Welcome to the off season of motorsport; a time when colder, wetter weather sends many enthusiasts into the warm refuge of the garage to dream up new ideas, complete those minor tidy ups to get the pride and joy looking mint for summer, and, for some, begin the massive job of a complete off-season rebuild with new goals and challenges in mind.
Word on the street is that we’ve just seen the final ever ‘Pro-Am’ championship run by D1NZ, so we here at The Motorhood thought we’d let the grumpiest ninja around, Warren Sare, give us his post-season view of the season's top 10 as we bid farewell to the development drift class.
Final plans are yet to be revealed by D1NZ, but we understand it will look more like a control class, which aims to provide a challenge for experienced drivers not wanting to keep up with the Joneses at the top of Pro, as well as a proving ground for those gaining confidence in competition.
Over to MGN for his take:
The class was, as with prior seasons, dominated by a handful of drivers — many in the field either don’t do a full campaign, or lack the consistency and mechanical reliability to earn good points at every round. This series has been better in my opinion, and, on their day, all of the drivers put on a good show. However, the issue with the class from a spectator point of view is that quite often only a few drivers are on form, and the one-sided battles are very one sided.
I think moving forward, given a fair few entered cars were really what you’d call ‘Pro’ spec anyway, we’ll see a much better level of driver develop, due to regular competition against experienced drivers. Also, I think we'd be see less major mistakes, which make battle wins harder to come by. That will improve the whole sport, and each and every event, as a spectacle for the paying fan. I do need to say that it does take some guts to get out there and actually do this, and the commitment from these, mostly privately funded, drivers is massive.
Here’s my look at the top 10 for you in reverse order:
10: Michael Thorley — Femme Fatale C33 Laurel
I call Mike the ‘ghetto stig’ because he’s always rocking the brightest white helmet in the distinctive Femme Fatale C33. I'm not really sure what to make of this season as I’ve seen some brilliant drives and control that make me think he is a real title threat, but then at other times he just seems off his game and serves up something that he himself hasn’t been happy with. The evolution of classes might catch Thorley out, and he’ll need to think about how he’s going to compete with the more nimble chassis next season.
9: Ben Jenkins — Brian Roberts Towing S13 Silvia
The younger, taller, and, according to himself, better-looking Jenkins had a bit of a hit-and-miss year, failing to qualify at some events before really stepping up his game at Pukekohe to gain his first event win. Ben's another driver who’s going to have to decide how long to persevere with the status quo, as the SR20 has become something of a dying breed in competitive drifting. Ben will get better with some more battles under his belt, and did well considering it was his first year in competition. Age is a factor and he beats himself up perhaps a little more than he needs to.
8: Chad Mckenzie — Dobson Dyno Tune R32 Skyline
‘The Chad’ came to life towards the end of the season, and deservedly grabbed a podium in horrid conditions with easily his most controlled drive of the series. He seems to actually like wet-weather conditions, which is the hallmark of a smooth driver — he'll be another to get better with a few more battles under his belt.
7: Ben Wilkinson — PAK'nSAVE Botany S13
My take on Ben is that he’s never quite sure which driver he wants to be. When he first appeared in competition he was wild and pretty much out of control, just hoping the car went where he pointed it. He now seems aware of this and can turn on a good controlled smooth pass, but it didn’t happen often enough to get the car up to the top end of the results where it probably belonged. He had a few mechanical issues, which his crew worked hard to overcome, and he was one of those Pro-Ams who played ‘lend a car’ to the pro field. His shining moment would be number-one qualifying at Tauranga.
6: Pernell Callaghan — Privateer R32 Skyline
I wasn’t sold on Pernell until the very last round when he delivered what was one of the standout qualifying runs I’ve ever seen at Pukekohe. While he won at Tauranga, his speed of entry wasn’t outstanding, and that seemed to trouble opponents more than actually chasing him. The ‘drift penguin’ became a bit of an identity in its own right, thanks to Shane Van Gisbergen piloting the car and filming a bit of TV colour around the experience. Another season of competition and Pernell will likely go on to be a decent pro competitor who is able to challenge.
5: Stu Baker — Steve Sole Customs S13
Always smiling, Stu says very little and lets his driving do the talking. He seems to really enjoy the small concrete jungle tracks, and I often joke with him that he’s either right on or up the wall. He surprised me by knowing exactly where he was in terms of points, and what he needed to do to get himself to the season podium. He will go on to become a solid mid-pack competitor if he sticks with the sport.
4: Adam Davies — Mimico 180SX
Adam Davies was, hands down, the most improved in the class. It seemed like once Adam and teammate Dave Steedman shared the car for a few rounds, they got a handle on what was formerly a twitchy and snappy chassis that would more often than not go out due to a spin against a slower car. The rotary/180sx combo is very fast and will be a threat in the new class. He would have been disappointed not to break through onto the season podium after looking like a real threat at every round, and, as I understand, he wants to go to Pro for the coming season. I wonder, however, if he’d be a real chance to win a control class as opposed to likely mid-pack in his first season in Pro, which might prove tempting.
3: Joel Paterson — Privateer AE85
The king of chase in Pro-Am, Joel and ‘the little AE that could’ became cult heros as the well-presented machine was rewarded with a cover of NZ Performance Car magazine during the season. He tended to make life a bit hard for himself by not always qualifying as strongly as he could have, but then came to life in battle and made himself a menace to everyone with committed chase runs. Serious questions no doubt will be being asked within the team as to if the platform can buck the global trend and be competitive at a pro level. Limitations in terms of tyre size and choice may become a factor.
2: Joel Hedges — C's Garage / Nankang S13
‘Man Coins’ Hedges gave us perhaps the most memorable single quote of the season, along with a car that was a clear favourite for its JDM-styling cues and always immaculate presentation — although it sometimes didn’t finish events looking quite so pretty. I actually feel Joel would be less ready for the more ruthless nature of Pro compared to, say, Paterson or Davies, and he needs another season at a similar level.
1: Troy Jenkins — Brian Roberts Towing S15
Redemption perhaps, after looking odds on early last season. The older, shorter Jenkins produced some great drives throughout the year, but would have been feeling the pressure to close out the season more than most given he had arguably the best car package in the competition. Troy still needs to get a bit more aggressive on a regular basis to be a real threat at the top level, but has the commitment and drive to slot into a pro field quite comfortably. I don’t think anyone would argue he was a deserving series winner and a fitting final champion that was an indication of what Pro-Am became machinery-wise.
So with that said, the top 10 of the field wrapped, we wave goodbye to a series that’s always been a love-hate affair for all involved. Pro-Am has given us the likes of Darren Kelly, Nico Reid, and Brad Lauder, who were all better for the experience. I can’t help but feel we’d actually be in a better place if others had also taken the path and spent more time honing their craft rather than let ego dictate that they had to be ‘pro’ and rarely got in more than a single lopsided battle at most events.
Going into the new season, I think the landscape will look quite different, and it should all hopefully be for the better of the sport.