Mark Gearhart
October 18, 2017

It was an emotional weekend of racing for the final Formula Drift event at Irwindale; Irwindale Speedway is slated to be closed and leveled in January 2018. Many Formula Drift alumni, including Rhys Millen, Tyler McQuarrie, and Sam Hubinette came for the final event. The 2017 championship was all but locked up coming into Irwindale. James Deane in his S15 Nissan 240sx simply needed to qualify to take the title. Needless to say, the battle raged on throughout Friday and Saturday.

RTR team newcomer, Chelsea DeNofa, has officially completed his first year as Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s teammate. “Its been awesome,” exclaimed DeNofa. “The team has been amazing, the car has been great, and I couldn’t have dreamt of a better situation.”

DeNofa, known for his aggressive driving netted the number one qualifying position for Saturday’s eliminations. “With the Mustang, I needed to turn the aggression down a little bit and drive with my mind…and not my foot,” said DeNofa.

Chelsea DeNofa went on a wall-riding spectacle that netted him the number one qualifying spot moving into Saturday’s Top 32 battle.

“Vaughn and I are really good friends, but I have won against Vaughn 2-0, so there’s definitely a team rivalry there,” laughed DeNofa.

It would appear Gittin Jr. was listening to our conversation and in the Top 16 battle against the RTR teammates, Gittin Jr. would take the win to face off against Justin Pawlak in the Great 8.

“It’s been a great year, we’ve learned a lot about the car and have made strides with the new S550 chassis,” explained Pawlak. “The S550 is a lot snappier and has a ton more grip…sometimes too much grip. That’s what we are dealing with now is getting the car a little less grippy so driving off-throttle is more predictable.”

Pawlak laid down a solid lead run against Kyle Mohan in his Top 32 battle.
Things don’t go as well for Pawlak’s follow against Mohan. The team had to thrash in the break between Top 32 and Top 16 to get the Mustang back together.

Pawlak’s eliminations started with a battle against Mazda Miata driver Kyle Mohan. During his chase run, Pawlak crashed into the top of the first bank, which he later attributed to Mohan’s late entry and his car gripping up. The team thrashed to get the Mustang back together for Top 16 and even had to borrow parts from a manufacturer’s display to get the car fit for competition. Pawlak edged out Matt Field in a one-more-time, close battle to face Gittin Jr. in the Great 8.

“The season has been medicore for me,” Gittin Jr. honestly explained. “We’ve had some challenges early on and had to cope with, but it came around towards the middle of the year. I’ve really enjoyed watching Chelsea develop as a teammate.”

Gittin Jr. was all but stuck to Robbie Nishida during their Top 32 battle, taking the win.
A team battle ensued during the Top 16 with Gittin Jr. coming out on top.

When asking Gittin Jr. about his thoughts on the S550 chassis, he explained, “The 3-link was good but the S550’s independent rear suspension was built for grip, plus it is a lot more adjustable. The solid axle didn’t really award aggressive driving like the S550 does. The S550 is super stable on and off throttle, even when we are three-wheeling like our cars do.”

Both Pawlak and the RTR camp have revised 2018 Mustangs in the works for next year. “We’re going to build some new cars in the off-season for both the race program and for RTR,” said Gittin Jr. “We will be rolling out a supercharged version of the 2018 Mustang along with an RTR F150.”

Gittin took out Pawlak in their Great 8 battle as Pawlak over rotated and slowed coming into the inside oval during his follow run. Gittin Jr. finished fourth at Irwindale as Dai Yoshihara would win their battle.

The Top 16 run against Pawlak and Matt Field was such a nail biter, that a one-more-time was required to pick a winner.
Another great matchup between Gittin Jr. and Pawlak in the Great 8, with Gittin Jr. taking with win and ending the night in fourth place after being bested by Dai Yoshihara.

Final 2017 Formula Drift Championship results

4th Place – Vaughn Gittin Jr. – 399 points

13th Place – Chelsea DeNofa – 289 points

14th Place – Justin Pawlak – 284 points

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