I haven’t been to a grass-roots–style event at Meremere since Cameron Vernon took me out in his Pro-Am–winning Nissan Skyline R32 back in the day, so I was amping to check out what Todd Curtis and Pernell Callaghan had been scheming at the end of the drag strip. The event, Dori Combat, promised to showcase driver skill, rather than fancy machinery. And with Shane van Gisbergen (SVG) and Stewy Bryant of InertiaMS entered, it sure had the prerequisites to be an entertaining day.
When asked about how this event came about, Pernell's answer is a humble one: “Our aim is to provide an opportunity for grass-roots drivers to battle in a safe environment, without needing a big budget to be competitive. Basically we just love driving door to door. It's not about smashing up our cars, but driving hard, progressing our skills, and most of all having fun. There's no big egos involved and no one we are trying to impress — we just like to drive and laugh.”
His assessment proved to be completely accurate, as I found out on the day.
The machinery on display in the crumbled-asphalt pits wasn’t of a show quality, but rather built by your average Joe at home in the shed with whatever could be found and used on a shoestring budget.
Most cars here were either turbocharged non-turbo engines, or just left naturally aspirated — but was this a problem? No; every car on display was fully functioning, producing good power, and ready for battle. And best of all, it seemed as though safety was high on the priority list with each build (Drift Direct Silvias aside, but that’s the whole point with them).
Driver briefing was carried out, and it was soon evident that there weren’t that many cars actually entered into the battles. A total of 14 battle cars were tallied, rolled off their trailers, and the practice sessions commenced.
Practice kicked off very early in the morning, which was very good news for the drivers. It also allowed the media to get those vital shots needed of each car should they break down, or crash and remain inoperable for the rest of the day, which sure enough happened.
Tools lying around (as seen above) were a common sight in the pits, as the action happening out on the drag strip was far too epic to miss. Crew members would simply drop tools and continue working on their team vehicles once the action had subsided. What action could possibly cause this kind of pit-stop strike?
There’s nothing quite like watching someone talented beyond belief fight their way through a cone circuit with limited horsepower available, battling door to door, scraping walls, and sliding seamlessly back to the start line to have another go two minutes later. A rare sight, but not at Dori Combat — SVG and Stewy Bryant put on one of the best shows I have ever seen.
With the gates due to open to the public at 11.30am, a lunch break was scheduled so that a tally up of cars could take place. After a quick count, only eight vehicles were left for battling, as the practice session proved to be extremely fierce with only the fortunate making it to battle time. With an insufficient number of cars left to carry on with the correct battle format, I changed my focus towards the cars themselves, instead of the scrambled competition that was about to happen.
We’ll get the two most banged-up missiles out of the way first, as they’re probably the most battle-hardened vehicles out of the bunch. Drift Direct have a range of vehicles available for hire — a pair of Nissan Silvias. The first, an S13, was piloted by Hayden Story, while the second, an almost unrecognizable S14, was piloted by Joe Kukutai.
As you can see, the S14 doesn’t have much Silvia left in, or on, it. It has a factory SR20DE engine, manual gearbox, locked diff, factory suspension, and factory seats. A car this basic would suit the known-to-be-aggressive driver Joe Kukutai down to a T, as he isn’t afraid to throw it in extra hard to get it to slide. And that’s exactly what he did, the S14 performing almost faultlessly throughout the day. Joe did almost make contact with every other car out on the track — but hey, there were smiles all around.
Unfortunately for Scott Dodunski, his blue R32 didn’t last long. I was really keen on getting some shots of it in action, but missed my chance when his gearbox imploded early. Powered by an RB25DE+T with a Link ECU, it produces just over 200kW on low boost and sits pretty on a set of 17x8-inch front, and 17x9-inch rear, Buddy Club P1s.
Carl Nathan was a standout on the day with his maroon Nissan Silvia S14. The car has a fairly basic set-up, with an SR20DE+T, Tein coilovers, Sumitomo four-pots, KW seats, and a swag of awesome five-stud wheels to complement it. Yes, Carl was impressive out on the track, but what impressed me most was his attitude on the day, as he had been hit hard by Joe Kukutai on two occasions.
In the morning, the S14 was relatively straight and dent free. But after a couple of battles, the maroon S14 received its first huge hit from Joe. The contact made an absolute mess of the driver's-side rear quarter and driver's door — enough to send most people into a rage. But instead Carl embraced it, telling me, “It’s all good man, I’ll pull it apart tomorrow, straighten it all up and start again. I knew what I was getting into coming to this event.”
After the second run-in with Kukutai, it was the S14's steering components and a Koya Drift Tek that were destroyed. Another quick visit to the pits revealed that the team were flat out replacing the steering gear to get Carl back out on the track. When I found Carl, he was over with Joe in his pit area joking about the whole thing — they found it entertaining and joked about the next door-to-door excursion. This mentality was very refreshing and, regardless of what happened on the day, everyone shared the same mindset.
Another car that could not be overlooked was Jake Mills SR20DE+T-powered KP Starlet. When it first went out at the start of the day, I had no idea that this thing would produce as much smoke as it did. So I had to take a closer look.
The SR20DE+T almost looks factory between the strut towers of the KP, and with a factory framed turbo, stainless-steel headers, a front-mounted intercooler, and HKS mushroom filter, it definitely had plenty of power on tap.
This fuel-flap decal was an indication of the increased compression of the SR20DE engine; clearly it was being taken care of by some good old high-octane aviation fuel.
The interior was filled with only the necessary gauges to keep Jake informed. As you can see, the boost gauge takes centre stage and the factory steering wheel has been retained. To hold Jake in tight, a red Racepro fixed-back seat was chosen.
Probably one of my favourite cars of the day was Dan Figota’s RB25DE+T Mazda RX-7 (FC). There’s just something about the look of an FC with that much camber, wide guards, BN kit and an almost over the top rear wing that gets me excited. Although the RB25 seemed to be having issues throughout the day, Dan was in extremely good spirits, and he had no trouble egging everybody else on and helping out wherever possible. Once tuned with the Link G4 ECU he has installed, this RB25DE+T should be making very good numbers thanks to the GT3540 turbo.
Fresh from a season of D1NZ, Pernell’s Nissan Skyline R32 had by far the best set-up on the day. Whether it was piloted by SVG, Stewy Bryant, or Pernell himself, the now naturally aspirated 2JZ engine was on song, producing huge amounts of smoke. Stewy was very impressed with how responsive the N/A 2JZ package was, and SVG made similar comments. Stewy didn’t hesitate to throw on another set before heading out for another skid in the trusty Pingu.
All in all, it was a good experience heading to Meremere for Dori Combat. I’m sure with time the event will be more refined and the hiccups will be ironed out. The relaxed vibe was felt throughout and the spectators who made the trip down armed with camping chairs and chilly bins felt it too. It’ll be good to have Stewy back to contest more of our local events, big or small — but for now he’s heading over to Europe to contest King of Europe Drift. Hopefully next time around I’ll have some solid event coverage to report on, which unfortunately didn’t go to plan with this one.