Arising from the ashes of what was initially thought to be the final season of Midwest Drift Union at the end of 2014, the region’s Formula D pro-am feeder series is back for 2015, featuring new drivers, new cars and a new quest to license a new batch of FD competitors.
The first stop on the 2015 tour was at the Grissom Aeroplex near Peru, Indiana on an unused portion of some old tarmac.
MDU is dedicating the 2015 season to Mark Lenardon and Karim Rahmann, two great guys heavily involved in the drifting community who were taken far too soon earlier this year.
After some adjustments to the location of the clipping points and fine tuning of the course layout overall, group A started their first practice session to officially usher MDU back for another season.
Former grid man Nick Swann, who is now judging along side two former Formula D drivers and long-time MDU competitors Brian Peter and Mike Skudlarek, was replaced by Doug Cox, who helped drivers out by giving them advice on what they needed to work on and what they were doing well.
Many drivers were new to the series for 2015, such as Jeremiah Muniz and his V8 Corolla.
Others were returning to MDU after a brief hiatus, like Shane Whalley, who was back in action with the series’ sole GTO.
Showing what can be accomplished on a stock SR20, Chris Gonzalez grabbed the number one qualifying spot.
That first place qualifying spot comes after years of being plagued with mechanical woes, and was most certainly well deserved.
That number one spot meant Gonzalez would face Devin Callahan in top 16, with the S15 getting the win over the S12.
Stu Kelly, piloting his V8 FC, would get the win over Dan Nikov’s M3.
The green 350Z of Chance Crooks got the nod in his top 16 bout against Daniel Stuke.
Jakob Breeser, piloting a far more thoroughly built E30 than last year, bowed out to the green SC of Charlie Quatmann.
“He had a really good follow run,” Quatmann said. “When I chased him, he spun, I straightened, so they one more timed us. We went back and he (Breeser) said he thought I should advance. I led again and tried to stay consistent, when I chased him I rode his door and had to go a little shallower even to him, but rode his door in front of the judges as hard as I could.”
Jonathan Nerren would meet the LS-powered Corolla next.
“I’d been watching him all day,” Nerren said. “Fortunately I was in group A and it looked like they put more of the experienced drivers in group B so I was able to watch them and get a game plan for the competition, and also watch their lines. I had seen the lines he had taken and angle he had, and I had a game plan of how I was going to follow him. On my lead run I wanted to put down a good clean run and that’s how it went. When I followed I stayed really close to him and was able to directly follow his line very well.”
Dirk Stratton’s LS-swapped S13, which sounds fantastic, muscled on past Michael Tung’s FD RX-7 to secure his spot in the top eight.
David Mesker met Connor Huppert next, two drivers who made the trek from St. Louis.
“First I had to battle one of my friends from St. Louis which is never really fun, but I just thought I had to go hard and get it out of the way,” Mesker said.
Austin Matta’s defeat of Shane Whalley would round out the top sixteen.
Gonzalez would meet Kelly in the first round of top eight, with the gray V8 FC muscling past the S15 to the final four.
After Quatmann defeated Stuke when the latter took an extremely shallow line through the final sweeper, Nerren and Stratton met in a battle of V8s.
“I knew he was a solid driver and good competition,” Nerren said. “I was actually anxious to run against him because I knew he’d put down clean runs and he’s super consistent. I watched him in practice and had a game plan going in. We ran a more aggressive setup so I could maintain proximity with him. I didn’t want to let him run away.”
Matta put on a smokeshow in his battle against Mesker’s BMW, but it was the German with the nod in the last battle of top eight.
“I had already tandem’d with him in practice, and I stuck it to his door in practice so I wasn’t super worried about it,” Mesker said. “He tried to pull some V8 tricks in practice. I was rolling up to the initiation cones still in first and so I just put it into third and clutch kicked it, let him get about 50 feet in front, and then I clutch kicked it and caught up to him.”
Quatmann’s SC was up against Kelly’s FC in the first match of the final four, with the Lexus moving on to the finals.
“Totally didn’t expect to meet Stu,” Quatmann said. “I know he’s got that new setup and I know that’s been a lot of issues for him but he’s been phenomenal all weekend. For starting with a car that was just a turbo rotary and is now LS turbo is a big jump.”
Perhaps the most intense battle of the day was the final four match between Nerren and Mesker, with Nerren ultimately being decided the victor.
“I went back and reviewed a video from a guy who took it and it could have gone either way,” Nerren said. “On my second run I jumped on him from the start. He was probably my hardest competitor all day. His car was quick, he had angle and good lines, and top four was hardest I drove my car. I had to drive it 100%.”
Unlike Formula Drift, MDU still has third place decided by a battle, which in this instance saw Mesker emerge with bronze.
“We were working all the way up to 5 p.m. Friday to get the car ready, then we loaded it up on the trailer and headed out about 8 and didn’t get in until about 3 a.m.,” Mesker said. “The car was running really great all day, and it was the first event where its finally never broken. I just kept driving how I drive and went as hard as I could. My lead runs I’m never really worried about, that’s just easy stuff. Overall I think it was a great event. It was super close between me and first place but he ended up getting it because he followed just slightly closer.”
Mesker’s third place finish set the stage for the final battle between Nerren, who had never competed in MDU before, and Quatmann, who has competed for years but never saw a podium.
“When I went against Nerren I was pretty sure I didn’t hold a candle to him,” Quatmann said. “I hoped I could run as wide of line as I possibly could and hit every clip as close as I could and hope he wasn’t expecting that with me being underpowered. He followed me every point. He did a phenomenal job of following, especially following such an underpowered car. This track is really good for lower powered cars as long as you’re willing to throw it in and commit to it.”
“He was a little bit slower around the course, and he had good lines and was difficult to follow,” Nerren said. “I had to use every tool I had in my toolbox. I was having to really drive the car just because I was in a quicker car to not overdrive it while maintaining a good line following him.”
Nerren’s victory came as a relief after having a low qualifying score.
“I’ve never driven this series at all, and to get a win after qualifying 15th I was very pumped on it,” Nerren said. “Me and my whole team couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Nerren leads the points bracket going into Detroit, though he said it’s still up in the air whether his other commitment to U.S. Drift, which has an event the same day, will allow him to be at the now iconic event.