2013/14 CODY'S D1NZ National Drifting Championship Series
Three-time former champ Gary 'Gaz' Whiter (Tectaloy Nissan S14 V8) was back on top and Kiwi V8 Supercar and SuperTourer ace Shane van Gisbergen (Federal Tyres/Racetuff Ford Falcon V8) claimed his first drift podium at the opening round of the 2013/14 Cody's D1NZ National Drifting Championship at Hampton Downs over the weekend.
After what he describes as 'two lean years' in which he battled engine problems of one sort or another Whiter - who won the D1NZ 'Drift King' title for three consecutive years from 2008 to 2011 - top scored in qualifying on Sunday morning and after a bye in the Top 32 won battles against Hamilton's Bruce Tannock (Achilles Tyre Nissan S13), Auckland's Andrew Redward (Achilles Tyre Mazda RX7 V8) and Shane van Gisbergen before coming up against - and beating - third best qualifier and last season's Cody's D1NZ series runner-up 'Mad Mike' Whiddett (Red Bull/Speedhunters Mazda RX7) in the final.
"I did exactly what I set out to do, so it (the day) couldn't really have gone much better," Whiter, from Dargaville, said afterwards. "The last two years have been hard - I think between the four cylinders and the V8s we went through seven engines - but today proves that if the car holds together I can get the results."
Second place was also fine by Auckland-based international 'Mad Mike' Whiddett who was faced with a battle against time just getting to the event.
With his familiar Mazda RX7 not originally due back from Australia until this coming week Whiddett was planning to use his RX8. But new parts from overseas did not arrive in him and at one stage it looked like he would have to sit the first round out.
However on Thursday the globetrotting Auckland-based international got a call from his logistics company, Jenner Cargo International, saying that the container had arrived early and with help from MAF and Customs the car was ready to pick up on Friday.
It wasn't all plain sailing once Whiddett got to the track though, as first he lost a power steering belt then pump, then the hydraulic handbrake lost pressure and finally the car's unique quad rotor 26B rotary engine went off song.
"So I guess that, considering at one stage we weren't even going to be here, then all the issues we've had today, second place is not such a bad place afterall," Whiddett said.
The man with the biggest smile at the press conference afterwards, however, was V8 Supercar and SuperTourer ace Shane van Gisbergen.
After a toe-in-the-water exercise in which he did three rounds of the Cody's D1NZ series last season, the Auckland-born, now Australia-based professional has returned for a full season this summer, again sharing 'The Rattla,' a wild V8-powered Ford Falcon with Waiuku driver Shane Allen.
And having qualified fifth and ended up third he reckoned the day could not have gone much better.
"I'm stoked, absolutely stoked. It was awesome qualifying fifth and getting a podium. I was pretty nervous coming up against Gaz and some of the other big names but I did my best and the plan now is to just keep on doing it, keep on learning, keep on improving."
Though he says that there's little carry-over between racing a V8 Supercar and drifting 'The Rattla' Falcon, one thing van Gisbergen is already very good at is keeping as close as possible to the car in front on his chase run.
"I'm definitely not scared of getting close to the other car," he said, "because that's the way we race in the V8s."
Of the other key contenders, two-time and defending Cody's D1NZ National Drifting Champion Daniel 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse (Castrol Edge Holden Commodore) qualified seventh, but had to go One More Times to beat the country's top female driver, Tauranga's Jodie Verhulst (Milwaukee Tools Toyota Supra) in her D1 Pro class debut in the Top 16, then was beaten himself by last year's Pro-Am champ Darren Kelly (Thirsty Liquor Nissan Skyline R34) in their Top 8 battle.
Another title contender to end his day early was 2012 Cody's D1NZ champion Curt Whittaker (Autosure Warranties Nissan Skyline R34 2JZ) who won his first two battles only to fall to Shane van Gisbergen in the third.
Getting a good start to his day was Hamilton driver Kyle Jackways (Liquid Lab Nissan 180 SX) who was just pipped for the top spot in qualifying by Gaz Whiter. However, after beating series returnee Brad Smith (Burger Fuel Nissan 350Z) in the Top 32 Jackways was sent packing in the Top 16 by former Pro-Am champ Cam Vernon having a one-off drive in Wellington Pro-Am class driver Aaron Lawson's V8-powered Nissan S15.
Vernon only accepted Lawson's offer to share the car on Saturday night but proved a quick learner, qualifying 15th and battling his way up to fourth place after beating Daynom Templeman (NAC Insurance Mazda RX7 2JZ), Jackways and Darren Kelly.
With last season's standouts, Darren Kelly, Matt Lauder and Jodie Verhulst moving up to the D1 Pro class this year's Pro-Am class podium had a couple of new faces on it with Wellingtonian Shayne Giles (Shred Motorsport Nissan S14) and Kerekere driver Joe Marshall (ATJ International Nissan 180SX) flanking round winner Troy Jenkins (Juice Polishes Nissan S15).
Best qualifier was another newcomer, Joe Marshall's brother Tom (ATJ International Nissan Laurel), though he was knocked out of his first battle by Aucklander Gareth Grove (Spill Response NZ Nissan S14).
The final podium shake-out was also a close-run thing, with Shayne Giles needing to go One More Time before the judges could decide on his match-up with Pukekohe driver Sam Smith (Vernon & Vazey Nissan S15) and Smith then narrowly going down to Joe Marshall in the battle for the final podium spot.
This season's Cody's D1NZ National Drifting Championship chase now heads north for the second series round of the 2013/14 season at Whangarei over the December 14-15 weekend with subsequent rounds at Tauranga, Taupo, Christchurch and Pukekohe.