For the better part of the year, you won’t find any drift cars peeling out smoke at upwards of 200kph through the infamous Pukekohe sweeper. But for one weekend, and one weekend alone (April 23–24), Pukekohe Park Raceway opened its gates to drifting fans as it hosted the Demon Energy D1NZ Drifting Championship grand final for the second year running, after the D1NZ team won a long-standing legal battle that had previously banned the event from using the venue. Regarded as the spiritual home ground of drifting, where the series initially began and many drivers honed their skills, drivers were hungry to prove themselves. However, unlike last year, the weekend remained relatively dry until the final day. There was no slip and slide 2.0, thankfully.
‘Fanga Dan’ Woolhouse took to qualifying with a point to prove after blowing a gearbox in the Century Batteries Holden VE during the practice sessions, being forced to revert back to his old VZ chassis — a car he hadn’t driven competitively in six months — and taking out pole position under scorching sun with a run of 92.5 points. Keeping it in the family, Dylan Woolhouse pushed hard to set the new qualifying speed record of 199kph on his second run, but didn’t score, which saw him placed ninth on the grid.
Championship points leader Nico Reid looked set to claim his first series title after a stellar season, racking up four consecutive round wins, even after a technical breach saw his first-round points deducted. His closest championship rivals Whittaker and Templeman were handed byes, while Reid had to go up against Gareth Grove in the top 32. Early contact outside of the judged section caused the first upset of the day when the judges handed the win over to Grove. “[We] came out this season trying to push for the win, but hey, we didn’t know it was going to go four times,” said Reid. “Ya know, I've caused a few upsets this season and I guess it was my turn. That's how it goes aye,” he laughed.
The title looked set to be a points battle slogged out between Curt Whittaker and Daynom Templeman — but a strong run in the top 16 by Dylan Woolhouse saw an early exit for Templeman. “It’s pretty disappointing to go down from second [in the championship] to what’s looking to be sixth at this stage,” said Templeman. “He [Woolhouse] went long, lots of angle, slowed down in front of me, and [I] couldn’t match it.”
As the top five began dropping like flies, Curt Whittaker was in the running to take the lead after dropping Adam Davies and progressing into the top eight to take on Darren Kelly. But unfortunately, the reigning champion forced Whittaker to go wide, which saw him hitting a paint strip and spinning. “The pressure was on … Darren’s pretty fast and I needed to push it. I hadn’t spun all day, then you come in chasing with an awesome chase and you basically know you would have won the battle,” admits Whittaker.
The round win went to series veteran Cole Armstrong, knocking out Ben Wilkinson and Joe Marshall early on, cleaning out Darren Kelly in the top four, with Armstrong later just claiming a win over Dylan Woolhouse to take the first spot on the podium. He put the victory down to staying consistent. “We’ve always tried to [do] the same, and the same, and the same, don’t try to keep pushing it. I’ve done that before in Tauranga and peeled the whole ass end off this car. When you find that sweet spot you want to keep getting it,” Armstrong told us.
In a move no one saw coming, the newly crowned Demon Energy D1NZ Pro-Sport champion Chad McKenzie called his long-time girlfriend Chrissy onto the stage, dropped down onto one knee, and proposed after being awarded his title ... and she said yes!
Claiming the title of Demon Energy D1NZ Champion by only a five-point lead, Curt Whittaker took the first-place spot on the podium, beating out crowd favourite Nico Reid (who took second), followed by a visibly stoked Cole Armstrong in third.
The new champion was still processing the news when we spoke to him in the pits after prize-giving. “It’s going to take a few days to sink in … the second time is definitely harder than the first. We never won a round this year … everyone's trying to get that number one. Any of those top 20 guys could have won a championship. It has all got to come together. We’re stoked, we’re ecstatic, but we’re also a bit lucky as well. We aren’t shy of a beer or two, I think we’ll party for a few days,” Whittaker laughed.
It wasn’t the result that the crowd had hoped Nico would achieve coming into the round, but he remained humble as always. “Far, [feeling] pretty good after that, finishing second overall after a pretty tough season,” admits Reid. “Anything can happen in this sport and even the best lose, unfortunate that Curt Whittaker got knocked out early [too] which favored me. There’s definitely [going to be] a big party tonight with Cole Armstrong, two RFBs on the podium, some big engines out there, and to be knocking those eight-cylinders out [there’s] no better feeling.”
As round winner and third overall, Cole Armstrong was stoked to finish the season on a high. “I remember when I first came here and I had NZ Performance Car come up to me and say, ‘How are you enjoying this’, and I just said, ‘You’ve got to pick your balls up and go into it’. That's how it started … we’re wrapped and didn’t expect to jump up on the podium, it’s been a hell of a year for us. We were down for a little bit, two rounds we had mechanicals,” admits Armstrong. “Consistency is key mate … today really showed that it paid off. We were able to come out on top because we stayed with what we were doing and were really able to get on everyone's door to push hard.”
Pro: Round 6
- First: Cole Armstrong
- Second: Dylan Woolhouse
- Third: Gaz Grove
Pro-Sport: Round 6
- First: Gagan Singh
- Second: Chad McKenzie
- Third: Vincent Hopkins
- First: Curt Whittaker
- Second: Nico Reid
- Third: Cole Armstrong
- First: Chad McKenzie
- Second: Calvin Clark
- Third: Vincent Hopkin
Check out the gallery below!