Welcome to the final instalment of the D1NZ post season review. I’ve separated out the top six of the Pro field for a number of reasons. In my eyes, these ‘TEAMS’ — and I say teams in capitals for a reason — were regularly ahead of the rest of the field, and I think there are a couple of factors contributing towards this.
While a skilled and, to a degree, fearless driver is the foundation around which drifting revolves, you can’t succeed in any form of motorsport without a great team around you. All of the drivers who compete are supported by fantastic teams of family and friends. But these units who make up the top six have been around for just that little bit longer, and they have fairly settled regular crews and families who all know the roles they play within the event environment. They also have spotters who know how to work the information relayed back from the judges, and they have cars built from a platform of experience. Darren Kelly was the exception here in terms of experience, however I’d say his bond with his spotter was, and remains, closer than most.
All of these drivers at some point looked like they could be champion, and there is an element of ‘luck of the draw’ in drifting that you have to deal with. But perhaps scarily for their opposition, none of these drivers spent the whole season in their own first-choice car, and they all had at least one bad round. Yet they all knew what to do, and how to keep the points ticking over for the overall title. Three of the cars were new or heavily redeveloped platforms, so would have been expected to need some testing and development time — yet they still ended up near the front.
Cole Armstrong debuted the new 250GT Mopar V Energy machine at Manfeild. After taking some time to get on top of his early-season issues, he had the car absolutely singing by the time the series arrived at his home round in Tauranga, where he achieved a round win — a dream result. Cole is perhaps the standout character of the field, and it was a great moment for his family to be able to stand on that podium in front of a huge amount of supporters.
Unfortunately for the team, some of the car’s gremlins then started to come back, and Cole was beaten by an electronics fault at round four. He eventually returned to his old R34 Skyline for rounds five and six. His season ended on a harsh note at Pukekohe after getting caught out by a huge puddle and flying off the track. But, because he’s Cole, he was still smiling and joking — the life of the party as always.
Daniel ‘Fanga Dan’ Woolhouse
Much interest surrounded Fanga Dan’s debut of the new Century Batteries Holden VE Commodore platform, and it more than delivered, as he was the guy who improved most throughout the season. As he gained more comfort in the new car, he became the only driver to achieve 12 scored passes from 12 qualifying runs this season. Most interestingly, Fanga was the best driver on average in the line category, which meant he wasn’t holding back, and was paying attention to what the judging panel asked for. He looked to be a different, more settled driver (having signed a big naming-rights deal well before the season had started), and he was actually the guy who I thought might have come through to grab the title.
But the battle was so tight that he ended up in fifth overall. If you’re a bit of a trainspotter, you’ll know that fifth was where he finished the season prior to winning both of his Drift King (DK) titles — so if there are TAB odds, I’d be putting $20 on FDC motorsport for next season now. While he didn’t win the last round at Pukekohe, you might argue that he still took a victory of sorts, by asking Mrs. FDC to officially take his name that Saturday night.
Andrew Redward wanted a season podium so badly, but came up just short in the end thanks to the guy who has become his bogey driver — Gaz Whiter. Andrew was always fast, carried huge angle, and qualified consistently well, which saw him leading the table at one point in the season. Yet he frequently had the misfortune to often draw the same opponent when it mattered. Andrew does seem to have learned some lessons, having removed some of the overdriving we’d seen from him in previous seasons. He, more than anyone else, probably just didn’t get the luck of the draw over the last few rounds. He’s got all the tools to be a champion, but he just needs to hunt down whoever has the balding voodoo doll with a fondness for Burt Reynolds.
When you go into a season as the champion, knowing that you are starting round one in a car that last competed five years beforehand, it’s an indicator of a potential waning interest. It emerged during the year that Gaz Whiter had felt that the end of the previous season wasn’t all it could have been for various reasons. With his V8 S14 at Formula D (where he placed it fourth), the usual slow start to the season was always on the cards — and so it proved to be. His motivation was questioned, which seemed to light a fire under Whiter. He hit the wall at round two when battling Curt Whittaker, while trying one of the craziest initiations against a concrete wall we had ever seen.
Third placings at Mt Smart and Tauranga were followed by a round win at Hampton Downs. But it was at round five where he effectively cost himself any chance of a fifth D1NZ title when he went off the track in the top 16 while versing Nico Reid. No one will forget his drive at the grand final in a hurry, when a speed gun–recorded 182kph entry into turn one resulted in a wild ride across the grass, no doubt laughing like a madman under his helmet. Whiter has off-season plans to win Lotto, buy a boat, and make a fishing TV show with comedy sidekick Sam G, but he will likely come back next year to be a thorn in the side of anyone wanting to be king.
Five seasons in this car and five consecutive appearances on the podium — a feat unlikely to ever be repeated. Curt Whittaker has always been consistent, knowing what needs to be done at each and every event. I always feel like he doesn’t really show his full hand on the practice day, and with V8 torque now at his disposal he’s a dangerous opponent in any battle, especially with the skill and spotter expertise to know if he needs to attack or hold back.
This was the one team that never conceded the season fully, intent on forcing a result at the final. Sadly, we’ll never know if a dry track would have produced a different outcome. Like the former DKs, Whittaker has a burning desire to wear the champion's crown again, and he will return next season without needing to do round-one testing of a new engine package and associated car balance. Two event wins showed his clear class, further illustrating that he is flourishing within the Rattla Motorsport structure.
The first driver to ever be Pro-Am and Pro champion, Darren Kelly deserves to be the 2014–’15 DK. After putting together a consistent campaign, including two round wins, and always gaining important qualifying points, the least experienced of the top six in a competition sense, and without the traditional type of ‘technical’ spotter, Darren largely drove by what he felt and showed he could cope with the gentle pressure and banter being aimed in his direction. Darren was actually the first driver in several seasons to have landed an RB engine on the top step of the D1NZ podium, and by doing it twice he regained some pride for the R’F’B brigade. The mark of a true champion is how he comes back and deals with being the guy with a big target on his back, and that will be what DK faces in 2015–’16 — both in Australia and New Zealand, as he will lead the Trans-Tasman challenge charge.
And with that we say goodbye to D1NZ Pro for the season. The 2015–’16 season will be the 12th for D1NZ, and it will be one of change. All sports are forced to adapt and evolve, and drifting will be no different — despite what the purists may want. The field is ageing, car costs are going up, and the spectator exists in an environment of consumer choice, where short, punchy, entertaining events are king, and it would be odd not to have at least 50 per cent of any crowd simply staring at their phones all day. Expect to see technology play a role, although it can never replace the human eye as an indicator of style and flow. We may perhaps see revised formats that allow more consumer choice. Some things don’t really change though — expect the names above to still be at the top end of the field when we crown the next drift king.