Achilles Continues 2012 Formula Championship
The stage was set for the 4th round of the 2012 Formula Drift season and the Achilles Radial crew of Robbie Nishida and Daigo Saito were ready to take on the torturous Wall Speedway circuit located in New Jersey. The Wall is known for being extremely hard on cars due its high angle banks that not only test the suspension limits of these drift machines, but have sent numerous cars to their early graves. This year would be no different! The weekend was full of drama, carnage, excitement and showcased some of the hardest fought tandem battles of the entire season.
Being on the east coast, the weather in New Jersey was much like the previous round at Palm Beach, hard to predict and very uncooperative. Thanks to the great teamwork and effort of Achilles Motorsports/Bridges Racing both Daigo Saito and Robbie Nishida earned their spots to the big show.
Robbie had the good fortune of going on his first qualifying run early in the day and was able to take full advantage of the dry conditions. Robbie’s comfort level in his Lexus SC300 is evident as he laid down a couple of smooth and consistent qualifying runs good enough for 15th place. This meant that Robbie would be starting his podium pursuit against veteran FD driver Joon Maeng in the Bergenholtz Racing Mazda RX8.
Daigo on the other hand did not have as much luck and yet still managed to qualify in the rain! It is a testament to the amazing level of car control and pure driving talent Daigo possesses. In the dry, wet or any condition, Daigo adapts and finds every bit of grip needed to put himself in a competitive position. The wet track conditions prevented Daigo from unleashing the usual smoke show that the 2JZ powered SC430 is known for, but his runs were still good enough to qualify in 17th place and a chance to take down another V8. His second’s run score of 80.5 would have him face off with Luke Lonberger in the Chevrolet Corvette.
Now that our boys had their qualifying runs behind them, it was time to start eliminating drivers! Joon Maeng’s RX-8 was truly no match for Robbie’s SC300. Joon had a less than spectacular lead run, which allowed Robbie to concentrate on his precision during his lead run rather than concentrating on doing something spectacular to impress the judges. Robbie’s text book run would give him a pass for the next round.
Daigo would have a close battle with Luke Lonberger, but a wobble by Luke would gave Daigo the advantage and ultimately the win.
Robbie’s next challenge would be against 2010 Formula Drift Champion, Vaughn Gitten Jr. in the Monster energy drink Ford Mustang. The Achilles Tire SC300 was on the Mustang’s bumper throughout the track, but at the end of the battle the judges would give the win to Vaughn. The top 16 finish for Robbie now puts him in the top 20 in the 2012 Formula Drift standings!
Daigo’s next challenge was against the 2011 Rookie of the year Odi Bakchis in the V8 powered S14. It was a hard fought battle and in Odi’s lead run he ran over a cone which shot straight into Daigo’s line. It ruined the front end of the SC430, but at the end of the battle Daigo came away with another Garrett V8 Hunters kill!
The first round of the Great 8 Daigo would once again be matched up with the car/driver combo he had two “One More Times” with at Palm Beach – Conrad Grunewald. Daigo’s aggressive style caused him to make a couple clipping point mistakes, but had such a great lead run that the battle would go to a “One More Time” – these guys are really getting to know each other quite well! In the OMT run Daigo only ran over one clipping point, but had a ridiculous amount of proximity. His lead run put the final nail in the coffin for Conrad, as Daigo was able to create huge space between them and left the V8 Camaro in a cloud of Achilles tire smoke.
The first battle in the Final Four round would set up a couple of fan favorites; Daigo Saito against 2011 Champion Dai Yoshihara!
Dai started in the lead position and took a high line on the bank. Daigo followed his every move and was on him like a shadow. The only way he could have gotten closer is by riding shotgun in the car with Dai. The battle was so close that a unanimous OMT was called by the judges. In the OMT battle Daigo was once again all over Dai’s S13 with extreme proximity. Unfortunately, Daigo’s lack of experience in the US drift circuits showed in New Jersey and hit a clipping point which resulted in a point deduction which was enough to lean the judges towards Dai.
After falling to last year’s champion, Daigo still had the chance for another podium finish. His last battle of the weekend would be in the Consolation Round against Chris Forsberg who he battled against for first place at Palm Beach. This last tandem battle was the most controversial for Team Achilles Radial as Forsberg had spun out, but the judges gave the win to Forsberg based on the fact that Daigo went off course and had to straighten out in order to catch up to Forsberg.
With a fourth place finish Daigo is still in second place in the overall standings and only 13 behind the current leader JTP. Achilles Radial and Bridges Racing is still in the hunt for the championship and plan to occupy two spots in the podium when they make the trip out to Washington’s Evergreen Speedway for the 5th round of the 2012 Formula Drift season.