Tomorrow kicks off round one of the 2017 Midwest Drift Union championship series at Gateway Motorsports Park, where some familiar faces and some new drivers to the series will be fighting it out to earn their Formula Drift Pro 2 licenses at the conclusion of the season.
In 2015, Dirk Stratton became the first MDU driver to win the championship without a podium finish, and Alec Robbins became the first driver to not only compete in the series in a truck, but take the championship as well the following year. We caught up with our former champions during their Pro 2 competition at Formula Drift Atlanta.
MDU: You finished fifth here at Atlanta. Where does that set you up going forward?
Stratton: That puts me at sixth overall on the season so far. We’re in a good position. Anything can happen, things change super quick. As we know from my experience at MDU, you don’t necessarily have to win every event to win the championship. We’re in the running for the championship and that’s what we’re here for.
MDU: What all changes have been made to the Drift Vette since we saw you here last year?
Stratton: This year, we didn’t want to do any major changes because I was comfortable in the car and it worked well. I just wanted to do minor upgrades here and there. With the addition of the Pro 2 rules with the 255 tire, we didn’t want to go crazy on power because it will just make it harder to control. We had a little refresh on the engine, Lingenfelter Performance did that for us. We’re running at 14:1 compression this year with a bigger cam, putting about 600HP to the rear wheels. We went with a PPG sequential gearbox with straight cut gears this year, and a new McLeod twin disc race clutch that’s a little bit lighter. We’re also using a Haltech ECU so we can control shift cut for our transmission. MTI Racing hooked us up with a carbon roof to shed a little bit of weight, and we did a carbon hatch to take a little bit more off, so nothing too crazy. Other than that, we got STR wheels on this year for a new look, and Oracle lights has us hooked up too to get this thing looking as good as possible.
MDU: How did that rain on Friday affect your qualifying passes?
Stratton: In practice, we still had some pretty damp spots on the track, especially at the bottom of the hill during initiation. I figured out how to get through it smoothly, but by the time we get into top sixteen it’s drying up, so the surfaces became more inconsistent. It was a constant battle trying to figure out how much throttle and speed I needed, and that was really the only thing I was dealing with mentally. The other thing is with the painted rumble strips. When they’re wet, they’re super slick. You touch those rumble strips and it’s an instant loss of traction.
MDU: How much more comfortable are you this year now that you’re in your second year of Pro 2?
Stratton: This was my first Pro 2 event last year, and to come from that and I felt so uncomfortable on this track. Now I’ve been here before, it’s not my first FD event, I feel comfortable with everybody and the whole program. Plus, the car feels so much better after a whole season of driving.
MDU: Any plans to run any other events outside of Pro 2?
Stratton: I’m not going to compete in pro am, but I plan to attend Lake Erie at MDU and so some practice laps, hang out, talk with some of the other drivers and if anyone needs help, we’ll be there. Otherwise, we’ll just hang out and watch the competition. Same thing with the M1 Concourse, where we’ll try to get some practice runs in.
While 2017 marks Stratton’s second go-round in Pro 2, our most recent champion was experiencing the next level of drifting for the first time and in a new car.
MDU: What did you think of your first major Formula Drift outing?
Robbins: It was awesome and this track is super fun. I had a couple of super fun battles with Danny George and Matt Vankirk, who are both awesome drivers and it’s super fun driving with them. We’d been making changes to the car all weekend. Wednesday was actually my first time ever really driving the car. We had some problems in Orlando and got everything sorted out. Orlando was the first Formula Drift I’d ever been to, but this was the first I’d actually driven. We made a couple passes in Orlando but the car was on four cylinders and it wasn’t working. This was the first time really driving an FD event.
MDU: Is this the same 350Z that started as a burn victim?
Robbins: This is a different car. Me and Koru got connected and setup late coming into the season. My car was not going to be finished for the beginning of the season so we got in contact with them. Nick Swann and Gregg Bucell helped hook us up and set everything up. They’re (Koru) a super cool team, and we’re super pumped to be working with them. They know everyone out here and set us up on a good path for the season.
MDU: What’s it like sitting on grid here in Atlanta for the first time? And how did the rain Friday affect your driving?
Robbins: It’s crazy. It looks so much different from up there than sitting down here and watching videos. Sitting on grid, looking over the dash of the car you can’t see down the hill it’s so steep. It’s so fun though. The track is super technical and it’s weird to get dialed in the first time. That first corner is a lot sharper than you’d expect it to be, but it sets you up for the rest of the course, so really getting that down for me was the biggest thing. Obviously practice was all dry and coming into top sixteen practice the track was wet. We made a gearing change going into top sixteen, and it worked great in the rain. Then after the top sixteen bracket when I went against Vankirk, the track seemed to have dried up a lot and gripped up a whole bunch and I straightened, which messed us up.
MDU: What other events are you running this year?
Robbins: We won’t be doing Washington, but we’re planning on running the Southeast Drift Union series. We’ll get the car dialed in, run hard out there and come out swinging in Texas.
MDU: If the Hardbody you won the MDU championship with was FD legal, would you have kept going with it?
Robbins: I don’t know if the truck would be competitive to be honest. It’s a whole other step up here. It’s crazy the amount of grip and power some of these guys are running. It’s nice to come to a platform that we can actually improve upon and make super competitive at the pro level. It’s nice to switch it up a little bit. It’s an awesome chassis and once we get it dialed in it’s gonna shred hard.