2013 Formula Drift Long Beach: Daijiro Yoshihara Takes the Round 1 Crown
The 2012 Formula Drift season was as exciting and unpredictable as any in memory, and when the last of the tire smoke settled over the finale at Irwindale Speedway, Formula D newbie Daigo Saito found himself winner of the event and the championship. Not too long after that, Saito grabbed the Formula Drift Asia championship, too. So naturally, most of the Formula Drift community spent the winter trying to figure out how to dethrone the likeable Lexus driver from Japan in 2013.
And judging by the results of this past weekend’s season opener on the streets of Long Beach, California, it looks like more than a few of Saito’s rivals have stepped up to challenge him. And while some of the names that managed to best the defending champ are familiar, there were a few who weren’t. Make the jump to see who made it the deepest into eliminations.
The field of 32 qualifiers was topped by 2011 champion Daijiro Yoshihara in the Discount Tire Nissan S13; Saito, piloting the title-winning Achilles Tire Lexus SC430, was on the same side of the ladder with the eighth best qualifying run. Most of the other heavy hitters, like Justin Pawlak, Ken Gushi, Vaughn Gittin Jr., Ryan Tuerck and Chris Forsberg, lined up on the other side of the ladder. All of the aforementioned pilots made it past their first round matchups and into the top 16.
Saito’s second round opponent was Fredric Aasbo, fresh off what appeared to be a fun and relaxing offseason in his native Norway. After the two super-close regulation battles, the crowd called for “one more time,” and the judges and competitors obliged. When that matchup was too-close-to-call, Saito and Aasbo lined back up and went at it again. This time, Saito bobbled at Long Beach’s signature hairpin, handing the win to the Hankook Scion tC driver. On the other side of the ladder, Tuerck dispatched Pawlak.
As all this was happening, Yoshihara, Gittin and Forsberg were marching their way through round after round: Yoshihara knocked Matt Powers and Aasbo out, Gittin sent Patrick Mordaunt and Gushi packing, and Forsberg defeated Darren McNamara and Tuerck. Who was the last member of the final four? That would be sophomore sensation Chelsea DeNofa in his distinctive purple-and-black, vertical-stabilizer-equipped U.S. Air Force/BC Racing BMW E46 3 Series sedan.
Unfortunately for the BMW buffs in the crowd (We’re sure there had to be a few in the house.), Yoshihara gave DeNofa a firsthand demonstration of why he’s a former series champion and perennial championship contender. And in the Gittin/Forsberg showdown, the Monster Energy Ford Mustang man proved to be too strong for the NOS Energy Drink Nissan 370Z and its skipper.
In the subsequent consolation round, Forsberg handed young Mr. DeNofa another defeat, though the transplanted Pennsylvanian certainly has no reason to hang his head.
So with Forsberg taking home third place honors, all that was left was to decide who would grab the winner and runner up positions. And despite Gittin being in rare form, Dai’s desire to notch his first win in the LBC carried him to the top of the podium and, because this is the first event of the season, the point standings.
So the defending champion has a lot of ground to make up, some former champs are looking strong, and a new star in an unorthodox ride looks set to scramble the Formula D pecking order. Makes the wait for the next round (May 10 and 11 at Road Atlanta) that much harder, doesn’t it? But if you need something to help pass the time, check out our galleries focusing on the cars and the babes from this past weekend’s goings on.