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.
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