Working through a banner year, drift king Vaughn Gittin Jr. went into Round 7 of the Formula Drift Professional Championship with high hopes of putting himself on the podium one last time. Not only did Vaughn accomplish that goal, taking second place at Irwindale Speedway -- his sixth podium out of seven rounds -- but he clinched the official 2010 Formula Drift Champion title and as the “Driver of the Year” in the Monster Energy Falken Tire 2011 Ford Mustang.
Over the weekend, a sold-out crowd filled the paddock and the grandstands at Irwindale Speedway, otherwise known as “The House of Drift”. In addition to the Formula Drift TV show that airs on the Versus channel, this was the first drifting event to be filmed in 3D by DirecTV with an air-date to be announced. Round 7 was also featured live online via the DriftStream to a world-wide audience which reached over one-million unique views overall this year.
Vaughn has had much success at Irwindale Speedway in the past, and he is always welcomed as a crowd-favorite. In 2005 he made history when he won the D1GP USA vs. Japan, becoming the first American to win a D1 Grand Prix event. In 2007 at this southern California track, he brought America home the gold once more by winning the D1GP World Championship. He also won his first Formula Drift ever at Irwindale Speedway in 2008.
With Vaughn's qualifying run that put him in sixth place out of the 40-plus drivers in attendance, he was matched with Formula Drift rookie, Nikolay Konstantinov, in his top 32 battle.
Vaughn led first and put his car in all the right places, while blazing through the course with intense angle. Nikolay struggled to keep up with the powerful Monster Mustang. When it was Vaughn's turn to give chase, Nicolay couldn't properly initiate his drift. Vaughn tried to mimic his competitor, but passed him as Nicolay sunk down the bank. Vaughn finished out his run, leaving a thick trail of Falken Tire smoke in his path. Watch Vaughn's top 32 run here. (View from 1:51:00.)
But the day wasn't nearly over for the newly-announced Champion. Vaughn still had one last podium to shoot for.
In the top 16, Vaughn was paired with “Rookie of the Year” Fredrick Aasbo, who was the only driver the entire year thus far besides Daijiro Yoshihara to win in a tandem battle against Vaughn. This would be the fourth time of the season that these two fierce competitors would meet on the track.
Vaughn led first and entered early, maintaining a high line on the bank with a ton of angle. Coming off the bank, he was able to pull a gap and put the Monster Mustang right up on the infield wall as Aasbo tried to close the gap and followed with a more shallow line.
Vaughn gave chase next, sticking close to his competitor and mimicking Aasbo's every move on the track. After the Falken Tire smoke had settled from the two vehicles, the judges declared Vaughn the winner; he would be moving on to the Great Eight. Click here to watch Vaughn's top 16 battle. (Skip to 0:24:15 to view.)
Vaughn found himself faced with Matt Powers in the top eight. Powers had placed fourth in Irwindale last year, so Vaughn knew not to count him out. Vaughn led first and put down another picture-perfect run, with much more angle and speed than his competitor.
When it was his turn to give chase, Vaughn put intense pressure on Powers and didn't let up once throughout the course. Vaughn took the well-deserved win, and would be moving on to the semi-finals!
Vaughn would battle it out with Michihiro Takatori in the final four. Vaughn led first and immediately was able to pull a sizable gap on the bank after his initiation. He hit all the clips while Takatori was not able to catch up to the engine-screaming and tire-smoking Monster Energy Falken Tire Ford Mustang.
Vaughn gave chase next and was able to reel into Takatori immediately, keeping close to him throughout the course. Vaughn tapped the infield wall and maintained his drift, showing the crowd and the judges that he deserved to be in the finals. The judges agreed and sent him into the finals to face two-time Formula Drift Champion, Tanner Foust. Watch Vaughn's final four battle (Skip to 1:10:45 to view.)
After two insanely aggressive and incredibly close runs by Vaughn and Tanner, the judges (and the crowd) called for a One-More-Time. During the OMT, Vaughn gave it everything he had, but the judges deemed Tanner an advantage and gave him the win. Vaughn would take the 2nd place spot atop the podium for Round 7 at Irwindale Speedway.
With his 2nd place finish in Irwindale, Vaughn has taken to the podium six times out of the seven rounds -- a record number of podiums in one season by one driver in the history of Formula Drift.
This was just icing on the cake for Vaughn, as his real victory was being crowned the 2010 Formula Drift Champion. Vaughn is the second driver in the history of Formula Drift to come from a strictly-drifting background - the first driver being his Drift Alliance teammate Chris Forsberg who won the Championship in 2009.
Sunday night, Formula Drift celebrated the season and had an awards ceremony at their annual end-of-the-season banquet. Not only was Vaughn deemed the 2010 Formula Drift Champion, but he was voted the “Driver of the Year” by his competitors, their teams, and industry affiliates.
“Wow, what a year of dreams coming true,” says Vaughn. “I turned 30, launched the Mustang RTR, got engaged, and now I am the 2010 Formula Drift Champion. This dream of winning the Championship has been chased since the first Formula Drift in 2004. Our sport has grown a lot since then and I have grown as a driver, learning more and more every year. This year the hard work and dedication paid off huge.”
“While I am the guy behind the wheel,” Vaughn continues, “there a lot of people behind me on Team Falken that work extremely hard to make sure I have the tools to do my job and without them, there is no way I could have done it. Team Falken has believed in me since 2003 and it is an honor to bring them a Championship. Their commitment and dedication to drifting is unmatched, just as there commitment to having the best tires on the track and the street. I sincerely want to thank everyone that has been a part of this journey; I couldn't have done it without you. I'm not sure how I am going to top this epic year, but believe me, I plan to try! 2011… here we come!
For more information, videos and pictures, surf on over to www.vaughngittin.com.