ROUSH Performance drifter Justin “JTP” Pawlak took a little time to sit down with us and talk all things Formula Drift, including how comfortable he is behind the wheel of his 2013 ROUSHcharged Ford Mustang (after only having one day of testing before the car’s Formula Drift debut), how he feels about the understated livery of the car, and his relationship with SLP-counterpart Michael Essa. Read on!
Stephanie Davies: If you would’ve had it your way, how much seat time would you have needed to feel really comfortable in the car going into the Streets of Long Beach event?
JTP: In years past, we get like two to three test days potentially, and I mean, that’s kind of enough but if I had it my way, I’d probably want a handful of days. The more seat time you have in a vehicle, the more comfortable you are with exactly what it’s doing, and also you can use that seat time to develop the suspension and the overall handling characteristics of the car. It’s just one of those things, like practice makes perfect. The proof is in the pudding on that.
SD: Would you say the majority of your time is spent doing chassis/suspension stuff, as opposed to engine tunes?
JTP: Yeah, definitely. Once you get the engine, like now we feel confident in the tune we have in the car, the car makes good power. To be honest in-between Round 1 and Round 2, the only thing that we’re really working on is the cooling system. We didn’t really experience any high temperatures per se, but we’re also in Long Beach at 72 degrees. We’re not in Atlanta where it’s going to be mid-80s to 90s with high humidity. Same thing with Florida and New Jersey the next three rounds. So we just want to make sure that the cooling system is more than capable of keeping the temperatures down, especially since we are running a blower setup and there is heat-soak with that setup. Also in Atlanta, there is no real cool down time in-between runs. It’s just knowing the obstacles that we’re going to be facing, we’re just trying to rectify any potential issues that we may have that would take away from our competitive advantage. We’re working on the cooling system and then also, we are paying attention to some suspension changes as well that should give us a competitive advantage. We will be dialing-in the suspension setup throughout the year. That’s kind of like an ever-changing deal because every track is different, every suspension setup is going to be different, since there are different characteristics on each track that you are tuning for.
SD: About this car, it’s obviously a pretty understated look that you guys have gone with this year. It’s much different than the other cars on the track that tend to be over the top in styling. Do you wish it was a little more over the top? Is that more your style?
JTP: No, I love it, I love it. I think it’s definitely a good representation of me. I’m not really a flashy guy per se. I’m more into the performance aspect of drifting. I definitely like the styling, but I’m more on the just clean, classic styling. In the past, it’s more about kind of a Japanese-influence styling with other cars that I’ve built, even with the most recent project that I’ve done with ROUSH and StangTV – it’s more of a Japanese styling twist on a Mustang. With this one, we kind of went with more of a classic hot rod – you know the satin black, clean lines, simple livery, and I think that really just plays well into the Mustang kind of being a retro-styled car. I’m not really into the super flashy neon colors and that sort of thing. I mean, it works for other drivers and the style that they’re going for, but I really like the whole classic hot rod style that both Essa and I chose to go with this year.
SD: Do you have a close working relationship with Essa and his team? Do you guys have any sort of rivalry brewing up? What’s going on there?
JTP: I mean it’s definitely like a friendly rivalry if anything. We’ve known each other for quite a long time. We both live in Southern California, we both actually started drifting in RX-7s. I met him a long time ago, and we traded some tires. I was looking to get some road racing tires and he wanted some drift tires, so we traded some tires probably in 2004 or ‘05 or something like that. It’s been probably 10 years that we’ve known each other. We’re both kind of cut from the same cloth where we build our own cars, we drive our own cars, we both run our own shops. This off season, being that we’re partnering, I helped him a little bit with his car, and at the track, our crew guys kind of help each other out and what not. It’s cool because his crew and my crew are all kind of cut from the same cloth too, so we all get along really well. When Mike got knocked out early in Long Beach, his crew guys came over and helped us out, so that was really cool. The following weekend we were all kind of helping each other as well at the Super Drift during the Grand Prix, and then we ended up lining up against each other. Obviously when we’re lining up against each other there’s a rivalry there because that’s the nature of the beast, however there’s not really a grudge per se.
SD: Do you have a favorite Formula Drift event? Do you have a favorite track?
JTP: Long Beach is probably one of my favorite tracks. It’s right up there, just because it’s in the streets of Long Beach. You rarely have an opportunity to drift on public streets legally so it’s pretty cool. The back drop is amazing. I lived in Long Beach for quite a few years, so it was always kind of special for me in that respect. Just being able to ride my bike from my house down to the track was always pretty cool, and it’s a super challenging track. It may not look that impressive from the stands looking down on the track, however when you’re going through K-rails that are above your window and you’re making corners that you can’t see where they open up to, it’s a pretty cool experience inside the car. And then I would say, another track that I really like is Irwindale (I don’t know why they’re both in Southern California), but Irwindale is one of the first professional tracks I drifted on, and it’s the “House of Drift” – it’s where drifting started in the United States. And at the end of the season, there’s always a lot of emotions, or you know a championship on the line. It’s just always a really unique event and there’s always some drama that unfolds or something amazing that happens.
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