After going out in top 32 at Long Beach Rd.1 by point’s leader Fredric Aasbo on our rookie debut, we came into Round 2 at Orlando Speed world with determination for a better outcome. The Team and I felt strong about Orlando, it was a track that we drove at last year for Pro 2 so we were familiar with the venue and what was needed to be successful. We arrived Wednesday the 25th to set up our pits and make some last minute adjustments to the vehicle before we hit practice hard the following day!
Thursday practice was a successful day! Last year we had some issues at Orlando, on initiation we had some struggle getting the car into drift on time due to running a stock engine and not being able to change our gear ratio. Thankfully with our Brian Crower built head this season we had no issues getting the car settled quickly into drift. We took it very conservative on our first practice run and after 4 laps the team and I felt great about the car and our runs. We felt like we could lay down a good qualifying run the next day so we made a group decision to conserve the car and use our remaining practice laps before qualifying the next day.
Going into Friday we knew we had to throw down. Right before my first qualifying pass I was quite nervous and was watching Kazuya Taguchi’s run and the way he initiated set it him up perfectly on the wall for the rest of his run. After he finished we lined up to lay down our first qualifying pass. I had Taguchi’s run in my head and decided to initiate like he did as it set him up for a great run. When I initiated along the wall as he did, the front of my car washed out on initiation and was understeering right for the wall. Luckily I reacted quickly and reinitiated the car and finished off the run. Unfortunately due to the mistake on initiation we received a 66. As the team and I knew we had points on the board and most of the nerves have settled I was ready to clear my head and drive how we normally do. As we approached the bank on my 2nd qualifying run we did an aggressive manji into the bank which set the car perfectly up against the wall. After riding the wall the entire way around the bank we dove into the first inside clip and transitioned through power alley at full speed. After coming off the 2nd inside clip and setting the angle of the car to finish the last turn I knew in my head we just put down a great qualifying run and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. Pulling into the pits after our run the team was very stoked and they were proud to say we laid down a 89 point run. At the end of the day this put us at 16th place which is the upper half of the field of drivers.
It was time for the big event! Saturday was here and we hit practice in the morning focusing on tandeming only as we felt like our lead runs were solid. After a few tandem practices we quickly realized how quick our car really was. We were able to keep up with some of the fastest cars out on the grid such as Dean Kearney’s viper and the notorious NGK E92 Eurofighter.
A problem we quickly noticed however was when we had to slow down following a car on the bank we lost all our momentum and the car was very difficult to get back on throttle with the tires still spinning. We are currently at 580hp with not much low end torque, which is the lowest in Pro 1 this season. My spotter, Justin Woodard and I strategized a game plan to allow a tiny bit of distance on the initiation then to real the cars in so we wouldn’t get choked up on the bank. Unfortunately this is not how we like to drive but it was the only thing that seemed reasonable to do at the time.
Our first battle was with Michael Essa in the top 32. Shortly before top 32 had begun Essa ended up crashing his vehicle into the bank wall and his team was scrambling to get his car put back together. After a 5 minute competition timeout they showed up to the grid and we lined up for our first battle. As we qualified higher we lead first. On initiation Essa straightened out resulting in a zero for his follow run. Essa’s team decided to call it and returned his car to the pits. Essa stated he had no power steering and deemed he felt it was not safe to run and was not worth the risk. We didn’t want to win this way as Essa is a great driver and we were looking forward to a good fight but we were more than stoked to advance into our first ever top 16.
After opening ceremonies our battle was the first of top 16 against number one qualifier Fredric Aasbo. Aasbo is no stranger to us, I have been watching him drift for many years as I have always looked up to him as a person and as a driver. We knew this was going to be a hard fought battle but we were thrilled to go against the Norwegian Hammer again this season.
Aasbo led first and as mentioned before we decided to give him some distance on initiation and real him in. Unfortunately he pulled a little further than I was hoping on initiation but we reeled him in by the end of the bank. Coming down from the steep bank to the flat infield is a pretty drastic bump especially for our lowered cars. We never had an issue all weekend but following Aasbo into it he had a lot less angle than we have been going into that spot with and unfortunately even though I had the throttle fully down when we hit that bump our car completely straightened out. I instantly reinitiated and followed Aasbo for the rest of the run but I knew that would cost us in the end.
As we lined up for our lead run I knew I was going to have to do my best run that entire weekend and we did just that! On our lead run we had a very aggressive manji which set us up to scrape the bank wall all the way around to power alley! Coming off the bank into power alley we actually left Aasbo a decent ways and he had to pull a lot of angle out of his car to keep up with us for the rest of the course. It definitely was not enough to secure the victory but we laid down a very solid run in top 16 and showed everyone that we are capable of becoming a very successful Formula Drift team!
I could not have been more proud of my team and family this weekend. We have been progressing more and more each round, this round we made top 16 and I am looking forward to what Atlanta has in store for us! None of this would have been possible without the help from each and every one of you so I appreciate all of you in believing in us and we are thrilled to see what is in store for the future, thank you!