With new faces, new cars and new stops throughout the 2017 championship season, three drivers emerged with their Pro 2 licenses for the 2018. After missing out on his Pro 2 license by a single point in 2016, Geoff Donati was no doubt ready to not let that happen again. Garrett Denton debuted a new build which found much success, and Jonathan Hurst came out with perhaps the most powerful car to compete in the history of the series. Join us as we look back on the season that saw these drivers emerge as the newest class of MDU competitors to have a chance to enter Pro 2.
Garrett Denton, debuting a fresh build for 2017, showed what the 2JZ-motivated S13 could do by earning the top qualifying spot. This gave him a free pass to top eight as a top sixteen bracket couldn’t be run with the low driver turnout. He would move into the final four having defeated Brett McNamara’s G35 in top eight.
Donati was right behind him, qualifying second, and also scoring the free pass to top eight. He’d defeat Dustin Reeh’s Camaro to get into the final four.
Hurst qualified just behind Donati, but would need to go into battle to earn his spot in the final four. Having defeated Noah Michaels in their pairing, he would find himself in contention for a podium finish.
Fresh off his victory over Michaels, Donati and Hurst would find themselves in a colorful battle. However, trouble arose during Hurst’s lead run.
The 350Z dropped tires in the wet grass, shooting the car into the wall on the outside of the sweeper.
“I was pushing it really hard and had a lot of grip in the car, and the driver rear tire dropped off a bit and sucked me right off the track and into the grass,” Hurst said. “There’s no slowing you down. I didn’t want to hit with the front of my car so I ripped the hand brake and turned it backward. I think that’s the only thing that saved me.”
After a nearly identical situation happened between Donati and Whalley in their final four pairing, Denton and Donati found themselves in the finals where Donati would ultimately get the win. With Whalley’s car unable to go against Hurst in the consolation battle for third, Hurst took home the bronze.
This put the top three qualifiers on the podium, setting the stage for a similar scene throughout the rest of the season.
“It feels amazing,” Donati, who finished third at Gateway last year during round one said of his win. “The biggest difference between last year is that my car didn’t work all day. I broke parts, didn’t have spare parts, but found parts. I have spare parts at home, but they missed the boat out here to St. Louis. My amazing girlfriend actually ran 30 minutes away to get me some axles and a couple other amazing people dropped off some spares, so when we got going, we got less than 10 practice laps in total but it worked out.”
The series made its next stop at the brand new M1 Concourse in Pontiac, MI for round two, and once again, the competition bracket began at top eight. Denton defeated Dylan Sharpe in their pairing to advance the silver S13 to the final four.
Hurst and Michaels met for a re-match from Gateway, but this time, Michaels knocked out the 350Z and Hurst’s day ended there.
Having defeated Connor Hupper’s SC in top eight, Donati continued his way to the top by defeating Dan Nikov in final four. Denton was to go against Nikov in the battle for third, but Denton called a five minute competition timeout prior to, just missing the time cutoff and therefore awarding Nikov bronze.
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.”
Denton would redeem himself at Lake Erie Speedway, repeating his round one performance of grabbing the top qualifying spot.
Once again, competition began in top eight, with Denton taking his first win over Shane Whalley’s FC.
Hurst and Nikov, each with a third place finish under the belts so far, met in top eight with Hurst ultimately moving on.
With a win over Allen Boss’ 350Z, Donati once again found himself in the final four.
Denton drew Derek Madison in the semifinals, taking the win to advance to the final battle.
Donati and Hurst once again found themselves up against each other, and once again, Donati took the win to send Hurst to a battle for third against Madison.
Ultimately, Madison secured his first podium finish knocking out Hurst, which placed the latter in a close points position with Nikov.
It was a round one rematch in the finals between Donati and Denton, where a missed shift on Denton’s part helped secure Donati’s third win of the season.
“It definitely feels good to be back on the podium,” Denton said. “We’re glad we got the car finally to stay in one piece, as that didn’t happen first or second round. I really wish we could have done a little better in the final against Geoff. I just missed a shift on my follow run and he go away from me. I couldn’t have asked more out of my car or crew, it just came down to me making a mistake at the end.”
With Donati once again taking home the gold, he further advanced his lead to 24 points over second-place Denton.
“I still can’t believe it,” Donati said of his hat trick. “There’s a lot of stuff that has to go right in a drift event, and for that to happen three times in a row just seems insane to me. Even stuff that isn’t in your control has to work in your favor, so it’s really just unbelievable.”
The final round marked the first top sixteen bracket ran the entire year, granted, it took five by-runs to get it there. Denton’s qualifying score earned him automatic entry into the great eight, while Hurst defeated Brandon Kutrovacz’s S13 to get there.
Donati also earned his place in quarterfinals when he took the win over Dan Perlenfein’s SC.
Denton’s 2JZ found itself against Hurst’s LS in their pairing, with Hurst developing a problem with his driver door not staying shut.
Fellow drivers and even Denton’s crew helped secure the door, which ultimately let to Hurst’s advancement into the semifinals.
Though Denton was out of the comp, his Pro 2 license was already secured.
Until his pairing with Michaels, Donati remained undefeated in the 2017 season. Despite falling to Michaels in their rematch of the round two finals, Donati had earned more than enough point to earn his license and clench the championship.
In his semifinal bout against MDU veteran Mike Feiock, Hurst would spin on his follow run and make heavy contact with the RX-8 on his lead, sending him to battle Donati yet again, this time for third.
In a sight all-too-familiar in 2017, Hurst and Donati laid down sets of blazing runs, but this time, Hurst would get the win and third place – narrowly earning his Pro 2 license in the process.
At the end of four hard-fought rounds, the round one podium finishers found themselves in the same order in championship points when the last of the smoke had settled.
“This is the greatest achievement of my life,” Donati said. “It’s insane. In 2013 I didn’t even know how to drive a stick, and here we are. I credit that to planning, a great team and a little bit of luck.”
“This was an amazing season,” Denton said. “I couldn’t have asked for more. We debuted basically a fresh build at the beginning of the year, so words can’t describe how amazing it really is. We definitely did not have the expectations to come out at the first of the year with new engine, suspension, drivetrain – basically new everything. And after a year and a half of not driving I was hoping to just podium on one event, and it just turned out amazing.”
“Everything going on in your head of how things have to work out to get your license, then getting in a big crash because I hadn’t been in one like that yet, and going to the podium to day was just huge,” Hurst said. “We’re going to fix what we have now and run a couple more events this year for fun, then start stripping it down and try to compete in Pro 2 next year.”
Once again, all of us at Midwest Drift Union congratulate our 2018 Pro 2 license holders and wish them all the best as they pursue drifting at the next level.