MEET THE NEW CHAMP

CROWN­ING THE DE­MON EN­ERGY D1NZ CHAM­PION

NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS : MAR­CUS GIB­SON PHO­TOS: RICHARD OPIE

t’s a cor­ner that strikes fear into the hearts of many drifters, with en­try speeds of­ten in ex­cess of 200kph mean driv­ers fre­quently have to tip it in half­way down the straight, and then at­tempt to thread the nee­dle around the bump­i­est cor­ner in New Zealand motor sport. Get it wrong, run a lit­tle wide, and you’re just a pas­sen­ger as your car is sucked into the con­crete and pin­balled along the wall. No cor­ner in New Zealand drift­ing his­tory has de­stroyed as many cars, and 2017’s grand fi­nal weekend notched up a stack more ca­su­al­ties on the Puke mon­ster’s belt. Shane Allen in the RATTLA Mus­tang, Vinny Langhorn in his road-go­ing C33, Liam Sykes in the ECD FC RX-7, Ray Robert­son and the Fensin S14, the list goes on — but al­though the cars took big hits, thank­fully the driv­ers were noth­ing more than a lit­tle shaken.

Those who get beyond the sweep­ers gaunt­let still face a cou­ple of switches and big rip­ple strips, and if you get them wrong, the car will again be sucked in and thrown off line — some­thing that tripped up some of the bigger names through­out the weekend.

Head­ing into the round, V En­ergy’s Cole Arm­strong had amassed a 39-point lead over Kerik­eri’s Tom Mar­shall, with both be­ing 66 points clear of Mim­ico’s Dave Steed­man. On pa­per Tom was the only real threat who could top­ple Cole’s hopes, but hav­ing sold his Ever­green S15 he was with­out a car. How­ever, as no in­ter­na­tion­als were driv­ing the Toy­otaz Galore GT86 for the round, Tom was handed the keys.

He’d never driven the 86 be­fore, but those who showed up on Sun­day would not have guessed it wasn’t Tom’s reg­u­lar drive, as the young talent took to the chas­sis like a duck to wa­ter. But the event wasn’t with­out drama for the Mar­shall crew, who had to fit a new en­gine into the car the night be­fore prac­tice af­ter a fail­ure on the dyno. Other­wise the 86 is well equipped for the job, with

Wise­fab steer­ing and a TTi six-speed se­quen­tial box, al­though an in­cor­rect diff ra­tio did leave Tom at a dis­ad­van­tage.

For Cole it was busi­ness as usual in the 250GT, which has proved to a be su­per-re­li­able pack­age all sea­son, hav­ing suf­fered only one mi­nor break­age. He says, “We pulled the motor out and did a full re­build, with help from Paul at Lake­side Au­to­mo­tive. The 3.2-litre has been so re­li­able, and I know I have a good pack­age that I can beat on. Hit­ting the sweeper flat foot in fourth and not lift­ing, then switch­ing down to third, switch­ing back, and then just ham­mer it out. I wouldn’t lift, it was such a cool feel­ing hold­ing it at 8200rpm right on the rev lim­iter. It’s such an awe­some sec­tion to bat­tle on.” With a strong run all sea­son, in­clud­ing wins at the new sta­dium track added to the cham­pi­onship — Forsyth Barr, Dunedin — and at Hamp­ton Downs Motorsport Park, Cole and the team had their first cham­pi­onship win in seven years of com­pe­ti­tion square in the crosshairs.

Head­ing into Sun­day’s fi­nal, Cole looked re­laxed, as did the ever-calm Mar­shall. But so did a hand­ful of se­ries reg­u­lars not in the run for a cham­pi­onship, in­clud­ing Fanga Dan, a mas­ter of the sweeper who stormed to P1 with a 95-point run first up, with Cole in sec­ond with a 90-point run.

As a lit­tle side com­pe­ti­tion, Team DSR spon­sor Mim­ico had ponied up $500 for the fastest en­try all weekend — and this went to Dar­ren Kelly, in the Nis­san New Zealand R35, with a GPS­con­firmed 205kph — he was another driver look­ing strong.

But de­spite the only dry weather the fi­nal has seen in re­cent his­tory, many Top 16 driv­ers — in­clud­ing Fanga and Dar­ren Kelly — made shock ex­its and left the door wide open for those eye­ing

up a third-place fin­ish in the cham­pi­onship, be­hind Cole ver­sus Tom. Both cham­pi­onship con­tenders pro­gressed up dif­fer­ent sides of the bat­tle tree to the fi­nals, but a mis­take in Tom’s Top 4 bat­tle against Daynom Tem­ple­man on the last cor­ner saw Daynom ad­vance to the bat­tle for first, and Tom moved on to com­pete against the loser of the Nico Reid ver­sus Cole Arm­strong bat­tle.

When Nico suf­fered me­chan­i­cal is­sues, five min­utes was called — Cole wasn’t in­ter­ested in ad­vanc­ing on a tech­ni­cal­ity, as he ex­plained. “Those last bat­tles with Nico were just awe­some. What­ever it took I wanted to bat­tle him, they were say­ing he only has two sec­onds left on his five mins, but I didn’t care — yeah, rules are rules, but we came here to bat­tle and to put on the best show pos­si­ble. I’m go­ing to sit here till he comes out, and we’re go­ing to bat­tle this out.” The bat­tle did take place and didn’t dis­ap­point — Cole then ad­vanced to the fi­nal, to meet Daynom Tem­ple­man.

Daynom had faced Tom Mar­shall, and was handed the win af­ter Mar­shall straight­ened on his chase run. This ef­fec­tively put the sil­ver seal on the cham­pi­onship for Cole.

The fi­nal bat­tle be­tween Cole and Daynom was a hard-fought pow­er­fest — but no one was stand­ing in Cole’s way, he wanted the win to seal the dream sea­son. “We didn’t want to win by some tally, we are here to drive and I wanted to show that to ev­ery­one who helps me do this, that we can do it, and we’ve done it. It’s taken me seven years, but we are here, and I can’t thank my team, my fam­ily and all my spon­sors and sup­port­ers enough for stand­ing be­hind me.”

The Tau­ranga lo­cal doesn’t have any time to rest, as by the time you read this the 250GT will have been loaded in a con­tainer des­tined for China, where the on-form driver will contest the D1GP cham­pi­onship against the world’s best driv­ers, start­ing in May.

He will be back to contest his cham­pi­onship ti­tle in around six month’s time, when it all kicks off again here in New Zealand.

Ben Jenk­ins took back-to­back Pro-Sport podi­ums here at his home track of Puke — the Brian Roberts Team Jenk­ins driver prov­ing the lit­tle SR can still run with the bigger en­gines, to take out first-place hon­ours

No track in New Zealand brings out the crowds quite like Puke does

Achilles Ra­dial driver Bruce Tan­nock sealed the Pro-Sport cham­pi­onship for 2016–’17 af­ter com­plet­ing dou­ble du­ties in his S13, run­ning both cham­pi­onships

Daynom Tem­ple­man took home sec­ond place for the round, which earned him enough points to jump up the or­der and fin­ish fourth over­all for the sea­son

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