The Evergreen Drift teams arrived as a very confident bunch with good reason. The drivers had already competed against the best at the Evergreen Drift, Vegas Drift Pro-Am, and other events such as All Star Bash.
This seasoned group of drivers hit the track on Friday afternoon for practice and it was clear from the start that they would not be intimidated by the Irwindale bank. Everyone was upbeat as all the drivers grew comfortable and figured out how to tackle this challenging course that was put together by Formula Drift chief judge Andy Yen.
All was going well until what looked to be an event ending hit on the inner bank wall for Roland Gallagher. A number of people had counted Roland out after seeing the damage. However, the Evergreen Drift crew was not going to let the weekend end for him. All the teams pitched in parts and labor to get the car rolling again. This allowed Roland's team to get the car to Justin Pawlak's shop where the team worked until 1 AM leaving only a few items to finish up at the track on Saturday morning.
As the sun rose on the practice grid at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale California the confidence that all teams had on Friday was shaken. Victor Moore went out for his first practice run and crashed hard into the wall on the big bank leaving his mark on the famed House of Drift. It was immediately clear after the hit that this would end Victor's weekend. The news didn't get any better in practice as shortly after Victor's trouble Trent Stromkins lost his engine ending his weekend as well.
The remaining drivers had to shake off these incidents and focus on the task at hand as qualifying started immediately after practice. After completely missing practice Roland Gallagher’s car the “Teal Tiger” appeared from behind the wall and took its spot in the qualifying lineup. Roland knew that qualifying would be difficult as the car still had major damage.
The Teal Tiger
Drivers from all across the country began laying down some really impressive runs. The two drivers that really stood out were Ian Fournier and Nikolay "Molatov" Konstantinov. It was clear that after their runs they would make the top 16. Andrew Coomes qualifying runs were good but contained a few corrections that would place him on the bubble.
As drivers, crew, and FD staff gathered for the Top 16 announcement Formula Drift Co-Founder Ryan Sage put on his chef's hat to cook lunch for the masses. After the BBQ JRod announced the results to the large crowd that was eager to find out who would be receiving their Formula Drift professional licenses. The results were good for Evergreen Drift with Nikolay Konstantinov qualifying third just behind Ian Fournier who took the second spot. Immediately after the announcement of the top 16, JRod had another surprise in store. Formula Drift had made the decision to recognize the efforts of three additional drivers with licenses. The fortunes for Victor Moore and Roland Gallagher instantly changed as their names were announced as license recipients.
Nikolay Konstaninov took his place on the grid waiting for the opportunity to thrill the crowd with his take no prisoners style which earned him a new nickname from Formula Drift announcer Jrod. "Molatov" Konstaninov hit the track just as he had done all weekend long, accelerator to the floor and angles that were so steep one could only wonder how any human being wouldn’t spin the car.
Nikolay "Molatov" Konstantinov in the lead
Spinning is not what cost him. A second run attempt to step up the speed into the infield resulted in a well executed fifteen foot tail slide along the wall with enough force to lift both rear wheels off the ground. Yet, even with that hit Nikolay was without a doubt a crowd favorite and he earned himself some fans that will be waiting to cheer him on at Long Beach in April.
That left Ian Fournier to carry the fortunes of Evergreen Drift, and he did not disappoint. Run after solid run Ian started marching his way through the brackets until he found himself at the final bracket contending for the win against Mike Pollard from Minnesota.
Ian was chasing on his first run and perhaps made his only mistake of the day when he let the lead car open up a gap that he was not able to close while still maintaining solid line and angle. It left Ian with work to do as the lead car in the second run if he wanted to seal the deal on this trip down from Canada.
Run 1 - Ian working to close the gap
Ian ripped through the big bank in the lead while Mike Pollard stayed right on his door. Ian floated up the bank to the first critical outer clipping point not letting up through the switch back. The crowd tensed as the drivers rocketed together into the inner bank and charged headlong at the wall in a terminal trajectory. Ian committed the angle, executed a textbook wall tap, and accelerated through the final turns, but Pollard was was no longer on his door.
Pollard and Fournier were equally matched, but that fateful run at the wall was enough for Ian to shake the Minnesotan and take home the title of 2009 Formula Drift Pro Am Champion.
Going . . .
When asked if he thought he had the advantage going into the last run of the day, Ian replied "Absolutely not". "I knew I had to go after the inner wall and tap it with my bumper while at the same time drawing Pollard in with me. I was hoping I could take him to the wall and maybe he would make that one mistake he hadn't made all day".
As the two drivers made their way into Toyota Speedway's victory circle it was clear these competitors had a blast out on the track and developed a lot of respect for each other. Chelesa DeNofa filled out the 3rd place spot and these three collected quite a haul from the many events sponsors: AEM, Brian Cower, Exedy, Eibach springs, High Pro Speed, Motovicity Distribution, Tokico Performance Shocks, Turbonetics, and Wilwood Brakes. After the champagne shower Ian got his first taste of professional stardom as several new fans young and old came up and asked to take a picture with him and his car.
Left to Right - Chelesa DeNofa, Mike Pollard, Ian Fournier
The weekend was a huge success for Formula Drift and the Pro Am program with a strong field of competitors and 19 new licensed drivers. Formula Drift’s genuine dedication to assisting grassroots drifting organizations and drivers succeed through the Pro Am program is a great benefit to the sport of drifting. Evergreen Drift thanks Jim Liaw, Andy Luk, Ryan Sage, Andy Yen, Ernie Fiximer, and the rest of the team for their work on the 2009 Pro Am Championship series. Props to the many Formula Drift drivers that were on hand to offer advice and support to the ProAm drivers: Justin Pawlak, Joon Maeng, Alex Pfeiffer, Ross Petty, Stephan Verdier, Ken Gushi, and Taka Aono. Thanks to Wrecked Magazine for the great ProAm coverage and the pictures for this story.
Drifting fans can look forward to more exceptional drifting in 2010 from the likes of Ian Fournier and Mike Pollard, stars of the Pro Am class of 2009. Watch out Long Beach, there are some new drifters coming to town.