Gaz Whiter continues to prove that he is New Zealand’s best drifter
Boasting the shortest, and seemingly simplest, drift section of the entire Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park always has a way of upsetting drivers and throwing up some of the closest driving you will see all season. Despite the section having only two corners, and in past years only one switch, it has never been an easy round to walk away with the win.
For 2015 the D1NZ judging team decided to change up the entry, forcing all drivers, both Pro and Pro-Am, to start from a standing start at the exit of pit lane, with the lead driver forced to run around a set of cones then enter to the right-hand side before switching, grabbing a ton of handbrake, and sliding along the outside clip before accelerating into the first inside clip.
This not only stopped the drag-racing effect this track can have, it added another element to the section. Gaz Whiter told NZ Performance Car, “It’s much better than how it was. You’re not coasting around turn one and then flooring it. Now you actually have something to do on the run up and it makes it more exciting having to chop through the gears. The chicane is perfect, it slows the lead car up and makes it really even and the chase car can judge where he wants to be so it makes it more even.”
While most of the Pro drivers were used to a switchback entry here, for the Pro-Ams it added a new element, and tested the handbrake skills of many. It was circuit racer Graeme Smyth smiling, as a last-minute decision to enter his second D1NZ Pro-Am round would see him topping the podium. “Late Wednesday after I decided to give it a shot, the car was still on the trailer from Tauranga and I didn’t have time to give it a wheel alignment but it went pretty good,” Smyth said.
“The final with Stu Baker would have been my favourite battle. Both runs were pretty close and it was good to battle someone who drove fast. It meant I could run as fast as I could and you weren’t getting held up by anybody.”
With this only being Smyth’s second-ever D1NZ event he was still very much in the learning phase. “It’s just experience learning from Tauranga, and not doing what I did wrong there seemed to work pretty well. Coming from racing, at Tauranga I was swallowing up quite a bit to get close, which I thought at the time was really good but it’s not what they want. It’s just a matter of listening to what they [the judges] want and then doing that, and actually in the end it’s easier. The judges criticism has been working really good for me.”
With the Pro-Am podium sorted, it was time to decide the Pro. It was ‘Fanga Dan’ Woolhouse taking P1 despite the Century Batteries VE Commodore being down on power after the team was forced to step down to a 90mm throttle body over the usual 105mm, which was causing the car to cut out during practice. Fanga would manage to bump Darren Kelly from P1 in his final pass.
It would be fourth-place qualifier Gaz Whiter, who was as usual looking extremely cool, calm, and collected, heading into the battles. The D1 veteran was able to keep his head about him and not make any mistakes. “In my top 16 against Matt Lauder, I was surprised by the pace of that car. I went up against him last round and I thought it was quick, but not that quick. He took me by surprise a little bit, but credit to him. He has built a pretty mean car. He actually lost, I didn’t beat him, he made a mistake, which let us get through, so I was happy with that.”
Gaz’s top-eight and top-four battles would see a similar fate, first with Dave Steadman putting two wheels off, and then Fanga in the top 4, who would also put wheels off to set up a final between Gaz and Darren Kelly in the Turbosmart R34.
Gaz explained the final saying, “I chased him pretty well, I entered hard on him but he managed to open a little gap. Then his car sort of slowed down so I managed to close it up and actually touched him right on the last clip. I was surprised at how his car slowed down. but it meant I could left-foot brake and get right up on him.”
Darren was struggling a little with car set-up due to diff ratios as he explained, “We had to take some grip out of it as we came in with the wrong diff ratio. We should have come with a 3.9, but we had a 4.1 so we came in thinking we should be able to make it work — we don’t want to go changing set-ups before we even try it. But yesterday [Friday] after we tried it I found that third was nowhere long enough to get up and over the hill. Fourth is too much for entry and third isn’t enough to get over the hill without having to change.”
On the return run Gaz would capitalize on Darren’s speed, or lack thereof, and pulled a sizeable gap to take the win — his first this season. “It was good to get a result for our new partners Fenix, Hitachi, and Origin Labo. Hopefully we can build on it for next year and build a more solid platform. Obviously not having the car here for the first round was a big blow to defending the title, but maybe we can claw that gap back. We are going the right way about it, but I’m not too worried, we will have a good go at it next year, we are just out here having fun so it’s all good.”
Darren Kelly now regains his championship lead by a resounding 30.5 points heading into round five at Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch over Easter weekend.