The new club circuit at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park played host to the Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship for the first time this past weekend, with the biggest field of entered drivers to date , all looking to set up the run home to the April grand final at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
ATJ Drift's Tom Marshall lead the series for the first time heading in after a maiden victory, with a whole host of other title hopefuls knowing that failure to get a result at this event would see title chances begin to slip away.
Being a new track, many drivers took advantage of the Friday practice session then headed home to make final adjustments before coming back Saturday to spend a few hours working on the judges prescribed line prior to both the Pro-Sport and Pro fields qualifying.
Taking the honours in Pro qualifying was the Pace Pools BMW of Daynom Templeman, recording scores of 86.5 and 86 to top the order. The 1000hp 2JZ smoke machine looked smooth and edged out Andrew Redward in his LS-engined FC RX7, who is only doing a limited campaign for the season and looks a much more relaxed driver for it.
After the disappointment of Baypark, V Energy 250 GT driver Cole Armstrong also showed he meant business early on. Talking to his spotter and father Bryce in the pits, the team had spent a lot of time regrouping and coming together as one, focusing on keeping the always excitable Cole calm and focused throughout. It clearly worked as he stormed into third place in qualifying to put the pressure right on the other title contenders.
Pro-Sport qualifying was topped by Michael Thorley , who edged out veterans Bruce Tannock and Kyle Jackways.
Heading home Saturday night, it was fair to say all fingers and toes were crossed for a dry Sunday with the forecast looking less than ideal.
The D1NZ team would have been relieved when Sunday arrived and the sun came out, meaning track conditions were good. The bigger issue for drivers to deal with the became the thick smoke and occasional dust cloud kicked up when a driver found the outer limits of the circuit.
Pro-Sport was up first in the regular Top 32 format and among the early casualties was round three winner Zac Barlass, who perhaps struggled a little for outright horsepower. Top qualifier Thorley was another to go out earlier than expected as he spun entering the section, while the man many see as the current Pro-Sport benchmark, Cody Pullen-Burry, was eliminated by a mechanical failure. With controversy raring its head via contact and cars running off track, the crowd saw far more OMT battles than were expected and it wasn't until far later in the day that first time finalist Tully Puckey lined up his Aotearoa Roofing R33 against Bruce Tannock in the final.
Puckey gave his all to stick with the fast Tannock machine, followed by judges sending them around for a one-more-time battle before Tannock would eventually triumph and grab his first silverware for the day. Team 13’s Liam Burke rounding out the podium for his first time on the steps of glory, having beaten the impressive Blair Gribble-Bowring for third.
Once the Pros hit the track, the show progressed at a rapid rate with the higher horsepower cars seeming to have an advantage on the long section. The average power figure now seems to be around the 450kw mark with many boasting a lot more, meaning tires didn't last more than two laps and a number of drivers beat themselves by getting lost in smoke and running tires off the edge of the track producing big rooster tails of dust.
The first sign that it might be a challenging day for many was seeing Darren Kelly's R35 pushed off the track on the parade lap for quick repairs after throwing an alternator belt. Former Pro champion Kelly would have been sweating on getting back out to try and get his title chase back on track which the team did manage, only for an axle breakage to end his event and season podium hopes when he went out in the round of 24.
Top Pro qualifier Daynom Templeman would have been hoping for big things and was looking fast and dangerous early on, only to over commit on his chase entry vs southerner Joel Counter and make contact, eliminating himself. Counter would go on for a solid seventh place result in what it turns out is currently the lowest powered car in the D1NZ Pro field.
A key battle that took place was that of Dave Steedman and ‘Fanga’ Dan Woolhouse. Both drivers were inside the top five for the season and a loss had implications for everyone's overall title chase. Fanga Dan would get a very close call in his favour after an OMT, with Steedman left shaking his head and hoping for team mate Adam Davies to extract some revenge for Team DSR.
Andrew Redward had worked his way through the field with what looked like relative ease up to the semi finals, with the NOS breathing LS simply having too much mid-section speed for most challengers. A semi final loss to Cole Armstrong set up a battle with Adam Davies for third place which would end prematurely when Redward ran out of NOS and then broke his diff.
Davies was clearly excited to have landed on the podium again following up his on first career podium, taking third at Baypark, and is now sitting in his highest ever points position with a real shot at a season podium.
Earlier we mentioned that Bruce Tannock had won Pro-Sport, and with confidence clearly on a high and paying credit to ‘driving better whenever he has a beard’ ,Tannock simply looked confident and smooth in every battle on his way through the Pro field (as he is pulling double duties in both fields) to a final with good mate Cole. With the car back on 265 wide semi slick rubber it was a rocket ship and Bruce produced some of the best chase form he has ever shown. Tannock would bring the Achilles Rocket Bunny home in second overall and make D1NZ history as the first person to ever be on both podiums in the same event.
Cole Armstrong right now simply looks unstoppable, and has one hand on the D1NZ trophy with a 39 point lead over his nearest rival following the round four win. Accounting for Jaron Olivecrona, Brad Smith and Andrew Redward on his way to the final, the RB engine in the V machine is singing and Cole looks to have good flow in both his lead and chase runs.
Armstrong showing his value on and off the track by also welcoming new sponsors on board in PEX and 3 Fingers Neat.
With Hampton Downs now in the books, and having seen a new record number of 1.4-million views on the live stream, attention will quickly switch to the 200kmph monster that is Pukekohe Park Raceway. Armstrong will have a choice to make and needs to at minimum qualify, while Tom Marshall sits second and has a 66 point buffer over Dave Steedman, Nico Reid, Adam Davies and the always dangerous veteran Fanga Dan, who will all be hunting down third place.
Will the lovable character from the Mount [Armstrong] grab his first crown, or will it be the quietly driven Englishman from Kerikeri [Marshall]? Can Nico Reid make a second consecutive season podium or will it be one of team DSR? Will Fanga Dan, DaynomTempleman or Darren Kelly make a late run?
Find out at Pukekohe Park Raceway with 10,000 others!