Mustang Drivers Dominate At Formula Drift Round 2 In Orlando

There must just be something about the banked figure-eight course at Orlando Speedworld Oval Track that brings out the best in Formula Drift’s Mustang drivers. They not only earned the top two qualifying spots, but those same two drivers, Chelsea Denofa and Justin Pawlak, finished first and third respectively. That said, the Round 2: Scorched didn’t arrive at that conclusion without a bit of drama and intrigue.

Before we just said ‘Hey let’s just finish this. Let’s just not crash or wreck each other,’ and man it was absolutely epic. — Vaughn Gittin Jr., RTR Motorsports

While some interesting things happened during other driver’s runs, it just seemed to be Chelsea DeNofa’s weekend. In fact it was a perfect weekend, as he qualified in the top spot with his BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D and took home the event win by running through Joshua C. Reynolds, Travis Reeder, Vaughn Gittin Jr., Aurimas Bakchis, and Fredric Aasbo to ascend to the top of the podium. That matchup with his RTR teammate, however, proved intense and dramatic as the two ran door to door around the track.

Having not won an event since early in last season at St. Louis, Chelsea Denofa showed he is ready to make a mark on the 2021 Formula Drift campaign in his BC Racing / Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D as he topped the qualifying sheet and took home the event win in the PRO category.

“…I had a little bit of a shaky chase on the bank. He did a little bit as well. So at that point I knew I was shaking you’re shaking, you’re probably even,” Chelsea said after defeating his teammate. “Going across inner one I charged the inside, sucked up on him, got the proximity and put it right his door and ended up getting the win. I think it was just the last turn proximity, just putting it on the line and knowing that he was gonna drive heads-up and we have similar cars so it’s gonna work great.”

After besting his friend and team owner, Chelsea kept driving, but he and eventual runner-up Frederic Asabo had to wait a while before they ran thanks to a great deal of oil on the track. That led to both drivers doing a recon lap on the freshly cleaned surface and a relocated starting line that moved ahead a bit. Noting would stand in the way of his event win, however.

It was an emotional roller coaster for Justin Pawlak in Orlando. After qualifying his Falken Tire Ford Mustang in the number-two spot, he was poised to make a run at the win. His engine had different ideas, as the block failed during his Top 4 heat against Fredric Aasbo.

“It was a lot of fun. I mean Frederic’s one of the best drivers here and his car looks good too. JTP did a whole lap on the rev limiter for a 100-point qualifying lap while he was blasting oil everywhere. I was super pumped that he kept going all the way through the lap, but we kind of went in with an unknown. I kind of battled to get us a sight lap that we could drift on…” Chelsea said after the win. “It would make the best battle because we’d both be able to know what the track was like, and we did get that so I appreciate Formula D for that. And, yeah, overall I just went out there and drove like nothing had happened. You know, kind of erase the oil down and all that. Just conserve as much tire as I can, and on the second run, put the heat through outer-zone two and it worked pretty good.”

The 2015 TopDrift Champion and 2019 FD Pro2 Champion, Trenton Beechum sat out last season, but to ensure his S197 Mustang was in top form to run in PRO at Orlando, he stopped off at VMP Performance before the event. “Spent the whole day going over the engine, dynoing the car, and then ripping up their parking lot,” he said. Though Beechum qualified in the 28th spot, the new tuneup wasn’t quite enough to defeat Matt Field in the first round.

That it did, but for Justin Pawlak, a.k.a. JTP, things started strong but ended in a trail of Lucas Oil in competition. With a new, TVS-supercharged Coyote setup under the hood of his Falken Tire Ford Mustang Justin used an aggressive style to qualify in the second spot. In competition, he powered past Kyle Mohan, Dan Burkett, and Dean Kearney before falling to eventual runner-up, Fredric Aasbo. However, during that run the engine gave way leaving a trail of oil, rods and piston oil squirters on the track. “…As soon as I entered, I knew it was blown up, but it was still making power,” he confessed. JTP opted to keep his foot to the floor and complete the run, but he lost the round.

Meanwhile, Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s teammate had his way with things in Orlando, but the defending champ’s familiar 2021 Monster Energy Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D only qualified in the ninth spot. Once in competition, he took out Federico Sceriffo and Chris Forsberg, whose car caught fire during their battle. Vaughn moved on, which set up a clash with teammate Chelsea Denofa. Their door-to-door battle yielded not only a stepping stone to the event win for Chelsea, but a bit of side-bet bragging rights as well.

While things didn’t quite go his way in Orlando, Vaughn Gittin Jr. (left) still had reason to celebrate as his teammate Chelsea Denofa took home the win.

“I lost the bet. He and I bet whoever won would wear each other’s T-shirts the next day, and he inched me out in the great eight, I had a battle with Federico in his Ferrari, and then moved on to battle my man, Chris Forsberg.  He turned into a giant fireball that was absolutely insane,” Vaughn said. “And then the fight of the night — me versus Chelsea — and it was just absolutely crazy. Before we just said ‘Hey let’s just finish this. Let’s just not crash or wreck each other,’ and man it was absolutely epic. And then he went on to win the event. (I am) so pumped for my team, and so pumped for him…”

When the sun sets, the Formula Drift course is framed but LED lights from TYPE S, and competitors run the sponsor’s under car lighting, which is available to consumers in this kit. The lighting definitely provides another dimension to the action after dark.

For their efforts in Orlando, these three Mustang pilots moved into the third, fourth, and fifth spots, respectively, in the championship points chase as Formula Drift moves on to Round 3: The Gauntlet in Englishtown, New Jersey, on June 18-19.

Mustang drivers Chelsea Denofa (center) and Justin Pawlak (right) definitely had reason to celebrate in Orlando, but Pawlak will be busy replacing his engine before the next event. (Photo Credit: Formula Drift)

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Steve Turner

Steve Turner brings decades of passion and knowledge in the world of Ford performance, having covered it for over 20 years. From the swan song of the Fox Mustang to the birth of the Coyote, Steve had a front-row seat.
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