The Midwest Drift Union returned to its Indianapolis home base last weekend to host round three of its Formula D pro-am competition. With a completely different track layout than last year at Lucas Oil Raceway, the playing field was leveled so that no driver had an advantage, leading to close competition and several wall taps and collisions.
Last year, the competition was held on the inside of the main track, but with the Richard Petty Racing Experience spectacle happening on the circle track on the same day, MDU moved the event to the parking lot, the first time the organization had ever done so. Head of MDU, Edgar Sarmiento, weighed in.
“They allowed us to build our own track and do our thing,” he said. “And I think it worked out. I think maybe we found a new recipe for our pro-am, and a new layout that we liked.”
There were lots of familiar faces, like Brian Waggoner, who qualified and finished fourteenth…
…Tyson Schmidt, who qualified eighth and finished seventh…
…and Cody Grim, who qualified and finished tenth.
In addition, there were some new faces as well.
The only four door competitor was Leon Borden. It was his first time driving either an MDU or a pro-am event, but Borden said it felt just like driving back in Memphis.
“I made it up to Indianapolis expecting a tough competition with a lot of very talented drivers, and I wasn’t let down,” Borden, the sole Alabamian driver said. “What I didn’t expect was to meet a group of guys who treated me as if I were a local, and had been driving with them for years. It was incredible to be in an environment where every driver and every staff member were pushing one another to improve each run.”
Borden had a couple wall impacts with the back of the Cressida, but he simply brushed them off and kept going. His sticker placement was just perfect for this:
“It was so nice to be surrounded by a group of people who weren’t complacent with their skill level,” Borden said. “I really fed off that, and just being there was enough to let me grow as a driver.”
Coming from Alabama was a long haul, but it still doesn’t match the multi-day drive experienced by MDU’s only Canadian driver, Chris Gonzalez. Unfortunately, many snags would be had along the way.
He had left on Thursday to try out some new knuckles in Minneapolis, where he blew his engine after two test runs. After throwing up a post on Facebook that he was desperately looking for a motor, the guys at MAPerformance came to the rescue with an LM7 (5.3 liter iron block GM truck engine) to drop in his S14. After his mechanic Garret Werstiuk worked overnight to get everything in order, there was a 30-second test drive before the car was loaded on a trailer and bound for Indianapolis.
“All day we had nothing but issues,” Gonzalez said. “The car was running at like 270 for temps and pissing oil everywhere, so Garret was on it all day. The motor was about 200 horsepower less than what I’ve normally got, so I was at first worried, but I felt really comfortable with the motor. The MDU guys were super nice about it, and let me do three practice runs before qualifying, and that helped out a ton.”
He ended up qualifying twelfth and made it to top eight to face Geoff Stoneback, but on his follow run, Gonzalez smashed the wall and ended his day. Despite the early end and problems, Gonzalez had nothing but praise for the new layout.
“At first I was kinda bummed, because last year the Indy track was probably my favorite track ever,” he said. “But this layout that they did was awesome. It was fast, full throttle all the way through, and was still technical. This is probably my favorite course layout that we’ve ever run.”
Stoneback was a new face to the MDU series, qualifying and finishing in fourth. His LS1-powered S14, pushing around 380 horsepower, was a force to be reckoned with.
“I wish I did a little bit better, but I had fun, and I enjoyed the 13 hour drive,” Stoneback said.
Stoneback said he had met some of the MDU drivers at East Coast Bash, and wanted to come back and hang out and drive with them.
“It was different coming out to a different event,” Stoneback said. “It’s always good to drive with a different group of people, different tracks and making good friends.”
Scoring his first podium finish of the 2012 season was Bill “Highlife” Cook, who has finished the Indiana round in second place last year.
“For the first time in a long time, I went out and just had fun, and I think it showed,” Cook said.
Cook had battled mechanical gremlins at round two, but was able to overcome them on Saturday thanks to his pit crew.
“I showed up to the event and spent about two hours this morning working on the car,” Cook said. “We didn’t have the same issues, but it was still breaking up on the top end. My pit crew did an awesome job. Got the magnetic pickup changed and put a set of plugs in it, got it cleaned up and it ran great the rest of the day. I couldn’t have done it without the great guys. They kept the engine cool between runs because it was getting hot.”
Last year, on the final run against Brian Peter, cook slammed sideways into a k-rail (shown above), doing significant damage to his car. This year, he escaped with only minor aero damage.
“For the first time, I’m going home with an un-broke car,” Cook said. “That means I might show up to an event with a car that runs, and that might be a good thing. Better than leaving here last year with the car shaped like a ‘V.’”
Having driven the other layout last year, Cook, shown here in tandem with Keith Carlos’ LS-powered 350Z, said the parking lot setup allowed him to stay in third gear longer.
“It’s comparable speed, but you stay in third gear a lot longer,” he said. “On the track, it was a wall ride, then you had to really brake because you were going down the embankment, versus here where it’s all flat, so you can really hold the throttle a lot longer and just scrub a bunch of speed when you go to transition.”
Qualifying seventh and bringing home second place was Dustin Pizzino, who also had his share of car issues.
“The thing is ready to blow up,” Pizzino said of his S14. “There’s a major oil leak coming from the car. I feel really bad – Bill Cook said when he was following me that he got sprayed with oil, limiting his visibility and giving him a hard follow. He spun in front of me and I think that’s what guaranteed the win a little more than his follow run.”
Below, one can see how much oily smoke that leak was causing.
Despite the issues, Pizzino said Saturday’s event was “amazing,” and that he loved getting to tandem with the other drivers.
“The people that I went up against today is like, I’ve been looking forward to going up against each and every one of these drivers,” Pizzino said. “Bill Cook, Mike Pollard, got to go against Cody Grim. I was brought up drifting and watching these guys and wanting to compete with them. And now, here today to finish second and to go against all of them made it an awesome day.”
Pizzino said he had been looking forward to coming back to try and conquer last year’s course, where he failed to place.
“This is one hundred percent better in my eyes,” Pizzino said. “It’s not as tricky and it means a lot of close tandems. It’s a lot more open. It was difficult coming down off the bank. Either one’s just as challenging, but I love doing something new, not the same thing that everyone’s used to.”
Finishing first for the second time this season and expanding his series points lead was “Magic” Mike Pollard.
“Today was tons of fun,” Pollard said. “I’m just glad to keep this streak going. I just want to keep this momentum going until the end of the season.”
Pollard, who now leads Pizzino 143-100, said he might have had to end the day early due to almost running out of tires.
“This asphalt was eating tires,” he said. “I was on two new ones and the rest were scrubs. The last battle was my last set of tires so I would have been out after that.”
Pollard had been involved in an early tandem pileup, though he only suffered minor aero damage from a small collision with Tyson Schmidt. The damage can be seen on the driver’s side door in this photo…
…and Tyson’s end of the damage here:
“My new theory is I don’t do group tandems with people that I really don’t know, and I don’t like to be in the middle,” Pollard said, not referring to Schmidt, who he has done tandem with many times before. “I like to be in the front or back, because I can usually avoid incidents and that’s kind of what happened. Guy spun in front of me, I spun and stopped to avoid him, then the guy right behind me came and hit me and bumped me into him and did damage on both sides of the car. After realizing my fenders weren’t broken and just fell off, I wasn’t upset about it at all – I just got riled up for a second.”
Pollard said driving in a parking lot with a k-rail wall is somewhat different than driving on an open track.
“The thing you get when you have a course set up with k-rails is that you get corners that might not flow the right way, or you get k-rails that might change lines where they want you to drive, so it leaves a big spectrum of where guys can drive,” he said. “It kind of gives you a bigger area to have to follow people instead of having a set course where people can drop tires and then get deducted, so it’s kind of open, but there’s so little room for error because of those k-rails.”
The final round of MDU competition will be in Xenia, Ohio on September 15 during Street Life Tour.
“Awesome time, awesome weather here in Indy,” Sarmiento said. “It really opens our eyes to where we come from. I think Indianapolis is going to be home to a lot of drifting in the next year. We’ll see everyone at Street Life Tour next month to see who will be crowned champion.”
1. Mike Pollard 143
2. Dustin Pizzino 100
3. Tyson Schmidt 87
Bill Cook 65
Jake Maturen 59
Andrew Lewis 52
Cody Grim 49
Chris Gonzalez 45
Chris Conley 39
Ryan Nalezyty 39
Troy Manners 39
Cody Tobe 36
Shane Walley 36
Geoff Stoneback 35
Michael Tung 33
Devin Callahan 31
Brian Vrchoticky 29
Keith Carlos 29
Chad Fisher 25
Brian Waggoner 24
Derek King 23
Henry Russo 20
Anthony Covey 12
Peter Chriskopoulos 9
Derek Bianski 6
Adam Ouziel 5
Hooman Rahimi 1