Formula Drift: Tyler McQuarrie’s ‘over-drive medication’

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Formula 1 fans are used to the word “formula” and often times we find the series under judgment from FIA stewards for on track infractions but there is another “Formula” series that utilizes a judge in a completely different way. The Formula Drift championship is judged for on track performance in real-time and it is a critical point of how well a driver does. In fact, it can make or break championships.

Stands

Drifting has become a big sport in the US with the likes of Tanner Foust, Vaughn Gittin, Chris Forsberg and Tyler McQuarrie. It’s an exciting experience and I was exposed to it via F1B’s own Paul Charsley who took me drifting for a few laps in a Mustang. It was fabulous! We thought F1B readers might enjoy learning more about the “other” formula series and some insight to how it works.

F1B decided to take a closer look at the Formula Drift series with the help of Vincent Guglielmina and Thomas McCallum, two terrific motorpsort photographers, and Formula Drift driver Tyler McQuarrie at round 6 in Sonoma Valley this past weekend. We wanted to get a better feel for what the series is and how a driver competes. What the nuances are and get a better understanding of just how the series operates.

Before we get to the Q&A with Tyler McQuarrie, let’s take a look at the series and how it’s scored.

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In competition, drivers are given two (2) non-consecutive judged laps to qualify, with their top score counting towards placement into a field of 32. Only the top 32 drivers are allowed to continue into the tandem tournament rounds, with draws in scoring broken by entry speed. Each qualifying run is judged on four (4) criteria: Speed, Line, Angle, and Overall Impression.

Speed is a combination of the entry speed on the first corner as well as the amount of speed the driver is able to carry through the entire course.

Line is the ideal path a vehicle must take on course and is marked by Inner Clipping Points, Outer Clipping Points, and Transition Zones. Inner Clipping Point are reference points on the course where the vehicle’s front bumper should come as close as possible to the reference point. Outer Clipping Points are also reference points and scored by determining how close the corner of the vehicle’s rear bumper comes to the point. Transition Zones are areas on track where the direction of the line changes and vehicles must change the direction of their drift.

Angle measures the amount of counter-steer and relative rear slip angle a driver uses through the course.

Overall Impression is the general feel of the pass and how well the other three criteria were executed through the entirety of the lap. This is the most subjective criteria and judges will look for the most “excitement” that the driver can bring. Drivers must demonstrate full control of the car at all time.

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It looks easy on paper but as Tyler McQuarrie can attest, it isn’t. We went directly to the source and asked a few novice questions to get a better understanding of the sport and just what makes Tyler McQuarrie tick.

F1B: It may not be the fastest way around a track but it is the most exciting way; what got you in to drifting?

TM: I guess you could say drifting fell into my lap. I returned to the states from England after running the Formula Vauxhall Championship in 1998 and saw my first Drift Video then. To be honest… I thought it looked like some dudes just screwing around and didn’t think much of it. Fast forward to 2003, and one of my sponsors who sponsored a drift team asked me to come out to one of their practices. They just happened to have a spare car so… I weaseled my way into the spare. I took to it like a duck to water! It was awesome! I think it’s because I have always been the type of race driver that needs to hold myself back a notch to not over drive the car. So drifting was like a release for me. Like medication!

F1B: Formula Drift is a sport that is judged and not centered on the fastest lap; They judge on things like Speed, Line Angle (as demonstrated by clipping points). How subjective is the Overall Impression? Is that a real random element of preference in FD?

TM: Drifting is very subjective! In the beginning it was very difficult and hard to get used to it simply because racing is so black and white. Whoever gets to the checkered first, wins. Not the case in drifting or any sport that deals with an official making judgment calls. Whether it’s Tennis, Baseball, Football, many sports like these have a certain degree of subjection. Unlike those sports, the judges in drifting are looking at many different elements and all of those elements affect one another. For example, if one car has a faster entry speed over another, it doesn’t mean he is simply faster. The faster car could have less angle giving him a faster speed, which is not a good thing. There are many different criteria like this that could play out during a run and the judges are human, so it’s easy for them to over look some aspects of a run. The judging has gotten so much better in Formula D over the past few years but there will always be some controversies over bad calls. There has been some talk about using data acquisition on the cars, which would make it black and white but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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F1B: Making the top 32 is a great achievement but how many times have you had a run screwed by the “other guy” in the tandem event?

TM: The Top 32 can be very tricky. Ask any top driver and they’ll tell you it’s probably the most nerve racking run of the event. We spend a lot of time making our cars as quick as we can so it then becomes a bit difficult to follow someone slower. It is very busy in the cockpit when follow a slower car. You have to use a lot of E-brake, side step the clutch, left foot braking, but you can only go so slow before the car wants to straighten up. Many of the slower cars have caught on to this and have slowed down a little more than necessary to force a faster car into a mistake. And, yes this has caught me out in the past so I need to be smart and play it safe when going up against slower cars.

F1B: The one question I have is the tires. They are punished in Drifting and it makes one ask; how many sets of tires do you go through in a typical weekend? Is there an optimum tire condition such as worn tires (scuffs in the oval racing world), hot weather, cooler weather, track temperature etc. Just how crucial are tires to the entirety of your lap?

TM: Tires are probably one of the most important variables in drifting. In Formula D we have to run a DOT (street tire) with a tread wear no softer than 140. The tire must be available and for sale to the public. In Formula D every driver is looking to get the most amount of grip, which will give you high entry speeds and the ability to pull away from the chase car. We have seen many tire manufactures develop and produce tires just for drifting. Falken Tire just came out with the new RT 615 K and the thing kicks ass! So much grip but my car eats them up! I typically go through about 50-60 Falken tires during a 2 day drift event. My car has over 780hp and whether I’m doing 40mph or 100mph, my wheel speed is around 110mph to a 140mph! I actually only do 2-3 runs before I have to put on a new set of Falken rubber. Depending on the track, a run can last anywhere between 20-45 sec. The Falken Tires are at their best on the first run but don’t fall off at all, until there is no rubber left….Like all motorsports, track temp plays a big role in a tires performance. Before every run, I’m told over the radio what the track temp is and we either make a tire pressure change or a shock change to compensate for the change in track temp. The grip level drops off a lot when the track temp gets above 120F. In Las Vegas we had track temps above 140F, which made for interesting setups!

F1B: Currently sitting in 8th, were you pleased with the outcome of round 6 at Infineon? You work at Jim Russell, who is located at Infineon, did that give you a better perspective on the circuit and advantage?

TM: The 2010 Formula D season has been a bit of a struggle and the fact that I’m sitting 8th in points with 1 event to go is disappointing simply because I finished the 2009 Formula D championship in 3rd.I turned my 2010 season around about halfway through and had some good momentum coming into my home event at Infineon after my win in Las Vegas. Everyone thinks I have such a huge advantage at Infineon because I’ve been an instructor at Jim Russell Racing School for 13 years. I know the track better than anyone but I never practice drifting there. I don’t see where I would have an advantage but I didn’t help my argument out when I went and qualified first for the Infineon Formula D event. I knew I had a good shot at winning this event but I had a tough ladder (bracket) to get there. I won my top 32 battle and next up in the top 16 was Tanner Foust, who some of you may know from “Race of Champions” and the X Games Rally gold medal winner. Tanner is very good but I knew I could beat him because he was a little inconsistent all weekend and qualified 17th. I had a good lead run but he also did a good job following me. On my follow run we left the start line and he pulled out a 4 car gap before we got into turn one. I wasn’t too surprised because the rear geometry of the 350Z makes it a struggle to get the power down. The gap was too big and it was game over at that point.

F1B: Tell us about your car. Make, Model and what set up you like? (what’s your brake bias like and do you like all the oversteer you can get or a balance between the two).

TM: I drive the Falken Tire 2006 Nissan 350Z. I have a 6.7ltr V8 with 780hp and 670tq @ 4,000 RPM’s. That power is put down with Falken 615K 255/35/18 front 295/40/18 rear .The gear box is a Mid Valley 4spd dog box out of a NASCAR Cup car, and quick change rear end. We run dual EDFC Tein coilovers, Wilwood brakes. It weighs in at… 2400LBS! Since speed is such a big factor, we set the car up with a little understeer. This allows you to be on the gas hard and gives you forward bite. Most people would have a hard time in it because it would want to grip up, or straighten up on them. You need to be fully committed in a top level Formula D car

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F1B: How did Falken and Tyler McQuarrie come together?

TM: I had been talking to Falken for a couple of years and really began to eye their program about a year before going over there. They are hands down the best team in drifting and it is an honor to be on the team that is tabbed “the dream team” in drifting. All 5 drivers on Team Falken are capable of winning at every event. It really keeps you on your toes as a driver. Rule 1: Beat your team mate ha ha.

F1B: With one round left, what are Falken and Tyler McQuarrie looking forward to in 2011?

TM: I came into the 2010 season as a title contender but a few bad results ended that and I soon started to just shot for good results from event to event, and I have done that. I am looking forward to the 2011 season because we are coming back with a new 370 Z with more power, if you can believe that! I think we should do a “swap my ride” with an F-1 driver. I get a go with his car, and he gets one with mine… Just saying… Thought I would throw it out there ha ha.

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The event at Infineon Raceway was won by Vaughn Gittin Jr. in his Monster Energy / Falken Tire Ford Mustang against Ryan Tuerck in the Mobil 1 / Maxxis Pontiac Solstice. Gittin edged out Tuerck for his second victory of the season and increased his lead overall in the championship points with one event remaining. The final Round 7 will be held October 8-9 at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale California:

“Less than 100 points separate the top drivers from the championship and it’s still anyone’s for the taking,” said Jim Liaw, president and co-founder of Formula DRIFT. “With the Formula DRIFT championship on the line and the Tires.com Triple Crown winner to be determined at this event the level of competition is at all all-time high and the action on track will be exciting as it has ever been. This will be one drifting event not to miss.”

Round 7 has everything to play for and the tickets are available now for the event. The championship is tight and there the competition is even tighter.

It’s an exciting series and a lot of fun to watch. The history of drifting is certainly all Japanese but the Formula Drift series has a unique position and pedigree. Check out the Formula Drift history here and the history of drifting here.

Vincent and Thomas had a terrific time shooting the event and said the excitement was tangible. The cars were terrific and the crowd was electric. If you have a chance to catch Formula Drift, we recommend doing so and should you need a driver to cheer for, we recommend Tyler McQuarrie. He is as genuine as it gets and as F1B’s Paul Charsley says, he’s a terrific guy. You can also catch Tyler at the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School if you are looking to improve your driving skills.

Special thanks to:
Formula Drift
The ID Agency
Falken Tire
Tyler McQuarrie
Vincent Guglielmina & Thomas McCallum