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· The Dude
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Changes spice up always-wild Drift
MOTORSPORTS: New format should create more suspense, exposure for series.

By Robert Morales, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/10/2009 01:27:55 AM PDT

Rhys Millen had just finished a practice session Tuesday on the track on which he will be competing this weekend in the series opener of the Formula Drift Pro Championship series on the streets of Long Beach.

Millen, as always, was upbeat. And why not? He is one of the top drivers on the circuit, and he is coming off a victory in the first Red Bull Drifting World Championships held last November at the Port of Long Beach.

"It's always good to start a new season and with a new season always comes new challenges, and this year we're taking on a lot of challenges," said Millen, who won the series title in 2005; Tanner Foust is two-time defending champion of the seven-event series.

Qualifying takes place today, with the main race set for Saturday on Turns 9, 10 and 11 of the Grand Prix track. Gates open today at 1p.m. They open Saturday at 10 a.m. with the main competition scheduled for an 11:30 start.

One of the challenges for Millen will be trying to do well right away in a new car. He has been in a Pontiac Solstice the past few years, but Tuesday he was standing alongside something different.

"We're going away from a lightweight little car to a great, powerful new platform in the Hyundai Genesis Coupe," Millen said.

"But it's a new car. It's only got three days underneath it.

"We won the championship in the car that had two years of development underneath it. So a few tweaks and changes here and there and, hopefully,

by the end of this weekend we'll be right where we need to be."
Millen's ride is not the only thing that will be different about this year's event, as the series has changed its format.

There are usually about 50 drivers who make it to each event.

Previously, those not ranked in the top 20 would have to make single-car qualifying runs Friday to make it to the field of 32 for Saturday.

There would be more single-

car qualifying Saturday morning, paring down to a field of 16 that would square off in tandem runs in the championship round in the afternoon.

But Ryan Sage, who co-owns Formula Drift along with Jim Liaw, said they decided to use the format that was used in the aforementioned Red Bull world championships that was promoted by Formula Drift.

There will still be single-car qualifying today, but once the field of 32 has been reached, there will be no further qualifying. Instead, they will all be part of the championship round that will consist of nothing but tandem runs on Saturday.

"It is kind of the pinnacle of drifting, going head-to-head in a dog fight with another driver," Sage said. "For the driver, they automatically get to make it to game day, which means if you are a guy who is trying to go in there and seek sponsorship, if you make it to 32, you make it to game day."

Foust said there are pros and cons to this new way.

"It will make that first round of 32 a little bit tricky because in some venues, there may not be 32 cars that are of similar speed, so it will force the potentially faster driver to really adapt and give a lot of space to a slower driver," Foust said.

One tandem-run loss eliminates a driver.

But Foust said that overall, this is good for the series.

"Every one of us has been somebody who just wanted to be in `The Show,"' Foust said. "It used to be you had to be in the top 16 and it was very difficult to get in the top-16 cut-off to be in `The Show.'

"Now I think it's an opportunity for an up-and-coming team to be the underdog and take down one of the big teams. And for that reason, overall, I think it's a good idea."

Foust, of course, said he is hopeful of a series three-peat. But like Millen, he is in a new car, having gone from a Nissan 350Z to a Scion TC powered by a NASCAR engine.

"Now it's up to me," Foust said, "to make it work sideways."

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