With its unique character, the figure-8 Formula DRIFT course created from the Orlando Speedworld banked oval track challenges the drivers to explore the limits of the track while anticipating the bumps caused when leaving and rejoining the banking. Equally challenging was the weather, which provided plenty of distractions during the weekend.
Thrown into this cauldron were the Formula DRIFT Link ECU PROSPEC teams for the opening round of their 2022 season, while the PRO teams would fight it out to win Round 3: Type S Scorched presented by AutoZone.
As the entry point to Formula DRIFT, the series has been working to build the stature of the Link ECU PROSPEC Championship while also helping control costs. To this end, all the teams must use Link ECU engine management as well as GT Radial tires, which are supplied and fitted by Tire Stacks at every round. This year also sees FCP Euro and Royal Purple offering generous contingency programs for PROSPEC competitors who meet defined criteria, helping to support the teams.
The opening round raised a lot of questions; most notably whether anybody could unseat two-time and reigning Champion Dmitriy Brutskiy. He had again chosen to remain in the feeder series rather than take advantage of the PRO license he automatically received as one of the top four PROSPEC drivers. Brutskiy felt he didn’t have a program that would allow him to be competitive in FD PRO, choosing to remain in PROSPEC to gain more experience and attract sponsors.
When it came to qualification, Brutskiy could only post a 78-point run in his DriftHQ / Link ECU / ISC Suspension / Enkei Wheels BMW M3 with Royal Purple, placing him in 11th place.
The number one qualifier was Andy Hateley (USA) who debuted the Hateley Motorsports BMW E46. He scored 92 points, significantly higher than any other driver, and received three PROSPEC Championship points for his effort.
His closest rivals were Rich Whiteman (USA) who put his Freedom Motorsportz Toyota JZX100 in second place with a very respectable 88 points. He was narrowly ahead of third-placed Tommy Lemaire (Canada) who scored 87 points in the Mspek TLO Nissan S14.5.
The top Rookie qualifier was Richard Advani (India). Driving the HP Chasers Racing Drift Corvette, he scored 69 points and placed 18th.
A full field of 32 drivers attempted to qualify for the Top 32 competition heats. Provided everybody completed a clean run, all would qualify. However, under the Knockout Qualifying Format, the bottom eight drivers must run a second time to fill the final places. After the dust settled, everybody qualified except Jack Davis (USA) who failed to complete a run in his JDavis Drifting BMW E36. His elimination meant Hateley got a Top 32 bye run.
The competition heats for Round 1 of the Link ECU PROSPEC were split across two days, with the Top 32 taking place during a lightning storm on Friday evening. In addition to a wet track, drivers, spectators and event staff experienced numerous safety delays as lightning approached the track. Fortunately, Top 16 competition continued on Saturday morning in hot and humid conditions but on a dry track.
Following his impressive qualifying form in the new Hateley Motorsports BMW E46, Andy Hateley (USA) made it a perfect weekend, winning the opening round in dominant style.
With a bye run in the Top 32, Hateley avoided the wet conditions but had a tough battle against Steve Misko (USA) in the Top 16. The heat began with Hateley putting down a strong lead run while Misko shadowed him in the Misko Motorsports Nissan S14, compromising his line occasionally to maintain admirable proximity. On the second run, Hateley struggled to achieve the same proximity but the livestream replay revealed Misko hesitated when initiating for the first turn, causing Hateley to lift off.
With the culprit identified, Hateley progressed to face Derek Madison (USA) in the Top 8. It was a similar story, with the BMW driver setting a good lead run and Madison cutting corners to stay close in the Fuelab Fuel Systems / Team Infamous Nissan S14. And in the chase position, Hateley again dropped back after Madison had to correct his line, causing the chase driver to lift.
As if experiencing some kind of Groundhog Day, the pattern was repeated in the Final 4 against Evan Bogovich (USA) in the Feal Suspension Nissan S14. Hateley had a good lead run, Bogovich shadowed him, then Hateley had to lift off before initiating after Bogovich appeared to miss a gear.
In the Final, Hateley met a very determined Ben Hobson (USA) driving the Automotive Innovations / Koruworks / Motegi Racing Nissan S14.5. This would be Hateley’s fourth BMW / Nissan contest, which he won thanks to great lead run forcing an error from his opponent. In the chase position, Hobson went hard into Outside Zone 1, resulting in a major correction. With Hateley having a clean second run, he proudly climbed to the top step of the podium and received his very first FD Link ECU PROSPEC winner’s trophy.
Hateley joined Formula DRIFT in 2006, dipping in and out of the series over the ensuing years. He returned in 2014 driving his trademark E30 BMW and, despite missing the 2016 season, he’s become a fixture of the PROSPEC paddock ever since. A delayed engine build for his E46 BMW and his sick dog, Gonzo, persuaded Hatelely to miss the second half of the 2021 season. However, he’s returned with a new car and has finally enjoyed the fruits of his labor.
Unable to fully comprehend the momentous occasion, Hateley reflected on the success: “Our game plan was to nail the best qualifying lap we could because we were running out of tires. In the heats, we knew we’d be at a disadvantage in the chase, especially in Outer Zone 2 so we put everything into the lead run and it really worked,” Hateley told us after the podium. “I’d done a lot of laps in the simulator before the event and figured out my game plan for the tandem battles, which was to mimic drivers after they initiated and make my own initiation because the simulator showed I was making too many mistakes otherwise. But after all that, I still can’t believe I’ve won. I hasn’t fully registered, although it started to sink in when I hugged my Dad. It’s taken 15 years to get to this spot and we’re going to continue pushing harder to go higher. I can’t let this be the peak!”
Third-place went to Bogovich thanks to a superior qualifying position over fourth place Robert Thorne (USA) driving the ASMotorsport / Kats Coin BMW M3. Thorne was the top Rookie finisher and sits fourth in the PROSPEC standings
Reigning PROSPEC Champ Brutskiy finished 12th after a challenging weekend. His fellow competitors will do well not to count him out of the Championship battle.
With the K&N Qualifying session taking place on Friday afternoon, the majority of teams qualified on a dry track. Unfortunately, some of the lower ranking drivers had to deal with rain, as did the bottom eight who ran for a second time in the Knockout Qualifying Format (KQF).
Following his win in Round 2, the 2015 and 2021 FD PRO Champion Fredric Aasbo (Norway) set the benchmark with a 94-point qualifying run in his Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra. He gave the rest of the field a target to aim for and one they couldn’t hit.
Chelsea DeNofa (USA) got incredibly close with a 93-point run in the Pennzoil / BC Racing Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD. While Travis Reeder (USA) was a whisker away, scoring an identical 93 points in the Travis Reeder Motorsports / GT Radial BMW M3. DeNofa placed second thanks to a single style point.
Championship contender Matt Field (USA) could only qualify ninth in the Drift Cave / Falken Tire C6 Corvette, and Chris Forsberg (USA) – runner-up at the previous round – scored 79 points and was relegated to KQF.
The top Rookie qualifier was Ola Jaeger (Norway) who qualified 18th with an 86-point run in the Team Japan Auto / Nexen Tire Toyota Supra.
With 36 drivers attempting to qualify for the Top 32 competition heats, the bottom eight would run a second time to stay in the competition. Forsberg was among them but a dazzling 89-point run secured his place, albeit in 29th position.
Sadly, Simen Olsen (Norway), Joshua Love (USA), Kyle Mohan (USA) and Joao Barion (Brazil) were eliminated from the competition heats.
One thing dominated FD PRO Round 3: Type S Scorched presented by AutoZone: the weather!
Rain should be expected in Florida; thunder and lightning isn’t unprecedented; but it was a tornado warning that had everybody on their toes. However, Formula DRIFT is an all-weather sport and the show goes on, albeit with safety delays to clear the metal grandstands and livestream camera towers when the lightning came too close for comfort.
Through it all, Dylan Hughes (USA) embraced the challenges and emerged victorious in the DHR / Royal Purple / Falken Tire BMW, fulfilling the promise he’d shown since graduating from PROSPEC in 2019.
Having qualified in sixth position with a strong 91-point run, Hughes faced a wet track for the first time this weekend in the Top 32 heats. His opponent was Federico Sceriffo (Italy) who was enjoying greater success in 2022 thanks to a new single-turbo V12 set up on his “Fiorella” Ferrari 599 GTB. However, Sceriffo misjudged the start-line procedure for the first run and failed to launch, handing Hughes a massive advantage: something he couldn’t overcome despite a good lead run.
Progressing to the Top 16, Hughes faced another V12-engined supercar. This time it was the twin-supercharged 2022 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage driven by Darren Kelly (New Zealand). However, the Kiwi was frantically working on the supercar after a collision with Alec Robbins (USA) in the previous round. Unable to replace a suspension A-arm in time, and unwilling to risk the car against the concrete walls surrounding the banked oval, Kelly was forced to retire and Hughes advanced.
With the drenched track finally dry during the Top 16, Hughes was greeted by a tornado warning moments as he lined up for his Top 8 battle with qualifying star and close friend, Travis Reeder. As staff and spectators scurried for cover from gusting winds that preceded torrential rain followed by a thunderstorm, the two BMW drivers were sent back to their pits while the situation was assessed. As officials continued to instruct fans to seek shelter, Hughes and Reeder emerged from the pits to take sighting laps. Unintimidated by standing water and sideways rain, Reeder set a decent lead run given the conditions, while Hughes mimicked his lines from a distance, cutting Outside Zone 2 (OZ2) to close the gap over the finish line.
With Hughes taking the lead, Reeder knew he just needed to maintain better proximity than Hughes to take the win. Drifting down the banking, he miscalculated the standing water and was forced to straighten. Undeterred, Reeder re-initiated his drift but again straightened and eventually spun in OZ2. His valiant effort was unrewarded and Hughes headed to a Top 4 encounter with Matt Field.
Refusing a sighting lap, Hughes led the first run but made contact with a hard-charging Corvette as he flicked the car to initiate into the first turn. With his rear bumper dragging, Hughes continued the run as Field spun out in OZ1. With an incomplete run against him, Field held nothing in reserve on his lead run but Hughes just had to finish cleanly to reach the Final where his adversary would be Forsberg, who overcame his qualifying problems to go for gold.
The Nissan Z driver had battled and beaten Jhonnattan Castro (Dominican Republic) in the Top 32, Dan Burkett (USA) in the Top 16, Rookie Daniel Stuke (USA) in the Top 8, and slugged it out with Aasbo in the Top 4.
Despite deteriorating track conditions under driving rain and lightning strikes, both men declined a sighting lap and went for glory. Both set lead runs that mocked the rain, hitting their marks with dazzling skill.
With the cars pulled up to the podium, the drenched drivers discovered Hughes had been victorious; an announcement that was quickly followed by a tearful downpour from the winner. As only his third podium, this was Hughes’ first FD PRO victory and he was quick to credit Forsberg with his success: “I worked for [Chris Forsberg] for a long time and he taught me pretty much everything I know about drift, so to battle him in the Final was sick and I’m super-happy with the result,” Hughes told us. “Overall it was an insane weekend and finishing the event after this insane weather was incredible. This was a day I’ve dreamed about since I started working with Chris in 2014. He’s been a mentor and to be able to come out on top is unbelievable. At the end of today, I definitely don’t hate the rain as much as I used to… Hopefully we can continue this momentum and hope for more rain at the next round!”
Hughes climbs to fifth in the FD PRO Championship standings, Forsberg is in third overall, Field’s fourth place on the night keeps him second in the Championship behind third-placed Aasbo who retains his lead of the FD PRO title chase. The top Rookie at FD ORL was Stuke who finished 8th in the Stuke Racing / MspeK Performance Nissan S14.9.
After the Round 3, Toyota leads the 2022 Formula DRIFT PRO Auto Cup and Falken heads the Tire Cup.
For the final word, we again turned to Formula DRIFT President, Ryan Sage: “This was definitely the most ridiculous event we’ve ever held in terms of weather. Rain is easy to deal with but when you have a tornado warning, lightning strikes, and you have to pull people out of the grandstands for safety, it makes it very challenging. But at the end of the day it was really cool to see Dylan Hughes on the podium as the student became the teacher. It was a great way to cap off a truly memorable event and we’re all hoping the next round in Englishtown will be considerably drier!”
2022 FORMULA DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
ROUND 3 FD PRO TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS
2022 FD PRO TOP 16 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
2022 AUTO CUP TOP FIVE STANDINGS
2022 TIRE CUP STANDINGS
ROUND 1 FD PROSPEC TOP 16 DRIVER POINTS & CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ will host the Formula DRIFT PRO Championship Round 4: Type S The Gauntlet presented by AutoZone on June 9-11 as well as the Round 2 of the Formula DRIFT Link ECU PROSPEC Championship. Please visit formulad.com for the competition schedule, ticket information, driver profiles, special content, and the event livestream