Final Fight: The 2015 Formula Drift Championship

Mad Mike with his “RADBUL” Mazda drift car
Mad Mike Whiddett with his “RADBUL” Mazda drift car

Our TireBuyer co-worker Bernard recently attended the Formula Drift Pro Championship “Final Fight” at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California. Bernard works at TireBuyer HQ as a QA specialist (meaning he tests the site when we launch new features and updates, to make sure it’s performing ideally for our customers), but he also has a long history in the auto industry, including owning his own tire and wheel business. We’ll fill you in on what Bernard experienced at the event in Irwindale, but first, we’ll explain a bit about drifting for the uninitiated.

What’s drifting?

According to, which explains it better than I ever could, drifting is a style of driving where the driver uses the throttle, brakes, clutch, shifting, and steering to keep the car in a state of oversteer while maneuvering from turn to turn.

What does drifting feel like?

Having never experienced it myself, I’ll defer to Sam Smith of the excellent auto blog Jalopnik. Smith took a ride with pro drifter Tanner Foust, a two-time Formula D Champion, and described it like so:

“There is nothing — and I mean nothing — that compares to riding in a drift car. It’s essentially like being strapped onto the back of a drunken, rampaging weasel on roller skates. The combination of crazy turbo boost, armloads of front-axle caster, a dialed-in differential, teeth-chattering rear roll stiffness, and cheap street tires was … well, it was eye-opening.

The cockpit reeks of tire smoke, the handbrake sees more yanking and pulling than a middle-school date night, and the steering wheel is almost always spinning like a freakish, suede-covered top. The whole experience resembles nothing so much as riding inside a large, schizophrenic clothes dryer with a pair of hissing turbochargers strapped to your face.”

Yikes! I’m simultaneously fascinated and nauseated!

A vintage Datsun in the racetrack parking lot
A vintage Datsun in the racetrack parking lot

What’s Formula Drift?

Also known as Formula D, it’s the premier professional drifting championship series in the United States. There are seven events, played out at race tracks across the United States, leading up to the championship. Drivers from around the world compete in Formula D in the U.S., and there are also Formula D sister series in Asia and Australia.

How is a Formula D race judged?

It’s complicated! For qualifying runs, each driver is judged on line, angle, and style.

Line: The drift line is the ideal path a vehicle could take on the course. It’s marked by clipping points and clipping zones. The Line judge gives a driver a score from 1 to 25 points, based on how well the driver follows that ideal path.

Angle: The angle judge watches the driver’s overall slip angle throughout the course. Points can be awarded for pushing the limits, and can be taken away for major steering adjustments or awkward transitions. Angle is also scored from 1 to 25 points.

Style: Excitement and smoothness are the name of the game if you want to rack up style points. A high degree of difficulty, proximity to walls, and extreme angles are a few examples of maneuvers that could earn a driver extra style points. The style judge grants from 1 to 30 style points to each driver.

The line and angle judges also weigh in on style, giving a score between 1 and 10 points. Like we said, it’s complicated.

After the qualifying runs, the top 32 drivers are paired up for tandem runs on the course, with the highest-scoring against the lowest-scoring. The judging is basically the same, but now includes the added twist of how the two drivers interact.

What’s it like going to a Formula D event?

According to Bernard, who attended the event to help promote TireBuyer, it’s a great time – “Fun, loud, and exciting with a cool vibe.” It’s a family-friendly atmosphere where you can get close to the action on the track, interact with other fans and car lovers, see the massively powerful drift cars up close, and even meet many of the drivers. Bernard loved the informal car show in the parking lot, with row after row of tricked-out cars – everything from vintage Datsuns to lowered minivans. There are also lots of vendor booths giving away tons of great swag to race-goers.

Mad Mike with Bernard
Bernard with Mad Mike

Bernard had the chance to meet Mike Whiddett (“Mad Mike”), a pro drifter from New Zealand who counts among his many sponsors. Here’s Whiddett taking a practice run at Irwindale in his Mazda MX5 “RADBUL” car.

The only drawbacks Bernard mentioned were the heat (it was over 100 degrees that weekend) and the thick, stinky smoke kicked up by all that burning rubber on the track. (Or maybe it was the infamous Huy Fong Sriracha factory, which is also located in Irwindale.)

So, to sum up –

  • Drifting is cool
  • Drift races are fun
  • If you ever have the chance to go to a Formula D event, you should definitely check it out!

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