Formula Drift 2012: Rd. 7 Title Fight @ Irwindale Speedway, California

As we take a short cut away from out Petit Le Mans coverage, we have not forgot about the Formula D final round in Irwindale, California.  AS always there was controversy, but when it was all said and done a new champion was crowned.

PHOTOS BY: PERRI MINOT

The smoke has come and gone and the Formula Drift 2012 season has now ended. Daigo Saito has been crowned the 2012 Champion. Never before has a Formula Drift Rookie won the championship so this is a great feat for him and the Achilles/Bridges Racing team.

Coming into the event, Vaughn Gittin Jr. seemed likely to take home the championship.

He made an awesome comeback after winning RD 4, 5 and a podium finish in RD6 that gave him a small lead going into the finals.

He made it into the Top 16 as usual.

He only needed one more win against Pat Mordaunt to secure his championship lead.

He ended up spinning out behind Pat which made the rest of the night all the more interesting.

For Daigo, his championship day began with a Top 32 match against Taka Aono

Not only had Taka been suffering mechanical issues… (blown turbo, head gasket, etc)

But with his temp. motor in place, I had never seen Taka fly so fast.

But during their first bout, Taka also smas hed his car into the wall. This gave Saito the bye since he was unable to fix his car in the 5 minute time frame.

Saito’s next match would be against this year’s biggest rival…

Conrad Grunewald and Daigo Saito started their feud back in West Palm Beach

They had not one, but two OMT (One More Time) battles and have met each other a few times since then.

Once at Evergreen speedway where Grunewald was able to defeat Saito.

This time would be no different. A fight to remember. But Saito would get the upper hand.

The absolute breakout performance of the day was by Matt Field.

Matt’s LS1 powered S14 has about 1/3 of the hp of Saito’s car.

That didn’t seem to scare Matt at all. They faced off in the Top 8, Matt stepped up…

and ran against the new champion…well..like a Champ!!

Matt would lead first and have the best lead run he’s put down all season.

As usual, Saito stuck as close to his bumper as possible.

When it was Saito’s turn to lead, Matt returned the bumper to bumper favor.

Just from watching, it was hard to tell who the judges would side with.

While they waited for the judges decision, Matt’s car was checked out for what looked to be small flames coming from under his hood.

If Matt Field would’ve beaten Daigo Saito then the championship could have gone to 3 other drivers, but the judges decided it was too close to call – One More Time.

Daigo would move on to face Rhys Millen.

Rhys had been his usual calm consistent self until his chase run against Saito.

In an attempt to catch up with the ninja, Rhys too became one of many fallen victims of the inner bank.

We watched as his wheel continued to roll on long after his car came scraping to a halt.

You know that wheel is the spirit of Rhys not wanting to give up.

This meant that Daigo Saito had unofficially won the championship so everyone came out to congratulate him.

Both Vaughn Gittin and Rhys Millen came over to shake his hand. Rhys still had that tough walk back to his wrecked Hyundai.

Saito would still have to face another long time season rival in Justin Pawlak. JTP would still have the opportunity to win the event and finish in the top 3 for the season.

JTP and Daigo first had their run in at RD3 in West Palm Beach.

Saito barely held back.

JTP went all out!

On Saito’s lead run, JTP too would fall victim to the wall.

I can’t imagine the crushing feeling of having the last run of the year come down to this.

In an instant it was over and Daigo Saito would continue on his celebration.

Daigo Saito has been racing all of his life and was also champion of FD Asia. He is one hell of a competitor and as I overheard Vaughn Gittin Jr. in very sportsmanlike manner say that Formula Drift is definitely home to the best drifters in the world. It goes to show that there is a lot of mutual respect amongst the drivers not only for their talents, but also for overcoming their hardships.

While we continue to gather more FD behind the scenes coverage, make sure to also enjoy our visit to Petit LeMans @ Road Atlanta!

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