“Holding on to the steering wheel, I tried to turn right and I couldn’t,” defending Formula Drift Champion James Deane recounted. “The power steering failed which meant I was just holding the wheel and had to back off power. As soon as I backed off power, the car just went straight—straight for the wall. I hit the wall pretty hard, and didn’t really lose any speed before impact.” His battle in the finals against Chris Forsberg in Orlando quickly morphed into a rare mechanical failure that ended his bid for the top spot on the podium.
After James’s crash, the winner’s interview and then the spraying of champagne for the podium finishers, the second round of Formula Drift in Orlando concluded, and the Worthouse crew were already at work. Wrenching on the car in their pits with the goal to roll it into the trailer, they will pack up and head to Titan Motorsports in Orlando to pull the front and the rear of the car apart and as James said, “give it a good shake-over.“
Unfazed, he continued to think about the work that awaited the team and what has to be accomplished in the short two weeks they have before round three in Atlanta. He itemizes the following checklist and lists the work that is needed on his S15: “I haven’t checked the shock but I’m pretty sure with that much of an impact that it’s bent, so new shock, new front Wisefab, possibly the cross member, and definitely the power-steering pump because that’s what caused the whole crash to happen.
“The power steering rack might be damaged from the impact. The rear of the car doesn’t seem so bad but a rear Wisefab hub and maybe one or two arms – nothing crazy. Most of the damage is in the front.” He got under the car and noticed a small kink in the chassis leg but said, “We’re lucky that it’s in front of where the cross member bolts to and where the tension rods, or wishbones are mounted. It’s not in a vital place, but it’s something we’d like to fix because it could be a weak point.”
What is not a weak point is James’ smile, authentic and positive character, and his dedication to drifting as his zeal shines through. Analyzing his weekend, he noted that staying in the States after round one in Long Beach allowed him to work on the car with the team and due to their meticulousness, he was confident coming into Orlando. Enjoying every lap he put down on the Florida track, especially while leading, he reveled in driving the car as hard as he could and throwing it against the wall and running it for as long as possible.
“It’s a great feeling when you get it right.”
He noticed right away that doing a hard lead run with a lot of angle, a lot of wheel speed, and a lot of tire smoke felt exciting to him, but he noticed his tires were almost finished after that. In his chase runs, James said, “I was kind of worried because as soon as I got to the second corner, I was struggling to stay with the lead cars because I used my tires already. Part of that is down to me being too aggressive in the lead position, but I was having too much fun to change what I was doing. We kept it going for the weekend and with every battle, my downfall was the second corner while chasing the lead opponents, as they seemed to pull away a little. But, I think that because our lead run was so strong, we were getting the advantage to move forward.”
And to advance, he knew he had a formidable task ahead of him in his Top 16 battle against Forrest Wang. Known for his style, Forrest is a hard charger, so James’ intent was to lay down an ultra precise lead run and he felt he did just that. When the drivers swapped places and Forrest was leading, James was ready to chase him hard. Recalling the battle, James stated, “I knew he was going to be fast, so I was ready to give it my best and flicked into the bank.” Keeping close proximity, James noticed that Forrest was high on the bank when Forrest touched the wall. Automatic reflexes kicked in and Forrest pulled the handbrake, which dragged the back of the car into the wall again, managing to keep the front out. James continued, “I didn’t really know what was going to happen, so I wasn’t risking backing off, so I just tried to keep my composure and stayed closely with him. I think he hit the wall once more when coming off the bank so it was very hard for me to follow.
“Going into the first inner clip, before the transition, I was a bit far back because I wasn’t sure what was going on and I was trying to catch up and the next thing I know, Forrest’s car was just basically stopped. I don’t know what happened. I was still on throttle and by the time I got onto the brakes, I was already hitting him. I was holding on to the wheel pretty hard and hit Forrest with my left, front wheel and while holding on, the steering wheel was snapped out of my hand and hurt my wrist a little bit.” He circled his wrist around trying to prove, slightly unconvincingly, that he wasn’t in pain and with a dismissive smile said, “but I feel fine.”
Adding to his discomfort, the final battle against Forsberg saw him go into the wall and “gave it another little shock. I don’t think there’s any damage, there’s no swelling, but I can just feel like I fell off a bouncy castle,” he says with a playful smile. “Nothing major,” trying to cast away any doubt.
(As a side note, Forrest immediately came over to check on James’ well being and to shake his hand in the pits and Chris Forsberg drove over to him after the final battle).
Relaxed and cheerful in his pit, James reflected on his weekend and felt happy with his second-place finish. The team’s goal coming into Orlando was to secure a podium spot and they succeeded. “I think it’s going to be a very good year. I’m really impressed with the level of driving and 100% confident that everyone is pushing harder this season. It’s great for the sport and I’m so happy I can be involved.” A beat later, his smile widened, “A couple of years ago, I was the one at home watching this [on the Livestream] and wondering how I would stack up, so it’s great to be here and be fighting with the best in the world. I am living my dream.”
Photos by Aaron Eusebi