The Formula DRIFT Pro Championship took some unpredictable turns this weekend. The event at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington, marked the start of the second half of the FD season. More importantly, the contest in the Pacific Northwest was a chance for drivers to climb in the standings—and Chelsea DeNofa seized that opportunity.
New for 2021, the Knockout Qualifying Format continued to provide unpredictable results at Evergreen. Taking full advantage of the qualifying format was 2013 FD winner Michael Essa who was sitting at 16th place in the championships. Rounding out the top three at Evergreen were Chris Forsberg driving the NOS Energy / GT Radial Nissan 370Z and Ryan Tuerck in the Gumout / Nitto Tire / Mobil1 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. Fourth in qualifying was 16-year-old Branden Sorensen in the 212 Performance / Sorensen Motorsports BMW.
Matt Field, who came into the race as the points leader, ran first in the Falken Tire / Drift Cave Chevrolet Corvette. Unfortunately, a sizable overcorrection during his run led to an incomplete judgement. This knocked him down to the bottom eight qualifiers who get to run a second time. Field’s second run came in at 95 points. This would have been the top qualifying score, but with the Knockout Qualifying Format it was only good enough for 26th position. Joining Field in the bottom right qualifiers was Chelsea DeNofa, who started the day second in points for the championship. On his first run, DeNofa had to make a significant correction, which resulted in a score of 75 and a spot in the bottom eight. On his second run, DeNofa got a score of 92 points.
In his Top 32 heat, DeNofa faced off against Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis. Bakchis, one of the top drift drivers in the world, is currently fourth in the FD Pro Championship in the Falken Tire / Feal Suspension Nissan S15. A small error by Bakchis in the chase position saw him make contact with DeNofa’s door. That was enough to send the BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D into the wall. Bakchis was assessed to be at fault and DeNofa returned to the pits for repair and a Top 16 match-up with Trenton Beechum in the Clonex Racing / Nexen Tire Ford Mustang.
In the all-Mustang race with Beechum, DeNofa made a big correction in Outside Zone 1, but drove hard to open a lead over his opponent. As Beechum tried to close the gap, he ran off track, leaving DeNofa to the win.
DeNofa got a bye in the Top 8 round after Jeff Jones couldn’t repair the Jeff Jones Racing / GT Radial Nissan 370Z during the five-minute Competition Time Out. Racing against DeNofa in the Top 4 round, Dylan Hughes and his Permatex / GT Radial BMW E46 had an impeccable lead run, but in the chase, Hughes wasn’t able to match DeNofa’s proximity.
In the final round, DeNofa matched up against Ryan Tuerck, but an overheating engine forced Tuerck to bow out. The win pushed DeNofa one point past Matt Field for the championship lead.
“This was definitely not how I wanted to win,” DeNofa said, “but a win is a win and we get the points. We’re definitely chasing the championship right now. In fact, I think we’re leading, so we’re all pumped!”
For the fourth year in a row, Formula DRIFT is returning to the St. Louis, Missouri, area for the next round of the championships.
Round 6: The Crossroads will be held at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, on August 27–28, 2021. In 2020, St. Louis hosted a double header race with Frederic Aasbo and DeNofa coming out on top. It’ll be a chance for DeNofa to extend his lead, Field to recapture it, or another driver to surge upward in the Formula DRIFT standings.
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