Auckland-based international 'Mad Mike' Whiddett (Red Bull/Speedhunters Mazda RX7) has grabbed an early lead in this season's Cody's D1NZ National Drift Championship points standings after winning a battle of attrition against local hero Gary 'Gaz' Whiter (Tectaloy Nissan S14 V8) at the second round in Whangarei on Sunday.
Heading into the first of the 2013/14 season's 'stadium' rounds on a temporary course marked out in transport operator Toll's marshaling yard at the southern end of the city, first round winner Whiter held the advantage. And despite a scare when he blew a diff on his first qualifying run the three-time former D1NZ series champion was able to battle his way through the brackets until be met a wounded Whiddett in the final.
With only one usable gear - third - Whiddett struggled to even complete the scrub lap, but just when it looked like Whiter would make it two round wins from two starts his Tectaloy Nissan was in the wall, the battle - and with it the round win - Whiddett's.
"I just had no room," Whiter explained as crew members examined his - fortunately only lightly damaged - car. "Mike was slow away, I couldn't really see where he was, then I was in the wall, it was as simple as that."
"No-one likes winning like that," admitted Whiddett, "but a win is a win. Unfortunately in practice this morning I wrecked our good gearbox and we didn't have time to change it before qualifying then the battles so we had to lock it in third (gear) and hope for the best."
Which turned out to be the round win from Whiter with Tauranga driver Cole Armstrong (V-Energy Nissan R34) third and local teenager Robee Nelson (Koba Batteries Nissan S15) fourth.
Nelson's was one of the stand-out performances of the weekend, the 18-year-old engineering apprentice from Maungakaramea south-west of Whangarei qualifying seventh before battling his way past Garry Tenana (Black on Black Nissan S15) and Japanese driver Tux Teruya (2 Degrees Nissan 700Z) then giving 'Mad Mike' Whiddett a run for his money in the Top 4.
"I just love these tight, twisty concrete-lined courses, " Nelson said by way of explanation. "I love when the judges ask you to do something which is quite technical at a place like this compared with somewhere like Taupo which is pretty much all full throttle."
Christchurch driver Troy Forsythe (Rapid Performance Nissan S13) was also looking good until he hit the wall hard while leading his Top 8 battle with Cole Armstrong. That allowed Armstrong to advance to the Top 4 where he met Whiter then Nelson.
20111/12 Cody's D1NZ champion Curt Whittaker (Autosure Warranties Nissan R34 Skyline 2JZ) was the top qualifier - from defending Codys' D1NZ title holder and last year's Whangarei round winner Daniel 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse (Castrol Edge Holden Commodore V8). But Whittaker was forced to forfeit his Top 8 battle with Gaz Whiter after breaking a rear stub axle on the warm-up lap.
Woolhouse was a definite fan favourite heading into the weekend's meeting but after posting the second best points score in qualifying, and a bye in the Top 32, he lost his first (Top 16) battle to Tauranga driver Drew Donovan.
Arguably the best battles of the day belonged to V8 Supercar ace Shane van Gisbergen (Speedstuff Ford Falcon V8) who - after claiming his first drift podium at the opening round of this season's Codys' D1NZ series at Hamilton Down - wanted another at Whangarei to complete a seven-weekend podium streak (taking in rounds of the Australian V8 Supercar and New Zealand V8 SuperTouring Series as well as the Cody's D1NZ one.
He didn't quite get there but it was not through a lack of trying, the judges requiring an almost unheard of double repeat (IMT x 2) before they could split van Gisbergen and the equally exuberant and committed Nico Reid (Luxury Sports Nissan S15).
That win saw van Gisbergen take on 'Mad Mike' Whiddett in the Top 8 where he was again impressive, only handing the advantage to his much more experienced drift rival after putting two wheels (to Whiddett's one!) outside the designated drift course on his chase run.
"The battles with Nico were awesome," said van Gisbergen. " I struggled a bit with my switches at the start of the weekend, but I was reasonably happy with where I qualified and that third battle with Nico was the battle of the day as far as I am concerned."
Best of the Pro-Am drivers this time around, meanwhile, was Gareth Grove (Spill Response NZ Nissan S14), the Auckland driver coming back from a lowly 12th place in qualifying (thanks in part to an electrical problem later identified and fixed) to battle his way past Vincent Langhorn (Nissan Laurel), round one winner Troy Jenkins (Juice Polishes Nissan S15) and Joel Hedges (C's Garage Nissan S13) to take a debut category victory from Hedges and Michael Thorley (Femme Fatale Nissan Laurel) and elevate himself to second place in the series' points standings.