Two years after the final running of the extremely popular Streets of Detroit event on public roads in front of Michigan Central Station in Detroit, Midwest Drift Union returned to the Great Lakes State just north of Motor City to the brand new M1 Concourse in Pontiac for its second round of the 2017 season. Though the Streets event is now but a memory (and a fantastic one at that), fifteen drivers took part in the very first drift event held at the new facility, which sits smack in the middle of a residential area. This was not the first time the series has helped put on a drift event for the first time at a new track, as it teamed up with U.S. Drift last year for a joint season finale at Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, Virginia.
Prior to the first car hitting the track for the one-run-group practice session, staff and track officials went over the layout and what to expect.
Next, everyone loaded up in trucks for a quick field trip around the course layout. The track is only about 30-feet wide, but the surface was so smooth many drivers ran the entire event on just a pair or two of tires.
The portion of M1 Concourse used for the drifting competition is a long, sweeping section that favors drivers with higher-powered cars, especially during the uphill section including a manji that ends in a right 90-degree turn.
After suffering a crash at round one which left his trademark GTO a total loss, Shane Whalley was back at this round piloting a re-worked FC which used to belong to another MDU competitor, Stu Kelly. The engine, transmission and other bits of the GTO live on under the shell of the RX-7, which was wrapped up in a livery harking back to when the GTO first debuted in MDU several years back.
Jonathan Hurst experienced a similar yet less severe crash at Gateway in nearly the same spot as Whalley, but with his 350Z largely unharmed, was back in action without missing a beat.
Dylan Sharpe, who last paid visit to MDU during Streets of Detroit in 2015, was laying down some solid runs during practice in his super clean S15.
Fresh off a weekend at No-Star Bash, Gus Gedas wasted no time putting in some fast, smokey runs early on.
After a very strong showing at round one, Garrett Denton was back for more and hungry for a win.
After the practice session was over and before qualifying began, three former Midwest Drift Union veteran powerhouses, Mike Skudlarek, Andrew Lewis and Dirk Stratton, put on a smoke show for the crowd.
Between the drift demo and qualifying, a storm rolled through the area threatening attendees with 40+ mph winds and golf ball sized hail. Though the wind and hail eluded the track, a brief, heavy downpour changed the track surface just before qualifying. Thankfully, the track dried very quickly, limiting its impact on the competition.
With so few drivers and the possibility of multiple by-runs to maintain a top sixteen bracket, the decision was made before qualifying that competition would go directly to the top eight. The first battle was between Sharpe and Denton, with Denton and his silver 2JZ-swapped S13 getting the nod to advance to the final four.
In a re-match from round one between Hurst and Michaels, the latter turned the tables in top eight and defeated the orange 350Z of Hurst.
“We qualified fifth, but were hoping for top three so we could get a little bit better battle,” Michaels said. “But I got to go against Hurst again. He knocked me out in St. Louis so it was good to get the win over him.”
In the second half of the already halved bracket, Whalley’s FC, now sporting its temporary rain shield, held its own but the E46 of Nikov would get the go-ahead from the judges to advance on.
This set the final top eight match between Donati and Huppert, with Huppert’s SC being knocked out to advance Donati to the next round.
Donati’s win pitted him against Nikov in the final four, where he would win the battle against the BMW and find himself in the finals once again.
With Denton just missing the mark on the five-minute rule to make some quick repairs rendering him unable to get back on track, Nikov would take home his first podium finish in MDU competition with the bronze. Nikov has been driving the series for three years now, starting out in 2015 with the same car, though it had an automatic transmission and much less power at the time.
“It felt amazing when we lined up in front of the crowd and everyone was cheering,” Nikov said. “It felt incredible, better than I was expecting. The car finally has good power and is not breaking, so I can’t use that as an excuse this year.”
His E46 retains the original S54 engine, topped with a supercharger and feeds power to the wheels through a five-speed manual out of an E36 M3. Unlike some other drivers, Nikov’s only mechanical issue was a blown fan fuse, which was quickly replaced and made for an otherwise worry-free day.
This brought the final pairing to Michaels and Donati, with the round one champ bringing home his second first place finish this year.
“It feels amazing, we really had to fight for this one,” Donati said. “It’s definitely a power track and you really have to drive one hundred percent. I love being able to drive my car as hard as possible and to the very limit, so this track suited me well.”
At round one, Donati encountered axle problems which came back to haunt him again at round two. He snapped the axles during a burnout before his first run, swapped them out, then broke another simply driving to grid. On top of the axle issue, his cam sensor was malfunctioning, leading to lower power output.
“I think at Gateway we had a different issue (with the axles) that masked the fact that the parts store axles were just bad quality,” Donati added. “I think I’m going to get upgraded aftermarket ones or go to the junkyard and get OEM ones.”
As for runner-up Michaels, who made his MDU debut last year at round two and won, his car performed largely without incident, save for a minor issue with an intercooler pipe coupler.
“It’s about time,” Michaels said on making it back to the podium. “There was a lot of competition, not in the number of drivers, but in the quality of the competition here.
On the track configuration change, Michaels said that although only a handful of drivers preferred the earlier, faster layout, he conceded in the end it was for the best.
“Even I was a little iffy about getting it down and being able to fly down from 70 miles per hour to 15 to make that hairpin,” Michaels said, noting that his recent sponsorship acquisition by Torqstorm superchargers included a hookup with one of those very products, bumping him up about 100 horsepower to 480 at the wheels. The new setup is based around the GM 5.3L mated to a T56 compared to the LS1 with a cam and Z32 transmission from last year.
Midwest Drift Union will host round three at Lake Erie Speedway in North East, Pennsylvania on August 12.