Geoff Donati made his Midwest Drift Union appearance at round three in 2015. He quickly rose through the ranks and earned the Rookie of the Year title in 2016 followed by an almost flawless 2017 performance. Though he's exited the Pro 2 series midway through the 2019 year, his rise from MDU to Pro 2 is still an interesting story.
Donati would commit to the full 2016 season, and in the first round at Gateway, he found himself on the podium in third place. Not bad for only his second outing in MDU.
His battle with Mike Feiock, who would go on to win the event, echoed their first time battling together at the third round the previous year.
Donati wouldn't podium at round two, but still made it into top eight, defeating Adam Ouziel in top sixteen before bowing out to Hooman Rahimi.
The two would see a rematch at round three, but the outcome would remain the same.
Come the final round at Dominion Raceway, Donati would find himself back on the podium in third and earning the Rookie of the Year title. After three rounds with battles lost against Mike Feiock, Donati would finally get the win.
The following season would prove to be extremely successful for Donati. He kicked things off with a win at round one, standing on the podium next to two other drivers who, unbeknownst to them at the time, would also be the finishing order of the series itself.
Another victory awaited Donati at round two, leaping ahead in the points even further.
Round three at Lake Erie Speedway would make it a three-peat for Donati, all but ensuring a Pro 2 license before the season's conclusion and setting him up for a perfect record for 2017.
However, that perfect season would come to an end at round four, as Donati took a loss to Jonathan Hurst in the semi-finals. Still, for only being the second year for driving Pro-Am, an almost perfect season was quite an achievement.
Donati kicked off his 2018 Pro 2 season qualifying 14th in Atlanta, but that's as far as he would go.
Round two in St. Louis wouldn't be kind to Donati, as he didn't make the qualifying cut to be in top sixteen. He would qualify fifth in Texas, his highest placement to that point in Pro 2, but would bow out in top sixteen against his old rival Jonathan Hurst. A qualifying score placing him in the 14th position for Irwindale would once again lead to a top-sixteen knockout, landing him 17th overall on the season.
Donati's 2019 season got off to a much better start than the previous year. He qualified 14th in Orlando, defeating fellow ex-MDU driver Garrett Denton in top sixteen and Sean Adriano in the great eight. He'd once again meet Jonathan Hurst, this time in the semi-finals. Though Donati's run to the top would be stopped there, a fourth place finish marked a career-best Pro 2 result.
In Atlanta, Donati qualified 13th, falling to Garrett Denton in top sixteen. Prior to round three in St. Louis, Donati announced his exit from Pro 2, citing the fun-per-dollar ratio wasn't there anymore, along with wanting to go back to his roots driving bash-style events and experimenting with aspects of drifting beyond competition.
I caught up with Donati at Atlanta to get some insight on his come up from MDU and how things are going in Pro 2, where in retrospect there may have been a solid hint at the end of his Pro 2 career.
NQ: What was something you learned your first year of Pro 2 that made you better prepared for the second?
GD: The hardest thing about Pro 2 is that you only have four to five practice laps to get ready for the track. It's not like pro-am where you can come in with a decent setup and be fine on any track in any condition. Formula DRIFT is such a tight competition you have to have that right setup to be competitive and last year we were still in that pro-am mindset and were scared to change anything, and that really bit us. This year we came in with a lot more knowledge and tools in the tool box as far as knowing what to adjust when we needed certain things to happen, and in general not being scared to try new things. I think that's really been part of our success this year.
NQ: How's it been driving with so many of your old MDU rivals?
GD: The camaraderie is still there, we're still friends and we still hang out in the pits, but at the end of the day we're here to win. Knowing the drivers is definitely an advantage because yes, we're driving crazier cars on bigger tracks, but at the end of the day we all drive similar to how we did in pro-am. Friendly, but definitely a notch up on competitiveness.
NQ: What was anything going into your first round of Pro 2 in 2018 that you wish you would have known that might have helped you out?
GD: We tested the car a lot before the first round, but we tested for reliability not setup changes. I drove that car probably six times before the first round and we didn't change a single setting. This year we went out and changed stuff all day long so we know if we change this, this happens and it really gave us a lot more tools in our toolbox to makes changes quickly when we need the car to be doing something differently.
NQ: If you could go back and tell your Pro-Am self something, what would it be? Where would you have put more focus?
GD: The most important thing is to really sit down and think about why you want to do Formula DRIFT. Do a cost/benefit analysis and see if you could do other things with drifting that cost less. Or, if you're like me and want to do it off principle that you set a goal for yourself a long time ago and want to reach it. Do it smart, don't go broke over it – it's not worth going broke over. Have fun, and as soon as you're not having fun, get out of there. You don't need to overbuild your car, but make sure you have a competitive car so you're not just coming here bringing a stick to a gun fight.
NQ: What area of the vehicle should a Pro-Am driver focus on when doing their build? Where should a driver concentrate the most resources?
GD: Depends on what you're driving. Look at the people who have been successful in Pro 2 before. For example, if you have an S13, look at the 2018 first and second place Pro 2 guys. They were S13s with relatively low horsepower and front mount radiators that were very simple cars. If you do an S13, there's no need to go do some crazy out of left field stuff that's just going to give you headaches in the end and cost you way more money. Make sure your car is reliable and that it presents well. You don't need 1,000 or even 700 horsepower for Pro 2. My car has 650 and we do just fine due to tire limitations. As long as you have a reliable car that you're comfortable driving, you're going to be successful.