In the early hours, the roar of race engines shook the street of Long Beach. As drivers warmed their cars up for practice, the excitement in the air meant it was time for the 2022 Formula Drift season to begin. Set on the street circuit created for the grand prix, round one of Formula Drift happens a week before the famed Long Beach Grand Prix kicks off. The crew from Wilwood loves spending time at Formula Drift events, listening to the tires squeal and smelling the smoke. They found a familiar home for their display trailer in the paddock, offering auxiliary support to the many race teams using Wilwood brakes (and some that weren't) and product education to spectators throughout the weekend.
Drifting can trace back its roots to Japan, mashing up rally-style sliding on the paved mountain backroads – all for the sake of fun. It is still a relatively young form of motorsports, featuring a very diverse vehicle field, with drivers following different routes to create their ultimate drift machine. For the uninitiated, Drifting is as much akin to figure skating or skate boarding as it is to traditional road racing. Drift drivers elegantly slide their cars sideways through high speed corners, battling each other for biggest angle and most accuracy. In the old days, drifting was actually a race down twisting mountain roads, but in modern times it is a judged event, with drivers trading chase and lead runs.
Drift cars use boosted turbo four or six cylinder engines, or a V8 motor swap, or the increasingly popular, V8 plus forced induction, with power estimated to be in the 900 rwp range. It is not uncommon to see a built American V8 motor that looks straight out of NASCAR tucked into the bay a Nissan 240sx or Toyota GT86. Other modifications include extended front control arms and custom spindles to provide more steering lock, which is needed when they are sliding sideways in excess of 100 mph.
The brake system is also a crucial component of Pro Formula Drift cars, with systems similar to a street-car-based road race car. Most of the cars in the field use off-the-shelf Wilwood calipers and race rotors, paired with their aggressive race pads as well. However, vitally important is the hydraulic handbrake with a secondary set of calipers on the rear. This dual rear caliper setup allows the drivers to easily lock up the rear tires at will, helping their machine initiate graceful slides that become monstrous, V8-fueled drifts.
Formula Drift events operate on a bracket-style single elimination system, where a field of 32 cars is whittled down across four rounds to determine an ultimate winner. Each round is actually two runs, with each competitor getting a lead and chase run through the course, with judges scoring drivers based on drift angle, precision transitions through turns (clipping points), and proximity to their opponent. Occasionally competitors are deemed so close in scoring that they must run again, triggering the notorious “One More Time (OMT!)” run, giving racers another chance to display their abilities.
Here are some notable Wilwood-equipped cars from the event:
Matt Fields - Falken Tires/Drift Cave Chevy Corvette
Matt had great success early, slinging his big-power Corvette through the tight gaps of the Long Beach course like Cooper Kupp going deep to catch the winning touchdown pass. Going into the semi-final round Fields looked like he was going to top the podium thanks to his speed and precision. Unfortunately, in the semi-final he had to battle a fierce competitor in Fredric Aasbo. On Matt’s lead run, Aasbo got too close, and as they rotated from Outside Zone 1 to Outside Zone 2, made contact with the back of the Corvette, sending Matt hard into the concrete barriers. Because Aasbo was ruled at fault, Fields was scored as winning the round, but was unable to fix the car in time to make the finals. Still, his efforts put him in second place at the finish.
Odi Bakchis - Falken Tire/Feal Suspension Nissan Silvia S15
Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis is competing in a Falken sponsored Nissan S15 Silvia, having formerly drifted a Hyundai Genesis and Nissan S14. Odi is an exceptional driver having competed for many years in motocross, rally racing, and pro drifting. As a long-time Wilwood-equipped car, he’s consistently at the top of the pack and looks to prove another strong showing this season with his round-1 podium finish.
Daniel Stuke - Mspek Performance S14.9 Nissan Silvia
Driving his Nissan S14 240SX with a S15 Silvia front and rear-end swap, and turbo Toyota 2JZ power, Daniel was able to secure the top rookie spot in round one. His matchup runs against Rome Charpentier and his candy-colored, LS3 powered BMW E36 (also Wilwood-equipped), were too close to call. The judges called for One More Time runs, and still didn't choose until the third set of OMT passes. Eventually, Daniel was ruled the winner, and managed to finish 10th place overall for the day.
Chris Forsberg - NOS Energy Drink Nissan 400Z
Team Forsberg came out swinging at LBC, with a ground-up build on one of the first production Nissan 400Z cars in the United States. Thanks to the easy-to-adapt modular nature of Wilwood's rotors and calipers, the team was able to adapt upgraded brakes onto the chassis. Rumor has it the team got this car together in just six weeks, which makes it all the more impressive that Chris was able to get as far as he did in elimination bracket. In the quarter finals he was up against the eventual winner, Ryan Tuerck. In his chase run Forsberg made contact with Tuerck, with Forsberg ruled at fault and penalized. Then on their second pass, Forsberg over rotated and tagged a wall, ultimately ending his day.
Dean Kearney - Hyper NFT/DDE Dodge Viper
Dean is a long-time Wilwood user and overall crowd favorite. He was up against Odi Bakchis in his second round, though was battling some mechanical issues with the car and ultimately did not advance. Still, his supercharged V10 Dodge Viper with its unique exhaust note and aggressive aesthetic is always fun to watch. Dean will surely be back stronger than ever next round.
Darren Kelly - Heart of Racing Aston Martin V12 Vantage
What sounds better than a V10 Viper bouncing off the rev limiter? How about a V12 Aston Martin! Kelley brought the Aston Martin all the way to Long Beach from New Zealand, and the howls it made sounded like a pack of wolves echoing throughout the streets of Long Beach. It’s truly something that needs to be heard in person. Unfortunately, Kelly was plagued with technical issues and had to retire after the first round. Kelly road races a similar looking V12 Vantage in endurance race events and this is the first year competing in drift events with one, having switched from Nissan Skylines in previous years.
Formula Drift Scoring
Drifting judges require more than a stopwatch to determine the winner. Two drivers run laps of the course head to head, with one leading the other. The lead car has to hit the marks at the apexes and tag certain walls with their bumper while sliding, while the follower does that, while staying as close as possible to the lead. Then they switch places and do it again. The cars are typically within a few feet of each other as they slide and pivot around corners, and as we saw, sometimes they get too close.
Judges then score them on style, angle (of slide), and line, and penalizes them for not hitting apexes, missing "Touch and Go" spots, or being too far behind the leader. If the judges can't decide who's better, they make them do it all over again. A few years ago at the Irwindale Speedway season ender, they had to go over and over and over, until they ran into the noise curfew, because the two top drivers were so well matched.
Much like drag racing, events are run heads up, elimination style - the winner advances to the next round, the loser goes back to their trailer. Because of this, not even teammates are safe from a checkers or wreckers mentality.
Here are some shots of the drift action out on the track.