THE FINAL ROUND OF THE 2023 FORMULA DRIFT SEASON
A Roller Coaster of Emotions
The final round of Formula Drift at Irwindale Speedway was one for the history books. It was filled with unexpected twists, high-octane drama, and a testament to the sheer determination of our drivers; Vaughn Gittin Jr., Chelsea DeNofa, James Deane and their teams.
Chelsea DeNofa's Swansong Championship
Before the event even began, the drift community was surprised by Chelsea DeNofa's announcement of his impending retirement from Formula Drift. This round would be his final round that he would compete in. As one of the frontrunners for the championship, all eyes were on him.
Chelsea DeNofa qualified 7th just behind his RTR Teammate, James Deane who qualified 6th. He would go up against Kristaps Bluss in his Top 32 battle. As he was pulling out to the burnout box to warm up his tires, DeNofa rolled back into the hot pits and called a competition time out. There was an issue with his nitrous solenoid. After the 5 minute competition timeout, the team was unable to successfully fix the issue so Chelsea had to face his opponent with far less horsepower than he’s used to competing with.
With DeNofa's unexpected exit from the Top 32, Simen Olsen saw a glimmer of hope to clinch the championship. All he needed was a 1st place finish. However, fate had other plans. In a nail-biting Top 16 battle against Forsberg, Olsen was defeated, sealing DeNofa's championship in the annals of Formula Drift history.
James Deane's Resilience Gets Him on the Podium
James Deane's resilience was on full display at Irwindale. After a significant crash during a practice run, many doubted his ability to bounce back in time to qualify.
The RTR Team got his car sorted together and borrowed a door from Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD, thanks Vaughn! James laid down a 85.33 run that placed him in 6th for qualifying.
Since James’ Mustang RTR Spec 5-FD is right-hand drive, his dominant steering arm is his right arm. James was hesitant to compete because his right arm was in pain from the crash but he pushed through it and his efforts paid off. In Top 32, he would face Kyle Mohan and advance to Top 16 with Vaughn Gittin Jr.
In his Top 16 battle, Deane was up against fellow Irishman, Dean Kearney. James advances to the Great 8. After every time James advances the fans cheers get more intense as everyone can’t believe he is still pushing himself and his Mustang RTR to the limits with an injured arm.
In the Great 8, James battled it out with Branden Sorensen. The judges decide that there needs to be a one more time battle to decide a winner. On the one more time run, both drivers drove even more aggressively than the first battle but ultimately the judges would unanimously advance James Deane into the Final Four.
James Deane vs. Odi Bakchis in the Final Four. Both had solid lead and chase runs in different sections of the track so judges decided that they needed a one more time battle. In the one more time battle, Odi would advance. Despite his injury, James was able to clinch a 3-place finish on top of the podium!
Vaughn Gittin Jr. Finishes Split Season
As most of you are aware, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Adam LZ split the season in half this year. Each driver participated in 4 rounds and Irwindale was Vaughn’s last round for this season. Vaughn qualified in 21st place where he would face Diego Higa for his Top 32 battle. The judges voted for a one more time battle where Vaughn would advance to the Top 16 with James Deane.
In the Top 16 battle, Vaughn would face Forrest Wang where the judges would vote for a one more time battle. On Vaughn’s lead run during the one more time battle, he would get an incomplete run due to an accident where he collided with the wall. Forrest Wang would ultimately advance into the Great 8.
Mustang RTR's Dominance Throughout the Years
The RTR Team's dedication throughout the season was evident. Our ability to adapt to unforeseen challenges, not just in Round 8 but throughout the entire season, was nothing short of commendable. With a whopping 7 podium finishes, 5 of which were 1st place victories and on top of it all Chelsea DeNofa emerged as the champion of the 2023 Formula Drift Season. With all of that being said, we are proud to say that we have won a Formula Drift Championship in THREE different Mustang chassis, S197 (2010), S550 (2020) and S650 (2023).
“What an amazing accomplishment for our team along with Ford Performance support to earn the first championship with the all-new 7th-Generation Mustang,” said Vaughn Gittin Jr. “I remember 20 years ago when I was first driving the Mustang people looked at me sideways, now the Mustang platform is an icon in the sport with more and more showing up at events and in the collective culture.”
Ford Performance also secured the Formula Drift Auto Cup for the 2023 Season in the all new 7th-Generation Ford Mustang.
Round 8 at Irwindale was a testament to the passion, dedication, and resilience of everyone at RTR. Although Chelsea’s championship win is bittersweet, there is no better way to hang up his steering wheel with us here at RTR. We wish him the best in his future endeavors. This isn’t goodbye, this is see ya later bro! It was a fitting end to a season filled with unexpected twists and turns, and it will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most memorable rounds in Formula Drift history.