The largest crowd in the Seattle event’s history turned out to watch the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship Round 6: Throw Down at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, WA. Treated to warm weather and a breeze to clear the tire smoke after each run, the spectators witnessed the unpredictable competition unfold, with top contenders tumbling early in the proceedings. Those who survived vanquished the best in the business during one of the tightest contests the series has seen in its past 20 years.
By the end of the K&N PRO Qualifying session, it appeared to be business as usual, with Matt Field (USA) back on top in his Borla Performance / GT Radial Corvette. Although he struggled to dominate qualifying in 2023, Field’s 91.6-point score put him first and gifted a bye run through the Top 32 competition heats.
Following technical issues for several teams, a reduced roster of 30 drivers attempted to qualify for the Top 32 competition places. As a result, second place Aurimas Bakchis (Lithuania) also earned a bye run in his Feal Suspension / GT Radial Nissan S15. And with punishment dished out on every run, sitting out the first heats can make the difference between hero or zero.
Bakchis scored 90 points, narrowly beating his Team Feal compatriot, Simen Olsen (Norway) in the Feal Suspension Nissan S14.9, who was awarded 89.3 points for his single qualifying run. And with both drivers standing on the podium after Round 5, the pair maintained their tremendous momentum that saw them both among the top five in the PRO Championship.
Five different winners from five rounds again proved that anybody could break through, and fourth place Travis Reeder (USA) was eager to repeat his maiden 2022 Round win. He scored 88.3 points in the Nicalis Inc / Travis Reeder Motorsports BMW M3, which was his best qualifying result of the year.
The fifth spot went to FD PRO Championship points leader Fredric Aasbo (Norway), who scored 87.3 points in the Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra.
After narrowly missing out on the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship for the past two years, Field knows he must pile on the pressure to reach his goal. And it was perhaps that mindset that saw him eliminated from the Top 16 heats in a savage battle against Rome Charpentier (USA) in the Garagistic / Vitour Tires E36 BMW.
A wall tap on his lead run showed Field was committed, but perhaps the best chase run of the event was terminated by a spin after a brush with the wall in Outside Zone 4 (OZ4).
Spinning out of contention, Field placed ninth and dropped to fourth in the Championship standings. The only consolation was that points leader and reigning Champion Aasbo was also ejected from the Top 16, eliminated by teammate Ryan Tuerck (USA) in the Rain-X / Nitto Tire / Rockstar Energy GR Corolla. Tuerck would eventually finish fourth after losing to Chelsea DeNofa (USA) in the semi-finals. Aasbo placed tenth overall and dropped to second in the title race, 28 points behind the leader, and 12 points ahead of Field and Bakchis.
Bakchis, who had scrambled into third in the Championship, was another victim of the Top 16 purge, losing to three-time Champion James Deane (Ireland) in the AutoZone Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD. Finishing fifth overall, Bakchis sacrificed a few points but remained third overall as his Team Feal operation continued to rise through the ranks of both Formula DRIFT Championships.
Deane would finish the night in third – his best result as he comes to grips with the immensely powerful Ford Mustang RTR. He remains the only one of the four RTR drivers without a win this season, but with two races remaining, you can’t rule it out. Particularly as RTR Motorsports has become the dominant force in the FD PRO Championship. Not only has its drivers claimed four of the six wins this year, but two of them aren’t even competing the entire season. Team leader Vaughn Gittin Jr (USA) was knocked out of the Top 32 by Tuerck, which perhaps prevented an all-RTR podium.
With more than 1100hp, the Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD generally wins by intimidation. Opponents know they can’t hold back and often over-commit to the course, making mistakes and falling victim. However, this approach also relies on the RTR drivers exercising a certain amount of restraint to avoid overpowering the track. It’s a difficult line to walk, but DeNofa did it the hard way and became the first driver to claim two victories this season.
It wasn’t easy. Along with finalist Dylan Hughes (USA), the judges requested DeNofa run One More Time (where the drivers to repeat their two runs) on three separate occasions. They accounted for six of the eight OMT requests required because it was so difficult to separate the top drivers. However, each OMT added pressure to the driver, team and DeNofa’s Pennzoil / BC Racing Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD.
In his Top 32 heat, DeNofa beat Ola Jaeger (USA) in the Team Japan Auto Toyota Supra. A collision with the wall put the Norwegian out of contention.
The Top 16 against triple Champion Chris Forsberg (USA) triggered DeNofa’s first OMT when the judges could not separate their speed and precision. At the second attempt, each performed near-perfect lead runs but DeNofa got the decision with a tidier chase run than the driver of the NOS Energy Drink / GT Radial Nissan Z.
In the Great 8, a mistake by Charpentier in the chase position saw him exceed track limits in his effort to keep in proximity with the Mustang. That promoted DeNofa into the Final 4 against Tuerck and one of the most savage battles of the day.
On their first run, Tuerck collided with DeNofa in OZ3 and spun to a halt. The video replays revealed the Mustang driver initiated very late, causing the impact with the Corolla. This gave Tuerck a big advantage for the second run, but he over-rotated in OZ4 and needed to make a big correction. And with both drivers ruled incomplete on their lead runs, the rules stipulated OMT.
Their second attempts were scruffy, prompting the judges to request another OMT. At the third attempt, Tuerck was charging to maintain proximity to DeNofa and ran wide into OZ2. With three wheels off, his run was incomplete, and a restrained DeNofa did enough in the chase position to take the win.
In the Final, DeNofa faced Dylan Hughes (USA) who had an equally grueling path through the heats. It started with a battle against Robert Thorne (USA) in the Top 32, then went OMT against Nick Noback (USA) in the Top 16 and twice more against Simen Olsen (Norway) in the Great 8. Hughes beat Deane in the Final 4 and did it all with a splint on a broken finger.
In the Final, the driver of the Whip Racing / Royal Purple BMW was very wide in OZ2. Hughes then surged into OZ3 on the second run, trying to achieve better proximity to DeNofa. Colliding with the Mustang, Hughes left the track, and it was game over.
DeNofa’s win meant he led the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship standings for the first time this season by a 28-point margin. And with Deane climbing to sixth, their opponents may have sleepless nights realizing RTR Motorsports has not yet peaked.
“It was a gnarly event,” DeNofa explained after the podium celebrations. “We had lots of One More Time battles but kept the car set up the same. We knew we needed to do the best lead laps and be there in the chase, which worked for us. Everybody else seemed to hook up their cars and make them faster, but our goal was to give the judges what they wanted to see. It was awesome. I had a blast!
“Going into the next Round in Utah, we’re not going to worry about the Championship but try to keep our momentum going. We did well there last year with a third place, and if we can do that again, it’ll hopefully put us a bit further ahead and help to clinch the Championship!”
Hughes’ first visit to the podium since his Orlando win in 2022 moved him to seventh in the title race. Bakchis was eliminated from the Great 8 by Deane but remained third overall. Teammate Olsen was knocked out of the Great 8 by Hughes and remained fifth overall.
After Formula DRIFT PRO Championship Round 6, the success of RTR helped both Ford extend its lead in the 2023 Formula DRIFT PRO Auto Cup and Nitto return to the top of the Tire Cup.
Before leaving the Pacific Northwest, we turned to Formula DRIFT President Ryan Sage for his words of wisdom: “What an amazing way to cap off Round 6 of the PRO Championship with Chelsea DeNofa becoming the new leader of the series and teammate James Deane getting his first podium of the year. And let’s not forget Dylan Hughes had a broken finger yet managed to capture second place. The Championship is inverting as the guys are the top are dropping down, making room for some new names. And we still have two Rounds left before we crown the Champion of our 20th season.”