Team ENEOS Takes 2023 Formula DRIFT St Louis By Storm
Remember when we said New Jersey was the wildest round of the 2023 Formula DRIFT season? Well, Round 5: Crossroads and Round 3 of the Link ECU PROSPEC championship at World Wide Technology Raceway near St Louis turned the insanity up to 11 with a combination of sweltering humidity, event-delaying thunderstorms, and changing track conditions. Yet Team ENEOS bravely answered the call to battle, and won big with Odi Bakchis and Fredric Aasbo taking first and second place respectively in PRO, while Ben Hobson captured his first win in PROSPEC competition. This was an event to remember!
Faruk Kugay, who finished fourth in New Jersey, looked very confident coming into the third round of PROSPEC with his ENEOS / Pedal Commander Nissan S14. However, he struggled in qualifying but regained his composure in the second-chance KQF qualifying to lock in P31 for the Top 32 where he was again paired against Amanda Sorensen, who unfortunately beat him, ending his event early.
“It wasn’t the ideal weekend but I still had a great time with the team,” Kugay said. “I screwed up my launch against Amanda, who drove amazingly. It’s time to regroup and prepare for the PROSPEC finals in Utah!”
Following his fifth place at Englishtown, Hobson arrived in St Louis determined to take his first win in the Pedal Commander / Feal Suspension / Koruworks / Motegi Racing Nissan S14. He arrived with all guns blazing, qualifying first for the third event in a row. In the Top 32, Hobson was matched against Matthew Bystrak, taking him down before going heads up with Trevor Root in the Top 16.
But that was before Mother Nature decided to pay a visit, delaying the competition before Top 32 and again before the Top 16 Opening Ceremonies, causing officials to postpone the event to the following morning.
The Top 16 got back underway early Saturday morning with cooler track conditions, putting Hobson into action against Root. During his lead run, Hobson faced an early deficit as he overshot the rumble strip at Outside Zone 4 (a common mistake drivers made throughout the weekend), causing him to drop the rear tires into the dirt and lose control before the finish line, resulting in an incomplete run. Fortunately, Root had a shaky start during his lead run and almost kept it together until he spun out before crossing the finish line! With both drivers having incomplete scores, the judges unanimously called for One More Time, giving Hobson a vital chance at redemption.
During the second battle, Hobson took the lead as the top qualifier, completing a smoother run with loads of angle to fill each zone properly. Root’s lead run wasn’t as clean and he nearly lost it for a second time at the finish line, giving Hobson the win. He powered all the way to the Finals to face Andy Hateley in the Hateley Motorsports Habanero E46 BMW.
In the Final, Hateley opted to run on the same tires used in the Final 4 due to concerns with his lug nuts, putting him at a disadvantage which became immediately apparent as he struggled to fill the zones and maintain proximity to Hobson in the lead position. When Hobson chased, Hateley made several mistakes in the lead and ran off track in OZ4, giving Hobson his first win.
“It’s been a long time coming but we finally achieved a perfect event,” said Hobson. “My team and family are going crazy, and I can’t thank ENEOS enough for keeping my motor clean, cool and with consistent oil pressure the entire time. It’s time to run full tilt into the finals…we have a chance at taking the championship! ”
With the win, Hobson jumped into a commanding PROSPEC lead with 245 points; Kugay dropped down to 12th with 112 points.
Even though RTR Motorsports has dominated three previous rounds of PRO competition this season, Odi Bakchis’ Feal Race Team has made huge strides lately, particularly at New Jersey where the series veteran Bakchis claimed eighth and teammate Simen Olsen took the second step of the podium. Fortified by the results, Feal Race Team marched into St Louis to set the bar even higher… and succeeded.
Qualifying fifth in the Feal Suspension / GT Radial Nissan S15, Bakchis faced Mike Power and the Power Racing Type Nissan S15 in his first competition heat, a close battle between two S-chassis drivers saw Odi with a super chase run where he seemed to draw an almost perfect line around the course.
Advancing to the Top 16, Bakchis met Matt Field where they both battled fast, aggressively and so close it necessitated a OMT call from the judges. But as they battled again, Odi’s proximity and angle in the chase run was on-point, allowing him to take down the Championship points leader and move onto the Great 8.
Initially set to run against Ryan Tuerck, Bakchis was awarded a bye-run directly into the Final 4 when Tuerck was unable to start his own bye-run (for the first time in FD history) for his Top 16 heat with Ken Gushi, forcing him to withdraw from competition and leaving no competitor for Odi’s Great 8 battle. Bakchis completed his bye-run and waited patiently for the Final 4.
Next came the controversial pairing of Bakchis and Chris Forsberg in the NOS Energy Drink / GT Radial Nissan Z: Forsberg collided with Odi shortly after initiation in OZ1, causing Odi to spin. Odi repaired his S15 and was able to complete his second run, where he was awarded the win. He then proceeded to watch the second all-Norwegian Final 4 heat between teammate Olsen and defending Champion (and ENEOS teammate) Fredric Aasbo in the Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra, who was out for redemption after being knocked out early during the Top 32 in New Jersey.
However, Forsberg filed a protest with the stewards, arguing that Bakchis had slowed momentarily at OZ1, which ultimately caused the collision. Visible from lights fitted to every car to indicate momentum, the judges had originally assessed it was inconsequential to the impact. However, Forsberg Racing made a compelling argument, won the appeal, and the drivers repeated the two runs. Fortunately, the result was the same. Forsberg dropped two tires into the dirt at OZ4 in the lead and didn’t maintain proximity in the chase position, so Odi continued onward.
By then, an epic battle between Aasbo and Olsen had taken place, requiring two OMT. After which Aasbo was awarded the win when Olsen lightly touched Aasbo’s Supra during the transition into OZ4. This required a slight adjustment from the Nissan driver, causing Olsen to finish third and claim his second podium of the season.
The Final was a true battle of the giants that saw Bakchis apply his winning formula: a fast, precise lead run and an aggressive chase that put him in constant proximity to the Toyota’s paintwork. Despite Aasbo’s incredible efforts to win his first Round of the season, he was stopped short once again by Bakchis, who claimed his first win of 2023!
“It feels so good to be holding the number one trophy in St Louis, it’s no easy feat!” said Bakchis. “This event had such crazy conditions, and even with so much heat, ENEOS oil didn’t let us down! Thanks for keeping us driving hard all weekend and helping us get up on the podium!”
Aasbo returned to the PRO Championship lead, turning a 41-point deficit into a 15-point advantage with 303 total points; Bakchis leaps to third in the overall standings with 273 points.
Aasbo was ecstatic with his second place finish: “What a weekend in St Louis! The team worked incredibly hard and the car worked fantastic until the end. We almost had it against Odi, but with second place we’re back in the Championship lead in our ENEOS-powered Supra and I couldn’t be happier!”