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Formula DRIFT Skills Battle Returns With Drag Racing And A New Champ
BY Sam Du //
May 3, 2021
@duspeed
Additional photography from Formula DRIFT
@formulad
  • The second annual Formula DRIFT Skills Battle invites 9 pro drivers to a friendly competition ahead of the 2021 season.
  • Skills Battle comprises of three challenges which include head-to-head drag racing and a timed autocross.
  • Dai Yoshihara scores two first-place finishes helping lock him in as the 2021 Skills Battle champion.

WARM-UP TO THE SEASON

It almost goes without saying, but last year’s season of Formula DRIFT had its fair share of hiccups with the absence of fans, international drivers not being allowed into the country, and a handful of regular tracks being put on hiatus, which caused the necessity for four doubleheader rounds of drifting. Not to say last year’s FD season was a bust, but it didn’t carry the same level of excitement as previous years. However, all was not lost as a new event concept was born called the Formula DRIFT Skills Battle presented Turn 14 Distribution. It did a noble job playing as a warm-up to the season. The friendly competition among selected drivers was deemed a success, so it was a no-brainer to bring the event back for 2021.

WHAT IS SKILLS BATTLE

The concept of Skills Battle is to mimic the type of Skills Challenge you’d see during the NBA All-Star Weekend, where basketball players are tested on dribbling, passing, agility, and shooting. Formula D’s version is meant to assess competitors’ driving proficiency, with a twist, of course. This year’s challenges included “Biggest Backie”, “Driftcross”, and some good ol’ fashion drag racing, all taking place on the grounds of Irwindale Speedway, aka the House of Drift.

THREE CHALLENGES

In “Biggest Backie”, drivers are scored by a celebrity judging panel on the degree of backward angle and speed of rotation through a turn. “Driftcross” is in effect an autocross where drivers are timed on a coned-off autocross course. As you can guess, drifting is perhaps not the fastest way around the track, which made for some interesting strategies used by the teams. Last but not least is drag racing, which was a challenge brought back from last year. Due to the limited facilities at Irwindale, the competition takes place on a 1/8th-mile drag strip, not exactly ideal as we all want to compare our own quarter-mile times with these 1,000hp machines. But it still made for good TV…

THE COMPETITORS & RESULTS

The full results are below, but of course, your best course of action is simply watching the entire Skills Battle show on Formula DRIFT’s YouTube channel. Also, set your alarms for this coming weekend as the 2021 Formula DRIFT Pro Championship kicks at Road Atlanta, May 7-8. Drifting is back, fans are back, and we can’t wait!


POSITION DRIVER CAR BIGGEST BACKIE DRIFTCROSS DRAG RACE TOTAL POINTS
1 Dai Yoshihara Turn 14 Distribution / Falken Tire / ENEOS Oil Subaru BRZ 100 100 95 295
2 Aurimas Bakchis Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S15 95 97 100 292
3 Michael Essa FCP Euro / Liqui Moly / GT Radial BMW M3 97 93 97 287
4 Rome Charpentier Garagistic / Federal Tire BMW E36 89 95 93 277
5 Jeff Jones Jeff Jones Racing / GT Radial Nissan 370Z 91 91 92 274
6 Dylan Hughes Royal Purple / GT Radial BMW E46 95 87 91 273
7 Kyle Mohan KMR / Renewable Lubricants / Mazdatrix Mazda RX-8 85 89 89 263
8 Trenton Beechum Clonex Racing / Nexen Tire Ford Mustang 87 83 87 257
9 Dan Burkett RAD Industries / GearWrench / GT Radial Toyota Supra 83 85 85 253

Formula DRIFT Skills Battle Returns With Drag Racing And A New Champ

SAM’S SUGGESTION BOX

It was quite evident Skills Battle upped its game in virtually every aspect from last year. The video production was of higher quality, it was easier to follow the competition and keep tabs on who was in the lead, and I managed to watch the entire show without changing the channel (a frequent occurrence due to my short attention span). It was a breath of fresh air and a nice break outside of the typical tandem battles we’ve been accustomed to see with Formula DRIFT for 17 years. However, I felt there were still some opportunities and fun left on the table to make Skills Battle a bit more engaging and entertaining. So, I decided to jot some of my ideas down and share them with you on what I feel could make this preseason warm-up event into something bigger and better.

  • Fan-Selected Roster. Skills Battle should be all about watching the drivers that fans want to see most. I think it would be cool for fans to vote for their favorite driver to participate in the event, much like how nearly every professional sports association selects their own all-stars.
  • ¼ Mile Drag Race. While drag racing doesn’t really test a driver’s expertise in drifting, nor is it healthy for any of the cars to undergo (as something tends to break or snap during launch), watching two professional drift cars fly down the drag strip is pretty damn cool. Moving the event to a quarter-mile track would make it more relatable to the audience.
  • Cancel Driftcross. I’ll give it to Formula D that in concept, forcing drift cars around the course as fast as possible sounds like an interesting challenge, but it was no surprise that the driver with the most road course experience, time attack wins, and who’s also a Pikes Peak champion beat the rest of the field with ease (1.42-seconds faster). Also, I can admit that watching drift cars trying not to drift brought my anxiety levels up and my enthusiasm down.
  • We Want Style. I’ve watched the NBA All-Star Weekend religiously since I was a kid and can tell you that the Skills Challenge and Three-Point Contest, while fun to watch, aren’t the sections I look forward to the most. I’m all about the All-Star Game and Dunk Contest, where players can get creative and ‘wow’ the crowd. In my opinion, Skills Battle has room to evolve and include a scored competition based around style. Take a page out of Japanese drifting and Final Bout’s playbook and create a drift show that is judged on how excited a driver can make the crowd and judges feel. Biggest Backie is a step in the right direction, but personally, I’d love to see an element of team drifting thrown into the mix.
  • Drift Obstacle Course. With a nod to Gymkhana and Red Bull Car Park Drift World, a fun obstacle course that requires drivers to drift around a tight, tricky course would be pretty sweet to watch.
  • Real Prizes. Winning any type of challenge, big or small, has its reward, but give the Skills Battle participants a bit more incentive, and I believe we’ll start seeing more effort out of the teams — as well as teams not canceling last minute (who will remain undisclosed). The prize could be a cash purse, donation to a charity, trip to Disneyland, a bye round at the next Top 32, skies the limit, but let’s make something happen.
  • Fan Fest Weekend. Skills Battle is an event where spectators need to watch live and in person. Why not make Skills Battle its own Saturday or Sunday event for the whole family to enjoy? Perhaps toss in other challenges with Prospec and Pro Am drivers? Maybe even include drift ridealongs and other activities/demos that connect the drivers/teams with attendees and without the pressure of typical FD rounds.

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