Wild Ride for Team ENEOS at 2023 Formula DRIFT New Jersey
Just when you thought the 20th Anniversary season for Formula DRIFT couldn’t get any crazier, the Englishtown round kindly asked you to hold its Rockstar Energy drink and show you what crazy’s all about. Team ENEOS experienced a rollercoaster of emotions in both PROSPEC and PRO competition, the event’s final outcome shaking up the championship hunt for all our drivers.
Ben Hobson came into the second round of PROSPEC competition looking to continue his success after taking second place at Road Atlanta in the Pedal Commander / Feal Suspension / Koruworks / Motegi Racing Nissan S14. Qualifying first, he advanced past Sam Maghoumi in the Top 32 to go heads up against Alex Jagger in the Top 16.
With a strong trajectory to repeat his winning ways, he faced the Drift Wizard, Andy Hateley and his Hateley Motorsports Habanero E46 in the Great 8, where the two went door-to-door on both runs. However, on his chase run, Hobson made contact with Hateley at the finish line causing him to spin. Unfortunately, the judges deemed Hobson at fault, taking him out of competition.
Meanwhile, Team ENEOS PROSPEC driver Faruk Kugay, who had been unable to advance past the Top 16 in Atlanta, had a completely different turn of events in New Jersey. Piloting the ENEOS / Pedal Commander Nissan S14, he qualified P15 to face Amanda Sorensen in the Top 32, advancing past her to move onto the Top 16.
There, Kugay faced Canadian young gun Jayden Martorana. During Faruk’s chase run in his 900hp S14, he kept incredible proximity to the 15 year-old Martorana. While on his lead run, Kugay rode the course with precision, filling each zone to the judge’s delight but they decided it was too close to call, sending both out for One More Time (OMT).
During the OMT repeat runs, Kugay led with aggression, again filling the course in such a way that kept Martorana busy trying to keep pace with a FD veteran. Faruk’s experience proved invaluable during this second battle, allowing him to advance to the Great 8 against the PROSPEC points leader Rudy Hansen.
Kugay needed to continue fighting against Hansen, and he did just that. Hansen chased aggressively during Run 1, albeit without the tightest lines, giving Faruk an advantage going into his chase. Hansen’s unexpected manji initiation threw off both Kugay and the judges, exceeding the amount of moves allowed during initiation. The illegal maneuver gave Faruk a pass into the Final 4.
Paired against hometown favorite and double champion, Dmitriy Brutskiy in the Drift HQ E46, Kugay had bumped Brutskiy’s door during his chase run, causing Faruk to correct and back off a little. This gave Brutskiy the advantage and despite an awesome lead run by Faruk, the mistake on the first run couldn’t be overcome. He ended the evening in fourth place and winner of the Formula DRIFT Performance Bonus award.
“I came into Englishtown looking to have fun, which is what kept me in the game until the Final 4,” Kugay said. “It’s been eight years since I’ve made it this far, and it’s amazing to regain my confidence. Lap after lap, the car kept ticking with ENEOS lubricants. And Rich Whiteman helped out by providing us with wheel speed data, so it’s nice to have another member of Team ENEOS supporting me!”
With PROSPEC wrapped up, the double-header round continued with PRO competition as Team ENEOS drivers Fredric Aasbo and Odi Bakchis saddled up for battle. Aasbo was in the points lead thanks to his second place finish in Orlando, and Bakchis has been eager to make moves after finishing in the Top 16 the last round.
What was shaping up to be a tight battle between two Toyota Racing drivers in the Top 32 became one of the biggest upsets of the weekend. It was Ken Gushi in the Three’s Racing GR 86 versus Aasbo at the helm of the Rockstar Energy Toyota GR Supra, the top qualifier versus the lowest, in the first Top 32 battle that took place shortly after a rain shower. This had made the rubber-coated course tricky, especially since it was both wet and dry in different areas.
The Norwegian Hammer took the lead, driving well as Gushi kept close proximity. But while chasing Gushi, Aasbo made a rare mistake in Outside Zone 2 (over patchy track conditions where the drift course meets the former drag strip). The judges awarded Gushi the win, ending Aasbo’s day extremely early and placing a damper on his championship tally.
“We had our ups and downs in New Jersey,” Aasbo explained. “It started raining right before our battle, and the track was inconsistent after a dry practice and qualifying. Gushi did a great job chasing, but I tapped him in my chase and straightened, a combination of picking up traction and accelerating right as he made an adjustment, a perfect storm of miscalculation and bad luck. We’ll keep pushing as we get to St Louis!”
With Aasbo out early, Team ENEOS had high hopes for Odi Bakchis to take home a victory in his Feal Suspension / GT Radial Nissan S15. Qualifying 16th, he faced rookie and Brazilian sensation Diego Higa in the Top 32 following Aasbo’s defeat, and was able to advance to meet Gushi in the Top 16.
A strong performance by both drivers resulted in yet another OMT, placing Bakchis in the lead first. He once again filled all zones aggressively but Gushi stuck tight. During his lead, Gushi straightened in OZ2, causing Odi to make contact, although not his fault, and was allowed to move forward to battle teammate Simen Olsen in the Great 8.
With both Team Feal PRO drivers going heads up, Bakchis took a deeper line on his lead but Olsen maintained decent proximity with respectful separation from his boss. During Olsen’s lead, Bakchis came up a little short during OZ3, and the judges had a split decision leading to (you guessed it), OMT!
As darkness fell over Englishtown, Bakchis lined up against Olsen again, took the lead in the S-chassis battle with nearly identical setups, and both drivers put in strong efforts for the first run. Known for being a great chase driver, Bakchis made slight surges that were enough for the judges to award Olsen with the win. It was a tough decision that came down to the smallest of details.
At the midway point of the season, Hobson is second in the PROSPEC Championship standings with 142 points, while Kugay is seventh with 96 points. Aasbo dropped to equal-third in the PRO standings with 215 points, while Bakchis is sixth with 173 points.
Team ENEOS heads to World Wide Technology Raceway in St Louis, MO for Round 5: Crossroads on July 13-15, 2023.