The Midwest Drift Union saw its 2015 championship series draw to a close last weekend at Gateway Motorsports Complex, with nearly ten drivers in legitimate contention for a Formula Drift Pro 2 license coming into the final round.
As the drivers settled in for the final meeting of the year, only 11 points separated the third through seventh spot in the points, making the importance of scoring well at this round even more critical as drivers attempted to snag a Pro 2 license for 2016.
Sitting in that seventh spot was Rob Carlsen, who joined the MDU series at Streets of Detroit. One would have never guessed it was his first time at Gateway by the way he flat out slayed his first run.
Nick Thomas is no stranger to Gateway, and moreover, not a stranger to things going awry here. Coming into round four in sixth place, a podium finish would help his chances of earning the license.
Another Gateway virgin, Riley Sexsmith came into the final round sitting in fifth after a victory at Streets of Detroit and a top eight finish at Street Life Tour.
After a strong second place finish at Streets of Detroit and sitting fourth in points, Shane Whalley ran into a myriad of problems at Street Life Tour, and even more at Gateway. A valiant effort by his team, Tuner Tools, got the car sorted out enough to make it to qualifying, but unfortunately for Whalley, he wouldn’t make the cut of sixteen.
Andrew Lewis came into the final round sitting in third after a third place finish at Street Life Tour, where he also cooked the engine in his red S13. Instead of just throwing in the towel, Lewis borrowed a car for the event to try and hang on to his place in the rankings.
An eight point gap separated Lewis and Feiock after Street Life Tour, where Feiock took the overall victory. The inaugural MDU champion back in 2010, Feiock was hoping for the chance to claim another title.
To do that, something catastrophic would need to happen to Dirk Stratton, who sat 19 points ahead of Feiock in first place despite having never been on the podium throughout the 2015 season. After piloting an S13 at round one, Stratton showed up to Detroit in a C6 Corvette and has become a crowd favorite and Internet sensation.
With such a dogfight between those drivers mentioned above, it was Hooman Rahimi, sitting way back in 31st, who nabbed the number one qualifying spot.
Top sixteen got started with Rahimi knocking out Dustin Reeh’s Camaro, followed by Rolando Alfaro and his 350Z knocking out last year’s inaugural State of Drift champion, Stephen White.
An ironic twist befell the next match between Charlie Quatmann and Riley Sexsmith. Quatmann, who is almost always on hand with a tire machine to help other drivers change tires, ended up running out of tires himself.
“I started with a lead run and I knew it was super unfair,” Sexsmith said. “That car’s (Quatmann) got a stock motor. He knew it going in and I guess he ran out of tires and didn’t have anymore. Poor guy’s changing tires and he didn’t have any for himself somehow. I don’t like to advance that way, but I made it on.”
Matt Lynch laid down a set of impressive runs to advance past Devin Callahan.
Getting their chance at a rematch from Street Life Tour, Dirk Stratton and Mike Feiock battled it out next. This time, Stratton and the Vette got the win.
Steven Fishel took out Bobby Reim to advance on to top eight.
Rob Carlsen stayed on Steve Topping’s bumper for his follow run and laid down a blistering lead run, allowing him to advance to the next round.
Rounding out the last match of top sixteen, Nick Thomas defeated Andrew Lewis, who was driving a borrowed car.
“He’s a seasoned driver and I’ve driven with him a lot,” Thomas said of Lewis. “I was nervous because he wasn’t in his car. I didn’t watch him at all during the day which was a mistake on my behalf so I didn’t know what to expect. I tried to play it as safely as I could, not that I was trying to sand bag, but trying to play it smart. He ended up hooking up and straightening on his lead run so I just took off and ran it and everybody said I had a slight advantage and had a conservative follow run and that advanced us to the top eight.”
The first match of top eight would see the pairing of two 350Zs. Ultimately, it would be Rahimi’s making it to the final four in one of the few battles where drivers stayed close to each other.
“I felt like we were right next to each other the whole way,” Rahimi said. “I don’t really know what decided the win or not but I’ll take it.”
Sexsmith and Lynch squared off next, with Lynch having to bow out due to engine trouble.
“I chased first and he just drove away from me,” Sexsmith said. “That car’s really fast. I thought even with a really good lead run he might have it. However, coming off the track he pulled into the pits and I didn’t know what happened. Later I found out his motor lost all oil pressure. Fortunately nothing broke, but he had to call it. Two in a row I advanced without doing anything spectacular.”
Fishel would then put away Stratton’s Corvette to secure the his spot in top four.
To round out the last match of top eight, Thomas defeated Carlsen when the latter spun on his follow run.
“To say the least I was definitely going to put it down as best as I could,” Thomas said. “As anyone that’s been here that’s seen his driving, it’s very amazing and pretty consistent. It’s loud, it’s fast, it’s big angle. I was a little nervous going into that and it’s one of the first times all year I’ve had to drive by feel instead of sight. When we initiated through the chicane it was a white out. I drove through the smoke and I promise you I thought I was going to jump the rumble strip, but when I came out of the smoke I happened to be mid-line on the track and just held on to it and kept going. He ended up spinning following us.”
Rahimi and Sexsmith would battle for a spot in the finals, with Rahimi getting the nod over the Canadian.
“I think it’s his first year with this setup and he’s doing really well,” Sexsmith said. “I made a mistake chasing him. I straightened going off of the long straightaway section, which was my mistake. He had a flawless chase run on both of our one more times. He got the win and he deserved it.”
Thomas then battled Fishel for the remaining spot, with Thomas’ S14 heading to the finals before falling to Rahimi in the final match. Still, Thomas said this was the experience he’s so far been denied at this track.
“It was finally some redemption over the years,” Thomas said of his second place finish. “I think every year I’ve came here, I’ve blown a motor, blown a diff or blown something else, and the planets finally aligned and we got on the podium. We qualified second and finished second, and one of my best friends from Nashville qualified first and finished first. The day couldn’t have ended on a better note for us.”
The clean sweep wasn’t enough to bump Rahimi up enough in points to earn a Pro 2 license, but it did move him up to eighth. Rahimi is taking a final stab at the license in the final two rounds, a double header, of the Streetwise Drift pro-am series.
“I’m hoping to do a double first place I can swing a third place Pro 2 license, but I’m not sure exactly how the points will work out but I think I have a shot,” Rahimi said. “It’s a long shot, but I’ll go for it and if I get a Pro 2 license I’ll see what I can do with that. I’ll definitely run pro-am next year.”
As for Thomas and Sexsmith, their second and third place (respectively) finishes were enough to bump them up in points to finish in those same places in the final standings and earn their Pro 2 licenses.
Sexsmith’s plans for 2016 reflect his exploits this year.
“(I’ll run) maybe another season of MDU and Formula D Canada,” Sexsmith said. “We’ll build the motor for a little more power. Up against really fast guys at the world round a while back, it was really hard to keep up. The suspension is working fine so we’ll just leave it.”
As for Thomas’ plans for next year, he said he’s got a plan in the works for a Pro 2 program.
“The car is still working so if there are more events in the southeast or that aren’t too far we’ll definitely be making those just to get some more seat time,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a pretty strong platform developing for Pro 2, a new chassis that we’re going to debut and have a solid, packed program for next year and really go out guns slinging.”
Despite bowing out in top eight, Stratton secured the championship and a Pro 2 license. Watch for an upcoming feature on his road to the championship in the near future.