Street Drifting in Long Beach
Formula Drift Long Beach, April 10/11, 2015
I’ve had the pleasure of attending Formula Drift’s opening round for three years in a row. The first year I went it was out of curiosity for a new motorsport. I had just started getting into drifting and was blown away by the level of competition. The second year I went was to satisfy an itch to inhale some tire smoke and watch monstrous cars blast around Long Beach. This year was a little different though. With the roster being heavily slashed, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. But I went with my camera in hand (and a big-ass rented lens) to share this experience with you.
In previous years I’ve always had a short list of favorite drivers (#whereisdannygeorge). People who embodied the sport in a positive way, and I could get behind. Whether or not they were successful, I remained a fan of their program. Unfortunately due to the new Pro/Pro2 series division, some of my favorite drivers are completely absent from the series. I actually appreciate what Formula Drift is trying to accomplish, and I agree with the decision to begin implementing more stringent qualifications. But at the same time I can’t help but think a good deal of character has been lost from the series.
Couple this with the fact that there is now a risk of some drivers losing their license this year, some of the fun is definitely lost. There was a more serious tone to this entire event, as drivers now have pressure to preform well. That is, if they want to continue in this series next year. It’s a fair rule, as qualifying was certainly less of a circus than usual But part of what drew me to drifting in the first place was the ridiculous nature of the sport.
Despite the more serious tone to the event, I still had a lot of fun watching car after car rip by. No matter how competitive the series gets, it will never lose the jaw dropping angle and signature smoke. I think the venue also lends a lot to the experience. There is a lot of tension watching the cars get so close to concrete barriers, and tire walls. If these guys mess up, it could easily total their car. The war scars the cars have leaving the event are impressive, I’m surprised that they survive as well as they do out there.
Between Offset Kings and the drifting itself, it can be easy to overlook the vendor area and pits. Despite being a little more sparse, it still is worth doing a couple laps each day. Honestly the Rocket Bunny, bagged E36 stole the show for me. I believe this is the same car to feature the Tic Tac livery not too long ago. That said, I think the muted art-car style works really well with the body lines here.
It’s one thing to see car builds and features online, but to really appreciate the work that goes into these cars, you have to see it in person. Another benefit of the vendor area is the best of the best is brought out. Getting close and personal with some these cars gives you a real idea of what went into building them. If you take enough time, you can start seeing all the subtle touches that went into the car, and how they accent the rest of the build.
Meanwhile in the pits you can get a close look at the cars on the track. Formula Drift is fairly unique in this sense. It’s rare that you get an opportunity to get this close to the actual race cars. Interestingly enough, it also shows the deficit some teams are operating under. Some teams show up with huge rigs, teams full of professional mechanics, and crates of spare parts for any situation. Meanwhile others tow their own small trailer, and make do with what they have. There isn’t any less passion in these teams, and they’re working just as hard (if not harder in some ways) to make it to the track.
With a new season comes new cars. My favorite car by far was Masashi Yokoi’s S15. Since I really started following the sport, there haven’t been too many S15s on the grid. This year that changes with Yokoi campaigning his chrome and blue car, and Forrest Wang with his gorgeous green livery as well. The international presence in the series has always been strong, but I’m glad it is represented within the cars as well. It’s so rare to actually see these cars in the US (we never get the cool stuff), so it’s worth getting excited over.
Formula Drift events are split up into two days. The first day is all single pass qualifying, as drivers try to make it into the top 32 brackets. Thanks to open seating and a smaller crowd, I was able to position myself up high and get some good shots of the cars swinging by into the sweeper. I learned fairly quickly that with the direction the wind was blowing, and a fence between me and the track, I could only get clean shots of certain sections. Media Credentials probably would have gone a long way for some cooler shots, but I made do with where I was. For the average spectator, none of this is an issue really. If you are in the main grandstands, you have an excellent view of the whole track. But when you are trying to cover the event itself, it definitely helps to have some mobility.
Unfortunately the second day is all assigned seating, and completely packed. When I purchased the tickets initially, I hadn’t planned on bringing a massive lens and camera setup. As it turns out it made life pretty difficult. It made my entire second day in the stands, something of a wash. Between the smoke covering the only clear section of the track, and the fence blocking the good corner, it because difficult to get truly clean shots. That said it was a learning experience, I had to get creative in capturing and editing. While I’m not thrilled with the results, I think it turned out well given the circumstances.
But I found no matter the angle, or obstructions, these cars always looked amazing. I suppose it’s hard to explain, but drift cars have a personality all to their own. The loud livery choices, the sheer diversity of engines, and choice of styling really lets drivers express themselves personally. Where in other series cars can start feeling a little cookie-cutter, Formula Drift allows for a form of expression that can be appreciated by the fans. The cars are just as recognizable as their drivers.
I’ve talked about my thoughts on this years championship chase, but ultimately it’s up in the air. I saw some previous champions and strong contenders fall at Long Beach, against up and coming drivers. It goes to remind you that on any given weekend, anyone can take home a win. Between mechanical gremlins, and nerves, anyone can fall out of the competition at any time. Given the high caliber of drivers this season, I think a lot of the battles are going to come down to issues like this. No one likes winning (or losing) like that, but the reality is the battles have gotten so tight that going One More Time until something breaks seems plausible.
That said, I will go on record saying that this is Aasbo’s championship to lose. He’s already set the pace with a win at Long Beach and with the amount of seat time he has had in the tC, it seems like he’s comfortable piloting the car to an overall championship this year. Given he nearly clinched the title last year, he is definitely capable of pulling it off. As long as his team is able to keep the car reliable, I see no reason why he won’t be the champion this year. I’m looking forward to seeing what this season brings though. There are certainly some dark horses in the mix, and I’m anticipating the battle to Irwindale to be hard fought.
Formula Drift continues to offer one of the most unique motorsport experiences around. Between the smoke, the noise, and the sheer violence of what happens on the track, I think it’s hard to beat. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the season, whether it’s in person or online. If you have the opportunity to go to a Formula Drift event, do it. In a day and age where cars are becoming more efficient and economical and motorsports are becoming more about strategy than gut instinct, it’s great to see some old school horsepower and bravery hit the track.
I recently took up another writing position, and I posted my initial reactions to this event there. This will in no way effect this website, but if you’re interested in reading more of my work go ahead and check it out!