Wednesday - Practice
First stop - Road Atlanta! I have been waiting for 6+ years to drive here. I was absolutely ecstatic that this was now a Prospec round for us in Formula Drift. I have a new team, new media crew, and new parts on the car so it was time to go to work! Being this is the first FD event of the season, we have our annual tech inspection. Our tech inspection was scheduled for 10:40am. One of the new additions for all drivers in the series is the Type S Decel lights. There are now two light bars going from roof to hood on each side of the front windshield to display when we are accelerating, deaccelerating, on in a neutral state. These lights are controlled by the LINK ECU’s internal accelerometer. This is a tool for judges (as well as fans), to have a better idea of what the driver is doing while racing on track.
Drivers meeting began at Noon. After the meeting, we had to get our pictures taken for the headshots to be used during the livestream. Practice was from 3-6pm. It has been shortened this year. We get less time and now there are more drivers than last year. During practice, I got 6 laps in. Two laps were a wash from drivers making mistakes. But I also went off track in a couple of my lead laps too so I know I messed up some laps for other drivers as well. I ended practice wishing that I had had a bit more…
We ended the day with a drivers meeting at 7.
Thursday – Qualifying
We were given an hour and a half of practice before going into qualifying at 1:15pm. With the increase of drivers, every minute counted! We were able to squeeze 3 laps in. I was feeling much better on track today, and I was looking forward to qualifying. Qualifying was from 2:45-6pm. It became my time to run, and I was ready! As I approach the burn out box to scrub my tires, I feel something off with my car. We get 30 seconds to scrub our tires and during that time, I confirmed that the car was acting up. It felt like a misfire to me. With the pressure to qualify correctly on my first run – I was concerned on what to do. Can you call a Time Out on a qualifying run? Does this effect your ability to run your first qualifying run? Or does this mean I automatically forfeit my first run and have to do a second run? I really was unsure. I wish the 30 seconds wasn’t up on the burnout box so I had time to radio my spotter. I’m feeling the pressure of having to go forth with this run now that I’m at the start line and everyone is watching me. I am calm and collected emotionally, but I do understand that with lack of power I am going to be doing lots of work and have to be really committed. I go for my run, SICKK initiation! Probably the best I had done all week! I’m feeling very confident in my line, even with my misfiring car. After initiation, it’s time to climb up the hill to Outer Zone 1. I know I have to be full throttle to get up there, especially with a car that is not running right. But unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. I needed all 8 cyls to do this qualifying run correctly and I made several mistakes trying to make my misfiring car run 100%.
I immediately know I will need to redo my qualifying run for a second time now – which puts me at a lower bracket overall. I went back to the pits and the team found a spark plug wire that had laid against the exhaust manifold. How did this happen? Why didn’t this happen in practice? Or in the past 6 years lol?? It’s not like I changed my wires or my manifolds. Same set up for years. PRO Tip- FD cars only break at FD. My car could have broken in practice, in comp, but it needs to be able to qualify. That car needs to be able to work correctly for 23 seconds in the entire week. That one qualifying run NEEDS to happen. We had the car fixed in a matter of minutes, then waited for my opportunity for my second run. Time to play strategy! Can’t make any mistakes on my second run. Just go out there and drift. Don’t go off course, just stay in drift and complete the course and get a score. It became my time to qualify again. I’m mentally ready. The car is working correctly. This is gonna be good. I initiate – BIG angle. Transition up the hill, slight bobble, but stayed in drift. Made it to the end. Good work. It wasn’t my best run, but it was a safe run to ensure I would get a score and get into the competition. As I awaited my score, I was shocked to discover I was given an Incomplete. Why? What was wrong? I wanted answers! I looked at the live recording footage. I watched the run and once again, it wasn’t my best run, but it was a run. Where’s the incomplete? Even the commentators Jared and Matt said “It’s not the best run, but it is a scoreable run.” After listening to the live stream longer, it was determined one of the judges determined that my initiation had so much angle that I scrubbed too much speed. If there had been a chase car following me during a competition run, I would have messed them up. To sum it up – they are saying this qualifying run was unchaseable and therefore zeroed me out giving me an incomplete.
I’ve been competing in Formula Drift for 3 years and this is the first time I have not been able to compete due to my qualifying run. I’m devastated! I understand that you can’t win them all, but I have started the season with a zero. The amount of work I MUST do at the remaining 3 rounds in order to continue to be a FD driver in 2024 is intimidating.
This year has already been very tough on me as a driver. I have spent an uncomfortable amount of time working on my car during the offseason. I have maxed out deadlines, finances, and my body. To see all of it go to nothing is a horrible feeling. I’m being as real as I can with you guys who are reading this. But this only stimulates motivation for me. My fans that support me give me the energy to push harder, be stronger, and succeed. I have wonderful sponsors who support me to be here. I need to show them why they have chosen to partner with me! For those who don’t know, I spent 8 weeks installing a Wisefab angle kit on my car. It’s a very challenging kit to put on this chassis. Four days before I left for ATL, somehow the splines on the steering shaft stripped out and I had to tear off everything I did the past 8 weeks and put all of my old PBM angle kit back on from last year. I also had to condition my new team. This involved assigning duties and give tasks to everyone individually to make the team functional. The team conditioned quickly, and I’m very fortunate to have everyone on board. Even though I did not get to compete, I did get a working car there, a team together, and a program that I can rely on. The remaining 3 rounds I have data, so I’m familiar with them. I will have my Wisefab angle kit installed and functional for the remaining rounds. My team and I will work together and grow stronger with each round. I spent LOTS of time with my teammate Quinn from last year. He taught me a very valuable lessons throughout last season. He taught me how to control my emotions when I am required to perform at my best. So I will do great. I will crawl out of this hole and I will succeed. See you in NJ.
WORDS: Alex Lichliter
PHOTOS: Ignition Source TV
NST - NonStopTuning
NST - NonStopTuning