You don't have to be a fan of conventional motorsport to enjoy the smoky, sideways action of Formula Drift. It probably even helps if you aren't.
“The fastest racing driver just looks boring to watch – he's so smooth and so calculated it's just unreal,” says Fredric Aasbo (RIGHT), who is third in the rankings and within reach of the title heading into this weekend's season ender at Irwindale Speedway in Southern California. “The best drifter is scraping walls and hanging it out and it looks out of control. It's just awesome and that's why I love it."
In drifting, the emphasis is on car control. Competitors run in knockout elimination heats on a closed course, sliding sideways in trials judged on speed and style. With origins in Japan, it has evolved into a scene of its own in the United States that draws throngs of enthusiastic fans to tracks nationwide each year to take in the show.
Because it's judged, rather than scored against the clock, drifting has lurked on the fringes of motorsport since it debuted in the United States 10 years ago. But Formula Drift proves you don't have to have a clock to have a contest. Drivers are scored on style, speed, slip angle, and their ability to follow an ideal racing line through the course – which, this weekend, uses portions of Irwindale's banked oval and infield. But fans can appreciate the show even if they don't care for the finer points of the judging. Drivers chuck their cars sideways at 100 mph and hit the rev limiter. Churning through their tires, they send voluminous clouds of smoke into the grandstands as they slide just inches from track walls and each other.
“You don't have to really be into the technical side of it to enjoy watching the extreme driving that's on the track,” says team owner Stephan Papadakis. “Cars are always close, there's constant action and you can see the beginning and the end of each lap – you don't get to do that with anything else.”
This weekend's event at Irwindale Speedway is the seventh and final round of the year and it's a highlight stop. The venue, where the first professional drifting event took place in the United States back in 2003, is the spiritual home of the sport – often referred to as “The House of Drift.”
More than 50 drivers are slated to take part in Friday qualifying sessions, where they will vie for one of 32 slots available for Saturday's main competition. Those drivers will be placed into brackets for Saturday's main competition and, from there, it's a series of knock-out tandem battles where a winner is selected, and the loser packs it in until next time.