Sometimes you can play God and that’s exactly what Vaughn Gittin Jr. did at the 2018 Formula Drift finals at the iconic Irwindale Speedway. “On paper, this has been the worst season in my Formula Drift career,” said Gittin. It would be a bittersweet finish as his luck reversed when facing Fredric Aasbo in the finals.
Qualifying would kick off on Friday for the 15th season of the Formula Drift final round with all the Mustang drifters qualifying close to each other – Vaughn Gittin Jr. in 10th, Chelsea DeNofa in 11th, and Justin Pawlak in 13th.
In the Top 32 Vaughn Gittin Jr. would take the easy win against Matt Vankirk in his Nissan 240sx. In a classic Ford versus Chevy battle, Chelsea DeNofa would square off against Taylor Hull’s LS-powered ATS-V, in which DeNofa would move on. On the other side of the ladder, Justin Pawlak ended up in a One More Time battle with Jhonnattan Castro. Both runs were nearly evenly matched with Castro taking the slight margin of victory over Pawlak. It would now be up to Team RTR to do damage in the Top 16.
It would be in the Top 16 where things got interesting. James Deane, the season’s points leader, would get taken out by Forrest Wang. With Deane out so early in competition, Fredric Aasbo would still have a mathematical chance of taking the 2018 crown away from Deane.
Gittin Jr. would narrowly beat Coffman despite being slow to initiate on his chase run, but the speed of his first meant he got the decision to move onto the Great 8. DeNofa gapped Michael Essa during his lead run and then stuck close when it was his turn to follow, handing the win to DeNofa.
DeNofa was hard to match on his proximity when following and that’s what earned his win against Formula Drift veteran Dai Yoshihara after a One More Time run. Gittin Jr. then faced Odi Bakchis. The pair was incredibly close through the first banking, so close that Gittin Jr.’s rear bumper was knocked off by Bakchis’ front bumper as they maneuvered towards the first transition point. With bodywork flying, the Mustang’s bumper went under Odi’s front wheels, causing him to spin. The pair went back at it on the second run but the Mustang driver had done enough to win.
Stepping up to the Final Four, 2010 Formula Drift Champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. would face off with teammate Chelsea Denofa. The identical scream of the naturally aspirated small-blocks was music to our ears as they made it around the Irwindale course. The run was so close, DeNofa actually rear-ended his boss Gittin as he transitioned to the inside oval. This would be part of the deciding factor to giving Gittin the win.
It was a hair-raising affair as Gittin would encounter alternator issues with his Mustang as he went into the finals against Asabo. With the clock ticking down, Team RTR as able to get the alternator pulled from DeNofa’s Mustang in time.
The two champions didn’t disappoint by putting on an amazing three runs as the judges called for two One More Time runs. By the sixth run Gittin had done it – reversed his 2018 curse by taking the win at Irwindale and deciding the winner of the 2018 Formula Drift championship.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years because all the teams continue to push and make it a constant challenge,” said Gittin Jr. “The fans are amazing and bring such great energy every time we’re on the track. I’m so grateful to all of them and the teams. I’m also extremely grateful to our team because there’s something humbling about our fall but we’ve made a lot of changes and continued to fight. This win represents how we keep fighting. I’m extremely proud of Chelsea who has added a lot to the team. And Fredric – we had some epic battles tonight. And congratulations to James and his entire team – I’m looking forward to battling with you next year.”
Justin Pawlak would end up the highest Mustang in the 2018 in 5th place. His best previous championship finishes were second place in 2011 and fourth in 2012. DeNofa scored 8th with Gittin Jr. taking up 13th.
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