Ask our Experts, we're here to help!
Formula Drift once again returned to World Wide Technology Raceway just outside St. Louis for its fifth round of competition amid downright miserable heat, excessive humidity, a sprinkle of rain and perhaps one of the most contact-laden, emotionally-charged rounds in years–possibly ever. Between Pro and PROSPEC competition, two drivers would see their first FD victories and help shake up the competition standings entirely.
With the mercury rising to around the 105-degree mark the whole weekend, interrupted only by a brief moment of rain on Friday, conditions were taking their toll on everyone. Keeping the cars and drivers cool was paramount, especially on the literal hot grid where the freshly blacktopped pavement was sticking to the bottom of shoes.
This year, FD opted to eliminate inside clip two in favor of making the entire course outer zones, four in total. The goal was to allow drivers to make a more seamless transition through the hairpin leading into outer zone three. The adjusted layout made for the third change in course design in the four years the series has visited the track, the first year of which involved the legendary road course and 100+ mph entry speeds.
Air temperature rising over 100 and track temps in excess of 160 meant keeping drivers cool was direly important by whatever means necessary, from cool suits to leaf blowers acting as supercharged fans.
Being a PROSPEC round in addition to Pro, fans were treated to double the competition. Thursday served as a practice for both divisions. PROSPEC concluded qualifying by end of day, while Friday saw Pro qualifying and PROSPEC top 32, culminating in PROSPEC top 16 midday Saturday while the entirety of Pro competition finished the weekend.
Utilizing the Knock Out Qualifying format, only 29 PROSPEC drivers would make the Top 32 show, excluding Ben Hobson in his Automotive Innovations / Koruworks / Motegi Racing Nissan S14.5, who entered the round in second place overall and exited in ninth. Two-time PROSPEC champion Dmitry Brutskiy in the DriftHQ / Link ECU / ISC Suspension / Enkei Wheels BMW M3 hustled his way into the top qualifier spot, followed by Rye O'Connor and his Soul Ignited Nissan 350Z in what was his best professional career qualifying run. Alex Jagger in the Forsberg Racing Nissan 370Z would earn the bronze, with each of the aforementioned granted a bye in top 32.
First-time winner Evan Bogovich in the Feal Suspension Nissan S14 began his rise to the top by taking an easy win over Richard Advani's HP Racers Drift Corvette C6 under the lights in top 32. As Adam Knapik's Donut Media / Optima Battery Nissan S14’s LQ9 had a rod relieve itself from duty and take the steering rack with it in the previous battle the night before, Bogovich was all but gifted entry into top sixteen early Saturday afternoon. There he met Alex Lichliter in his NonStop Tuning Toyota GT86, whom Bogovich knocked off the ladder on his way into the great eight with a stronger showing.
Evan Bogovich battled hometown hero Derek Madison in the PROSPEC finals, leading to Bogovich's first victory in the series.
Dustin Miles was next on the list, who himself had qualified thirty-first but slid his Miles of Style Racing Nissan S13 up the bracket into the semi-finals. A shaky lead run by Miles would cause Bogovich to introduce his S14 to the wall in outside zone two, leading to an incomplete run by both drivers, though the judges ruled Miles at fault and deemed Bogovich the winner.
Meeting Bogovich in the finals was local Derek Madison in his Fuelab Fuel Systems / Team Infamous Nissan S14. Having outed reigning PROSPEC champion Brutskiy in the final four, the hometown hero, backed by some of the loudest cheering in the stands, was really hoping to bring home a win in front of dozens of friends and family. Bogovich wouldn't permit that victory, however, sending Madison on the short drive home when the latter missed outer zone two on his chase run. Madison would have to be satisfied with second place, marking the second podium finish in his three years in the series. His aggressiveness on the track led to Madison being awarded the FD Performance Award for the round, earning an extra $1,000 in the process. Brutskiy, having qualified first, secured the final spot on the podium and gained a significant boost in points. After this round, Bogovich climbed from sixth to third, Madison from eighth to fifth, and Brutskiy from fourth to second in points, shaking up the championship bracket significantly and setting up Brutskiy on the course to a three-peat PROSPEC championship.
“We faced an uphill battle coming to St. Louis since my wife was sick and a crew member was absent,” Bogovich said from atop the podium “But a lot of teams stepped up and played the part of spotter and got us through. I wasn’t sure if I’d even make it here, but we kept on truckin’ and luckily it got us to first place. I’m happy to be here and happy to have laid down some great runs all weekend.”
The 2022 layout of the St. Louis track converted last year's only inner clipping point to an outside zone, allowing drivers to ride the wall of the hairpin for faster and closer tandems.
The smoke had barely departed the track from the PROSPEC competition when the Pro field rolled to the grid and got warmed up for the full bracket of thirty-two competition. As in PROSPEC, the Knock Out Qualifying format would see three drivers dismissed from competition, while Kazuya Taguchi, who had been laying down blistering runs in practice with his ISR UpGarage / GT Radial Scion FR-S , earned the top qualifying spot for the first time since he began competing in FD in 2018.
The low placement of some of the long-time favorite drivers, including Fredric Aasbø, Chris Forsberg, Chelsea DeNofa and Odi Bakchis made for bracket that could (and did) have serious consequences in terms of championship points. Perhaps the most notable pairing featured Aasbø in the Rockstar Energy Drink Toyota GR Supra against Chelsea DeNofa in the Pennzoil / BC Racing Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD, a battle at any other event would likely not be found until the finals, fighting for a position into the top sixteen as the last duo of top 32. DeNofa's aggressive style would be his downfall, allowing Aasbø access to the next round.
Mechanical failures and collisions were the name of the game in Pro competition, leading to extensive downtime as track crews spent nearly as much time towing cars and dispersing oil dry as drivers spent entertaining the crowd. Forsberg's engine packed its bags and booked a ticket home during his top 32 battle with Jonathan “Cash” Hurst, which also resulted in a small collision. Federico Sceriffo and Daniel Stuke made significant contact in their top 16 pairing, setting the tone for the remainder of the competition.
Fredric Aasbø and Chelsea DeNofa's qualifying positions led to a top thirty-two battle which would have felt more at home as the final pairing. DeNofa's aggressive style led to a dirt drop and subsequent spin that allowed Aasbø the victory.
Kazuya Taguchi capitalized on his top qualifying spot by first knocking out Dan Burkett and his RAD Industries / GearWrench / GT Radial MkIV Toyota Supra in top 32, while Matt Power in the Power Racing Nissan Silvia just couldn't keep up with FR-S in top sixteen, and Taguchi would advance once more.
It was Japan vs Italy in the great eight, but with power steering failure in Sceriffo's Ferrari that may have been attributed to the earlier collision with Stuke, the Italian was mechanically inadequate to compete and bowed out of top eight when he ran off course during outside zone one. On a bright note, it was his best finish so far since he began his FD adventure five years ago and he was all smiles in his post-race interview.
Taguchi drew points leader Matt Field in the Drift Cave / Falken Tire C6 Corvette in the final four, setting the stage for a rematch from last year's St. Louis round. Taguchi slowed significantly heading up the bank from outside zone four thanks to a correction from a wall tap on the entry, providing Field with nowhere to go but into the side of the FR-S. Judges deemed equal fault and both driver utilized their five-minute competition time out to assess the damages. As the two reversed positions on their second run, it was business as usual at this point and they once again made contact; Taguchi with the wall in outside zone two, and Field with Taguchi in outside zone four. The judges declared a one-more-time call due to equal mistakes, and the two lined up at the grid once more, albeit with more battered war machines.
With lower finishing positions by some of the other drivers in the top of the standings, Matt Field was able to extend his championship lead going into Seattle next month.
Field once again collided with Taguchi in outside zone four, though this time Field was determined to be the sole offender, allowing Taguchi ten minutes to inspect his Scion for damages. Though his run was less than stellar, the deficit Field had created by the impact allowed Taguchi to advance in his first appearance in the finals; Field would have to be satisfied with third.
“Last year I was knocked out in St Louis by Matt Field and I didn’t want that to happen again,” Taguchi said as the news came he had won the battle. “My car is a bit weak [referring to alignment issues] but my team has kept it going and I’m looking forward to my first final.”
Meeting Taguchi there was Ryan Tuerck in the Rain-X / Nitto Tire Toyota GR Corolla, his own chariot wounded after an impact with Ken Gushi's Toyota Gazoo Racing NA GR86 in outside zone four just a few minutes earlier. Having knocked off Papadakis Racing teammate Aasbø in top sixteen and Dylan Hughes in top eight prior to the collision, he pulled up to the line against Taguchi's FR-S for a final battle of battered Toyotas.
Contact between Kazuya Taguchi and Ryan Tuerck led to a broken rear subframe on Taguchi's FR-S. Unable to fix it and with Tuerck deemed at fault, the event ended in a final battle consisting of a single run, but it was all Taguchi needed to secure his first win.
In keeping with the theme of the night, a collision was all but inevitable in the last pairing. As Tuerck scrambled for proximity in to (you guessed it) outer zone four, he made a correction that sent the Corolla careening into the side of the FR-S. With damage to both cars, Tuerck's front end and a de-beaded tire and Taguchi suffering a broken rear subframe, the former headed to the pits for his allocated five-minute inspection while Taguchi sat in his car on the tow truck, uncertain what to expect as the judges deliberated their call.
In the end, Tuerck was deemed at fault and Taguchi secured his first Formula D win in dramatic style. Completely unaware he had won, he left his broken car in the pits and headed, on a golf cart, to the top of the track with Field and Tuerck, where the two drivers and hundreds of fans were eagerly awaiting the outcome. When the announcement was made he had won, Taguchi was visibly shaken by the news, breaking down into tears as it hadn't quite set in that he had accomplished a victory. Overcome with emotion and with the loud cheers erupting from the stands, Taguchi struggled to find words for the momentous occasion. He humbly apologized for not being able to give fans what he felt was a disappointing final battle, and was heartily embraced by Tuerck and Field who couldn't have been happier for him.
“I still can't believe it,” he said softly to the camera crew. “We got first place, which I can’t believe because I’ve waited more than five years for this moment. I’m so happy and must thank the team and all my sponsors. I’ll never forget this moment because it was a perfect weekend and I hope we can look for another trophy at the next round in Seattle.”
Kazuya Taguchi was stunned to learn he had achieved his first Formula Drift victory. Overcome with emotion and borderline speechless, he broke down in front of hundreds of cheering fans before regaining his composure.
The emotion and excitement continued at the podium ceremony, where Taguchi once again thanked everyone for their support. One could look around and see many fans in the crowd with eyes full of joyful tears as Taguchi marked the second driver in as many events to achieve their first FD victory.
“That’s two events in a row where we’ve seen unexpected winners in FD Pro,” said FD President Ryan Sage. “In New Jersey we saw Travis Reeder take the trophy, and now Kazuya Taguchi didn’t just get on the podium but took the number one qualifying position after five years of trying. There’s also a shake up in the championship with Aasbø going out early, DeNofa going down while Field and Tuerck compressed a little to make it a might tighter Championship, which bodes well for the rest of the season. We’ve now had five winners in five FD PRO rounds, which illustrates the skill of all the drivers in the Championship and we can’t wait to see who stands on the podium next.”
At the conclusion of the St. Louis round, Field extends his points lead to 32 points over Aasbø, with Tuerck's second place nudging him just 35 points back. FD will visit Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington August 5-6, 2022 for a Pro-only round; PROSPEC will resume alongside Pro in Utah at the Utah Motorsports Campus September 15-17, 2022, the first time the series has been there. With no driver having an advantage going in to an all-new facility, the points could very well see another shakeup.