Justin Pawlak battles Daijiro Yoshihara in Formula DRIFT finals - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
The signs surrounding Long Beach, CA's convention center and arena next to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach race circuit said it all: "Formula DRIFT Sold Out."
An overflow crowd enjoyed sunshine, warm weather, burning rubber and extreme competition as Formula DRIFT staged the first round of its 2012 season: Streets of Long Beach the day before Easter.
In the end, Justin Pawlak took his second consecutive victory in the season opener next to the Pacific Ocean with his Falken Tire Ford Mustang by defeating 2011 champion Daijiro Yoshihara's Nissan 240SX in the finals; rookie Daigo Saito drove an Achilles Tires/Bridges Racing Lexus SC430 to the final podium spot.
"It's just amazing to come back to Long Beach and put down another win two years in a row," Pawlak said after the finals. "This is a great way to start the season and go for the championship."
While most of the favorites moved up from the Round of 32, many had critical errors in the Round of 16 eliminations that took them out right from the get-go. 2010 champion Vaughn Gittin Jr never made it from the first round with his Ford Mustang, while top qualifier Ryan Tuerck (Nissan 240SX) fell during quarterfinal eliminations, as did Rhys Millen's Hyundai Genesis. There were plenty of wall-taps and resultant valance-destruction on the three-turn course, as drivers vied for the top podium spot, trying to impress the three judges.
The 2012 Pro Championship season continues at Road Atlanta May 11-12 with the Road to the Championship, with Pawlak leading the point standings (106) over Yoshihara (92), rookie Saito (78.50), a resurgent Matt Powers (69.50) and Tuerck rounding out the top five. Tyler McQuarrie's Camaro is tied with Millen for sixth, while Chris Forsberg's Nissan 370Z, Ken Gushi's brand new Scion FR-S and Ken Moen in a Nissan 350Z complete the top 10.