ABOVE At Irwindale, tough gets tougher when you’re door to
door. BELOW RIGHT Formula D judges confer; Chris Forsberg,
up close and personal with the Turn 3 and 4 wall in 2010.
Formula Drift drivers possess awesome, unique skills. Their cars are powerful, loud, fast machines modified with one spectacular purpose in mind. But, like every great performer, these men
and machines need a stage worthy of their talents and abilities.
The guys providing that platform are the Formula Drift judges,
three wise men who’ve been there, seen it, done it when it comes
to going sideways. Their art is coming up with a course that tests a
driver’s skills to the max, while entertaining the fans and putting on
a terrific show. It’s an elusive mix of speed, difficulty, technicality
and a hint of danger that gets racers and spectators alike excited.
“When I go and set up a course, the three things I look for are a
Often what makes it daunting are walls or guardrails. On the
high-speed entry, a technical braking zone and then lower-speed,
technical, consecutive turns,” explains Andy Yen, an FD judge since
2006. “We always have the high-speed entry, a technical braking
zone that brings them from 90mph-plus down to about 50 or 60.
Then we start tightening up the turns, so the cars stay closer
together. When it’s just a fast course all the way through, it’s a bit
harder for vehicles to stick together, because some cars handle a lot
better at high speeds than others.”
That’s very much how fellow judge Tony Angelo describes his
ideal drift circuit: “A real deep initiation to put on a show, a couple of
big, fast turns to demonstrate speed and how the drivers are able to
manage their car, then some technical clips to showcase their skill.
It’s about making sure it’s an exciting course for the fans, but with a
layout that has a good degree of difficulty, so not everybody can get
a handle on it quickly – something that’s a bit daunting to the
drivers and technically hard to do,” Angelo says.
1 RIDE THE WALL
The FD course at Toyota
Speedway at Irwindale
begins the way judges and
fans love – a long, fast,
wall-baiting run on the
Turn 3 and 4 banking. Go
too hot and high and it’ll
get nasty real quick...
streets of Long Beach, for example, they’re all around – a tunnel of
concrete waiting to bite. The road circuits are a bit more open. At
Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif., the drivers have to throw their
cars at high speed toward unforgiving retaining walls not once, but
twice. Ideally, a driver is scraping his rear bumper on the wall all the
way around the outside oval, hitting the transition at the start/finish
perfectly, and then shooting toward the wall that defines the outside
of the inner oval, sliding the back of the car inches from it, all while
being a couple feet from a competitor doing the same thing.
The walls not only have the effect of demonstrating the skills
gap between competitors, but also provide an easy reference point
for fans. “It’s easier to understand what’s good and bad when
there’s a wall there,” explains Angelo. “Dragging along the outside
wall looks cool; banging into it does not...”
The walls are one test of ability, while the technical section is
another component. The tight turns help the show by keeping the