Recap: Formula Drift Atlanta 2015

Although a bit late, I feel it necessary to recap the amazing weekend that was Formula Drift Atlanta 2015. For the unaware and the uninitiated, the art of drifting is judged and scored rather than simply being a race to the finish. The goal for each driver is to break traction upon entering the first corner, get the car sideways and complete the rest of the course with enough style to win over the judges, all without straightening out or ending the slide. Points are awarded based upon speed, style, driving line and angle. For a more in-depth explanation of drifting, take a look at this great video by Engineering Explained.

 

Now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s discuss the journey. On a humid Thursday morning in May, my friend and I clumsily gathered our necessities for the three day trip, including about $5,000 in camera supplies, and stuffed them into the back of his 1995 Mazda Miata. After battling sleep deprivation, hours of hunger, speed traps, and that grueling Atlanta rush-hour traffic, we finally managed to set foot on Georgia’s unmistakable red clay.

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Japanese driver Daigo Saito kicking up some of Georgia’s famous red clay while trying to keep his Nissan GT-R on course.

Between the searing heat, intolerable traffic, suspicious locals and overzealous police force, what’s not to love about rural Georgia? Although the event was held at Road Atlanta, it would be slightly more honest to call it something like “Road That’s About One Hour and a Half From Atlanta.”

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Ryan Tuerck, a crowd favorite, clouding up the track with his 2JZ swapped Scion FRS.

Although the event, and also our hotel, were quite a ways from anything I’d consider a big city, there was no shortage of fun to be had. After all, killing time is easy when you’ve got a well balanced road car and about 100 miles of winding mountain roads in any direction you could imagine. Luckily for us, the only run-in we had with the law was at a D.U.I. checkpoint, which we passed with flying colors, of course.

Victor Wang, my co-pilot for the Atlanta trip, striking a pose on his '95 Miata.

Victor Wang, my co-pilot for the Atlanta trip, striking a pose on his ’95 Miata.

The entire weekend was a photographer’s dream. Long, winding mountain roads, graffiti walls, waterfalls, and of course, plenty of rare cars and drifting action kept my hands glued to my camera. With the help of my media access pass, I was able to get within feet of cars sliding past me at upwards of 60 miles per hour, not a crash fence in sight. The photos I managed to capture were nothing short of fantastic.

Mike "Mad Mike" Whiddett sliding through one of the track's most photogenic corners. FD Atlanta was the debut event for his new four rotor Miata.

Mike “Mad Mike” Whiddett sliding through one of the track’s most photogenic corners. FD Atlanta was the debut event for his new four rotor Miata.

This weekend certainly had its share of surprises. Big-name drivers like Mad Mike and Vaughn Gittin Jr. were knocked out of the competition by up-and-comers like Forrest Wang and Alec Hohnadell. Controversial calls were made by the judges, Chris Forsberg’s car caught on fire, and the usually competitive Daigo Saito just couldn’t deliver a solid run.

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During their late-night tandem run, Chris Forsberg’s 370z caught on fire while chasing Ken Gushi. It was quickly resolved and the two went on to place third and second, respectively.

In the end, Lithuanian underdog Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis went on to take first place. Coming in second and third, respectively, were Japanese driver Kenshiro Gushi and American Driver Chris Forsberg.

Kenshiro Gushi, driver of the Scion Racing FRS, posing with an umbrella girl before the top 16 round began.

Kenshiro Gushi, driver of the Scion Racing FRS, posing with an umbrella girl before the top 16 round began.

Considering the amazing elevation changes, the widespread absence of intrusive fences and the fantastic mountain roads surrounding the track in every direction, I will certainly be back next year for Formula Drift Atlanta 2016.

A definite sign that fun lies ahead.

A definite sign that fun lies ahead.

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