BRASELTON - If you see a cloud of smoke over Braselton today, don’t fret, they’re just burning rubber at Drift Atlanta.
The annual Formula Drift event is back at Road Atlanta. The main event takes place today with the first practice kicking things off at 2:30 p.m. and competition beginning at approximately 4:10 p.m. Tickets for Saturday’s activities start at $40 and will be available at the gate starting at 7 a.m.
Drift Atlanta is a different beast compared to what you’ll normally find at Road Atlanta because it is not a race. Instead, drivers are evaluated on their ability to perform the best drift by a panel of judges, and yes, crowd response is factored into the driver’s score.
Cars go two-by-two around the Turn 10 complex that was specifically built for this event with a winner being named after each run. The elimination style competition consists of a field of 32 drivers. The field will be whittled down to 16 for the final round that starts at 8 p.m.
Road Atlanta was home to the inaugural Formula Drift event back in 2004 and it remains a favorite track for many of the drivers including last year’s winner Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis.
“I really like the ambience of the venue,” Bakchis said. “It looks great. The track is just a beautiful track and there’s tons of room. You’re not fighting for space with other teams or your own teammates.”
The Lithuanian-born driver was finally able to break through and get the win at Drift Atlanta, the first Formula Drift win of his career, after entering the series as a rookie in 2011.
“It was a really great feeling overall to win, but it was a really good place for me to take that win,” Bakchis said. “The track’s just really well maintained. There’s no unnecessary bumps on the track or weird obstacles you have to drift around or avoid. It’s just a top notch facility and it definitely makes a race event go smoother at a nice facility like that.”
Bakchis is back this year to defend his title against fellow competitors that include last year’s series champion Fredric Aasbo. Between practice runs, Bakchis was kind enough to take me on a hot lap around the Drift Atlanta course in his 800-horsepower Formula Drift car, and let me tell you, it is hard to describe the feeling of being in a car that is going about as fast as you or I traveling down the highway on our commute to work…completely sideways.
“A drift car has to be really fast while it’s actually sliding sideways,” Bakchis said. “Which makes it a bit challenging to pull off. Most race cars have a great amount of grip while you’re driving the car before it breaks loose. On a drift car, we have to build it around the fact that we know that the car’s always going to be broken loose and it’s going to be attacking the track at an angle.
“There is a lot of emphasis on suspension geometry to make sure that we gain that grip even though the car is sliding sideways.”
Despite the fact that Bakchis and I were driving a car in a direction that was not originally intended when Henry Ford submitted his patent papers, Bakchis was in complete control. He was doing doughnuts and figure eights at the top of the track as we awaited our turn to make our run.
As intense as that run was for me, Bakchis was just out there messing around and having fun. I can only imagine what it’ll be like in that car today once the sun goes down and the heat of competition rises up.