It has been four months since Formula Drift Australia and I was excited to see some smoking action again. Due to a clash in dates between the 12-hour Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER) and Formula Drift Malaysia, I could not be present for the entire Formula Drift weekend.
I did however, attend the press conference on Thursday at DoubleTree Hilton hotel and managed to rush down in time after the MMER to catch the Top 16 battles. Despite going 41 hours without sleep and 30 hours without a shower, the smokin’ sideways action got me all excited.
It was good to see some of the drivers at the press conference, especially those who weren’t there for Australia.
Familiar faces like Ken Gushi were down this time, driving for G-Shock and Dunlop. I haven’t seen him since Formula Drift Singapore last year, where he was the ambassador for the first ever Formula Drift X G-Shock watch. This time, he endorsed another limited edition G-Shock for the Formula Drift Malaysia 2013.
Fredric Aasbo, nicknamed the Norwegian Hammer, was back with the RS-R Toyota GT86 NASCAR V8. It’s only his second time with the car and I’m sure there’s a lot of catch-up due between them.
Friday was sign-in day for the drivers as they set up their pits and got ready for the weekend. Adopting the new one-day format for 2013, gates only open to public on Sunday. There were media rides on Friday too, with Saturday for practice. Rain came down heavy on Saturday and Speed City KL was flooded, with everyone trying to keep their cars and equipment from being washed away.
Thankfully, Sunday’s weather wasn’t too bad and the 33 drivers battled hard to qualify for only 16 places. That is pretty harsh, with half the field being eliminated at once. Not surprising, Daigo Saito qualified in first place. He has been winning the last eight Formula Drift Asia rounds, since he made his debut at Formula Drift Malaysia 2010.
It was definitely a tough fight and the Thais did well, with five of them making it to the Top 16, including Pan from the M150 Overdrive Team. This is his first Formula Drift Malaysia outing and it’s a great achievement for him. He used to be do the spotting for the team previously and now he has made the cut.
Although I was suffering from a severe lack of sleep after pulling an all-nighter at MMER, the excitement and anticipation kept me awake and the fatigue only kicked in later when I was on the flight back to Singapore.
I was so happy to be out on track alongside the famous Larry Chen of Speedhunters, who is also part of the official Formula Drift Asia media team. The Top 16 were getting in some practice when I got there and I was in time for the drivers’ parade.
This is the time where drivers throw out premiums from their sponsors to the audience, sending the crowds into happy squeals or disappointed groans.
Dark clouds started to gather during this time (see the sky in the photo below) and I started to get worried. Malaysia’s Prince of Drift Tengku Djan made up for the dark sky with his smile though. He owns Speed City KL and is a key pusher behind the development of grassroots drifting in Malaysia.
When the parade was over and the drivers proceeded back to the start line, I had to choose where I wanted to shoot the battles from. I just got to the track and barely had to time to try out different areas, so I quickly settled for the island in the middle, which is an exclusive spot only for the official team. I had company from Ryan Davis of YAER productions, who is commissioned to produce the videos for Formula Drift Asia, so it was pretty awesome.
Right off the bat, the first battle of the Top 16 between top qualifier Daigo and 16th qualifier Tom Monkhouse of Australia sent the crowds into shock. Daigo’s car wasn’t in good form and it almost couldn’t make it to the start line, after being absent from the driver parade. He put in a decent lead run, but messed up his chase run when his 1,200bhp Lexus IS-C sideswiped Monkhouse’s Toyota Verossa.
That killed Daigo’s chances of winning and that battle was a history-changing moment, as Daigo’s eight-round winning streak was broken. Monkhouse is considered a newbie in Formula Drift Asia, only taking part for the first time in Melbourne earlier this year after getting an automatic advancement from finishing in the Top 6 of the Australian Drift Grand Prix. He was on a borrowed car and managed to finish second to Daigo then.
The tables have turned now and it is Monkhouse’s turn to rejoice.
After that it was Kiwi Daynom Templeman against Keak from the M15o Overdrive Team. This is Keak’s first time in Formula Drift Malaysia and he beat Templeman, proving the Thai’s strength in drifting.
An all-Malaysian battle was up next between Djan and Ser Ming Hui (aka Ah Fai).
Both are skilled drivers, but it was Djan who won.
Aasbo’s RS-R GT86 monster went next against Rio Saputro of Indonesia, but some weird electronics issue caused the Supra to shut off on both runs and Aasbo failed to put in a score, handing over the win to Rio just like that.
The all-Thai battle between Chanatpon (aka S) of Team Westlake Tyres and Mai Chaiwat of M150 Overdrive next had two very good talents but only one could go on and it was S who took the win.
Australian Josh Boettcher, who got his first Formula Drift carbon fibre trophy in Melbourne where he finished third, met fellow countryman Robert Whyte and it was Josh who won.
After so many same-country battles, the next one was a battle of team-mates with Masao Suenaga and Pan of M150 Overdrive. There can only be one winner and it was Masao who won.
Ken Gushi and Saranon were up next and it’s always sad to see friends go up against each other. Two of them have come down to Singapore to coach a private drifting clinic before and they work great together. Well, someone has to lose and this time it was Saranon who had to exit the competition early when Gushi took the Dunlop G-Shock Binter Toyota Chaser round the lines better.
The clouds, which have been holding onto the rain, let go some and things started to get slippery on the track. The first Top 8 battle was between Monkhouse and Keak, as they struggled some with grip.
It was Monkhouse who took the win to advance to the semi-finals.
Djan then beat Rio for a spot in the Top 4 too.
Josh was slipping around more than S, as S showed no signs of struggle in the wet to take the win.
Gushi took the last spot in the semi-finals when he beat Masao and things started to get more exciting.
With drifting heavyweights like Daigo and Aasbo out of the running, Monkhouse, Djan, S and Gushi had a shot for the Formula Drift Malaysia 2013 win. Djan probably has a slight edge over the others, being on his own turf with a car he is familiar with. Sadly, he made a mistake and it was Monkhouse in the final two.
The other seat in the final went to S, who beat Gushi.
Djan went up against Gushi to fight for third place first. Djan had some contact with the concrete on his lead run and a cleaner run from Gushi’s lead run gave Gushi the third place win!
Finally, the battle for first… down to Monkhouse and S!
On the slightly damp grounds, S pulled off a better run with great control and sharper angles.
The win clearly went to S and the shy teenager (who cannot speak English) expressed his surprise through a translator.
I remember when S was new to the Formula Drift scene. He started drifting at the age of 15, before he got his driving licence and he was very quiet, always sitting by his car with his family. He has certainly made it big, with two major wins last year – champion of the local national M-Storm Drift Championship and second overall for the inaugural D1GP Thailand. I heard he was nicknamed title of ‘Thailand 2012 Drift God’!
Gushi was obviously elated, pouring the champagne over himself and jumping around on stage. His last Formula Drift podium was back in Singapore in 2011.
The rain stopped somewhere towards the end of the battles, so we could have the podium ceremony in peace. But just as the Triple Threat and Team Drift side events were to begin, the Heavens opened their floodgates, washing out the event and hence having to cancel these.
I’m so glad I made it down in time to catch the battles – I really miss drifting! Can’t wait for Formula Drift Indonesia in Jakarta on 16 – 17 November…
With Monkhouse leading the championship two points ahead of Daigo, who knows we might just witness a new Formula Drift Asia champion!
More of my Formula Drift Malaysia 2013 photos can be viewed here.