Motorsport: Drift along for smoky action

By Eric Thompson

Defending champion Gaz Whiter will be giving it his best shot at Manfield. Photo / APN
Defending champion Gaz Whiter will be giving it his best shot at Manfield. Photo / APN

One of the fastest-growing motorsport categories swings into action this weekend at Manfeild when the D1NZ Drifting Championship sees 55 drivers open their campaigns.

As well as vying for line honours, contestants will have an eye on the $5000 cash first prize.

"At each round this season, the winner will earn a one-off cash prize or package of $5000," said series organiser Brendon White.

"At Manfeild, the money is coming from Shred Motorsport in Lower Hutt and it's got everybody talking."

Organisers of the opening national round have received a bumper 55 entries, including defending and three-time champion Gaz Whiter (Nissan S14) from Dargaville.

He'll be battling it out with former series champion Daniel Woolhouse from Whangarei (Holden Commodore), high-profile international Mike Whiddett (Mazda RX7) from Auckland, and the winner and runner-up respectively of the Tectaloy International Drift Challenge in Sydney, Carl Whittaker (Toyota 2JZ-engined Nissan Skyline R34) and Daynom Templeman (Mazda RX7), both from Auckland.

As well as the head-to-head action between the top contenders, fans will be able to see the new D1ProAm series for 20 rookie drivers, with the newbies getting mentoring from the D1 series drivers.

A local driver to watch out for in the ProAm ranks is Wanganui's Ricki Lee, who drives a Mazda RX7.

Leading the local D1NZ line-up are Palmerston North drivers Will Cook (Toyota Supra) and Shane Rutland (Nissan S14), and Wellingtonians Carlos Walters Rangitihi (Nissan Skyline R33) and Dimitri Amos (Nissan SR20-engined Toyota Corolla).

Hawke's Bay driver Mac Kwok will also be a crowd-pleaser behind the wheel of his twin-turbocharged V8-engined Nissan S13, one of the most spectacular drift combinations in the country at the moment.

"We're a show sport," White said.

"We're entertainers.

"We do it for the fans - the people who pay good money to come and see us - as much as we do it for ourselves."

Drifting differs from conventional motor racing in that drivers do not complete a lap and there is no first past the post.

At each competition venue, a course is mapped out with specific start, finish and clipping-point areas.

The general idea is for each driver to drift (slide or oversteer) the car through each corner with the power on, the tyres smoking and with controlled precision.

Drivers are also awarded points for style.

After single-car qualifying runs through the course to establish a top 32, competitors then battle each other through two tandem runs, with each driver getting a chance to lead and follow. Judges mark drivers on line, angle of drift, speed, how close they were able to stay to the other driver, and - a popular criteria for the fans - the amount of smoke produced by their car's spinning tyres.

Once the top 32 has been whittled down to the best 16, this lot go back head-to-head to establish a last eight, then four and finally two.

The remaining two drivers then go at it to ascertain the overall champion of the round.

Manfeild is the ideal venue for the opening round, as it has an infield combination of a tight-banked left-hander, open right kink, then sharp-banked left-hand hairpin.

There are large outfield spectator embankments for fans to get a feel for what is happening on the track.

There have been some great battles at Manfeild in the past and the cash up for grabs will crank the competition up even more.

"All the drivers will be pushing so much harder, it's going to be mega," White said.

New Zealand was one of the first countries to set up a dedicated drift series and, since 2003, the local scene has developed into one of the best, and most competitive, in the world. White said: "Though there are now something like 40 drifting championships in the world, ours is consistently recognised as one of the top-five elite ones."

Calendar

Round 1: Oct 28-29, 2011
Manfeild, Feilding
Round 2: Nov 25-26, 2011
Pukekohe Park Raceway
Round 3: Dec 16-17, 2011
Taupo Motorsport Park
Round 4: Feb 10-11, 2012
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Round 5: March 09-10, 2012
Whangarei Street Course
Round 6: April 06-07, Grand Final
Hampton Downs, Waikato

- NZ Herald

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