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Formula Drift New Jersey Recap

Category : Events

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As always, it was nice to go back to Wall Stadium this year since it’s the closest track to where I live. It’s not my favorite track layout on the FD circuit, but it does provide a welcome break from the expense of traveling, and it’s nice to only be an hour away from my shop if anything needs to be fixed on the car. The course layout at wall was changed this year in the infield, which cut out the crossover in the middle of the track. While there was a lot of discussion on the change and everyone had their opinion on it, I honestly didn’t think it was a big deal. The bank and transition from the bank to the flat part of the track is the most difficult aspect at Wall Stadium. Whatever the course is on the infield doesn’t matter so much to me.

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While I qualified in Top 32 last year and put up a decent fight against JR in tandem, I felt like I really struggled on this track last year because I couldn’t drift high on the bank. Since I started out driving on flat tracks and never really had much experience on big banked turns, it’s always been a weak point for me. And the bank at Wall is probably one of the steepest and sharpest banks that you’ll find, so it really exaggerates that weak point. I felt that with a year of learning under my belt, I should be able to come to Wall this time and drive the course properly. Unfortunately, on Thursday practice, I realized that I was still struggling with driving the bank. I was taking a mid-line on the bank the whole day, and while I was solid on the rest of the course, I really needed to be able to drive all the way up to the wall on the first turn.

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I was disappointed after Thursday practice and knew I would have to improve significantly for Friday if I wanted to qualify solidly in Top 32 and have a shot at winning in tandem. I reviewed a lot of my video footage and video of other drivers to see what I was doing wrong. I figured out the proper reference points I should use when entering the bank and for knowing when to get back on throttle. In Friday morning practice, as soon as I tried using these new reference points, I immediately started to ride the bank wall properly. I was really excited that I corrected my mistakes, and I did about 10 laps in a row in practice where I was high on the bank.

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Having figured out the proper way to drive the track, I was feeling confident for qualifying. In my first run, I initiated into the bank and was on a good line near the wall. However, I got a bit too greedy and tried to get as close to the wall as possible coming off the bank. Unfortunately, I tapped the wall, which straightened the car for a second and also cause me to hit the inner clipping point coming off the bank. I was pretty sure that would give me a zero score, but I completed the run just in case. The judges did, in fact, give a zero score for my first run, so I would have to rely on my second run to make it into Top 32.

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On my second run, I drove much more cautiously to make sure I wouldn’t get another zero. It wasn’t a super exciting run, but I was on the correct line and did mostly everything the judges were asking. I ended up qualifying in 25th place, and I would be going against Conrad Grunewald in Top 32 tandem.

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I knew Grunewald would be a challenge because he was one of the fastest cars I had seen in practice, and he makes a ton of smoke. Due to the location of the transitions on this track, it can be very difficult to see when you’re following a car that makes a lot of smoke. In addition to that, Grunewald had won this event a couple of years ago, so he definitely had a lot of confidence and knowledge of the track.

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In Friday night practice and Saturday Top 32 practice, we just worked on adding grip to the car so that we could keep up with Grunewald. The tough thing about the Wall track and many banked tracks with a lower power car is that you have a lot of grip on the bank, which forces you to set up the car loose so you don’t understeer. However, when you drop onto the flat section, the car is super slow because you’ve set it up to be loose for the bank. So the challenge is to find a balance, basically make it have as much grip as possible but still loose enough not to straighten out on the bank.

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We went through many iterations of suspension and alignment changes to add grip to the car, but I felt like we could still add more by the time practice was over. We didn’t want to take a big risk and change the car with no practice time, so we made a few more small changes and hoped it would be fast enough to keep up with Grunewald.

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In Top 32 tandem, I followed Conrad first. He rolled off the line slow and accelerated hard about halfway down the straight. I appreciated that he didn’t drag race me to the first corner, but his approach was actually hurting me because I needed to get more speed initiating into the bank. So my entry into the bank wasn’t the best, but I managed to stay within a car length behind him. My car still didn’t have quite enough grip to keep up, so while I was able to stay relatively close to him throughout the run, I had to drive with less angle to keep up.

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On my lead run, I just did my normal qualifying style run, which ended up being pretty good. I think Grunewald was expecting me to be slower, so he gave me a bit too much gap on initiation and didn’t quite catch up to me as soon as he should have. As a result, the judges called a one-more-time. We didn’t change tires but just lowered pressures a bit for more grip.

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My next follow run was about the same. It was tough to initiate behind Grunewald because he would launch slow and then speed up, whereas I needed to be full throttle all the way to the first turn to have enough speed to get high on the wall. The rest of the run was about the same as the first. I still wasn’t fast enough and had to drive with less angle to stay in proximity. My lead run was fairly good, but this time Conrad knew what to expect and he did a much better job following me. He got the win.

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While it was a tough loss to take, I really felt like I made progress with my driving from last year to this year. I’m really looking forward to coming back to wall next year with the new knowledge and experience at this track.

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