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The 2021 Lucas Oil/S3 Magazine Drift Challenge is in the books, with Alec Honnadell taking top honors in his first LS Fest competition.
The drift challenge kicked things off with defending champion and number one qualifier Dirk Stratton, in his C6 Corvette, making quick work of Keegan Leep's Nissan 350Z.
Next up was fan-favorite Cleetus McFarland in his Freedom Factory C5 Corvette against Reno Patrick and his Nissan S13 hatch. McFarland got the nod to top eight. Following that battle, Josh McGuire and his Nissan S14 bested Formula DRIFT ProSpec driver Hooman Rahimi and his Nissan 370Z also advanced.
It was somewhere around this time that a sewer leak from the west side of the course found its way onto the track, soaking a portion of the first outer zone and forcing the track crew to bring out the kitty litter to try to soak up the mess. Even so, the leak persisted, giving track staff the option to either end the drift challenge then and there and pick back up on Sunday, or alter the first part of the course to allow the event to conclude that night. With the stands already packed, the decision was made to alter the first outer zone, bringing it inward to create a shallower line but potentially avoiding any further errant sewage arrival. Drivers were brought on course to inspect the modified layout and each given a sight lap before their respective runs to get a feel for the new transition.
Formula DRIFT ProSpec driver Derek Madison and Ethan Parnell were the first to go toe-to-toe on the changed course. Madison secured the win between the two Nissan S14s and moved to the great eight, before moving on to the other side of the bracket where Honnadell started his climb up the ladder by knocking off Michael Elsea and his Toyota Supra.
Taylor Ray and his blisteringly fast Miata took the win over Kabott Caroso's lime-green Nissan 350Z in the next pairing, while the final ProSpec driver, Nate Chen and his Hot Wheels-themed Scion FR-S, was knocked out by Tyler Berry's E36 BMW. Formula DRIFT Pro driver Jonathan Hurst would chalk up another win for his Infiniti G37 by eliminating Tyler Carter to conclude top sixteen.
When the smoke settled, it was Alec Honnadell who top honors in his first LS Fest Drift Challenge competition.
Stratton and McFarland kicked off the top eight battles with their dueling Corvettes, marking the only domestic battle of the night and resulting in lots of cheering from the crowd. Stratton's C6 would advance over McFarland's C5 to find its place in the final four.
Madison would once again be doing battle with another S14, this time going against McGuire. It would be Madison getting the judges call to advance, as Honnadell knocked off Ray in their pairing and Hurst eliminating Berry to set the pairings for the final four.
With the heaviest hitters set to do battle for the podium positions, Stratton and Madison went all out in their battle, with Stratton, himself a former Formula DRIFT Pro driver, securing the win for his spot in the finals. Honnadell and Hurst also went full-out for their pairing, with Hurst being sent to the battle for third against Madison
“We were hoping that's who we'd have,” said Hurst of his battle with Honnadell. “I just got a little aggressive on the run up and he bumped me, he hit my wheel and it threw my steering way over. I initiated anyway and fell back a couple cars, I was off line but got right back to his door.”
It was Pro vs ProSpec in Hurst and Madison's battle, as the two veteran drivers duked it out one last time to find out who would be awarded the bronze, with that honor ultimately going to Hurst.
“It was strong competition,” said Hurst. “There were no slouches. The car developed a little bit of an oil leak so it was catching on fire almost every lap, but I wasn't going to give up. We just kept an eye on it every lap to make sure it wasn't too big and it burned itself out every time. It was just a gnarly LS Fest. It's one of my favorite events being my home track. At least we were able to get back on the podium. That's two third places in a row now, but we want to get that first.”
And with the third place decided, it was up to Stratton and Honnadell to fill in the blanks for first and second. The two stayed on each other’s' doors for both their lead and chase runs, with transitions between zones so fluid one would think they were sliding on ice, but it was Honnadell who would take the win.
“Honestly it couldn't have gone much better,” a notably exhausted Honnadell said. “Everybody here is a killer and no battle was easy, but we took it in the end so I'm happy.”
The 2020 Drift Challenge champion wasn't upset.
“You just adapt and overcome,” Stratton said, referring to the course layout change. “We made it to the finals and had a really great battle. Overall, we had a really great day, ended up getting second and had a lot of great battles along the way.”