Every event seems to have less hospitable conditions than the last one and FD St Louis was definitely on brand in this regard. We arrived and got the car unloaded in blistering heat and humidity, and were lined up ready for practice bright and early on Thursday.
One advantage to the new St Louis layout (the track was widened significantly in OZ3) for me was that all drivers were on an equal playing field as it meant nobody had experience on the track. I got about five practice laps in and was battling a bit of a front end steering issue as well as a melting fuse issue that meant we needed to take a bit of extra time between runs to get the car cooled down and change fuses.
We rolled pretty quickly from practice right into competition and I 5th to qualify given my standing from previous rounds - the car felt good and I was able to put down a run that felt pretty solid, scoring a 79.66 - given the high scores at New Jersey, I wasn't sure if it would be enough to keep me in the top 24, but as qualifying went on it started to look more and more like I was going to be in the upper half of the qualifiers, which was somehow more stressful than knowing I would have to run again - I ended up qualifying P9, which for my third FD event, I was very happy with.
As the first qualifying runs came to a finish, something else also became apparent - my qualifying position would match me up to battle with Kelsey Rowlings for the first ever female battle in Formula Drift - I have to say I was pretty excited to get to be a part of such a historical moment!
On Friday morning, we put the car in line and I went in for the drivers' meeting before practice. St Louis had other plans, however, and midway through the drivers' meeting, pandemonium broke loose outside, with a massive storm throwing tents all over the place and filling OZ4 with over a foot of water. Shockingly, this did absolutely nothing for the ambient temperature and by the time the FD crew had gotten the zones cleared out, it was just as sweltering as it had been before the storm.
Both myself and Kelsey had a very eventful practice - Kelsey did an impressive wall ride (50/50 board slide) on her first practice lap that had her crew working all the way until the end of practice to get the car back together and on my end, after two laps with continuing steering issues, we made the call to swap the entire steering system again, which we completed just in time to do one final practice lap - in tandem with Kelsey, conveniently enough!
The car felt good on that lap and I felt ready to come out swinging into our battle - always easier said than done, of course! The first battle had a few errors on both sides, and though I wanted the win, I can't say I was disappointed when the judges called for a One More Time - if you have two women battling for the first time EVER in FD history, I think it's definitely worth running the battle again!
We got the tires swapped and the car ready to get back to the line, however, this time in the burnout box I felt a weird clunk from the rear end. The burnout box is pretty hectic in St Louis, with a lot of potholes and generally uneven surfaces - I continued into battle without too much more thought, but I definitely struggled to control my angle and speed of car rotation, especially on my follow run, which I believe ultimately cost me the win since I over-rotated in my follow in OZ4. We measured the rear toe when I brought the car back in and I gained 1" of toe out, which does explain the difference in handling that I experienced.
Kelsey took the well-deserved win and that brought the competitive part of St Louis to a close for me, and although I would have very much preferred to continue onward through the brackets, I left St Louis proud of my progress and especially proud of my qualifying position. I hope to improve on both the next round.
As always, it is surreal and incredible to experience each part of this journey - my crew continues to grow and always makes sure I make it to the line in time, and I am so thrilled to be on this journey with the NonStopTuning team. Since the East coast portion of the FD year is coming to a close, the S14 is headed back to the West Coast for a refresh, and some more practice days for me before the final ProSpec round in Utah. I can't wait!
WORDS: Zandara Kennedy
PHOTOS: Tracking Focus
NST - NonStopTuning
NST - NonStopTuning