Words by: Matt Field
Photos Courtesy of Alex Wong of Emotive Image and Valters Bože
The 7th stop of the Formula Drift tour brought us to Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas, Texas. The team and I were pumped to get some redemption this year after last year’s devastating engine problems prevented us from qualifying. This is also the location where I got my career first Formula Drift podium so it meant a lot for me to do well here again. Thursday practice started out well. The team dialed in the car within two runs and we were already knocking out killer runs. We ended the day with a car that was easy to drive and high hopes for qualifying.
Friday was an early morning for the team and I. We got our morning workout session in and headed to the track. We started practice strong and worked the car into the ever-changing track conditions. Getting a few solid tandem runs under our belt, we were prepared for qualifying. Our first run was not the greatest, but a conservative one that would get us in the show. We were docked heavily on our approach into Outer Zone 3 so going for the second run, I pushed much harder to fill that zone. Unfortunately the car transition snapped to angle much faster than I anticipated and we completely missed Zone 3. Settling with our first run score, that put us in 16th position on the bracket. The team and I went back to the pits to discuss the handling characteristics of the car. We needed answers.
After reviewing the data, discussing with my team and speaking with fellow competitor and friend Chelsea Denofa, we made the call that a front spring change was necessary. After making the change and giving the car an entire once over, we loaded her up for the night and headed back to the hotel for some sleep.
Saturday morning, the boys got my car first in line for the final practice session before the competition. We took a few runs and immediately the car felt better. The transitions were much more predictable and the car reacted much better under deceleration. I was ready for battle and first up, Tanner Foust. We followed Tanner in practice, and the team thought we had plenty of car for him. Boy were we wrong. Right before our battle, Tanner must have turned his car up because he gained a ton of speed. He was able to follow me well, but made a few mistakes in the chase position. We swapped positions and took off. Right away I could tell our car was not all it could have been for this battle. He put a two car gap on us right after Inner Clip 1. I finished off the run feeling unsure on the outcome. The judges ruled it One More Time and we headed back to the pits for fresh Falken Tire 615k rubber, some Ignite RED ethanol race fuel and a setup change. On the next run, the car launched off the line, instantly putting 2 cars between us on initiation. We finished off the run with a nice sized gap. This time on my follow run, we were able to stick right with Tanner, applying pressure through the entire run. The judges awarded us the win, and we were happily moving on to the Top 16!
After opening ceremonies were done, we were the first battle up, and what a battle this would be. Vaughn Gittin Jr., who qualified first, was our next opponent. We knew we had enough car for Vaughn, we just had to come up with a run strategy. After discussion with the team, we figured where our car would be strongest, and where to attack. We left the line and immediately applied pressure to the Mustang. Sticking right with him through Zone 1 and into Clip 2, we backed off just enough to let him make his adjustments. Dropping into 3rd gear and getting right back on the power, the CBM, Vortech supercharged engine screamed into life as we finished the course door to door. Swapping positions, we left the line hard with Vaughn right on my door. He wasn’t there for long though. As soon as I got the car into 4th gear, we rocket-shipped out a 3 car lead. Maintaining my lead and preparing to slow down coming into Zone 3, Vaughn attempted his attack. At this point, he spun out and handed us the win. Great 8 here we come!
The next battle was going to be very interesting. Forrest Wang is known for his big angle and amazing style. At a track like this, following is extremely difficult, so this battle took the entire team’s focus to get this win. Strategy on when and where to attack was key. He lead first. Going into initiation we were door to door. Rounding Clip 1 and stomping the throttle pedal to the ground, we were able to keep proximity. Dropping back right before Inner Clip 2 was our plan. Allow Forrest to dump the angle and transition his car before we got back on the attack. I was able to do just that and finished off the run strong. I lead and take off hard. Forrest is right next to me. And again, as soon as I got my car in 4th gear, I was gone, pulling a two car gap on Forrest. We were awarded the win. Once you get past the Great 8, the momentum builds exponentially. Things happen quickly, teams and drivers get flustered. All I can say is this time, it was different. I was so focused and so was my team. We were on point.
The Final 4 was decided and we were in! I said to myself, the next battle could possibly be the toughest battle of the night. Kirstaps Bluss had an insanely fast car that evening and he is one tough competitor. We would be leading first. I knew this run would be all about speed. Rounding Inner Clip 1, we take off blasting Bluss in the face with thick plumes of Falken Tire smoke. Blinded, Bluss goes on a four wheel off-road excursion. I finished with a solid lead run. After a few minutes of track clean up, we were back out for our follow run. This is where driving smart has its utmost importance. All we needed to do was stay with Bluss, complete the course and we would be moving into the finals. The pressure was on, but keeping my mind calm, I finished out the run just as planned. Finals, here we come!
We had made it to the finals, what an achievement, but we weren’t done yet. Chris Forseberg was the other last man standing in this showdown. After possibly the most confident interview I have ever done in my life, we take to the line. Following first, we applied pressure right away. Getting into the power section of the track, the car lunged toward his car, maintaining proximity through the course. Letting him do his speed adjustments at Inner Clip 2 we were right back at him, finishing the course wheel to wheel. “Time to throw down the lead run of your life.” I told myself as I pulled down the visor on my helmet. The lights go out, I lead, and we launch off the line hard, getting into 3rd gear right before initiation. Seconds later, right as I drop the hammer, contact is made. Chris’ front wheel hits my quarter panel and sends him spinning off track. I continue on through the course and as I come to the last inner clipping point, I look over my shoulder to see where Chris is. I couldn’t see him. I look to the largest TV screen in the United States for the replay. My crew screams on the radio and at that point, I realize what just happened. We got the win. We just took down 3 Formula Drift champions in one evening.
This achievement is a huge weight off my shoulders and an extremely happy time for the crew. They fought hard, planned well, and relentlessly worked at getting this win. We knew we could do it, but this win has finally validated it. We will be a strong team for years to come.
My sponsors, thank you to all those who have stood by me year after year. This win is for all of you. This would be impossible without you.