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LONG BEACH, Calif. - The new liveries are on, new tread in place and the engines all tweaked as the drifters head to Long Beach, Calif., for the season opener of Formula Drift, which means Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Justin Pawlak are ready to get back in action with their Ford Mustangs.
Last year’s season opener at Long Beach started with a bang for both Ford teammates.
Gittin came in with a glass-half-full attitude, but ended the first competition a little sooner than expected after brushing a wall and almost losing control just before the end of his run in Round 32.
“Last year we definitely did not get started off on the right foot at Long Beach, and it was 100 percent a mistake on my end. I just lost focus,” said Gittin. “There’s always a lot going on around the first event, and I really just shot myself in the foot essentially. Looking back, I realize why that was.”
As he looks forward to 2013 kicking off, Gittin knows he’s headed in the right direction.
“Moving into this year I’m going to make sure I stay in my zone and do the things I need to do to be there mentally and not let the insanity around the season start get in the way of what I need to do out there on the track,” he said. “So, for me, I don’t really have anything to worry about with the car, and I really never have. I have a great team. Our Ford Mustang is absolutely amazing. I just need to make sure that I’m where I need to be and we’re going to have a good weekend. That’s for sure.”
As for Justin “JTP” Pawlak, he started 2012 with his second straight win in the Long Beach season-opener and hopes to make it a three-peat this weekend.
“I’m just feeling comfortable with the track and focusing on each run at a time and not really trying to get ahead of myself or look past any particular battle,” said Pawlak on how to repeat his success. “Each driver is significant in their own right. I’m just going to go there and try to do what I’ve done for the last two years. I think anything can shake out in drifting. I think skill, luck and God’s will kind of plays into it every event. Hopefully, we’ll have some luck on our side again, and we’ll try to go for three in a row.”
Although Pawlak had an excellent start to 2012, the remainder of the season on-track didn’t pan out as successfully for him. Off the track, Pawlak and his wife had their first child last summer.
“I think I definitely lost some focus mid-season because my son was born in June, and I had a lot of focus on that. I think that drew my attention away from focusing completely on drifting, but it’s my son, so it’s a bit more important,” said Pawlak.
“I think I had a lot of life-changing stuff last year and especially with the start of the season being so strong. It was just a heck of a run in the beginning. I think just so much stuff was happening at once it was kind of sensory overload with being across the country and my wife being nine months pregnant on the other side that was the most difficult part of the season for me. And to top that off with an issue that we had on track that we had with another driver, it was just one thing piled onto another. It kind of steamrolled into me getting off track and staying focused on the job at hand.”
Pawlak said when his son was born early last summer, his life was flipped upside-down for the good, but it was an adjustment for him and his family.
“This year we’re all kind of settled in. We’re trying to get into a routine and that’s where I think it will be a lot easier being away from my family for a couple days at the events, instead of wanting to be back with my newborn and my wife. I think there will be a lot more focus this year. I’m looking forward to it. I have a great team behind me. I think there’s a really good energy in the Falken Tire tent now and I’m just really looking forward to all the guys working together and trying to go after a championship.”
The Formula Drift Long Beach Round 1 begins Friday with qualifying, and competition I scheduled for Saturday. The competition can be watched online via Livestream.