This is it.
Morning practice started at 9am for the Top 32 drivers, but I missed all of it as I overslept and only got to the track at 10-ish.
Once at the track, I was walking around the Village and then was given these free Dai Yoshihara t-shirts from Discount Tire/American’s Tire. The t-shirts are so cute!
I then did an interview of Eric, the motorsports manager of Discount Tire/American’s Tire, before he took me to the Falken trailer to get me a VIP pass and meet Andrew the Falken man.
11.30am rolled around and it was time for the Round of 32 tandem battles!
Top qualifier Conrad Grunewald (P1) was first up at the line against Toshiki Yoshioka (P32), moving ahead to the Top 16 easily. Chris Forsberg (P16) met Mike Essa (P17) next and the 2009 FD champion Chris moved on to the Top 16.
OMT were called between John Russakoff (P9) and Fredric Aasbo (P24), where Fredric took the win, and the battle between Walker Wilkerson (P7) and Otto Graven (P26) where Walker took the win.
Here’s the Top 32 battle bracket but you may not be able to see it clearly, so I’m just gonna list the results according to the battle order…
Round of 32:
C. Grunewald (P1) vs. T. Yoshioka (P32) – C. Grunewald wins
C. Forsberg (P16) vs. M. Essa (P17) – C. Forsberg wins
T. McQuarrie (P8) vs. T. Aono (P25) – T. McQuarrie wins
J. Russakoff (P9) vs. F. Aasbo (P24) – F. Aasbo wins after OMT
M. Powers (P4) vs. J. Jones (P29) – M. Powers wins
M. Waldin (P13) vs. C. Ng (P20) – M. Waldin wins
R. Millen (P5) vs. D. Kearney (P28) – R. Millen wins
M. Field (P12) vs. A. Pfeiffer (P21) – M. Field wins
D. Yoshihara (P2) vs. O. Bachis (P31) – D. Yoshihara wins
R. Petty (P15) vs. K. Gushi (P18) - R. Petty wins (K. Gushi failed to make it to the start line so R. Petty did a solo run)
W. Wilkerson (P7) vs. O. Graven (P26) – W. Wilkerson wins after OMT
R. Tuerck (P10) vs. J. Maeng (P23) – R. Tuerck wins
K. Mohan (P3) vs. P. Mordaunt (P30) – K. Mohan wins
J. Abbott (P14) vs. D. Mertzanis (P19) – D. Mertzanis wins
D. McNamara (P6) vs. M. Feiock (P27) – D. McNamara wins
J. Pawlak (P11) vs. C. Martinez (P22) – J. Pawlak wins
There was an hour-and-a-half break before the Top 16 battles begin, so I went to walk around again and see if there was anything interesting to shoot. The crowd was huge!
Apparently, all 10,000 tickets were sold out! I didn’t go to the toilet at all the entire day I was there, simply because the queues at the portable toilets were disgustingly long…
Back to the track, the national anthem was sung before all Top 16 drivers came out for a parade.
I could feel the excitement in the air! I loved the spirit and energy of the crowd; if only Asia had such response too!
The first Round of 16 battle was between Conrad Grunewald and Chris Forsberg. Quite a tight battle there; no wonder the judges called for One More Time! It was Chris Forsberg who moved on to the Top 8. What a disappointment for top qualifier Conrad!
Next, 2010 FD Rookie of the Year Fredic Aasbo met Tyler McQuarrie and the not-so-Rookie-anymore Fredic won! Whoo! There were a few close battles like the one between Kyle Mohan and Dennis Mertzanis, where the crazy-wall-clipper Kyle won.
The last battle in the Round of 16 was an all-Falken one between Darren McNamara and Justin Pawlak, but Darren killed his own chances when he spun while leading.
Here are the results of the Round of 16 battles:
C. Grunewald vs. C. Forsberg – C. Forsberg wins after OMT
T. McQuarrie vs. F. Aasbo – F. Aasbo wins
M. Powers vs. M. Waldin – M. Powers wins
R. Millen vs. M. Field – R. Millen wins
D. Yoshihara vs. R. Petty – D. Yoshihara wins
W. Wilkerson vs. R. Tuerck – R. Tuerck wins
K. Mohan vs. D. Mertzanis – K. Mohan wins
D. McNamara vs. J. Pawlak – J. Pawlak wins
Going straight into the Round of 8 battles, the competition only gets stiffer and you can just feel the atmosphere getting more exciting!
Starting from the left side of the battle bracket as always, Fredic Aasbo went up against Chris Forsberg first. Drifting the way a former champion should, Chris moved on to the Top 4.
Matt Powers is a young 23-year-old American driving his personal Nissan S14 and he has done very well to make it to Top 8. He bettered himself when he made it to the Top 4 after beating Rhys Millen!
The battle between Dai Yoshihara and Ryan Tuerck was a good one too, with Dai making it through to the Top 4.
Kyle Mohan and Justin Pawlak fought for the last spot in the Top 4 and Justin was just too fast for Kyle, making it to the last four.
Now, things are even more exciting with only four left – each a step closer to the signature carbon fibre Formula Drift trophies.
The first semi-final run was between Chris Forsberg and Matt Powers. Boy, you should have seen it man.
The judges had such a hard time deciding and both Andy Yen and Ryan Lanteigne told me at the end of day that this was the toughest battle all weekend.
Finally, it was Matt Powers who progressed to the Top 2!!!
When Dai Yoshihara met Justin Pawlak in the other semi-final, we were all in for a fantastic show too.
Dai was the lead car first, and gained an advantage when Justin straightened out at the hairpin. Unfortunately, Dai swung too wide while chasing and lost his chance there as the judges called for OMT.
In the re-battle, Justin was simply too fast for Dai and there was a significant gap between both when Dai was chasing.
So… Justin Pawlak wins and makes it to the final two!
Before the final between Matt Powers and Justin Pawlak, the battle for third place between Chris Forsberg and Dai Yoshihara was held first.
It was worthy of a first-place battle, but anyway it was Dai who clinched third place, leaving Forsberg just short of the podium.
Then it was the penultimate highlight of the entire weekend – the final battle between Matt Powers and Justin Pawlak…
Justin proved himself again, showing that he was really too fast for anybody that weekend, deserving that top spot on the podium!
After the prize giving ceremony, there wasn’t a press conference for the winners like how we usually have it in Asia so I hung around the podium area to speak with each drivers.
Said Justin Pawlak about his win, “I was expecting to win this weekend. This year Falken and ASD put together a really good car for me and there is a lot of pressure on me as there are no excuses about not having a good car.
Justin added, “My favourite battle was the one against Matt. I knew he was gunning for me and I didn’t wanna let him win! He drove really well today, with his own personal car at that. I am still letting all this sink in…”
Matt Powers the cool dude said, “This feels so unreal. Prior to the season opening, I was expecting to finish in the Top 10 overall for this season (last year I finished 16th overall) but we got off to a really good start!
Powers’ favourite battle is the one against Chris Forsberg. Commenting on that battle in the semi-finals, Powers said, “That was the battle that pushed me to the podium. It was a close one, with a One More Time after that. When I made it there (to the Top 4), I was saying to myself, ‘Are you serious?’ This is just so unreal!”
Given a cute Daijiro hat (complete with fake hair styled like Dai’s) from Eric of Discount Tire/America’s Tire, I went to punch Dai on the shoulder but ended up getting a wet (his suit was drenched from the champagne) hug, eeks!
I asked him what happened (he almost made it to the final!) and he told me, “Yeah, I had the advantage right? During the first battle with Justin? But anyway in the re-run, he was just too fast man. I tried my best!”
Congratulations to the three winners and also to every single driver who was part of FD Long Beach this weekend. Coming out all the way here was definitely an eye-opening experience and I loved every bit of my time here! I wish I could come up for all seven rounds… anyone feeling generous to fly me up?
The crowd was fantastic and into its eighth year already, I must say that the guys at Formula Drift (like Jim Liaw and Ryan Sage plus their entire team) are doing it right! There was FD Abu Dhabi and Qatar even, China next?
I hung around the FD HQ area for a bit after everything, just to soak in my takeaways for the weekend and also to play with Jim Liaw’s super adorable daughter who calls me Auntie (well, I’m 22 years older than her!).
That’s it for the Formula Drift 2011 season opening round for now…
Next up: Interviews with Ryan Lanteigne, new FD judge for 2011, as well as with Eric of Discount Tire/America’s Tire on the sponsoring of the FD series…
For more photos, view my Facebook album here.