Formula Drift is back and hotter than ever, and this time I’m not just talking about the action. It was a sweltering weekend with temperatures reaching the 90’s paired with high levels of humidity making it feel like it was in the 100’s. Many fans were glad they had brought umbrellas to escape the forecast rain, but instead used them as shield for the sun’s unforgiving rays. Round 3 of the Formula Drift series presented by BlackVue was back at Orlando Speedworld for the second time, but unlike last year the rain held off for the main competition. Instead, the sun did not stop bringing the heat, and neither did the drivers.
Unlike the previous two rounds, Round Three is the first event of the year at an oval track which brings high speed sweepers on the banked turns of the track. This banking had a tendency to cause quite the issue at the starting line as the drivers must navigate a chicane of cones, but due to the banking, the rear of the car would sometimes slide down tapping a cone. This meant a restart was in order, of which there were many – with some calls being more questionable than others.
This year’s S-shaped layout was the same as last year. The drivers start at the top of the banking with a long sweeper, working their way down the banking to the flat part of the track called the “Power Alley”. This is where they make their transition to the bottom part of the track for the final sweeper taking them through the finish. The Orlando track is arguably the most turbulent track on the Formula Drift circuit – as the drivers charge down the banking slamming their cars on the bottom of the track to enter the “power alley,” which consists of some rough patches where repairs have been made to attempt to level out the track. In true Florida fashion, however, these “repairs” created bumps in the asphalt. All drivers faced the challenge of these bumps unsettling the car as they transitioned from one side of the track to the other, with some of them even catching some air. Gitten wasn’t the only one getting some three-wheeled action this weekend. The power alley is where many drivers met their downfall by following too closely or pushing too hard to close the gap over the rough transition, but a the very least it wasn’t home to any fires like it was last year.
There were plenty of graceful runs from many of the drivers, as well as some not-so-graceful runs… Though the judges sometimes thought otherwise. Many of the fans were not pleased with the driving of this round’s winner, Fredrick Aasbo, but Aasbo was here to win. He played it smart and did everything that he thought the judges wanted, and it payed off in the end. The issue that many of the spectators had with the judging occurred during the Top 32 runs where Aasbo faced off with Andrew Gray in his Toyota Chaser MK2. Gray put on an incredible lead run with Aasbo trailing behind, but it somehow resulted in a One More Time result. During Gray’s chase run he lost it during the transition through the power alley, handing over the win to Aasbo. During his lead run, Gray was able to walk away from Aasbo, which some argued made it look like an inactive chase. The judges voted in Aasbo’s favor and he would move on through the remaining battles to eventually take the win at Orlando Speedworld.
Formula Drift is always looking for ways to improve, but in many ways this round left spectators confused, specifically regarding how and why the judges made the calls that they did. If the driver’s meeting was opened up to the public it would explain to spectators exactly what the judges are looking for in a perfect run. This, combined with better explanations of rule changes from one year to the next, would lead to a better understanding of the competition and eliminate some of the uneasiness coming from the crowd. Take tire debating, for example. Debeading no longer results in a score of zero like it did last year – this year the penalty is a point deduction. Drivers can now get away with debeading their tire during a run and still get a score, but ONLY during their final run against their competitor. If the tire debeads during their initial run, they’re out, because tire changes are not allowed between runs. Make sense? Good.
This season is certainly going to be an interesting one. We’ve seen a ton of talent and intensity in the series so far, especially from some newcomers shaking up the veterans, and we’re hoping to see even more fresh faces on the podium. Round 4: The Gauntlet takes place at the Wall Speedway in New Jersey June 17th – 18th.