It takes a bit to get fans to head to Taupo Motorsport Park, but if Motorhead Festival, held on March 7–8, is anything to go by then Drift Motorsport NZ aka Team DMNZ have hit on a solid formula for what is to become an annual event, with thousands turning up to check out the action.
Anchored by the annual The Bling Company D-Comp drift event, the team also constructed a Milwaukee Moto-X track and ATV course, made use of the burnout pad for The JD's Autoworx Burnout Comp, had the Teng Tools Super Motard ripping around the track, and provided the always-popular opportunity for fans to get amongst it in the form of on-track cruising sessions.
The mixed bag of weather made for an eventful day, with more than one rider hitting the deck, and a few cars testing the limitations of grip, some more intentionally so than others. When there was a bit of downtime, most took a chance to check out the big rigs and show cars on display, with a solid mix of tough streeters and those more intentionally built to be displayed parked up, while the sound-off brigade did their best to drown out everything else that was going on.
Events that develop drivers and provide a lower-pressure environment in which to test one's skills have always been a special part of the New Zealand drift scene. This year's D-Comp held true to its roots with a handful of established D1NZ competitors mixed in amongst drivers who were competing for the first time, or had only participated in local events. The judges panel included Ian ‘Cromey’ Sheppard, 2012 Drift King Curt Whittaker, and vastly experienced racer Gavin Halls. They were clear in what they wanted, and set a line that was easily understood for a fair battle for both the high- and lower-horsepower cars in the field. Drivers, as expected, enjoyed a good amount of practice time on track before being asked to make the usual two qualifying passes.
Standout qualifying efforts came from Nico Reid and Adam Davies, both of whom achieved scores of 92, with judges having to go off second-reqistered scores to separate the pair. Nico got the honours and walked away with a set of rims from The Bling Company for his efforts. Reid and Davies were closely followed by Joe Kukutai, Shane Allen, and Justin Hambly, who'd flown in from Australia the week before and made a decision to get his car ready to compete. The big surprise, perhaps for many, was that all drivers managed to complete the section cleanly and earn their way into the top 32, which can't always be said for other events.
While a battle-by-battle account would simply not be possible, a couple of the standout lesser-known names who did not quite make the finals were Matt Holden in his White R32 and Michael Etter, who aggressively chased Joe Kukutai, which was acknowledged on the podium by the eventual winner.
A top four, which held the top-four qualifiers was a fitting end to this years D-Comp, with Shane Allen coming home third and Adam Davies fourth, after both had battled their way through the field only to lose respective semi-finals. The battle that most had been looking forward to was lined up as the final course. I don't think a single person at the track thought that Nico Reid and Joe Kukutai would be anything less than spectacular, nor did many expect it to be over in a single battle. Both drivers saved their best for last and threw everything at the final battle. Nico would lead first as the highest qualifier, and he was solid and fast out front, while Kukutai, as always, dialled in angle and big smoke and kept a solid proximity to the lead car. The pair then swapped over and it was an exact repeat until the final corner, where both cars entered together and contact was made sending both cars off track, resulting in a tough call for the judges.
The right call was made, and all three judges deemed an OMT battle was required, sending Nico and Joe out to battle again. This time it was a little more clear-cut, and to reinforce the point there were not too many people at the track who couldn't hear the celebrations from father and crew-chief Denny Kukutai as a mistake was made and it was clear that the victory was to be Joe's.
A well-attended trophy presentation recognized all of the day's winners, and the mutual respect between all of the teams was evident to see. Long-time competitor and former judge Kyle Jackways was awarded one of the day's other big prizes — the Marsden Memorial Cup, which recognizes contribution to the sport. Shane, Nico, and Joe all paid tribute to fellow competitors, and the event itself, in a great display of what is the spirit of this event.
Sometimes you are present when there is an event that signals the future, and you can't help but feel that a podium of Kukutai, Reid, and Allen might just be a more regular sight to see in the years to come.