Last month Melbourne was blown away by one of the biggest events of it’s kind, Formula Drift Asia (FD). FD crossed the seas and arrived on our shore to set up camp at Melbourne’s Calder Park Raceway with quite literally the biggest names in drift motor sport. They were all set to compete as the worlds eyes were on this humble little garden state at the bottom of Australia.
If that wasn’t enough to wet your drifting taste buds, Melbourne goers were treated to a full round of drift battles the day before FD thanks to the Australian Drifting Grand Prix (ADGP) who were a massive piece of the puzzle for this monumental event.
You can check out all the action from our ADGP post coming soon (watch this space).
We arrived super early to see the course literally transformed overnight from the previous days’ ADGP layout. The new setup was a much needed injection of excitement from the now three year old ADGP course.
The new format was run backwards in comparison and had a huge slow speed hairpin right before the finish line and all sitting just beneath the grandstands! This was going to be the biggest drift event of its kind in Australia!!
Just across from us we could see the starting line. Here the judges and drivers began their track walk/drivers briefing and this was something we’ve never seen done here before and it really is a great idea.
Driver’s were taken corner to corner by the judges and given explanations of what exactly it is they will be looking for during their qualifying runs and of course their battles.
All the drivers were giving their full attention during the briefing. Mike and his spotters were all ears hoping to pick up some useful information to give them an advantage.
During the walk we stopped at each and every clipping point and all the drivers got a chance to ask plenty of questions. This is an approach we would love to see adopted by many of the drift competitions around Australia as the sport is really starting to mature and the drivers looked like they appreciated the extra tuition.
With the rules laid out in black and white, it was time to warm up some engines and win a drift competition!! Their faces said it all!
There was time for a quick pit walk before the practice session started and before any of the spectators were allowed in. So first up we stopped by to see Mad Mikes’ garage away from home. Everything Mike and the team touches is finished to an amazing level of detail, the teams tyre rack and tool box was rolling on cambered go kart wheels and was wrapped in vinyl to match the car!
Easily the biggest team at the event was RSR with the debut of their NASCAR powered Toyota 86, they weren’t running any risks and were constantly checking the cars’ fluids after each and every run throughout the day.
The team were all in uniform and even had their own scooters which they used to race up to the spotters tower when Fredric was heading out in the car for a battle.
The car and team that surprised us the most however was reigning champ Daigo and his monstrous Lexus.
There were no fancy uniforms or over the top tool kits, just the right people and one hell of a driver behind one of the best setup cars we’ve seen in person.
Not for the faint hearted, the original power plant has been ditched in favour of a 1200hp Toyota 2JZ with a massive single turbo hanging off the side.
All of this comes together and matches Daigo’s aggressive driving style to create a package that is extremely hard to beat!
Soon it was time to watch the practice laps and then the qualifying ones shortly after. One of the first drivers out on the track was the man himself, Daigo and only moments from leaving the start line there was an issue. The boot was not secured properly and lifted off the car taking the wing along with it and not long after that he came off track and the front bar also found itself detached from the car.
All this and just in the practice session! It was amazing to see someone with so many wins under their belt and surely a huge amount of confidence to still be driving to their limit!
Alex Kantarovski is a relatively unknown driver here but believe it or not, Alex is a local boy who competed in the early years of FD Asia back in Thailand. When he heard FD was coming to town he eagerly put his hand up!
Another crowd favourite that was also having some issues during the practice laps was Mad Mike. One of the first laps out on the track and he came off course destroying his rear bumper.
His crew looking on from the side lines began the quick sprint back to the pits to wait for Mike to bring the car in to asses the damage.
A rather exposed looking rear end after the incident meant we could get a look at the amazing work underneath all those panels, this is what a competitive drift car looks like underneath all the metal and fiberglass.
Not long after this though, Mike was back out on the track bringing his famous soundtrack of quad rotor goodness to our ears…
Regardless of how good the rotary sounded, it was just a tiny boombox compared to the rock concert that this American built 5.8L NASCAR engine produced!!!
Here you can see the Winters/ATS diff combo taking a beating on the rough surface of the Thunderdome and lap after lap the car continued the sparks show with no apparent mechanical problems developing.
However being the first ever event for the newly built 86 the team had a lot of fine tuning to do and there was no hiding that Fredric Aasbo was finding the car to be quite a handful.
This is really a testament to his driving though as the car looked faultless in each and every run but it took every bit of concentration to drive it and it was next to impossible to hear any information from his spotters over the radio in his helmet as the car really is that loud!!
Now on to some of the local talent. Six lucky drivers earned their Formula Drift license from the previous days battles during the ADGP round.
Agges from the Insane drifters was the last of the 6 to claim their entry into the FD competition and unfortunately he didn’t find his groove and made contact with a wall on his qualifying lap and wasn’t able to move through to the top 16.
Wild card Tom Monkhouse managed to win 2nd place at the ADGP round in a borrowed S14 and then with his FD license in hand he borrowed this clean Nissan Laurel to qualify 7th amongst many top level drivers!!!
Jarod and Ryan from Formula Drift USA were over from the states to help host the event with the voices we all know and love from countless early Sunday morning live streams from the Formula Drift website.
Before the comp really kicked off there was a lunch break and drivers signing session. Eager fans lined up to see their favourite drivers and waited in line for 45 minutes just to get an autograph.
Just moments before the race kicked off we listened into the final drivers meeting discussing the do’s and dont’s of the battles ahead.
Daigo doesn’t speak a word of English so he needed to have everything translated after the meeting.
Mad Mike sitting and listening in, we don’t get it though… He never seems all that mad?!
There was one last distraction between all the door to door, tyre destroying action. as all of the top 16 drivers gathered at the finishing line with their cars for a quiet moment as the Australian national anthem was played, something we’ve never experienced at a local motorsport event before!
After the Anthem each driver was introduced and then given some t-shirts to throw out into the crowd. In a flash the drivers were back in their cars and headed back to the start line for the competition to unfold.
Another fun element we saw earlier in the day was a team drifting mini competition. The aim was for drivers to pair up and attempt to overtake each other mid-drift through each corner like a game of drifting leap frog.
Here Mike missed the mark and just began sliding towards the wall, narrowly missing Jake by the smallest of margins!
Daigo went for his team drift run with local Achilles sponsored driver Rob Whyte in his 350Z. Daigo set it up with a perfect entry into the corner.
Rob gave the throttle a squirt and crossed in front of Daigo but over judged it and ran wide and off into the grass ripping apart his rear bumper and sending rocks and debris flying into the air!
Once Rob corrected though, he eased back off and Daigo went for his pass without a problem and both drivers finished relatively unscathed.
After the team battles it was time for one last lot of practice laps before the top 16 kicked off. This time the practice was in a battle format and Mad Mike went up with Khudar, one of the top 6 ADGP drivers.
Both drivers held back just a little as there was nothing on the line so it was all just for a bit of fun.
The RS*R FT86 stretched it’s legs around the walls of Calder Park deafening us as it transformed fuel into horsepower…
This is easily the most exciting new build in the drift scene worldwide. We can’t wait to see someone else try to top this combination.
We were hoping to see Daigo and Fredric go head to head here in Melbourne as just weeks earlier, the pair fought each other in a fierce battle back in the USA. Daigo took the win and Fredric seems to be the kind of guy who doesn’t forget these sorts of things easily.
You could see the determination in his eyes all weekend – boy was he was focused!!
Alex seemed to have brushed off any cobwebs by this point and was truly coming alive blazing the tyres in front of the grand stands.
Then all necks were snapped as the crowd realised Daigo and Mike were racing off the start line for a practice battle and it seemed this time neither driver was holding back!
Daigo powered past us chasing down Mad Mike with the red mist descending over Daigo it seems he missed Mike, slowing for the next corner and contact was made between the two cars…
There was a slight pause and then everyone rushed to the fence to see the damage first hand. Slowly Mike crawled out from behind the obscured corner with the damage hidden from sight and we all waited to see the front of Daigo’s Lexus to see how just hard the hit was.
It seems it was hard enough but realistically it could have been a lot worse. Both cars had no mechanical faults and the teams soon had cars un-crumpled and ready for battle action in the top 16.
Jake Jones seemed to be stumbling with some steering issues throughout the morning practice but after the lunch break he was back to his former self… Maybe he just needed a Snickers? Who knows, but the Drift Squid was back and killing it!
Josh Boettcher was showing no signs of fatigue after battling all day at the ADGP event beforehand. He was guaranteed a spot in the FD round after winning rookie of the year in FD Asia 2011 and getting close to a win at one of the rounds in 2012.
Little did we know that aside from the ‘hero’ drivers like Daigo, Robbie and Fredric there were also a heap of other international drivers competing as well which made for a massive surprise.
Nattawoot “Oat” Krerpradab was the most consistent of the unknown Asian drivers, showing great lines and a massive amount of smoke for good measure!
Another surprise driver from Asia doing remarkably well was Mico who was in a borrowed car from local Josh Boettcher. This also happened to be young Mico’s first ever Formula Drift event!! Not a bad effort for someone just 16 years of age!!
Homegrown SA drifter Tom Monkhouse took the win against Robbie Nishida moving into the top 8 and things were starting to get serious for Tom in this competition!!
One of the battles that is still being talked about since was this fierce battle between Fredric and QLD drifter Nick Coulson. The two V8 powered machines sent chills down the spectators spines as they thrashed their way around the Thunderdome.
The judges made their decision and gave Fredric the win as he had the better lines throughout the lead and chase laps but Nick really did the Aussies proud with one of the finest battles of the day!
Another exciting top 8 battle was Jake ‘Drift Squid’ Jones against Daigo!
Jake gave it all he could but was it enough to match Daigo ‘The Ninja’ Saito’s aggressive driving style?
The cars waited for the verdict… Daigo was awarded the win but Jake will get the opportunity to battle Daigo once again later this year for the drift challange at WTAC.
Championship winner Rob Whyte went up against Fredric and held on rather well for the chase run but it was no match for the proximity of Fredric on his chase run practically touching Rob’s bumper through each and every corner!
Mad Mike was knocked out early in a battle that pitted RX7 against RX7. Mike was chasing Thailand driver Oat into the first corner and he did not allow enough room for Oat’s trademark handbrake initiation into the first corner which meant Mike had no where to go and spun nearly smashing into the wall!
Mike was knocked out and did not progress into the top 8.
The top 4 saw Daigo and Fredric go door to door, this was easily the high point of the battles that day. This was drift racing at it’s finest!
Throughout the short track, Daigo did not leave Fredric’s side, giving Daigo the win!
Next we saw Boettcher battle Fredric for the final podium position.
Then Fredric the ‘Norwegian Hammer’ was knocked out by QLD drifter Josh and finished the day in 4th place. Not bad for a relatively brand new and untested car!!
With Josh sitting happily in 3rd place it was time to see who finished in 1st and 2nd. The final battle was between Daigo (no surprises there!) and Tom Monkhouse… Tom Monkhouse??? Yep local SA drifter Tom was now competing for a guaranteed 1st or 2nd spot on the Formula Drift Asia podium against the worlds number 1 competitive drifter… In a borrowed Nissan Laurel!! One of the best motorsport moments we have witnessed so far!
With some killer lines and proximity from both drivers we would not have been surprised if the judges declared a ‘one more time’ making both drivings battle again, after a short wait a win was decided and all the drivers were rushed to the stage for the verdict to be announced followed by a short award ceremony.
So who won?? Daigo took out 1st, Tom Monkhouse blew the crowd away and grabbed 2nd, Josh Boettcher in 3rd. Fredric and Robbie also scored the team drift award for their well executed performance together!
With the trophies handed out it was time for a celebrator champagne shower!!
After the award ceremony we headed up to the conference room to catch a few last words from our podium finishers, we don’t think that any of the nights proceedings had sunk in for Tom yet.
We’re sure he and his teammates and friends partied the night away to celebrate such a win, as for Daigo he is used to being in the number one spot and seemed humbled and content with his performance.
All in all this was easily the best event we have had the pleasure of covering, in the weeks that have passed since the big day we still find ourselves on a dizzying high looking over these images and we hope the crowds were large enough to entice Formula Drift Asia to return the series to our shores. Regardless of it’s return to Australia we feel a trip over to Asia will be on the cards to follow the series back home!
Until then we would like to thank the Formula Drift Asia and USA crews for putting on such a great show and all of the international drivers for coming out and giving it all they could.
Thanks for reading,