Powerful 2018 Mustangs Debut At Formula Drift Opener

This month, a trio of fresh 2018 Mustangs tore up the streets of Long Beach, California, to kick off the first round of the Formula DRIFT championship season. ROUSH Performance driver, Justin Pawlak, and RTR Motorsports drivers, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea Denofa, put on an impressive display of vehicle control through the streets of Long Beach proving that their high-horsepower Ford Performance engines can hold their own against many of the smaller-displacement vehicles in the field.

Justin Pawlak’s ROUSH Performance-backed 2018 Formula DRIFT Mustang attracted a lot of attention while tearing up the streets of Long Beach and after the first event he ranks fifth in points.

All three 2018 Mustangs looked great with the refreshed body styling as each car displayed aftermarket body parts that are currently available for purchase for 2018 Mustang owners. Upgrades like the ROUSH chin spoiler, front fascia corner pockets, and rear spoiler were all installed on the JTP machine. Meanwhile, both Nitto Tire/RTR Motorsports Mustangs were equipped with the popular RTR grille with LED light display, RTR chin spoiler, and unique corner pockets.

Behind The Scenes

All three Mustangs looked ready to level the playing field, and we couldn’t wait to see these vehicles hit the streets for qualifying. This year, we had the chance to spend two days with both teams to see what it takes to get these ponies ready for battle. The first day was a test and tune session followed by an individual qualification run through the closed-off streets of Long Beach.

After each practice run, the teams immediately went to work based on each of the driver's feedback. Each crew had to work fast to fix any problems with the vehicle before they were called up to the next run. If your vehicle was not fixed before it was your turn to go back on the track, drivers would miss valuable practice time on the course, which is especially important for a new model vehicle.

In between the practice runs and qualifying, we took a look at the multiple display areas inside the Formula DRIFT paddock area. The outdoor expo area allowed Formula DRIFT fans to experience the different vendor booths and sponsors that were supporting this year’s event. This area is also unique because it allows fans to get up close and personal with many of the Formula DRIFT teams staging areas and witness firsthand how the teams prepare for the race.

Big-name sponsors like Nitto Tire, Ford Performance, Honeywell Garrett, and even the United States Air Force all had display booths set up for the fans. Likewise, there were plenty of food and refreshment vendors on hand to keep fans fueled up for the festivities.

Before the finals, we had the chance to skip the crowds and check out the many display booths that were set up for the Formula DRIFT fans.

Close Call

While all three Mustangs put on a show in Long Beach, only the ROUSH Performance driver Justin Pawlak was able to advance his 2018 Mustang into the quarterfinals, and narrowly missed a shot at the finals by losing a One More Time run to Fredric Aasabo and his 2019 Toyota Corolla. Both drivers put it all on the line and in our opinion, the third round could have gone either way.

All three of the 2018 Mustangs battled hard at Round One of the Formula DRIFT Championship in Long Beach, California, but unfortunately, none of them were able to secure a podium finish.

In the end, it was Rockstar Energy Drink/Nexen Tire driver Fredric Aasbo who took home the overall win at the first round of Formula DRIFT Long Beach. Fredric’s Aasbo’s 2019 Rockstar Toyota Corolla battled it out to the finals by drifting his way through matchups like Matt Vankirk’s 2JZ Nissan 240SX in the Top 32 and Kristaps Bluss’ LS-powered BMW E92 Eurofighter in the Sweet 16. After a hard-fought battle, Fredric “The Norweigan Hammer” Aasbo then knocked out Justin Pawlak’s ROUSH Performance Falken Ford Mustang in the quarter-finals.

Though the Mustangs didn’t prevail, we enjoyed getting to see the latest stallions dressed in full drifting regalia. Although we could not pick a favorite, we were definitely digging the teal and blue paint scheme on Justin Palak’s ROUSH Performance vehicle. However, our main focus was to get a first-hand look at all three of the new 2018 Mustangs running the series this year. And, after two days of closely examining each vehicle, we were impressed with all three setups. You can also check out our huge photo gallery from the season opener below.

Round two of the Formula DRIFT season moves on to Orlando, Florida, on April 27-28. For a complete schedule of the remaining races in 2018, visit on the official Formula DRIFT website here.

Photo gallery

VIEW FULL GALLERY >

About the author

Kelly Getz

Kelly is a SoCal car enthusiast and skilled driver. His “get out and drive” obsession began after attending his first high-performance racing school while serving on active duty. Since then, he has attended numerous military and civilian driving schools across the country to help fuel that passion.
Read My Articles

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