit the wall leading into turn two. Most of his damage was purely cosmetic and repairs were made into the night and that Friday morning. The last one, and the one that drew the most concern was by the “Slidin’ Hawaiian” Alex Pfeiffer. His car was banged up and he was knocked around and sore, but the part that drew concern was that his mirror flew off his car and went into the stands where the crowd would have been. At least this was according to a couple of drivers, I wasn’t there to see what happened.
|Also crashing on the original course, Alex Pfeiffer’s 350Z was banged up, lost a mirror, but still came out for qualifying!|
In any case, this prompted Formula Drift officials and judges to make a call in the name of fan safety and the track was altered. Now, instead of starting in turn three, turn one was now the first apex. Turn two had an early apex that lead to a rear clipping zone that was then followed by turn three’s apex, which challenged drivers by driving as close to the wall as possible on exit. While it seemed like a simple track on paper, it was still very challenging as you still had a very long straight to start in with turn one begging to be taken inverted.
|Get out of line and get eaten. Gators roamed the edges of the track. Matt Powers was feeding the gators chicken. Tyler McQuarrie was going to try poking one with a stick when we reminded him that a Gator can run 30 mph for short distances. He ran back to the truck.|
Drivers had mixed feelings on the track changes. Many drivers felt that the track now flowed much better and was by far much safer than the track before, however, there were drivers who did not welcome the changes. “Obviously, it’s not what everyone was expecting when coming here,” Rhys Millen said, “but in respect of safety of the fans here, there are no catch nets like what we had at Long Beach and the fans are very close to the course and the last thing I want for the sport is for two cars to contact each other and roll into the stands, so, based on that, they made a smart choice.” Did he like the track before, though? “Did I like yesterday’s first setup, yeah, it was scary entry followed by I think two down shifts while still holding angle, it was a very challenging course for the space that they had. But I think they made the most of it and what you have here is a fairly basic entry, but the exit corner, while it looks very simple, but where they put the last clipping point and how close they put it to the wall, if you get your approach off, you’re going straight into that wall.”
|While Red Bull Hyundai Genesis Driver Rhys Millen enjoyed the thrill ride of the first track…||Walker Wilkerson enjoyed the simplicity and capability of going inverted.|
Fatlace driver, Walker Wilkerson, liked the new track layout, “Yeah, I like the track. The layout is pretty good, it’s a flat track so I’m able to keep up a lot better where, you know, I don’t have a V8, so yeah, the track is decently easy and I was able to practice backward entries and stuff.” Matt Powers, however, just wasn’t feeling it, “I didn’t drive the original track on Thursday because we were still working on the car a little bit,” possibly referencing his damages done at Road Atlanta, “but I think I would have excelled at the original track layout than this track layout, so, it’s kind of a disappointment, I guess. I just think the track is… less exciting.” In tandem practice, however, he did feel like the track was coming to him.
Kyle Mohan, driver of the Nexen/Mazdatrix RX8, felt like the previous track would have catered to him as well, “I probably shouldn’t quote on that,” he jokingly stated, “but you know I probably would have preferred the first track as it suited my style a little more,” but with the fans in his thoughts, “I do know there were some safety concerns, so it was in Formula D’s best interest to keep everybody safe… but it’s still fun.”
|While he feels the original track suited him, Nexen/Mazdatrix driver, Kyle Mohan, still liked this track.|