It’s a corner that strikes fear into the hearts of many drifters, with entry speeds often in excess of 200kph meaning drivers frequently have to tip it in halfway down the straight, and then attempt to thread the needle around the bumpiest corner in New Zealand motorsport. Get it wrong, run a little wide, and you’re just a passe nger as your car is sucked into the concrete and pinballed along the wall. No corner in New Zealand drifting history has destroyed as many cars, and 2017’s grand final weekend notched up a stack more casualties on the Puke monster’s belt. Shane Allen in the RATTLA Mustang, Vinny Langhorn in his road-going C33, Liam Sykes in the ECD FC RX-7, Ray Robertson and the Fensin S14, the list goes on — but although the cars took big hits, thankfully the drivers were nothing more than a little shaken.
Heading into the round, V Energy’s Cole Armstrong had amassed a 39-point lead over Kerikeri’s Tom Marshall, with both being 66 points clear of Mimico’s Dave Steedman. On paper Tom was the only real threat who could topple Cole’s hopes, but having sold his Evergreen S15 he was without a car. However, as no internationals were driving the Toyotaz Galore GT86 for the round, Tom was handed the keys.
He’d never driven the 86 before, but those who showed up on Sunday would not have guessed it wasn’t Tom’s regular drive, as the young talent took to the chassis like a duck to water. But the event wasn’t without drama for the Marshall crew, who had to fit a new engine into the car the night before practice after a failure on the dyno. Otherwise the 86 is well equipped for the job, with Wisefab steering and a TTi six-speed sequential box, although an incorrect diff ratio did leave Tom at a disadvantage.
For Cole it was business as usual in the 250GT, which has proved to a be super-reliable package all season, having suffered only one minor breakage. He says, “We pulled the motor out and did a full rebuild, with help from Paul at Lakeside Automotive. The 3.2-litre has been so reliable, and I know I have a good package that I can beat on. Hitting the sweeper flat foot in fourth and not lifting, then switching down to third, switching back, and then just hammer it out. I wouldn’t lift, it was such a cool feeling holding it at 8200rpm right on the rev limiter. It’s such an awesome section to battle on.” With a strong run all season, including wins at the new stadium track added to the championship — Forsyth Barr, Dunedin — and at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Cole and the team had their first championship win in seven years of competition square in the crosshairs.
Heading into Sunday’s final, Cole looked relaxed, as did the ever-calm Marshall. But so did a handful of series regulars not in the run for a championship, including Fanga Dan, a master of the sweeper who stormed to P1 with a 95-point run first up, with Cole in second with a 90-point run.
As a little side competition, Team DSR sponsor Mimico had ponied up $500 for the fastest entry all weekend — and this went to Darren Kelly, in the Nissan New Zealand R35, with a GPS-confirmed 205kph — he was another driver looking strong.
But despite the only dry weather the final has seen in recent history, many Top 16 drivers — including Fanga and Darren Kelly — made shock exits and left the door wide open for those eyeing up a third-place finish in the championship, behind Cole versus Tom. Both championship contenders progressed up different sides of the battle tree to the finals, but a mistake in Tom’s Top 4 battle against Daynom Templeman on the last corner saw Daynom advance to the battle for first, and Tom moved on to compete against the loser of the Nico Reid versus Cole Armstrong battle.
When Nico suffered mechanical issues, five minutes was called — Cole wasn’t interested in advancing on a technicality, as he explained. “Those last battles with Nico were just awesome. Whatever it took I wanted to battle him, they were saying he only has two seconds left on his five mins, but I didn’t care — yeah, rules are rules, but we came here to battle and to put on the best show possible. I’m going to sit here till he comes out, and we’re going to battle this out.” The battle did take place and didn’t disappoint — Cole then advanced to the final, to meet Daynom Templeman.
Daynom had faced Tom Marshall, and was handed the win after Marshall straightened on his chase run. This effectively put the silver seal on the championship for Cole.
The final battle between Cole and Daynom was a hard-fought powerfest — but no one was standing in Cole’s way, he wanted the win to seal the dream season. “We didn’t want to win by some tally, we are here to drive and I wanted to show that to everyone who helps me do this, that we can do it, and we’ve done it. It’s taken me seven years, but we are here, and I can’t thank my team, my family and all my sponsors and supporters enough for standing behind me.”
The Tauranga local doesn’t have any time to rest, as the 250GT is about to loaded in a container destined for China, where the on-form driver will contest the D1GP championship against the world’s best drivers, starting in May.
He will be back to contest his championship title in around six month’s time, when it all kicks off again here in New Zealand.