Photos and Words by: Jeremy Stoutamyer
Editor: Mike Raffia
2015 marks my third lucky year attending round two of the Formula Drift series in Atlanta. Yet three years in, this trip still managed to be a year of firsts. The first time I stayed in a hotel instead of camping out, the first time mother nature didn’t rain on my parade, and the first time covering the event for LoweredLifestyle. This is one of my favorite annual rodeos for several reasons; the venue, the Motorsports, and the fanfare. You’ll see what I mean as we go along, not only is Road Atlanta beautiful but it is also one hell of a track for spectators. This is the first year we have been able to provide real proper coverage of the Round 2 in ATL and I’m incredibly excited that I get to bring it to you.
The 2015 Formula Drift season started off strong in Long Beach with new drivers making big moves and putting up some serious competition for the veterans of the sport. Road Atlanta has hosted the Formula Drift series for the past 11 years and that is a good thing, very good. The track offers a unique layout with elevation changes, high entry speeds, and some of the best seats in the house no matter where you are. The FD circuit starts at the top of the hill, at the end of the backstretch and heads downhill to turn 10A and 10B. Then drivers travel uphill and off the regular road course onto the keyhole where they then loop around and travel back downhill to turn 10B and 10A and back to where they started.
The past two years mother nature decided to add its own natural lubricant to the mix making for wild qualifying and bracket battles with the track surface going from dry to wet, over and over. Hot and sunny Georgia weather shined all weekend which meant plenty of sunscreen, water, and beer would be needed. Since the Road Atlanta course is not a walled off circuit, drivers are pushing the limits to put down the most extreme run they can. This leads to loads of smoke, tire drops, giant dirt clouds, and sporadically ends with a trip into the kitty litter. It’s always better to get stuck in the gravel and get pulled out than it could be slamming into a tire wall at any speed.
Drifting is the main draw for the weekend, but there is also the Global Time Attack happening side by side with Formula Drift. The GTA starts in the morning and uses the full road course which provides some action for the people who get to the track early to claim their spots for the drift weekend. The time attack cars are anything from a stock Honda Fit to a fully built time attack focused track car like Danny George’s NB Miata that he transformed from his FD car from last year. Somehow they got it looking even more gnarly than before.
There is also a Trans Am series that runs in the morning with the GTA series. Trans Am is home to Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes and a Challenger or two that have it out in a 40 lap or 65 minute race on Saturday. These race cars are stripped down and exaggerated wide body versions of their road going counterparts. It’s really like getting 3 events in one, as long as you get to the track early enough in the morning to enjoy the full trio.
Stepping back from the race cars there is plenty to see and do in the pits. The Offset Kings showcase produced in partnership with Formula DRIFT and Fatlace is always up our alley. The caliber of the cars in the showcase is top quality, with entrant’s ranging from Acura’s to Porsche’s. There was eye candy everywhere you looked.
Friday afternoon is one of the last practice sessions for the Formula Drift event giving the teams and drivers last minute tuning to get all they can out of the car before qualifying. When qualifying starts all drivers put on their A game to make sure they get in the Top 32. This is when you get to see how each driver goes navigates their own way through the course. Some drivers, like Tanner Foust, put the pedal to the metal and run at full tilt, carrying a ton of speed through the whole course, even though that is not a component the judges pay attention to this year, that’s just his style. Other drivers like Forrest Wang come in with a very aggressive style putting a lot of angle in the mix making for some very stylish runs. Just like any race, even you qualify well doesn’t mean you’re going to have an easy time in the main competition. The number one qualifier Justin Pawlak was taken down by the 17th qualifier, Pat Goodin (aka King of Spring Break) after JTP had a botched entry on his lead run and then contacted Goodin when it was his turn to follow.
Probably the most talked about competitor this time was Mike Whiddett with his insane quad rotor, twin turbo powered Mazda Miata. The car was crazy loud and grabbed everyone’s attention, just by the sound, but with the awesomely aggressive look of the fully custom Red Bull Miata. Mad Mike and his miata were taken out by Forrest Wang in the Top 16 as Forrest was able to stay on Mad Mike’s door where as Mike fell behind as Forrest put some distance between them during his lead run.
The driver who has kind of flown under the radar is Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis, the man who finished runner up at long beach. Wang and Odi went head to head in the Great 8 and Odi came away with the win running extremely consistent run after run. Ken Gushi went against Chris Forsberg they had one of the longest battles I’ve ever seen with the judges calling for three, One More Time battles. Eventually Gushi got the win and faced off against Odi in the next match up. The final ended with Odi pulling yet another set of clean runs against Gushi, giving him that overall win he had come so close to back in Long Beach.
This years FDATL – Road to the Championship was another fantastic event and has really set the season up to go anywhere with this new field of rising challengers. Road Atlanta is definitely a fan favorite, I can honestly say the only thing I ever wanted to end… was hiking up and down those Georgia hills. I am a Florida resident born and raised so call me a flat lander, but you bet we all are excited for FD Orlando in June and I hope to see you all there! Stay thirsty my friends.
Follow the Photographer: @Jeremy_S_Photo