Man, We Were Close-

Doug Van Den Brink and his D’Vanz Motorsports crew just got home from their second event of the season up in Wall, NJ and posted another respectable showing in front of another “sold-out” Formula Drift crowd.

With only 3 weeks in between Atlanta and Wall, everyone associated with the Formula Drift championship including DVM was in “full press” mode getting ready for the NJ event. After his good showing in round 2, Doug was eager to “get back after it” at round 3. Last year Doug had made some big improvements in NJ, and this year would hopefully provide even better results.

The event week started off well with a good test day on Thursday. After some emergency repairs to the track surface in the morning, Formula D officials ask Doug to do a few “re-con” laps to verify the tracks overall condition. Those few laps showed the track surface was ready but the repair had left some pretty big bumps that the cars would have to traverse. These bumps meant Doug and his crew would have to raise their Mustang up a bit so as not to bottom-out their suspension as the car literally skipped across the tops of the bumps like a motocross bike does over the “woops”.

With their suspension adjusted, they set about getting the car to Doug’s liking. In Atlanta the team struggled getting the car “free” enough to allow Doug to place the car where he needed it. They had made some suspension modifications before NJ and worked hard to exploit those changes throughout the day.

Once Friday practice started, it quickly became apparent that the car was still too tight and very “twitchy” to drive. A by-product of a tight car is a very fast car. So fast in fact, that Doug was really struggling with getting the car slowed down enough coming off the banking to make it safely into the slower/flat infield sections. Doug knew that he had to figure a way to carry the speed off the banking, transition the car from left to right, then back left again all the while “scrubbing” enough speed off as to not skip-up the banking on the other side of the track. With some helpful words from a friend his transitions improved tremendously but getting rid of all his momentum was proving difficult.

With only a few minutes left in the session the crew went to bolt-on the tires they had chosen for Doug to qualify on. The plan was to put one run on the tires and then save them for the all important qualifying session. Then the words no team ever likes to hear came over the radio, “Um guys, we’ve got a problem”. As DVM crewman Cory Mendenhall was torquing the wheels lugs on the left rear axle, one of the studs that locate the wheel had snapped right off in his hands. This was not a good thing especially knowing that Doug would be one of the first cars in the qualifying order and that session was less than 40-minutes from getting under way. The team decided to send Doug out with only 4-lugs in place for one slow lap just so he could break-in his new “qualifying tires”, then it was  back to the paddock area to see what repairs would be possible in the short time they had available before the start of the next session.

Upon closer inspection of the studs, it turned out that Doug’s couple of run-ins with the flat-to-banking transition had literally bend/cracked all the locator studs on the left rear axle. Had the team not snapped the one stud when changing the tire, it was very likely that the rest of the studs would have let go out on the track shearing off the tire and probably throwing Doug into a massive wreck…. Bullet dodged! Once again the Falken Tire team came to the rescue as they supplied the DVM crew with not only the needed studs, but also the tool to make the repairs quick and easy, getting Doug back out in line for his qualifying runs. Many thanks to them AGAIN!

For this event at Wall Stadium, Formula D had again gathered 42 cars to make up the Top-32 field for Saturday’s main show. DV’s first lap scored a 67.5 which put him 20th after round 1. On his second lap, he did a touch better scoring a 69.2 which firmly got him into the field in 25th position. “Well, it is an improvement from where we were but my transitions are still too tentative thanks to the car being too tight so we still have plenty of room for improvement. That said, a big Thank You has to go out to Andy, David and Corey who have really busted their backside keeping our Mustang on track this weekend,” Van Den Brink said after the session.

On Saturday, Doug’s main objective in the morning practice session was to improve his line up on the banking and to get a “snappier” transition into the flat sections of the track. Feeling more determined than ever Doug took run after run throwing the car harder into the banking. With one final word from an observer, Doug was able to get the “entry” where he needed to be. Late in the session, feeling pretty confident, Doug made another run to record this higher entry into his memory banks. This time he got high enough alright. A bit too high as it turned out for he smacked the wall with the left rear corner of the car leaving a few too many Mustang parts on the track as he exited the unforgiving Wall Stadium banking. “Yeah, I was just trying a bit too hard and kept the tail out just a fraction of a second too long. Luckily, the damage is only cosmetic so it shouldn’t affect us too much”. Doug said later.

For the Saturday afternoon “tandem-battle” elimination round Doug’s 25th starting spot meant he would be paired-up with the 8th place qualifier, Stephan Verdier. While Stephan qualified much better than Doug, on paper the two drivers appeared to be very evenly matched with pretty even speeds.

On lap one, DV gave chase being the lower qualifier. Stephan’s car didn’t take off as fast as Doug anticipated so the Mustang struggled getting up into the banking. Doug’s momentum loss meant he had to play catch-up the rest of the lap which was fairly obvious to the judges giving Stephan a clear advantage. On lap two, Doug lead and this time it was Stephan who struggled to keep up and had to really “shallow-up” his lines to keep up, giving DV the advantage. This even battle meant that the first two runs would be erased and the two drivers would have to go “One More Time”…

For this second go-around Doug gave Stephan a little more gap at the start meaning he could run his on speed entering the banking. This strategy worked fine but he then got impatient and tried to catch-up to the Subaru driver all in the next corner. This mistake cost DV dearly as he carried not enough angle into the flat’s, resulting in too much speed to make the second corner. This extra speed caused DV’s left rear to ride up the banking which was a big deduction in the eyes of the judges. On the second pass, Doug let his emotions get the best of him and simply over-drove his car making small mistakes along the way. Verdier too was struggling on this pass, but his advantage on lap one was significant enough to give him the win over the Mustang driver.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely disappointed with how I performed today”, Doug said after he climbed out of his car. “I know we had a shot at a win today and I feel like I let it slip through my fingers. True the car is still as tight as a bow string and a bit unnerving to drive but I really thought we could make it past the Subaru. The guys on the team did a great job and all of the equipment our suppliers provided for us worked great. The guys at Falken were invaluable in their assistance so a big thanks has to go out to all of them. We’ll head home, put our “thinking-caps” on and see if we can make this Mustang a little less “wild” so I can hang on to her next time”, DV concluded.

With the Formula Drift Series heading back out to Seattle for the next event, the DVM crew will be forced to say so long for now as funding for the trip has not yet been secured. That’s not to say our boys are going to be idle though. After a week break, Doug and his band will be back up north at Summit Point, WV for the annual HyperFest event. This will be Doug’s first trip back to one of his favorite events after a couple of year’s absence. The event will be round-3 of the XDC national drifting series that features up and coming drivers from around the country looking to make their stamp on the national drifting scene. This event is always a good time and with the addition of the XDC group, it should be a huge event. Don’t miss it!!