Mark Gearhart
April 11, 2019

The 2019 Formula Drift season starts as it has for the last 14 years in beautiful Long Beach, California. Turns nine through eleven of the Grand Prix course are transformed into a two-day massacre of tires.

Not a lot has changed for RTR camp Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea DeNofa other than a bump in horsepower and updated livery. Previously powered by naturally aspirated engines, the relatively similar combination is now assisted with a medium shot of nitrous to push power levels to 1,000hp. Justin Pawlak is still running on his 2018 competition car as he pushes to complete his updated 2019 Mustang. As always, his steed is backed by a ROUSH supercharged Coyote Aluminator crate engine.

All Mustang drivers managed to qualify upper mid-pack with DeNofa’s aggressive style earning him the number nine spot, 11th for Gittin Jr., and 13th for Pawlak. Going into Saturday’s Top 32 DeNofa would be first up with his battle against Patrick Goodin, with DeNofa coming up on top. Two pairs later and Pawlak would face off with Alec Hohnadell in his 240sx, with Pawlak taking the win after trading some paint. Gittin Jr. matched up against D1 Grand Prix driver Kazuya Taguchi before moving onto the Top 16.

DeNofa came in with a bang (into the wall) with a backwards entry into turn one during his run against three-time Formula Drift champion Chris Forsberg. Keeping his composure and the fan’s applause up, it was a going to be a tough decision for the judges. In the end, the judges sided with Forsberg for providing a better chase run and because DeNofa went two wheels off line during his follow run.

Pawlak battled with 2011 Formula Drift champion Dai Yoshihara. Pawlak would follow Yoshihara well during the first run but unfortunately Dai tapped the wall coming into turn one on his follow lap and would bust the rear suspension, handing the win straight to Pawlak.

In the final battle of Top 16 Gittin Jr. would take on Forrest Wang in his 240sx. Wang was on point all weekend and was able to distance himself from Gittin Jr. during their battle, which allowed Wang to pick up the win. Pawlak was the last Mustang hopeful going into his Great 8 run against Odi Bakchis. The two would need to go One More Time before deciding Pawlak’s fate, as a brush with the outside turn one wall would straighten his Mustang. Bakchis went on to win the event.

All Mustang drivers managed to qualify upper mid-pack with DeNofa’s aggressive style earning him the number nine spot, 11th for Gittin Jr., and 13th for Pawlak.
Justin Pawlak is known for his aggressive following during competition. Alec Hohnadell would slow down too much during his lead run and Pawlak center punched his door. No serious damage came from the encounter.
Gittin Jr. matched up against D1 Grand Prix driver Kazuya Taguchi before moving onto the Top 16.
DeNofa came in with a bang (into the wall) with a backwards entry into turn one during his run against three-time Formula Drift champion Chris Forsberg.
In the final battle of Top 16 Gittin Jr. would take on Forrest Wang in his 240sx. Wang was on point all weekend and was able to distance himself from Gittin Jr. during their battle, which allowed Wang to pick up the win.
Keeping his composure and the fan’s applause up, it was a going to be a tough decision for the judges for DeNofa and Forsberg. In the end, the judges sided with Forsberg for providing a better chase run and because DeNofa went two wheels off line during his follow run.
Pawlak battled with 2011 Formula Drift champion Dai Yoshihara. Pawlak would follow Yoshihara well during the first run but unfortunately Dai tapped the wall (check out his left rear wheel) coming into turn one on his follow lap and would bust the rear suspension, handing the win straight to Pawlak.
Pawlak was the last Mustang hopeful going into his Great 8 run against Odi Bakchis. The two would need to go One More Time before deciding Pawlak’s fate, as a brush with the outside turn one wall would straighten his Mustang. Bakchis went on to win the event.

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Photography by Mark Gearhart