Venturing eastward into uncharted territory, Midwest Drift Union joined forces with U.S. Drift to host the first ever drift event at the brand new Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, Virginia last weekend. While each series ran its own competition so that there was no inter-series play to avoid any points confusion, both MDU and U.S. Drift concluded their 2016 seasons together, with each crowning a new champion and their respective drivers earning their 2017 Formula Drift Pro-2 licenses.
It was a balmy 44 degrees when the gates opened and load in/tech inspection began.
Despite being the season finale, only a handful of MDU drivers turned up, with distance being the biggest factor. Everyone in contention for the championship was on hand, however, and Riley Sexsmith, who’s been a semi-regular at our events over the last couple years, drove in from Canada to throw down.
Being at an all new track meant no driver had an advantage coming in, and drivers spent the morning practice session getting a feel for the long, windy course. According to one track official, the surface coat alone was around $2.5 million, and drivers were told to try their hardest not to damage it.
Despite being still partially under construction, the track was by far the most scenic the series has ever visited, helped by the array of vibrant fall colors in the surrounding woods.
After suffering a major crash at round three just one month ago, Matt Lynch had his S13 back together for round four. Despite his best efforts, the car just wasn’t behaving how he wanted and didn’t make the competition.
Though there were a few wall taps and the dirt drops were plentiful, Frederick St. Hilaire took the worst damage, causing him to end up in the hospital after the impact shoved his clutch pedal beneath that of the brake and injuring his foot. He returned later that day on crutches, but needless to say, didn’t, and couldn’t, continue on.
Shane Whalley also ended his day early, having to bow out before competition due to engine problems. With so few drivers, the decision was made to go straight to a top eight.
Alec Robbins, who went into round four tied with Mike Feiock for first, got an automatic entry into the final four after Whalley’s aforementioned problems rendered him unable to compete.
Feiock grabbed the top qualifying spot, where he took the win over the S13 of Drew Meyer.
In the very hard fought battle between Sexsmith and Hooman Rahimi, the 2JZ-powered Subaru took out the LS-powered 350Z in the former’s late debut to the 2016 MDU season.
Also making a late MDU debut was Tom Snyder, who was knocked out of top eight by ROTY contender Geoff Donati.
Moving right into final four Robbins took the truck to a win over Donati’s S14.
“I haven’t got to drive against him much this year except for at Gateway where I beat him, but he’d been driving fast as he always does,” Donati said. “The problem I ran into was the sun and the smoke getting lost in the smoke and he ran into the same problems on the follow run. We both had pretty messy follow runs but they gave him the win.”
In Sexsmith’s battle against Feiock, Feiock’s intercooler coupler decided to end its relationship with, well, the intercooler, causing his first pass to more or less resemble autocross. Feiock called a five minute time out and got the car back to the line without a second to spare, but Sexsmith would ultimately walk away with that win.
“I don’t like to advance that way, but it made it where I only had to do a lead run,” Sexsmith said. “He’s a really good driver and I like chasing him.”
Feiock and Donati returned to battle for third, but a mistake on Feiock’s gave the win to Donati.
“We both agreed just to go out and have fun, and didn’t care about points or who won, just go out and have a good time putting on a show for everybody,” Donati said. “We have fun driving against each other. He lead first, I tried to stay on him as much as I could, but he was going crazy fast and happened to over shoot on the sweeper so I was able to keep it together and lay down a score for that run. My lead run I went for a qualifying run, hit my clips and took the win on that.”
Donati’s third place finish put him just two points shy of a Pro 2 license, but he said the 2016 season turned out better than he ever expected.
“This season has been beyond any fathom of expectations I possibly could have had for drifting,” he said. “Coming into round one I thought, maybe if I could qualify once or twice this season that would be cool and prove I was good enough to drive pro-am. I realized I was a more competitive driver and overall this has probably been the best year of my life because of drifting. I’ve met so many amazing people and I feel like MDU is just one big family. I love coming to these events and driving with these guys. Yeah it’s a competition, but at the end of the day it’s just so much fun to compete with guys that are really good and push you to do your best. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
The final match was now set between two drivers who had known each other for years without ever having met. Sexsmith and Robbins met years ago on a Hardbody forum, and Sexsmith said he’d wanted to drive against Robbins from the time he learned he’d be competing in MDU.
“It was the first time we met and I was so excited,” Sexsmith said. “When I found out he was doing MDU, I said, ‘I really want to have a battle with him some day.’ It just brings back all the memories when I used to drive my truck, and it was so cool to go up against him. He was joking and asked if I wanted to trade cars for this and I was like, ‘yes, 100% I do, please let’s trade I want to drive that truck so bad.”
In the end, Sexsmith took out his Hardbody friend to take the win.
“I just wanted to come out and have fun today, and I think that helped,” Sexsmith said. “If I focus too much on doing well, I usually to terrible. When I come out and say ‘I don’t care,’ I do well. I always like going to a new track where I know nobody has an advantage at all, except for people who adapt quickly. The flow is really good, the surface is really nice and I enjoyed it.”
As an added bonus, the winners of both the MDU and U.S. Drift brackets would square off against each other to see who would win their weight in Smart Mouth beer. In the end, it was Austin Meeks on the U.S. Drift side who would take home the liquid gold.
Despite the second place finish, Robbins edged Feiock by five points to secure the 2016 MDU championship and the Pro 2 license that goes along with it.
“We came into round one with hopes to qualify,” Robbins said. “We had never driven with really any of these guys, but coming in with a pick-up, we did better than we ever expected to do. We’re hopeful for Pro 2, and we have no solid set in stone plan. We’ll definitely try, depending on what kind of help we get and what kind of car we end up going with. There’s a lot of ‘if’s.’ If we don’t have a Pro 2 car, we’ll be back here for sure.”
Feiock, with that second place finish, also secured a Pro 2 license for 2017.
Only two points separated the third and fourth place finishers, where it was Rahimi who edge Donati to be the third and final driver to secure his Pro 2 license for 2017.
And with that, the 2016 season comes to a VERY close close. Watch for season recaps of our Pro 2 license winners in the coming weeks as we find out what their plans are for the 2017 season.