Formula Drift: 2018 Season Review

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Larry Chen/Formula Drift

There are three certainties in this world: death, taxes, and James Deane winning a drifting championship at the end of the year.

It’s been two full seasons since the Irish standout made the move into Formula Drift with the Worthouse Drift Team, and so far, he’s batting 1.000 in championship chases. After putting a thorough beating on the field in 2017 when he crossed the Atlantic, Deane put up with a more stubborn fight from Fredric Aasbo this year, but still managed to cap off the championship victorious. Counting his European Drift Championships, 2018 makes it seven titles at the sport’s highest levels in just over a decade for Deane.

Eight rounds comprise the annual Formula Drift calendar, so any driver who can win more than once is in a great position to capitalize. Deane took multiple victories for the second year in a row, this time in back-to-back rounds at Wall Stadium Speedway and Evergreen Speedway. But Aasbo, who had already won the season opener in Long Beach, responded in turn by taking his second win of the year in the series’ debut at Gateway Motorsports Park, and actually made it to the final four once more than Deane did.

They were the only repeat winners on the year; the other four races produced an interesting mix. Chris Forsberg snapped a four-year win drought, dating back to his 2014 championship season, in the second round of the year in Orlando. The next month at Road Atlanta, Kristaps Bluss took his first career victory. Then, in the season’s penultimate round, Worthouse driver Piotr Wiecek, winner of the would-be final race at Irwindale Speedway before the track was resurrected this winter, took the top spot at Texas Motor Speedway to set up a three-way title fight going into the return to “The House of Drift.”

Deane, who entered the event with a 49-point lead over Aasbo and 87-point advantage over Wiecek, immediately eliminated his teammate by qualifying first. But despite receiving a bye into the Top 16, Deane immediately fell to fellow Nissan Silvia S15 racer Forrest Wang in their rubber match on the season. Wang beat Deane by default in Long Beach when Deane suffered a mechanical DNF, only to lose their head-to-head battle in Orlando.

That meant Aasbo, who qualified fourth and received his own bye into the Top 16, had a chance to take the title—but only with a victory. He first took down Toyota teammate Jhonnattan Castro, defeated Dean Kearney in the Top 8, and then beat Wang, his victim in the Long Beach final, to advance to the main event.

His opponent was an unlikely one: Vaughn Gittin Jr., the 2010 series champion who was staring down a potential winless season for the second year in a row. But after the judges called for two separate One More Time runs, Gittin would not only take the victory, but also secure the title for Deane. With the title, he became the first back-to-back Formula Drift champion since Tanner Foust won in 2007 and 2008.

It’s going to be a long offseason for the rest of the field as they try to figure out a way to keep Deane from becoming the series’ first driver to win three consecutive titles. But Aasbo, Wang, and a few others showed that though he may have been the champion once again, Deane might have a few vulnerabilities that the field can take advantage of in the coming years. Simply put, Long Beach next spring can’t come soon enough.

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