Irwindale Speedway doesn’t have the prestige of a historic street circuit like the Grand Prix of Long Beach. The short oval doesn’t allow for entry speeds as fast as a course like Texas Motor Speedway, its transitions aren’t nearly as technical as the ones you’ll see in Palm Beach, and because the track is located on a dry, dusty patch of land off the 605 Freeway, it doesn’t even offer the views of a venue like Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
But for every box that Irwindale Speedway leaves unchecked, it more than makes up in some inherent, undefinable character that makes it feel like the only place in America that could ever be called The House of Drift.
For each of the 10 years of Formula Drift’s existence, The House of Drift has been host to the final round of the season and has crowned champions on its asphalt. And for even longer, Ken Gushi has been there, honing the skills that have turned him into one of the top drivers in the series, as well as one of the few who have been there since day one.
If you’ve followed his career though the last decade, it’s a story you’ve heard countless times by now. The kid who moves to America from Japan at an early age, learns the art of drift from his father in an AE86, and years after becoming a professional driver before he even has his license, is chosen to usher in the era of the new 86.
The romanticized version of that tale makes for a great story, but it also ignores the hard work and tough breaks that Ken has had to move past to make it to where he is today. Going into Formula Drift Round 7, the season had almost been a microcosm for Ken’s driving career to date.
The offseason changes that the team made to the GReddy Racing Scion FR-S seemed to have improved everything about the car, from its power delivery to its driving dynamics, a fact that appeared to be confirmed after a solid showing at Long Beach. That wouldn’t last, as mechanical issues and sheer bad luck would trail them through the season, though Ken and GReddy both fought through the obstacles the best anyone possibly could’ve.
With nothing to lose and a green light to push the GReddy Racing Scion FR-S as hard as he could, Ken went into Irwindale looking to crash someone’s championship party. A solid showing in qualifying put him in the Top 32 and had him seeded against another hard charging driver, Chelsea DeNofa. Ken laid down a solid lead run and took a huge advantage after Chelsea lost drift just before crossing the finish line. By following it up with a respectable chase, Ken and the GReddy team were able to advance to the Top 16.
The win had him set for a matchup against Dean Kearney, though by this point the GReddy Racing Scion FR-S appeared to simply be too far down in power. Ken threw the car in as best as he could, but the judges would eventually decide that he gap on his chase run was simply too large to make up.
The season has been a roller coaster for Ken and the GReddy team, one they’re likely not keen on riding again. Regardless, their team has shown a remarkable ability to come through in the face of any and all challenges, and that adaptability is certain to have sitting near the top of the standings come this time next year.
Like Ken and the GReddy team last season, Tony Angelo and the TAngelo Racing Scion FR-S have been dogged by many of the growing pains that come with a new build. While the new car has at times come with its share of problems, it’s been increasingly obvious that the car is getting closer and closer to reaching its full potential with Tony behind the wheel.
It almost appeared as if Tony was out to prove that point during qualifying, as he went out and set the highest qualifying score of any driver on the Scion Racing team. Though it came during his second run, therefore putting him in the bottom half of the bracket, it’s a clear example of what the TAngelo Racing Scion FR-S can be capable of doing when both car and driver are firing on all cylinders.
Tony’s Top 32 matchup against Darren McNamara would mark the end of his season, but not before Tony gave DMac one of the toughest battles he would face the entire weekend. During the first run, the TAngelo Racing Scion FR-S utilized the entire first rear clipping zone to stay close, before finishing out the course right on DMac’s wheel. By pushing the car just too hard to make up ground during his lead run, Tony ended up dropping a tire in the TAngelo Racing Scion FR-S which ultimately decided the run.
You wouldn’t guess someone with as many years of driving experience under his belt as Tony has would be capable of learning new tricks, but Tony has shown remarkable improvement in his driving since rejoining competition just last season. If the third time is as much of a charm as the saying makes it out to be, year three flying the Scion Racing banner may just be Tony’s best yet.
And with that said, we come to the driver of the weekend – Fredric Aasbo. His journey to Round 7 for the 2014 finals has been longer than perhaps any other driver on the circuit. Beginning in Norway, winding through Europe, America, Asia, and Australia before coming back again, the seeds for Fredric’s success have been planted by his lifetime of experiences and his battles with drivers literally across the world.
While Fredric regularly displays some of the most aggressive driving we’ve ever seen on this side of the Atlantic, he’s somehow managed to also become the single most consistent driver this entire season. He came into Irwindale as the only driver who could claim to have finished at least in the Great 8 at every single event this year, and with so much on the line, Irwindale wouldn’t be the time or the place for that streak to come to an end.
The Papadakis Racing team had the Hankook Tire Scion Racing tC looking strong going into Round 7, and thanks to their efforts, Fredric was able to submit a solid qualifying run that seeded him in the top half of the bracket. With a matchup against Conrad Grunewald looming in the Top 32, it was evident that nothing that weekend would come easy.
The battle got off to a great start for Fredric, as the Hankook Tire Scion Racing tC just pulled and pulled as the cars moved across the first outer bank. Though the gap closed slightly as they passed the outer clipping zone lining the inner oval, Fredric once again pulled away as they transitioned through the final turn. By following it up with a clean chase run, he earned the win and a matchup in the Top 16 against Ryan Tuerck and his 2JZ Scion FR-S.
It’s not often you can say that a huge display of fireworks was only the second best thing you saw that night, but given the battle that unfolded in the Top 16, that certainly ended up being the case. Still, the fireworks gave everyone in attendance, drivers, teams, and fans alike, some time to take in the atmosphere at Irwindale, as well as the significance of the moment.
Fredric began as the chase driver, and things started off looking grim as he pushed too hard into the initiation and tapped the wall with the rear end of the Hankook Tire Scion Racing tC which caused the car to briefly straighten. That would be enough to knock most drivers off of their game, but Fredric gunned it out of the gate, leaving Tuerck far enough behind for the judges to call it a non-run, before Tuerck confirmed a zero by straightening before he crossed the finish line. As a result the battle went to a One More Time.
Both drivers displayed their usual form during the second run, as Fredric stuck to Tuerck’s door during his chase run, and created a small gap during his lead run. However, the judges felt that Tuerck ran a slightly better line during his lead run, and once again, called OMT. At this point, with everything on the line, Fredric went all out in the Hankook Tire Scion Racing tC for their next run.
From the start, Fredric dove right in on his chase run, and mirrored Tuerck’s line in the 2JZ Scion FR-S about as well as one possibly could. And when it came his time to lead, Fredric left Tuerck completely in the wake of the Hankook Tire Scion Racing tC’s tire smoke, and scored a unanimous win.
The tough, back and forth battles against the Scion FR-S saw Fredric come out on top, though it possibly left the car in a weakened state for its Great 8 battle against Tyler McQuarrie. The car ended up giving out during Fredric’s chase run, which caused him to come close to straightening, earning him a zero from the judges despite a sub-par line from McQuarrie. Though McQuarrie also appeared to straighten during his turn to chase, the judges nevertheless called the battle in McQuarrie’s favor.
Fredric has had an amazing season, his best yet by a sizeable margin. With the technical prowess of the Papadakis Racing team behind him, it’s almost unanimously agreed that his first Formula Drift Pro Championship is simply a matter of when, and not if. Though “Hold Stumt” is typically used to describe only his driving style, it becomes clear that the phrase applies equally to his unending quest to improve himself behind the wheel.
Another year at The House of Drift brought us to the end of an incredible season that capped off ten years of FD. While the on-track action is over, we’re not done yet! There’s still a huge vault of footage, news, and updates that we have to share, so be sure to stay tuned to ScionRacing.com!