After getting wiped from the 2020 schedule by COVID-19 restrictions, Formula DRIFT put pandemic cancellations in the rear view and finally made its debut at the famed Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ—a legendary NHRA drag strip that’s been transformed into a brand-new figure-8 drift course. Not surprisingly, the grandstands were packed, and it was Formula DRIFT’s biggest event on the East Coast to date.
Similar to the previous round in Orlando, Raceway Park hosted teams for both the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship Round 3: Autozone Gauntlet presented by TYPE S, and the Link ECU PROSPEC Championship Round 2. That created a packed schedule that saw teams begin to practice on Thursday so drivers could create some muscle memory for the sinuous course. On Friday, both Championships held their qualifying rounds, and the new Knockout Qualifying Format (KQF) decided the positions. Unfortunately, a lighting problem meant some of the FD PRO qualifying places had to be pushed to Saturday morning, but that resulted in even more tire-burning action for fans to enjoy.
With almost half the teams entering rookie drivers in the 2021 Link ECU PROSPEC Championship, the new Englishtown course would provide a level playing field in terms of vehicle settings and ideal drift lines. With 35 drivers vying for just 32 competition places, the pressure was on everybody to find a clean run.
The 2020 Champion Dmitriy Brutskiy (Belarus), driving the Essa Autosport/ISC Suspension BMW E46, made a strong start, qualifying in first place and earning himself a bye round into the Top 16. There, he met Kelsey Rowlings (USA) driving the Top 1 Oil/Drift Chick Nissan S14. And while both drivers set good lead runs, a mistake by Rowlings in the chase position, combined with a consistent performance from Brutskiy, gave him the win.
Moving into the Top 8, his opponent was Micah Diaz (USA) driving the HoldFast/GT Radial/Proper Fabworks BMW E46. Brutskiy ultimately took the win in the all-BMW battle, but not before the judges called for One More Time (OMT). When the runs were repeated, Brutskiy again set a fast pace, pressuring Diaz into a mistake as he tried to maintain proximity. With his cleaner chase run, Brutskiy headed to the Top 4 to meet rookie Josiah Fallaise (Canada) in his DriftHQ/FDF Raceshop Nissan S14.
Showing the rookie no mercy, Brutskiy again took the win thanks to a superior chase run. With Noback taking third place by virtue of a better qualifying position than Fallaise (who would finish the day in fourth and as the top rookie), Brutskiy simply had to eliminate Austin Matta (USA) in the Final.
Sticking with a winning formula, Brutskiy ran deep and clean in the lead position. And while Matta had great proximity at the wheel of the Don’t Matta Racing Nissan S14, he knew his own lead run would need to be on the money. Unfortunately, Matta pushed a little too hard and collided with the wall in Outside Zone 3. With three wheels on his wagon, Matta took the second step on the podium as Brutskiy climbed to the summit.
“This win meant so much to me because Englishtown is the closest track to my home,” Brutskiy said after the trophy ceremony. “I had lots of friends and family here, so it was awesome to put on a show and actually make it to the top.”
Just like PROSPEC, the 2021 FD PRO Championship is bursting at the seams with talented drivers. By some glitch in the Matrix, the top four FD PRO qualifiers at FD NJ placed in exactly the same order as at the previous round. This meant Chelsea DeNofa (USA) was again on top and keen to see if he could have another perfect weekend by qualifying and finishing first. But it wasn’t in the cards: The night belonged to Matt Field (USA) in the Falken Tire/Drift Cave Chevrolet Corvette, who nabbed his first victory since 2016.
The atmosphere became even more dramatic with the help of Mother Nature: Heavy rains moved in shortly after the FD PRO Championship teams were introduced. Since nobody had practiced in wet conditions, the drivers were allowed one sighting lap before each heat.
With heavy rain at the start of the Top 32, grip was almost impossible to find, causing the tires to scrabble for purchase. This was especially evident in the grueling qualifying battle between eventual winner Field and Jonathan Hurst (USA) in the Cash Racing Infiniti G37. Despite the slippery track, both Field and Hurst ran deep into the course on their respective lead runs, flirting with the solid barriers. It was actually the chase position that proved more challenging as the drivers struggled to find proximity while anticipating the lead car’s trajectory.
After their first runs, the judges requested OMT since Field and Hurst were equally commanding in the lead and scrappy in the chase. Runs three and four were tidier, but there was no clear victor. So the drivers again went OMT. It was run five that finally separated Field from Hurst. A light collision between the two, with Hurst in the chase position, pushed Field off line. With Hurst assessed at fault, Field simply had to complete a clean run six to advance.
Things didn’t get any easier in the Top 16 as Field, sitting second in the FD PRO Championship, faced Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis, the current points leader and his Falken Tire teammate.
Bakchis isn’t on top by chance. His precision and aggression are legendary: He’s able to place his Falken Tires/Feal Suspension Nissan S15 exactly where it needs to be. However, Bakchis struggled with his lines in the chase position, running shallower than Field. His early elimination was a huge opportunity for his opponents, but Bakchis would only drop to second place behind Field in the FD PRO Championship once the points were tallied from FD NJ.
In the Top 8, Field was matched against Dean Kearney (Ireland) in the Oracle Lighting/Team Karnage Viper. This would be another fight to the death: The Irishman is at the top of his game and the Viper always has plenty of power. Unfortunately, that power may have contributed to a spin through the central transition, leaving Kearney with an incomplete run. Needing to pile on the pressure in the second run, Kearney collided with Field, causing him to abort the drift and putting him out of contention.
In the Top 4, Field met Tuerck and another epic battle ensued. After their first runs the judges requested OMT because both drivers had hit the marks perfectly in the lead position, while maintaining good proximity in the chase. With the runs repeated, the decision went to Field by virtue of marginally deeper lines on his chase run.
It was the end of a long dry spell for Field, whose last first round win came at the Irwindale Final in 2016. It was also his first victory in the the Corvette since he introduced it in 2018.
“It’s pretty freakin’ cool to get the win tonight,” he said after the podium celebrations. “This win has been overdue and it’s great to finally get a win in the Corvette.”
Lake Erie Speedway will host Round Four of the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship on July 9–10. Head to formulad.com for the competition schedule, ticket information, driver profiles, special content, and the event livestream.
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