Final Fling: D1nz Crowns A New Drift King

After six hard-fought rounds of competition, the 2012/2013 Cody’s D1NZ National Drifting Championship came to a head over the weekend. It’s been a long time coming too, because the last time the cream of New Zealand’s drift crop did battle was way back in March when the D1NZ bandwagon hit up the South Island.

Although the season should have been well and truly wrapped up before the country was plunged into the depths of winter as it is now, through no fault of its own D1NZ ran into a dead end securing its preferred final round location. On the flipside, though, that prompted the return to Ricoh Motorsport Park in Taupo – a driver favourite – which initially had been dropped off the calendar this season. It was kind of fitting too, as this is the place that D1NZ got its start 10 years ago.

Back then it was called Centennial Park Raceway and comprised of just one small, clubman-style circuit. That’s now Track 3, and just a small part of an expansive facility right smack-bang in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. As per usual, the event ran over two days; the first reserved for D1NZ Pro-Am qualifying and preliminary battles, and D1NZ Pro practice, and the second for everything else. Business aside, as the final round of the season and with winter months ahead to right mechanical and bodywork wrongs, no one was holding back.

After departing Auckland at the ungodly hour of 4.30am, I arrived in Taupo three hours later to find the pits already abuzz with activity. Mike hadn’t got much practice in the day prior as the team was battling to get on top of the tune after upgrading the RX-7’s engine management system to the same Haltech unit used in his BADBUL RX-8. Unfortunately for the guys, while BADBUL was being tuned on Pulse Performance Race Engineering’s dyno earlier in the week, noise control was called and the company served an abatement notice.

The plan was to finish the tune at the track, but as it turned out, the laptop didn’t like lateral g-force and vibration, so Mike had to make do with an four-rotor engine that performed beautifully in the powerband, but lacked throttle response and smoothness at low RPM. Of course, he wasn’t going to let that small matter get in the way of his quest to finally claim the D1NZ Drift King title – something that has eluded him ever since he began drifting. Considering that Mike was stuck back in 12th spot after a gearbox breakage at Round 2, he had done pretty well to claw his way back up to second, and in striking distance of the championship win.

I have to hand it to the guy too – he’s been clocking up some crazy air miles of late, and would have been seriously jet-lagged having just flown in from Sweden the same day he needed to drive to Taupo for the event. And the day after the event he was back in the sky for another two days of flying and transit to get back to Europe; next stop: Gatebil Rudskogen.

But winning wasn’t just on Mike’s mind. The last time ‘Fanga’ Dan Woolhouse claimed a D1NZ championship was back in 2006, and although he had come tantalizingly close to repeating history on more than one occasion since, the experienced wheelman was heading into the final round with a a comfortable lead in points.

And as he’s proven time after time, when Fanga’s head’s in the game, he’s a hard man to beat.

Someone else with their eyes on the prize was Achilles Radial team driver Andrew Redward.

Behind the wheel of his LS1-powered FC3S RX-7 he’s been a man on a mission the entire season and only trailed Mike by a slim two percent margin going into the event.

Then there was Curt Whittaker – D1NZ’s defending champ, back in fourth but still very much in with a chance at a top three finish.

Curt’s campaigned his R34 Skyline for a while now and it’s proven to be an extremely competitive package so nobody was discounting him either.

Regardless of where drivers sat in the standings though, everyone wanted the final round win, or at least a piece of the podium.

As always, the day started off with a drivers’ briefing where the judges laid down the scoring criteria for qualifying and the battles. For drift purposes, the main infield section is used, run in reverse and incorporating a high speed left-hand entry to right switch, followed by a long tightening left-hander and finally into a 180-degree right-hand sweeper to finish.

In all, 28 Pro rank drivers were entered, with 29 more Pro-Am drivers to round out a solid competing field. The scene was set for a fitting finale to D1NZ’s 10th anniversary season.

One of the neat things about D1NZ – or perhaps drifting in general in New Zealand – is that the machinery remains varied. Ok, so they’re all Nissans in this shot, but the S14 at the front runs an SR20DET, the R34 Skyline in the middle is powered by a Toyota 2JZ and the R32 Skyline holding up the rear is home for a Barra 240T turbocharged inline six from an Australian-built Ford XR6T.

Kiwis rarely stick to convention, as evidenced by those cars at the pointy end of the field…

… and those still coming up through the ranks. Willy Foster’s AE85 Toyota Levin, for example, runs a basic Nissan SR20DE+T conversion.

Of course, there are drivers following Formula Drift’s lead, shoe-horning Chevy LS V8s in engine bays they normally wouldn’t go.

And while I think this will become more of a common occurence over the next few seasons, I very much doubt we’ll ever see a full field dominated by bent eights. That’s a good thing, right?

Despite the chilly weather – a not so gentle reminder that winter has well and truly arrived in New Zealand – a big crowd flocked to Taupo. Given the central North Island location, it’s a pretty good gauge of how popular drifting’s become in New Zealand.

It was also good to see Carl Ruiterman back into the swing of things after a rod busted through the side of his SR20DET’s block back in February. The long break between the the fifth round and the final afforded him the extra time needed to rebuild the engine. Punching 530hp to the wheels and backed up by a sequential gearbox, it’s certainly not lacking in power, but after breaking a rocker in practice, I’m sure we’ll see this car back with an SR20VE NEO VVL head set-up soon. The former D1NZ champ did well too, qualifying in fifth spot and narrowly missing out on a ticket into the Top 4.

Representing New Zealand’s South Island, Troy ‘Family Guy’ Forsythe put in another solid effort, finishing up eighth in the championship in the RB26-powered Rapid Performance Silvia S13.

After not being able to get his R34 Skyline into China for the recent WDS event, Cole Armstrong’s now struggling to get it back out and ended up having to borrow a car for the final round. It seemed pretty well set up though, and he adapted quickly – as he did in Tianjin behind the wheel of one of Vaughn Gittin Jr’s old left-hand-drive Mustangs – and ended up qualifying in eighth and rounding out the championship in 10th. With an V35-based Skyline in the build, I bet he’s counting down the days to the start of the new season already.

For Woolhouse, the weekend didn’t get off to the best of starts. Before he had even completed half a lap during Saturday’s first on track session, the engine oil light came on and the Commodore was towed back to the pits. A cracked oil pump was the culprit, which meant he had to sit out the rest of practice. Luckily, the breakage was able to be rectified overnight and he was back out on track for Sunday’s pre-qualifying shakedown. But not for long…

The diff was the next to go, at which point I can only imagine what must have been going through Fanga’s mind.

The FDC team worked feverishly to get a replacement into the rear end and the car back out on the track. It went right down to the wire, but the guys managed to get Fanga to qualifying, with seconds to spare. He repaid the favour earning the #1 spot.

Through the practice sessions young D1NZ up-and-comer Nico Reid was running nice lines and throwing down deep angles. Nico’s team seems to have the car dialed in perfectly, and for the final round his RB-powered Silvia S15 was sporting some fresh tube work and aero courtesy of Townsend Brotherz Racing.

Nico placed fifth in qualifying and ended up finishing sixth overall in the championship, which isn’t bad going for a guy with only a few years of experience under his belt.

Speaking of power, Daynom Templeman’s 2JZ-powered FD3S has in it spades, although he was one of a few drivers who seemed to be struggling with set-up on the day.

Andrew Redward was another. His aggressive yet calculated driving style has afforded him some solid results over the course of the championship, but he dipped out of championship contention early on in the day.

The quality of New Zealand drifting has really lifted over the last year or so, and it’s a far cry from that first event in 2003. I remember it well, because somehow I was roped into being a judge.

Testament to that, bigger, corporate-backed sponsors are getting in on the local act. Achilles Radial field a two-car team in the New Zealand championship, and was the naming rights sponsor for the final round.

The championship also gets proper media support too, with national newspaper and television coverage after each round which has definitely helped to lift the profile of the sport.

One machine making all the right noise out on the track was Shane Allen’s RATTLA Ford Falcon, which did time as a NZ V8 Touring Car before being converted for drift. Once again Shane shared the car with another driver…

… V8 Supercar driver, Shane van Gisbergen. The TEKNO Team VIP driver is currently sitting fourth in the Australian championship, so it’s pretty cool to see him competing in the D1NZ series whenever the opportunity allows. As anyone who follow V8SC racing will attest, Shane is quite well versed in the art of driving sideways, so there’s no surprise that he qualified in seventh and finished up the event in sixth.

By the end of the weekend some of the pit garages were looking like they had seen a bit of action. I hope these guys found the bolt they were looking for!

As for Mike, things looked good in qualifying and he placed second behind Fanga by only a half-point margin.

A free-ride through the Top 32 took Mike straight into the Top 16 and a match-up with talented newcomer Zak Pole. Both drivers threw down solid laps, and the battle went One More Time, but on the last corner during Mike’s chase he misjudged his position and momentarily straight-lined, gifting the win.

The moment that happened Fanga knew he had the 2012/2013 D1NZ championship in the bag.

Pole went on to defeat to three-time D1NZ champ Gaz Whiter in the run off for third and fourth…

… and Woolhouse met Whittaker in the final. But a spin by Curt in his Skyline ultimately sealed his fate, and that of Fanga Dan’s. Given what he had been through during the last 36 hours, it was a fitting reward for an impressive season behind the wheel of his ex-cop Holden Commodore. I really hope he has the opportunity to compete overseas in the coming years, because – as he’s proved with consistent performances here in New Zealand ever since he won the championship back in 2005 – he can drive.

As the sun set on Taupo it was time to pop corks for the round and overall podium place-getters through the Pro and Pro-Am ranks…

… before some of the winning drivers took to the track for a victory skid celebration. D1NZ Pro-Am winner Darren Kelly, who’ll now be stepping up to the Pro for next season, kicked off proceedings in his R32 Skyline.

One to never pass up an opportunity to send a pair of battle-worn tyres to their grave, Mike got in on the act too, losing his front bumper and the bottom half of the rear in the process.

A fitting way to round out the season? The crowd definitely thought so.

Gaz Whiter kept his LS7-powered Silvia damage-free all day. Well, right up until the moment a rear tyre blew itself to shreds, taking the fiberglass rear fender with it, that is.

Of course, Fanga Dan went big too.

There’s killing a tyre, and killing a tyre. Fanga is a master at the latter.

Because of the delayed final round there’s only four months now before the 2013/2014 D1NZ National Drifting Championship kicks off again. If it’s anything like this season, it’s going to be anyone’s for the taking.

Until then though, the D1NZ Drift King honour belongs to Fanga Dan Woolhouse. After a season of highs and lows, he and his FDC team absolutely deserve it.

Brad Lord

2012/2013 Cody’s D1NZ National Drifting Championship Final Standings

1. Daniel Woolhouse 538pts
2. Mike Whiddett 461.5pts
3. Curt Whittaker 450.5pts
4. Andrew Redward 416pts
5. Gaz Whiter 370pts
6. Nico Reid 366pts
7. Zak Pole 352pts
8. Troy Forsythe 339pts
9. Daynom Templeman 329.5pts
10. Cole Armstrong 292pts

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