Weds - Load in
Living in Maryland, this is the furthest FD round for us this year. 31hr drive one way. NonStopTuning teammate Carlos Arrieta lives only one hour away from me in Virginia. He has a dual car trailer, so I reached out to him about teaming up this round and transporting my car to Utah. Since I work for an airline, I was able to fly out my team (7 of us) and meet up with the Arrieta’s on Wednesday for load in. We meet within 30 mins of each other, which worked out beautifully. Utah Motorsports Campus is gorgeous. It is a HUGE facility. We got our cars out of the trailer, set up our tents, and bolt checked the car to prepare for Thursday.
Thurs - Practice / Qualifying
This round was unlike the other rounds. FD has to adjust their schedule because the drivers were unable to drive at night at this track due to Utah’s rules. I think it was because of a noise ordinance, but I also heard it might have something to do with the lighting too. Nevertheless, our day started at 6am. We had to line up to get our cars to hotpits. It was 51 degrees, absolutely freezing! Our drivers meeting was shortly after at 6:30 (the earliest FD drivers meeting ever in history). After the drivers meeting was practice. Practice ended at 10:15. This track is fast and full throttle. At our best, we were able to get our car up to 91mph on initiation into the first inner clip! We started off on some scrubs we had brought, then moved on to our new tires. I immediately felt good on initiation, inner clip one, and outer zone one. But I was struggling with getting the car in the right place for zone two. But after some more practice laps, I felt confident going into qualifying. We did notice a huge difference in track conditions/car set up throughout practice as the hot sun was beating on the track.
Qualifying was from 10:15-1pm. As we patiently waited for our turn, we grabbed some lunch. For anyone who knows me, I get hangry if I don’t eat lol. So my guys took care of me and got me fed before my qualifying run. Its finally my turn to go, and I scrub my tires and arrive at the line. I’m staging, ready to go and I feel very calm and confident about this run. I’m signaled to go, and I’m off! As soon as I initiated, the car understeered right away. I hadn’t experienced this at all this whole event, so I quickly reacted to attempt to save the drift. This set my line up extremely goofy, causing me to look like a rookie. Even transitioning into the last turn, the car looped around so fast and I had spun out. I was baffled! I hadn’t gone off track, nor spun out at all in practice. The judges clearly gave me an incomplete score, and I had been knocked into the Last Chance Bottom 8 Qualifying Bracket. Disappointed, and confused, I go back to our hotpit and talk with my team. They assured me that I’ll be fine, just go out on the second qualifying and make any score. If I can drift the track, even if it’s the ugliest line, I can get a score and make it into the show due to how many other drivers were out. So that’s exactly what I did. My car did understeer again going into turn one, but I drove conservatively so I could focus on getting a score. I scored a 60 for my second qualifying run.
I was happy to make it into the show, but I was still concerned about the cars drivability. I asked Devon Holden (my mechanic on the team), if we could check it out now that the day had come to an end and prepare for tomorrow with a full bolt check. He agreed, and as soon as we jacked up the front end, my left front wheel fell to the ground. We walked over to investigate, and was shocked to see our left front coilover dampener had broken in half! The spring, the spring pads, and some miscellaneous hardware were rolling away on the ground. I legit qualified on a coilover that had no dampening! Luckily, I had brought some clapped out, old, bent spare coilovers with me. We were looking forward to competing tomorrow :)
Fri - Top 32 Competition
At all the previous rounds, Top 32 is on Friday and Top 16 is on Saturday. But to comply with Utah’s rules, at this round, all of the competition was scheduled to happen on Friday for PROSPEC. All of PRO comp was on Saturday, similar to how it use to be several years ago. Our day started with practice from 9:45-11:45am. The car felt great, even with the mismatched coils from front to rear. Because we started the day with sunlight, the track conditions were much more consistent as opposed to the 6am start the day before. We squeezed in about 5 laps in the practice session, and were ready to battle. I was scheduled to battle Amanda Sorensen in her 800hp BMW M3. She had a great qualifying run, and she’s got a lot more power than me. I knew I needed to drive well if I was going to win. Because she was the higher qualifier, she lead first while I chased. We took off from the line, and things were good. I felt I was chasing well until the last transition. EVERYONE gets smoked out transitioning to the last outer zone, its just the way the track is laid out. I was so focused on trying to run a high line in the last outer zone that when I transitioned, I went too high off the line and went off the track at the beginning of outer zone 3. I was able to get back on and complete the course, but I knew I had incompleted on my chase run. My spotter had informed me that while I was off course and coming back onto the track, Amanda had also gone off track at the end of the same zone! As far as we knew, she incompleted. According to the judging criteria, winners in competitive drifting are chosen based off lead vs lead comparison. So theoretically, all I had to do was run a clean lead run. If I don’t incomplete, I should be able to take the win. Or at least get awarded a OMT (one more time) since we had both made mistakes. But unfortunately, we learnt a new rule (or new to us) that we were unaware of. Since I incompleted first, anything after that is ignored or looked the other way because the run had ended once I incompleted. So by that ruling, she didn’t incomplete even though she also went off track at the same zone I did because I was the first to go off the track.
I feel like it was a tough call for the judges. Two voted for Amanda and one voted OMT, so I knew there was someone up there routing for us. If I had just kept it on track in my chase, it would have been very clear that I would have moved forth with the win. Nevertheless, I had an absolute blast at this round. My mind was calm and clear. Emotions were stable, and I hope to come back to Formula Drift next year!
We stayed in hot pit with our NST teammate Carlos and assisted him while he was still in competition. He had to call a 5 min time out, he had broken a throttle cable and also a rear diff. Our team assisted in the repairs, but we were 30 seconds too late from getting the job done. It was a tough weekend for Carlos and I, but we were happy to have made it into the show. Utah Motorsports Campus is an amazing track and I hope to come back here again in the future!
Words: ALEX LICHLITER
Photos: @robgoodwinphotos @slavysquat @driveby.shootings
NST - NonStopTuning