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COLE ARM­STRONG CLAIMS THE TOP SPOT AT ROUND THREE OF THE DE­MON EN­ERGY D1NZ NA­TIONAL DRIFT­ING CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

Tau­ranga’s Bay­park Speed­way pits are usu­ally filled on a Satur­day night with speed­way cars which battle it out in the ad­ja­cent quar­ter-mile dirt oval, but for one week­end each sum­mer the De­mon En­ergy D1NZ Na­tional Drift­ing Cham­pi­onship in­stead trans­forms the pits into a bat­tle­field. The con­crete-lined Bay­park is one of two cus­tom tracks this sea­son, and is unique as it is the only left-hand-en­try and con­crete-sur­faced venue.

The two-day event played out in per­fect weather con­di­tions that of­fered plenty of trac­tion, as the sur­face rub­bered up on day one. The Pro-Am devel­op­ment se­ries saw 22 driv­ers line up, in­clud­ing a few fresh faces. Auck­lan­der Ben Wilkin­son, a young driver who showed lit­tle fear of the walls, drove the Pak’nSave Botany Downs S13 to take P1 in qual­i­fy­ing with a sec­ond-run score of 79. But he failed to cap­i­tal­ize, and was knocked out in the top eight by Stu­art Baker, who went on to face even­tual win­ner Per­nell Cal­laghan in Sun­day’s top four along­side Quentin Ware­tini and Ga­gan Singh. The ever-ag­gres­sive Per­nell has put in some se­ri­ous time be­hind the wheel, it showed in his chase runs, and he took his maiden Pro-Am victory af­ter only three rounds of com­pe­ti­tion.

When it came to the main Pro field, Satur­day’s prac­tice brought me­chan­i­cal woes for some. Brad Smith needed to rebuild his Quaife se­quen­tial, and Nico Reid’s team faced ma­jor re­pairs af­ter he col­lided with Shayne Giles, and hit the wall hard enough to crack the con­crete bar­rier. Thanks to parts sent from Auck­land, and some good team­work to piece the car to­gether, Nico was able to qual­ify on Sun­day and make the field, although the car was far from 100 per cent.

Sun­day morn­ing ev­ery­one had their game face on dur­ing the one and only prac­tice ses­sion ahead of qual­i­fy­ing, so much so that it was hard to pick a stand­out per­former, and the top nine qual­i­fy­ing scores were sep­a­rated by only 8.5 points.

Home­town hero Cole Arm­strong sat atop the bunch with a first-run score of 88.5 thanks to a wild and ex­cit­ing run, fol­lowed by Rockstar En­ergy’s Joe Kuku­tai, who seemed to pull off ma­noeu­vres un­matched by any­one else.

Cole’s road to the fi­nal would not be an easy one. He had to face Bruce Tan­nock, Shane Van Gis­ber­gen, Curt Whittaker and Dar­ren Kelly be­fore fac­ing off against re­turn­ing round win­ner An­drew Red­ward in the fi­nal. An­drew had de­feated Dave Steed­man, Daynom Tem­ple­man and Gaz Whiter, to set up a battle be­tween Gaz Whiter and Dar­ren Kelly for third and Fourth. Gaz took the win af­ter Dar­ren made some mis­takes, run­ning too shal­low on his chase lap.

It was now time to crown a round win­ner in front of the packed Tau­ranga crowd, but the dream battle was cut short when An­drew’s Club Auto FC RX-7 sheared an axle, as he later ex­plained to NZPC. “We blew the half shaft, it was not the best way to end the fi­nal battle, es­pe­cially af­ter last­ing all day and hap­pen­ing then, it was a real bum­mer.” The team didn’t throw the towel in straight away though, tak­ing the al­lot­ted five min­utes to swap the axle over.

“WE BLEW THE HALF SHAFT, IT WAS NOT THE BEST WAY TO END THE FI­NAL BATTLE, ES­PE­CIALLY AF­TER LAST­ING ALL DAY AND HAP­PEN­ING THEN, IT WAS A REAL BUM­MER”

“We got the spare in with about 50 sec­onds to go, but went to put the nut on the end of the hub and the threads were crossed, so we couldn’t get it done in time,” An­drew ex­plained.

He was un­able to make the grid, which handed Cole his first D1NZ round win, driv­ing his new V En­ergy 350GT. The car that had not missed a beat all week­end, af­ter a frus­trat­ing de­but this sea­son when a few teething is­sues plagued the Dodge Nascar en­gine, as Cole ex­plained: “We have gone to in­jec­tion, th­ese en­gines usu­ally have a carb on there. We had a trig­ger mount that was suf­fer­ing vi­bra­tion at high rpm and shut­ting the mo­tor down on us. The boys from E&H Mo­tors sorted that prob­lem, and then at Drift Shifters I did an oil change and thought 13 litres would be am­ple, but it needed an­other two, so we were hav­ing oil-pres­sure surge. Some­thing so sim­ple, but so bad that it could have wrecked the car. We think we have all the grem­lins sorted and the car is now on song. It’s got oo­dles of lock, Richard from Green Broth­ers cor­ner-weighted the car and found out that it was on bump stops, so he mod­i­fied all the pick-up points, and now we have great drive out of the car. You have to get the bal­ance be­tween drive, grip, and power, and I think we have fi­nally got that. We still think there is much more that we can get out of this car, but we are just so happy that it’s work­ing so well and that we have fi­nally got the re­sult.”

All was not lost for Red­ward, who walked away from round three now lead­ing the cham­pi­onship, and 2.5 points clear of Dar­ren Kelly.

Head­ing into the sec­ond half of the sea­son it looks as if it will be a tight cham­pi­onship fin­ish, with plenty of driv­ers still in the run­ning to take the 2014–2015 DK ti­tle. The D1NZ cir­cus now moves to Hamp­ton Downs Mo­tor­sport Park for round four on Fe­bru­ary 20–21.

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It was good to see Shane Van Gis­ber­gen back be­hind the wheel of a drift car, this time run­ning Cole Arm­strong’s R34 Sky­line. Shane looked to be rather com­fort­able be­hind the wheel of the Sky­line, qual­i­fy­ing P17 and tak­ing out Bruce Tan­nock in the top 32 af­ter go­ing one more time

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