Formula Drift Round three this year was held at Road Atlanta, one of our favorite tracks of the series! Road Atlanta is a very iconic track and I am more than stoked to compete against the best drifters in the world on it! Last year we had great success on this track finishing in 2nd place for Pro 2. With a tiny bit of more power than we had last year and the same suspension set up, the team felt confident going into this round.
Thursdays practice came with a few hurdles. After doing a few laps I realized the same issue we had in Long Beach is also affecting us here in Atlanta. Coming up the hill I was throwing a lot of angle in the car to set me up for going into the horseshoe. However, doing this was making our car’s steering lock up and understeer causing the vehicle to go off course. With it being Thursday, grip levels were not at its peak yet and after talking to some teams it sounded like they were understeering in the same spot as well. We decided to make a few adjustments to the car and the fact it didn’t do this every lap we decided to see how things go the following day. Other than that, we got our entry location down as well as our line throughout the course and the team felt good after Thursday’s practice session.
Friday’s practice before qualifying went extremely well compared to Thursday’s practice. The car had a lot more grip without changing any tire pressure or suspension settings. The weather was a bit hotter and there was a lot more rubber down on the track. We did roughly 6 laps before qualifying and the car’s steering only locked up once and it was on our first run. The team and I figured the car was good to go as our front tires were not warmed up yet on our first run and the remaining laps we did the car felt great. Going into qualifying I felt really strongly about our vehicle setup and this track and was ready to put down a very solid run. On my First qualifying lap I initiated a lot deeper than I have all weekend, the tires rode the rumble strip and we had a good amount of angle going into the first inner clip. After passing the first inner clip we transitioned up the hill, full throttle and was coming up to the horseshoe fast. I chucked the steering wheel to throw a lot of angle at the car. The car angled out and when I downshifted into 2nd to power through into the horseshoe the steering once again locked up and unfortunately we understeered off course. This was very unfortunate as this was my first qualifying run and knowing we had only one more lap to make it into the main event our nerves were high as there was an obvious problem with the car. I drove back to the pits and talked with the team about what was going on with our s13. Matt Coffman came by our pits to see how things were going and I showed him a video of what happened on our qualifying run. We jacked up the front end and he quickly pointed out that we were missing the bump stop for our Wisefab angle kit. Every time I drove the car aggressively and threw a lot of angle at the car our steering was over centering which was causing my steering wheel to lock up and the front end to wash out. Since we didn’t have any time to properly fix this our crew chief Greg Leone made a temporary bump stop with duct tape. Knowing this was my only chance to qualify and knowing the vehicle still had the issue my nerves were very high. During our 2nd qualifying pass I hit all the clips just like our first run but coming into the horseshoe I took it very conservative and did not angle out like our previous run. The car did not understeer this time around and we finished off the course strongly. Due to use being conservative through the horseshoe the team scored an 80 on our second qualifying pass and we were in the show for top 32. After qualifying we ended up buying a Wisefab bump stop from Faruk Kugay and fixed our over centering issue. Knowing the car was fixed we were excited for competition on Saturday.
Our qualifying result paired us to go against 2017 3rd place champion Odi Bakchis for our top 32 battle. Odi is a great driver and is one of the fastest cars on grid and we were looking forward to do battle with him. Our goal for Saturday’s practice was to get as many follow laps as possible. This quickly came to an end, on our 2nd practice run of the day we snapped a stub shaft exiting the last turn. Knowing we didn’t have a spare and that top32 was close to starting, I frantically ran through the pits looking for a team with a spare stub shaft for our s13 differential. Luckily Enjuku Racing was kind enough to lend us their spare. Funny thing is we actually broke an axle last year in Atlanta and Enjuku Racing also helped us out, big shout out to the guys over at Enjuku! Since the stub shaft broke inside the differential we were unable to get it out and ended up swapping the differential with a spare that we brought. This took quite some time as top 32 started and we were about 75% of the way done. Our battle was the fourth battle in the bracket so we ended up having to call our competition 5 minute timeout. With 30 seconds left on the clock we finished installing the new differential and stub shaft and headed to line up against Odi. I knew we would have to give it our all for this battle. We initiated with Odi and kept great proximity through the first inside clip. Coming up the hill we surged forward on him into the horseshoe, I had to check up pretty good and when we hit the throttle the car was out of its power band and I sustained drift but started to shallow out. After the 3rd clutch kick we got the rear tires spinning again and transitioned to go back down the hill. Unfortunately this put me and an awkward line and I just fell into Odi’s tire smoke. We were in Odi’s smoke for about 3 seconds which felt like eternity when going those speeds not being able to see a thing. I was contemplating on when to transition and did not want to transition late due to that outside wall taking out a few vehicles this weekend. When I ended up transitioning we were just a tad too soon and I ended up going tires off and hitting the inside clip. On our lead I knew we had to give it everything we had. I laid down what I thought would have been a 100 point qualifying run. We hit all our clips and even through tons of angle going into the horseshoe. Coming down the hill we actually pulled a few car lengths away from Odi but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to upset our mistake.
The next day we went to the local event at Lanier Speedway across the street and had a blast driving with some of the local guys. It was also Mother’s day and I was able to give my Mom some ride alongs which was awesome! The team and I learned a lot this weekend and we all worked together to get the car fixed just in time for our top 32 battle. I could not have been prouder of everyone and we look forward to driving at Wall Speedway for the first time next round!