Formula Drift Round 4 - Okuibuki
Mad Mike maintains his championship lead with bittersweet 2nd place finish
Get the full rundown on the fourth round of Formula Drift Japan from Okuibuki.
The fourth round of the 2018 Formula Drift Japan series is one that Mad Mike Whiddett won't forget anytime soon. What started a week ago like any other pre-event preparation schedule does quickly took a turn for the worse when the most powerful typhoon Japan has seen in 25 years tore through the Kansai region. The TCP-Magic with Red Bull team headquarters in Nishinomiya was hammered by Typhoon Jebi, and as a result of the devastation left in the wake of the deadly tropical cyclone, any hope of shaking down HUMBUL ahead of the Okuibuki Motor Park round went straight out the window.
Despite their shaky start, Whiddett and the TCP-Magic team made it to Okuibuki Motor Park in the mountains of Shiga Prefecture in time for Friday's practise session, and immediately set the standard in extremely challenging conditions. A solid 87-point qualifying performance on Saturday – the third-equal highest score of the event – cemented fourth place for Sunday's main event and a free pass through the Top 32.
It was never going to be an easy drive to the final battle, but right away the team had a engine problem to deal with.
“We had a simple bye run in the Top 32, but that quickly became a challenge. I took the car into the scrub box to warm up the tyres and all of a sudden the water temperature was sitting at 119°C, which is far too hot. I had to leave the start line and do a full-pull run, but luckily we made it through without damaging the engine.” – Mad Mike
Back in the pits, the electric water pump was pinpointed as the fault; it had completely seized up, meaning no cool water was circulating through the custom quad-rotor twin-turbo engine. Kawato-san and the team swapped the pump out during the lunchtime break, just in time for Whiddett to drive the 1,000+hp Mazda RX-7 onto the Okuibuki street course for the Top 16 opening ceremony.
There was more trouble to come, though. During the parade the water temperature shot through the roof again, but now there were only moments to spare before Whiddett was due to line up against Yuta Nozawa.
“This time the problem turned out to be a broken water line. I'm not entirely sure what Kawato did to fix it in such a short amount of time, but he worked his magic and we made it to the start line for my first battle.” – Mad Mike
You never would have known how stressful it had been to just get the car to line by the way HUMBUL was driven on the lead pass. Anticipating the grip level perfectly, Whiddett pulled an early lead on Nozawa's JZX90 Toyota Mark II, and then maintained it through the entirety of the judged section while filling out the clip zones perfectly and keeping the RX-7 on throttle and sideways. Whiddett's chase lap was equally impressive: he tucked in close and kept the pressure applied. Nozawa faulted by running off-line, tapping the wall and straightening up; Whiddett adjusted his line accordingly and convincingly took the win.
In the Great 8, Whiddett met 18-year-old Japanese drift sensation Kanta Yanaguida. Despite his young age, Yanaguida has proven himself a force to be reckoned with, but today wasn't his day. Whiddett led and once again set himself up perfectly for the first corner; Yanaguida initiated late carrying too much speed and quickly found himself in the foam barriers. The damage would have been great had the barriers not stopped Yanaguida's Nissan Silvia S13 before the rock wall behind them, but it was enough of a hit for the youngster to call a five-minute competition timeout in order to have the car checked over by his team. On his return Yanaguida put in a clean lead lap, but once again Whiddett stuck like glue in his chase and all three judges scored him the win.
Whiddett's Final 4 match-up saw him face-off against Andrew Gray, who came into this event sitting third in the championship points standings. Not winning this battle could have had disastrous implications for Whiddett's Formula Drift Japan title hopes, but he kept his composure, taking the instant advantage when Gray was slow getting his JZX100 Toyota Mark II off the line following a competition timeout for a turbo oil leak. The Kiwi's lead run through the course was hard to fault: he was precise, maintained angle, kept his speed high, and filled the clipping zones. Gray's lead run was just as good, so it all came down to who chased better.
Matching Gray's pace, angle and transitions, all the while maintaining close proximity, the win was Whiddett's. Grand final time.
As one of the most experienced drivers in Formula Drift Japan, taking down Shinji Minowa in the final would be no easy feat for Whiddett. The pair were both awarded 87 score lines for their best runs in qualifying, but given that Minowa had scored higher on his first pass, he'd lead in his JZX90 Toyota Mark II for the event-deciding battle. Whiddett's chase was exemplary, and with Minowa losing a little angle at outside clipping zone two, the advantage was clear. All Whiddett needed to do was run one more clean lead lap; the win was in sight. But it wasn't to be.
“I knew what I had to do in the lead run, but I guess I just jumped on the throttle too hard at the start and it snapped the cable so I had no accelerator pedal. And that was it – we were out. It was unfortunate, but second is not a bad result. With all that happened in the week leading up to this event, I really wish we could have taken the win. You have to hand it to the fans here though; after everything they had been through with the typhoon just a few days ago, they still came out in the pouring rain to support us as drivers. I'm forever humbled by Japan and its people.” – Mad Mike
With an eventful Okuibuki round in the books, all attention is now turned to the season finale at Okayama International Circuit on the weekend of October 6-7. The long, wide and fast Formula 1 track is a favourite for many, and with a few drivers still in the title hunt, the event has all the makings of an epic final showdown.
"We still lead the championship with one round to go, and we're back to high speeds at Okayama which I'm really excited for. We'll be coming out swinging.” – Mad Mike
Source: redbull.com - Brad Lord ~ September 9th 2018