It was apparent from Round 2 of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Championship that series hot shoes, for the most part, figured out the course in Orlando Speed World's banked short oval—which is specifically to say, there was an extremely high level of driving in Florida. Both in FD's Pro and Pro 2 ranks (we'll have a separate story on Pro 2 in a bit), we saw a ridiculous amount of 90-plus scores (out of 100 points possible) in qualifying, and for tandem eliminations it seemed like nearly every battle could've gone either way. When the smoke finally cleared at event's end, the podium looked a lot like the one just three weekends earlier at Round 1: Long Beach.
The layout was the same as the one used in years past—cars started down OSW's backstretch to initiate into Outer Clipping Zone 1 on the bank of the west end of the bowl. They then transitioned to Clipping Point 1 on the infield crossover, usually slamming down hard and compressing suspension completely as they come off the bank; over a set of "whoops" and flicking in the other direction, competitors then aim for Clip 2 before sliding their butts into Zone 2, which they need to fill until the finish line. Series 2015 champ Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Drink Corolla came up aces in Friday qualifying, backing up a first lap 98 with a second lap 99 and yanking the top qualifier away from Dai Yoshihara in the Turn 14 BRZ, who also earned a 99 on his second lap but could only muster a 92 on his first run.
It was Florida hot and muggy for Top 32 on Saturday, but arguably the biggest development to come out of the session actually happened right before it began, when 2010 champ Vaughn Gittin in the RTR Monster Energy Drink Mustang had a bad encounter with the Zone 1 wall at the top of the bank during practice; Ryan Litteral in the Koruworks 350Z was on the chase, and in an effort to get around Vaughn he ended up tagging his car and may have possibly made things slightly worse. Three of the 's four corners took damage, and the pony car was so messed up, it came to rest laying flat on its belly; a forklift and straps had to be used to lift the car off the track—but what came next was pretty damn amazing.
With the Mustang looking like a domestic missile car (every exterior panel on the front third of the car was gone), Gittin and his team found a way to get it to the starting line for his Top 32 bout; he then proceeded to do what Vaughn does, at first eliminating Dean Kearney in the Oracle Lighting Viper, and then later in much more complete vehicle, had an Irwindale 2018 rematch against Aasbo, which was also decided with One More Time laps. After beating the Norwegian Hammer, Gittin pushed past Long Beach runner-up Forrest Wang in the Get Nuts Lab S15 in Great 8 to meet Long Beach winner, Odi Bakchis and his Falken Tire S14, in the Final 4, where his remarkable journey would end for the night—but not before double OMT laps. It was impressive to watch the champ on the hunt again.
Not to take anything away from Mr. Gittin, but in fact this was Odi's event. Nursing an illness that sent him to urgent care shortly after the round ended, it's now clear he's come into this season with not just renewed purpose and fire, but the means to make more than a serious run at the championship. The no. 5 qualifier, who had previously gone as deep as Great 8 at OSW, put everyone on notice, taking out Austin Meeks in the Meeks Drift ATS-V to start his day, then advancing to face Ken Gushi in the GReddy 86 for Top 16; their battle was decided when Ken received an incomplete after running into Odi and falling out of drift. Bakchis then upended Falken teammate Justin Pawlak in his Roush Performance Mustang in Great 8 with more angle and better proximity, and next the marathon slugfest between Vaughn and Odi. Finally able to maintain acceptable proximity in the chase, Bakchis got the nod to continue, where his final opponent of the night was Long Beach bronze finisher and the series' only triple champ, Chris Forsberg in the now VR38-powered (das GT-R power) NOS Energy Drink 370Z.
In the lead, Odi pulled out a huge gap, but it was quickly revealed why—Chris' Z34 had suffered a rear tire de-bead. With no opportunity to replace said tire, Chris had no choice but to hand over the tandem victory—and round win—to Odi. Gittin's RTR teammate Chelsea DeNofa, himself on a tear all day, rounded out the podium in third place, with Odi and Chris both making their second visits to the box in as many rounds. With a third place in Long Beach and now a second in Orlando under his belt, Chris sits in second place in the point standings with 150 at this early point in the year, trailing Odi, who has back-to-back wins, by 56 points.
Can Odi make it 3 for 3? We won't have to wait too long to find out—Formula D returns to action at the track that started it all for the pro drift series more than 15 years ago, Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., May 10 and 11. In the meantime, enjoy this gallery of snaps from the latest talented shooter to join the pbskids squad, Caitlin Ting! We're stoked to have her aboard and look forward to her stunning visuals from the FD season ahead.