Why Formula Drift St. Louis In 2019 Was So Pivotal For The Season

Text and photography by Chris Sullivan

Formula Drift in 2019 has been a wild ride all season, and rolling into the Crossroads event at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in St. Louis, Missouri, the series championship is still very much up for grabs. Major upsets and even epic stories of redemption have been the name of the game this season.

Ryan Tuerck specifically turned a bad situation into a season where he is in real contention for the championship. Totaling out a chassis round one of the series would probably seem to be a worst-case scenario, and if you asked Tuerck directly after the impact he would likely agree. After thrashing to get his demo car situated in just two weeks, a second-place finish at Atlanta, and a win at Wall Stadium in New Jersey, nobody could foresee the success that changing chassis’ midseason would yield the Formula Drift veteran.

The Worthouse boys struggled early in the season, but seem to be getting back to standard form; Piotr Wiecek had a perfect weekend in Seattle, not only qualifying number one but also winning the event. St. Louis is a bit of a wildcard event with last year being the first time at the Midwest venue, but also a completely new layout for the 2019 event. After the event last year, everyone loved the high-speed nature of the course, and seemingly could not wait for its return in 2019.

The course changes this year would be very controversial and prove to be a challenge for each of the drivers. No longer would it be a high-speed sweeping course where drivers would be challenged to make tires last a full two laps, but instead a much more technical course with an intense decel zone coming into the final clip. This proved to cause a lot of contact and controversy.

Heading into the St. Louis stop, the points race was as exciting as any time in recent history. With not even 100 points separating the top 5 drivers, it would be an all-out fight to the end. A midseason rebuild from Rad Dan Burkett brought back his A-car Supra after heavy straightening and frame repairs due to a bad wreck in New Jersey.

Top 32 started much like any other round, but soon Ken Gushi would have mechanical failure after a light impact with Kazuya Taguchi causing a large cleanup effort and a completely new challenging surface to drive. Austin Meeks had trouble on the newly oil-dried tarmac and hit Chris Forsberg in the last decel zone, which sent him off course and out of the race for the weekend.

Meeks wasn’t the only person to struggle with the new conditions as Dan Burkett spun in his follow run, which gave Vaughn Gittin Jr. the advantage moving forward heading into his own follow run against Rad Dan. Although vocal about his apprehensions all weekend, Odi Bakchis seemed to have the course figured out as he laid down run after run with billowing clouds of Falken RT-615K+ tire smoke.

An anticipated battle between similar styles of exciting driving had Pat Goodin experiencing trouble closing the gap between himself and Forrest Wang, which knocked him out of the top 32. Federico Sceriffo suffered from an unknown mechanical issue, which continued the issues that have plagued the drift Ferrari for the last few seasons. Jeff Jones had an impressive showing against Ryan Tuerck, and many people were upset that there wasn’t at least a One More Time battle between the pair as Tuerck advanced to the Top 16. Kevin Lawrence dramatically hit Chelsea DeNofa’s rear quarter-panel sending the Mustang into the air. DeNofa used his allotted ten-minute timeout from contact to get the car patched up and finished strong, knocking Lawrence and his Nissan S14.3 out. The final battle of Top 32 between veteran driver Dai Yoshihara and Dirk Stratton looked like Dai was on a bye run, as Stratton just didn’t have the proximity to constitute a solid follow run.

Driver introductions began, and it was still unclear where these battles would take the series. Matt Coffman nearly took down the machine and excitingly forced a One More Time battle with James Deane.

As golden hour fell on the Gateway arch in the distance, Michael Essa edged out Jhonnattan Castro in another super-tight battle. To have the misfortune of sitting in the judging booth during the Battle of the S15s between Piotr Wiecek and Kazuya Taguchi would be quite the challenge; ultimately, Wiecek came out on top and moved on to the Great 8. Drift Alliance brothers Chris Forsberg and Vaughn Gittin Jr. squared off, which led to Gittin driving into Forsberg’s rear quarter panel in the increasingly-controversial final clip. As a result, Forsberg’s car was knocked out of competition as he also was given the fault for the contact.

Almost unbelievable to witness was the sequence where Justin Pawlak spun in the middle of his lead run after Fredric Aasbø spun chasing him. Aasbø won the pairing based on his lead run, which moved him forward to the Final 4. Odi Bakchis chased Forrest Wang out onto the bank after a follow run and yet another collision in the final decel zone. High energy and big angle are nothing new for the battle between Matt Field and Chelsea DeNofa, however, sometimes that ends in contact. DeNofa clipped Field’s rear wheel and broke Field’s trailing arm, which kept Field from finishing his lead run and awarding DeNofa the victory by default.

The sun started to dip behind the grandstand and the conditions changed lap to lap, and Michael Essa just didn’t have enough for James Deane. Following that battle, Piotr Wiecek systematically took out Vaughn Gittin Jr., which made this seem like the Worthouse show all over again. The stage would be set for all of the drivers in the title fight.

The Worthouse boys paired off against each other, keeping them from a one-two podium, and after a ferocious battle, Deane moved on to battle for the top podium position. Aasbø faced Tuerck in the Final 4, and in the pivotal battle, a huge shift was on the line and a podium finish as Aasbø earned the victory.

In the final pairing, Aasbø lined up with Deane and took the follow position in front of a beautiful pink and blue sunset. Deane ran a slightly tighter follow and opened up the gap ever so slightly on his lead to solidify his top spot on the podium. It turned out Aasbø broke his shifter in half trying to keep up with Deane in the final battle.

It was an interesting round with many upsets and tons of drama. The podium of Deane, Aasbø, and Wiecek in that order seemed almost relieved to have survived the event, let alone scoring podium finishes. It will be very interesting to see where the series ends after the final two rounds in Texas and Irwindale.