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It has been just shy of two full years since Formula DRIFT last graced Road Atlanta with its smoky presence. Thousands of fans flocked from all over to the site on which FD hosted its first event in 2004, anticipating the sideways, door-banging action to be just as intense as ever. When the smoke cleared and dust settled, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis would reign supreme, with his Falken Tire teammate Matt Field taking second and 2020 series champion Vaughn Gittin, Jr. taking home the bronze.
“We love this place and we're glad we're able to make it back,” said Jim Liaw, president and co-founder of Formula DRIFT. “To come back after 728 days to a capacity crowd is really refreshing. We're just really happy to be back at this place and hope for a really good 2021 season.”
For 2021, the usual Thursday practice session was ditched in favor of a new knock-out qualifying format on Friday. Whereas in the old format, each driver would make two qualifying passes and take the higher of each score, the KQF style saw only the bottom eight drivers get a second chance, and they competed among themselves within the “bottom eight” to fill out the 25-32 qualifying positions, trying to eliminate the possibility of by-runs in competition along the way.
2015 Formula DRIFT champion Frederic Aasbø brought his GR Supra fresh with a new livery to Atlanta, starting off with a strong qualifying run that put him in second-place behind Matt Field. He was defeated in top 32 by number 18 qualifier Jeff Jones, who would go on to finish fourth overall.
Field, in his C6 Corvette, took top qualifying honors with a commendable score of 95, while Frederic Aasbø and his Toyota GR Supra, Bakchis and his Nissan S15 and Gittin, Jr. with his Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D all tying for second with a score of 93. With a three-way tie for second, the tiebreaker was first determined by the style score, then angle score, and finally, line score. All three drivers held the same style and angle score, and this event marked the first time in FD history the tiebreaker went all the way to the line store, which would see Aasbø, Bakchis and Gittin, Jr. fall into second, third and fourth place, respectively. Only one driver, Ryan Litteral, did not make the show due to engine problems.
With his position at the top, Field battled number 32 qualifier Jonathan Nerren in the first round of top 32 competition, making quick work of the second-year Pro driver to move on. Gittin, Jr. would see his Mustang facing off against a horse from a completely different stable, going wheel-to-wheel with Federico Sceriffo’s Ferrari 599 GTB, ultimately emerging the victor.
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.'s RTR Mustang gets close to Frederico Sceriffo's Ferrari 599 GTB in the first round.
Bakchis began his climb to the top in his top 32 battle with rookie Jonathan Hurst and his Infiniti G37. Hurst, who had been battling mechanical gremlins since the day before, was unable to complete his initial chase run against the veteran driver. On Bakchis’ chase run, those same gremlins shut down Hurst’s car once more, this time causing a collision between the two cars. Without being at fault and having no significant damage, Bakchis would secure a spot in the top sixteen.
Field, once again, was the first to do battle in top sixteen, this time against Chelsea DeNofa’s Mustang. It was Field and his Corvette who would get the nod, and shortly thereafter, Gittin, Jr. would be on the offensive against Dylan Hughes’ BMW E46 to also climb the ladder into the Great Eight.
For Bakchis, the BMW E36 of Travis Reeder would be the next obstacle on the fight to the top. After the latter dropped two tires into the gravel pit on his follow run, it appeared there may have been damage to Reeder’s car. After calling a five-minute competition time out and being unable to resolve the issue, Bakchis advanced once again.
Back on the other side of the bracket, Field would face the Mustang of Falken teammate Justin Pawlak. Field laid down a pair of impressive runs, while Pawlak’s chase run was not as fluid as Field’s – the Corvette would once again advance.
Gittin, Jr. would draw Yves Meyer’s BMW, marking the first time the two had ever driven against each other. On Gittin, Jr.s’ lead run, Meyer would make contact with the right front of the Mustang, but Gittin, Jr would stay in the run and finish strong to move on.
YouTube sensation and fan-favorite Adam LZ goes three-wheeling in the gravel pit at the base of the starting hill just after the first initiation point. It's not unusual to see his fans lined up in droves around his hauler in the pits.
In the final battle of the Great Eight, Bakchis found himself against YouTube sensation and fan favorite Adam LZ (Lizotte-Zeisler) in a match of S15s; Bakchis’ machine with an LS heart and plenty of Holley components and LZ’s motivated by Toyota’s venerable 2JZ powerplant. On Bakchis’ initial lead run, LZ closed the door too quickly coming down the six-story hill and made heavy side-to-side contact with the former, causing both cars to stop their run. LZ was deemed at fault, suffering an irreparable car in the process, gifting Bakchis his spot in the Final Four with the competition of a solo run.
The first semi-final contest drew together Field and Gittin, Jr., marking the third Corvette-Mustang pairing of the evening. Things went smoothly on Field’s lead run, but then the roles were reversed, Gittin, Jr. de-beaded his right rear tire coming down the hill on the first initiation, ultimately causing him to spin in the keyhole. With Field declared the winner, Gittin, Jr. was on the fence for third place.
Two-time Formula DRIFT champion Vaughn Gittin, Jr. de-beads his right rear tire after the first initiation point in his battle with Matt Field. The tire popped back on with the next transition, but the damage was done and it popped off the wheel once again at the apex of the keyhole near the judging tower, giving Field the win.
Bakchis would battle Jeff Jones and his Nissan 370Z for his spot in the finals. Jones had come off an impressive run to this point, knocking off other heavy-hitters like Aasbø and Dean Kearney, who fields the sole Viper in the competition. It was a close battle on Bakchis’ lead run, but true to form, his chase run was even more impressive, gaining the judges favor to meet Field in the finals.
Fresh off his win at the final round of the 2020 FD season at Irwindale Speedway, Bakchis was looking for a back-to-back victory against his Falken teammate. In the first battle as Field lead the charge, Bakchis’ S15 had gained more momentum during initiation into the first inside clip, causing him to slam into the side of the Corvette much how LZ had slammed into himself two runs prior, and this time, Bakchis was deemed at fault. Bakchis took his 5-minute competition time out while Field was allowed 10 minutes for repair, taking his own five-minute competition time out as well to ensure there would be no issues going into the final battle.
Despite Field having the advantage, his Corvette would understeer as the pair transitioned into turn two, causing him to re-initiate drift which deemed his run incomplete. With neither driver at an advantage, a one-more-time was called, and the two Falken drivers went head-to-head once more. A small correction by Field was just enough to bump him down a notch in the judge’s eyes and they declared Bakchis the winner. As FD did away with the third place battle years ago, Gittin, Jr. was awarded that position due to his higher qualifying position over Jones.
Falken Tire teammates Odi Bakchis and Matt Field met in the finals for a one-two finish, respectively. “Getting to battle Matt in the Final has been a long-time coming,” Bakchis said. “We train together, share a lot of data and info, practice together…so it was surreal that both of us made it to the final.”
“Getting to battle Matt in the Final has been a long-time coming,” Bakchis said after the trophy presentations. “We train together, share a lot of data and info, practice together; so it was surreal that both of us made it to the final. We battled really hard, but I went a little too hard on the first run and bumped him hard. After that, I got super-lucky when they called one more time. I was then able to lay down a couple of killer runs after my team had to put the car back together yet again.”
Round two of the 2021 Formula DRIFT championship season will take place May 21-22 at Orlando Speed World in Orlando, Florida. The series didn't make the traditional Orlando stop last year due to a condensed schedule, but Bakchis will be defending his title from his 2019 victory there.
Rome Charpentier's E36 has plenty of Holley goodies on board; an HP ECU, wiring harness, Sniper series throttle body – basically everything that manages the engine. That engine of course being a 6.0 iron block LS with a Magnuson twin-scroll supercharger putting over 1,000 horsepower to the wheels through a 6XD sequential transmission and Winters quick change gears. “I was running a stock ECU going into Pro 2 (now PROSPEC),” he said. “We run Holley systems because they're plug and play. We went from the mismatched stuff we had to Holley in about two hours. I like the simplicity, workability and availability of parts.”
Alec Robbins is in his second year of the big leagues after finishing second in the 2019 Pro 2 (now PROSPEC) series. His 350Z features an 800-hp LS2 managed by a Holley HP EFI, Spal fans, MSD solid state relays and more.
Falken Tire inter-team battles seemed to be the name of the game, as top qualifier Matt Field battled teammate Justin Pawlak. After getting the nod from the judges to advance, he'd go on to battle Odi Bakchis in the finals, ultimately bringing his Corvette to a second-place finish behind Bakchis' S15.
Round one champion Odi Bakchis can credit some of his success to the bevy of Holley parts under the hood and throughout the car. “It's hard for me to pick a part of the car that doesn't either have Holley managing it or any Holley hardware that is allowing us to bolt everything together,” he said.
As Dean Kearney demonstrates with his Viper, night events are the best time to show off all of the LED accent lighting. While every driver was required to run underglow by series sponsor Type S, Kearney went one step further with his primary sponsor Oracle Lighting and put their name in LED lights on the side, making it really stand out at night.