Once again, the K&N Qualifying session for the FD PRO Championship couldn’t have been closer. Seven drivers scored more than 90 points and 18 were within ten points of the leader.
DeNofa scored 94 points in his Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD and was one of three drivers with the same overall score. He claimed the number one position from second place Michael Essa (USA) in the FCP Euro / Liqui Moly / GT Radial BMW M3 by a single style point.
Similarly, Dylan Hughes (USA) scored 94 points in his BMW. And while Essa had the same style score as Hughes, Essa got the nod thanks to two extra points for drift angle.
Defending Champion and point leader, Fredric Aasbo (Norway), only scored 88 points in his Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra. It placed him in eighth position and gave him a challenging path to the Final, but nobody would be surprised to find him there on Saturday.
The top Rookie was Nick Noback (USA) who reminded everybody of his 2021 PROSPEC form with a spectacular 93-point run in his KoruWorks E46 BMW. It Thirty-six drivers attempted to qualify for the Top 32 competition heats, which meant four would be eliminated in the Knockout Qualifying Format (KQF), which sees the bottom eight drivers run a second time. Unfortunately, KQF saw the demise of Josh Reinolds (USA) and Kyle Mohan (USA) with technical issues, while Jhonnattan Castro (Domincan Republic) and Josh Love (USA) failed to score sufficient points to continue.
At the halfway stage in the 2022 Formula DRIFT PRO Championship, the leading drivers knew they had to make an impact at Round 4: Type S The Gauntlet presented by AutoZone. Everybody was happy to escape the tumultuous weather in Orlando but the warm, dry conditions in New Jersey presented their own challenge. The constant radius turns of the figure-8 Englishtown course allows the drivers to position their cars intimately close to one another at very high speeds. It results in spectacular action but mistakes can have savage consequences, as Matt Field (USA) and Ryan Tuerck (USA) would painfully discover.
While the established drivers were trying to mount a championship challenge, several of the newer names knuck in the back door and grabbed the silverware from under their noses. The Final was fought between two drivers who’d never been in a FD PRO Final or even stood on the podium. Interestingly, both use BMW M3 race cars with Chevrolet LS V8 engines; a combination that is becoming increasing popular throughout the FD series.
The well-deserved winner was Travis Reeder (USA) who pushed the Travis Reeder Motorsports / GT Radial BMW M3 to its limits and beyond. Having qualified in 29th and experienced the uncertainty of KQF, he lined up against Rookie Nick Noback (USA) in the Top 32. It was a great pairing, with the judges unable to separate them after two runs, requesting they go One More Time (OMT). Repeating the process didn’t make much difference; neither driver was prepared to yield but Reeder took the decision thanks to a better lead run.
In the Top 16 it was rinse and repeat as the judges again requested OMT in his conflict with Kazuya Taguchi (Japan) in the ISR UpGarage / GT Radial Scion FRS. Both men hit their marks in the lead and shadowed their opponent on the chase but again, Reeder emerged victorious by the narrowest of margins.
In the Top 8, Reeder received a bye run after his scheduled opponent, Tuerck, was unable to start the heat. In the Top 16, the driver of the Rain-X / Nitto Tire Toyota GR Corolla had been slammed into the barriers by a hard-charging Branden Sorensen (USA). The teenager knew he needed to pressurize Tuerck and surged into OZ2. Unfortunately, Sorensen’s momentum into a deceleration area punted the GR Corolla hard enough to damage all four corners. Unable to repair his car in the allotted time, Tuerck was side lined and Reeder faced top qualifier and drifting demigod, DeNofa in the Top 4.
As expected, Denofa’s lead run was at hyper-speed. He hit his lines and ran deep through each zone. And while the crowd was mesmerized by the Mustang RTR driver, the replay showed Reeder mimicked every move. As the two drivers lined up for the second run, the pressure was on DeNofa to somehow exceed Reeders performance or pressurize him into a mistake. However, DeNofa ran shallow in OZ1 and OZ2 before making a significant correction in OZ3. And Reeder was the shock winner. Or the shocked winner, to be precise, because he didn’t seem to believe the result against a driver he admired so much.
Rome Charpentier (USA) who qualified his E36 BMW in 14th place and appeared equally bemused by his progress.
His weekend started with a Top 32 contest against Dean Kearney (Ireland) in the Hyper NFT / Daily Driven Exotics (DDE) Dodge Viper. Their first run was intense, the Viper colliding with Reeder’s BMW after they crossed the finish line. The damage required a wheel change and suspension check but with the repairs done and his focus undoubtedly distracted, Charpentier fought back and won on a split decision.
He then defeated the on-form Hughes in the Top 16 by another tight decision before eliminating Justin Pawlak (USA) in the Top 8; Pawlak over-rotating his 2022 Falken Tire Ford Mustang in OZ3 while chasing Charpentier.
Charpentier fiercest combatant was Matt Field (USA), who had been shunted into the OZ2 barriers by Mike Power (USA) during their Top 32 heat. The collision did considerable damage to the Drift Cave / Falken Tire C6 Corvette but the team had pieced together a competitive car by the Top 4.
With their first two runs resulting in OMT, Charpentier eventually received the judge’s decision by a tiny margin as both men fought for dominance.
By the Final, Reeder and Charpentier had defeated determined opponents and were guaranteed their first FD PRO podium, but who would occupy the top step?
On the first run, with Charpentier setting a blistering pace, Reeder was on the ragged edge as he grappled for proximity, tapping his rival at Inside Clip 1 and rubbing front tire yards from the finish line. The second contact sent Charpentier spinning across the grass; the incident seemingly locking the engine, requiring a toe to the pits.
With several teams jumping into diagnose and resolve the malfunction, and a maximum of 10min plus a 5min Competition Time Out available, repair seemed impossible. And then the LS miraculously sparked into life and Charpentier returned to the starting line for his chase run.
It’s worth remembering that with Reeder at fault, Charpentier would have been declared the winner if he’d been unable to repair the car. And that by returning to the line without knowing if the engine would run properly, Charpentier put everything on the line.
Wanting to win decisively, Charpentier harassed Reeder around the entire course but couldn’t find the proximity he’d shown in previous heats. We’ll never know if it was the result of the engine problems but Reeder was awarded to the split decision and a new name was added to the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship history book.
After graduating from PROSPEC and developing both his program and driving style for the past four years, a delighted Reeder spoke to us after receiving his carbon fiber trophy. “This was, by far, the longest drift event I’ve ever been in. It feels like I’ve driven more runs than the last three rounds combined. We had a hard Top 32 with One More Time and a hard-fought Top 16 with One More Time. We got to the Top 4 against Chelsea and knew it was going to be hard – I’ve looked up to him for the longest time and wouldn’t be here without him – and to put him back in his trailer gives me ultimate bragging rights for life. He’s the best ever, and RTR even gave us nitrous to put him away because we’d run out!” an emotional Reeder told us.
“Going into the Final we thought we’d lost. I drove a little too hard and ran Rome off the track. It was a difference in speed but I tried to remain calm and focus on a good lead run. I honestly didn’t think I’d get the decision but I can’t say enough about my team and sponsors – they’ve always supported me and I’m so grateful for that.
“It’s four years since we’ve been on the podiud in PROSPEC and we’ll try to do it again. I was crying like a little girl out there. To get a PRO trophy is absolutely unbelievable. It’s totally been worth the wait, the stress and the hard work.”