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Words by : Cheryl Tay, Photos by : Cheryl Tay

I am still suffering from jetlag as I write this, although it has been two weeks since I got back from Los Angeles, where I caught the opening round of the 2012 Formula Drift Pro Championship Series at Long Beach.

I arrived on Wednesday early afternoon but ended up crashing in bed once I got to the hotel. By the time I got up it was nightfall, so I only went over to the track on Thursday. In the States, Formula Drift is held on Friday and Saturday, as opposed to Southeast Asia where the Formula Drift ASEAN Series is held on Saturday and Sunday.

The final setup touches were being put in place when I was at the track on Thursday:

Containers were rolling in and teams were unloading their cars…

… while fences were going up and even the grandstand steps were still being painted.

The cars were also getting in line for technical inspection. Btw, Formula Drift has a new technical manager this year – Kevin Wells who was 2009 Formula Drift champion Chris Forsberg former chief crew.

Not all the drivers were there, but Formula Drift 2011 champion Daijiro Yoshihara’s new line of wheels was on display.

In the evening a police convoy swooped in…

No no… no one was being caught, no vehicle was being confiscated… They were here to escort the Formula Drift driver parade that took place on the actual streets of Long Beach!

I got on this bus with the rest of the media so I could get photos…

… and you should have seen the faces of some of the onlookers when we roared past. Ok not the bus, but the drift cars…

For a moment here, I thought Conrad Grunewald’s Chevy Camaro was gonna take on Joon Maeng’s RX-8!

On a separate note, check out the drivers of the open-top bus I was on:

A welcome drink party was held at Belmont Shore where the parade ended and then it was smoking time early Saturday morning!

The 60 drivers who competed that weekend formed the largest Formula Drift driver pool ever, with the largest batch of rookies – 19 of them in total – hence explaining why the first practice session (with all them rookies) was delayed by almost an hour and a half…

Formula Drift ASEAN 2011 champion Daigo Saito made his American drifting debut and is one of the 19 rookies, though it’s weird calling him a rookie with all his drifting accolades. He built new cars for this season – one for each series: FD USA, FD ASEAN and D1GP. For the

 

Daijiro Yoshihara, 2011 FD champion

There was only one practice session for the 60 drivers – split into one and half hours per 30 drivers – and then it was straight to qualifying. Here are some prominent drifters…

 

Vaughn Gittin JR, 2010 FD champion

 

Chris Forsberg, 2009 FD champion

 

Tony Angelo ditches the judging panel and returns to the driver’s seat

 

Justin Pawlak, overall runner-up for 2011 FD

 

Ken Gushi taking the Scion FR-S sideways.. hot!

 

Matt Powers and his Need for Speed car

It was Ryan Tuerck and his colourful S13 that qualified tops with a spanking score of 97%!

Matt Powers and his Need for Speed car

 

Ooh, that’s a pretty bonnet damper!

What’s the one part of the car that a drift car loses the most easily? You got it – the BUMPER!

After qualifying was done, there was a drivers’ briefing then the autograph session to round up Day 1.

I was going down the row of drivers collecting autograph cards for myself when this race queen suddenly went, “Are you Cheryl Tay? I follow you on Facebook!” That is how powerful social media is.

You like race queens? Here’s more:

Ok enough Hankook, here’s one from NOS!

There was this guy in front me in the line who was lugging a Falken tyre around for the drivers to sign – interesting!

According to her mum, this little girl chose to come to Formula Drift to see Dai instead of going to some theme park. How’s that for starting young! Dai, your charm extends to girls of ALL ages I see…

 

Day 2 was a sold-out crowd and the stands were packed as full as the portable toilets were. I went on track while the sun was still rising to grab quick interviews with the Achilles Tires Bridges Racing drivers Daigo, Robbie and Amandio.

 
Just hanging with the boys from Speedhunters

Then it was BATTLE TIME!

Emmanuel Amandio of Indonesia is competing in full season of FD USA and FD ASEAN this year, again using what was Chris Forsberg’s 2009 winning 350Z – completely rebuilt of course. Amandio did well to qualify in fifth place, but unfortunately was knocked out in the Top 32 by Toshiki Yoshioka of Team RSR.

After the Top 32 there was a lunch break so people could browse the sponsor village and grab some merchandise. Then it was time for the Top 16 all the way to the final!

In typical fashion, the Top 16 drivers come out for a parade and park their cars in a line on the track before being introduced individually to the crowds.

 

At a quick glance this looks like a scene out of some circuit racing action – but look closely and you’ll realise it’s a driver parade!

 

Ryan Kado is the youngest driver in Formula Drift this year and well done for making it to the Top 16!

On the run to the final, there were some really sick battles…

 

Justin Pawlak vs. Chris Forsberg in the Top 8

This battle of Daijiro versus Daigo in the semi-finals was a nice bonus..

… and the chance for Daigo to make it to the top of the podium on his American drifting debut was ruined when he lost to Daijiro.

That meant Daijiro meeting Justin Pawlak in the final, which was exactly what happened at last year’s Long Beach round too.

And so it was truly a repeat of history when Justin Pawlak rose to the top at the first round of FD 2012…

 

It was great to see him being flanked by two Japanese drivers.. though he tried to spray Daigo off the podium:

Daigo doesn’t care that he can’t speak English, the tracks are new or the timezones are whacked – that guy just wants to win. He will continue to create waves in all three drift championships that he is competing in – who’s betting against him? Hardly anyone I would think…

 

FD moves on to Atlanta next, but for FD fans in the Southeast Asian region, the FD ASEAN 2012 series is kicking off in Malaysia in May then Singapore in June. Daigo, Robbie, Ken Gushi and Manabu Orido will be competing, while Daijiro will be judging again. Nah, no chance of a Daijiro-Daigo battle in Asia… maybe next time!

For more of Cheryl Tay …

Website: www.cheryl-tay.com

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Formspring : www.formspring.me/mscheryltay