Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium has played host to many different events and sports in its lifetime, including rugby, with the mighty All Blacks. But one thing that was never on the radar for the stadium was motor sport, until the Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship Series came a-knocking with what was the most ambitious track project in the series’ history — a complete custom-built track inside the indoor stadium.
To make it happen crews worked around the clock the weekend before to lay plywood, plastic and boxing before 37,000 square metres of fibre-reinforced concrete was laid 90mm thick. It was then semi polished to reduce the chance of smoke cutting visibility, and the resulting track surface was a challenge for teams, with grip levels changing throughout the weekend as more rubber was laid. Reportedly some teams ran tyre pressures as low as 10psi in an attempt to find maximum traction.
The hype leading up to the event was unlike anything we had seen before, and come Thursday — when all the teams rolled into town and got their first look at the surface — excitement had peaked.
The event format was slightly different for the new season, in that both Pro and Pro-Sport practiced and qualified on day one, with day two reserved for the real action — the battles. Pro-Sport had a top 32 format and Pro an all-new Top 24. To put even more pressure on the Pro drivers, the top eight qualifiers advanced straight to the Top 16.
Fans got their first taste of the venue under lights on the Friday, when they discovered what it’s like to have a 2JZ banging the anti-lag inside a stadium. The Pro-Sport field saw surprise entry — Bruce Tannock in the Achilles Radial S13 — who is doing double duties this season, running both championships with only a tyre change to the 235 required for Pro-Sport.
Bruce showed his experience when he nabbed P four, but it was Cody Pullen-Burry in his K-Spec S15 who grabbed P1 with an 83-point run. Mechanicals plagued TJM driver Ben Jenkins, who blew an axle during warm-up and skipped his first run while the crew repaired the car, only to have two axles blow during his do or die run. He was not the only driver who didn’t qualify, Keiran Stewart also failed to post a score in his MX-5.
The Pro field qualifying also saw drama, with 12 zero-point runs caused by spins as drivers struggled to come to grips with new builds and the challenging surface. Australian Michael Prosenik nabbed P1 ahead of veterans like Fanga (P2), and Cole Armstrong (P3). He is no stranger to D1NZ in his S13, but this round he took the guest spot in Toyotaz Galore’s guest Toyota 86. ‘The Proz’ nailed a first-up perfect run of 90.5 — no one was able to come close, despite his lack of seat time in the unfamiliar machine.
Day two kicked off at midday and went straight into the Pro-Sport Top 32. Such a tight and technical track promoted door-to-door driving, to the delight of everyone, including the drivers. For many this was their first time driving in competition battles, but for the likes of Bruce Tannock and Kyle Jackways it was business as usual, as the pair worked through each side of the tree to meet in the final. A wheel drop by Tannock meant Kyle ultimately won the round, his first ever round win in his long-standing D1 career. Kyle, who is actually a D1NZ Pro judge, had little time to celebrate before he got down to the serious business of splitting hairs in what were some of the best battles we have had the pleasure of watching on New Zealand soil — a testament the style of the track layout.
In-between the rally cars tearing up the circuit, the local karting guys putting on a demo and the incredible super motards, the Pro Top 24 battle tree played out with plenty of angst and drama. After the dust settled it was Nico Reid, Drew Donovan, Darren Kelly and Cole Armstrong left standing, and ready to square off in the final four under lights. Nico and Donovan were the first to face each other, and Nico put the Evergreen Tanifa into the side of the Milwaukee S15 and stayed there. But his car let him down with a mechanical heat-cut, ending his night prematurely and handing Donovan his ticket to the final.
On the other side side of the tree it was Cole Armstrong who strung together two near-perfect runs against Darren to earn his final spot. This spelled the end of Darren’s night of battles, as Nico was unable to continue, which handed Darren the third spot on the podium — not bad for the debut of his Nissan NZ R35. With no real shakedown beforehand the new build suffered minor teething issues throughout the weekend — something Darren was quick to thank his hard-working team for handling.
It was now Cole and Drew who lined up for the top spot. The fans were treated to a door-banging battle as the two veterans of the sport showed how they earned their final spot. But as close as it was, it was Cole who kept his cool, and ran a better line to take the win. “I knew Drew was definitely on me, it’s one of those things where you can look in your mirror and be like ‘he’s on me!’ Cole said, “But you’ve just got to put that behind you, do the line, and hey, I was lucky enough to come out on top. I definitely thought it was a one-more-time, it was so close! I’m pretty stoked with how everything’s turned out.”
No sooner had the smoked cleared from some epic indoor victory skids than the clean-up crews moved in to erase all traces that D1NZ had come to town. It may have taken an epic 72 hours to build and set up, but in only 24 it was gone, as if it had all been just a dream.
Hats off to all the Demon Energy D1NZ team for making it happen, and to all the Dunners locals for showing their support, it was an epic event that will go down in history.