A Kaitaia racer has started off this year's campaign in the D1NZ Pro Sports Series with a hiss and a roar after claiming podium finishes in the opening two legs which have put him firmly at the top of the standings.
Racing under the banner of LBP Drift, Liam Burke claimed second place at both the opening leg of the circuit in Wellington in January and again in round 2 at Baypark in Tauranga last month (February 16-17).
A report on the D1NZ website noted Burke stamped his authority on the competition at ASB Baypark Stadium last month, arriving Tauranga with a fresh new look, but showing the same aggression seen in the opening round to dominate qualifying events with a 71-point run.
"Burke's second run was favoured by the judges because of aggressive entry and exit angle," the report noted, "Although he could've improved through the bottom teardrop, stacks of angle and consistent throttle put him on top."
The combined results have put the 25-year-old at the top of the series ladder, 17 points clear of his nearest rival, and in a strong position to launch a serious bid at the title. Well aware that means he now has a target on his back, the next stop for Burke includes round 3 at Timaru this weekend, followed by the final two legs at Manfeild from April 20-21, and Pukekohe in May.
Far North roots
Well known as a high flying youngster with the Far North Dirtbike Club during his secondary school years (when the club was based at Ahipara's Sandhills Road Track midway through last decade), Burke left high school in 2008 and began a mechanic's apprenticeship.
Shortly after the turn of the decade, he started pit crewing for New Zealand's most successful drifting exponent, 'Fanga' Dan Woolhouse from Whangarei (a former multiple D1NZ champion), both at the D1NZ championship and also across the ditch at the World Time Attack in 2016.
He soon began to develop a taste for the high-octane profession and began to try his luck during practice days at the various tracks around New Zealand where he soon showed an aptitude for the inch-perfect timing and precision the sport required.
Over the summer of 2016/17 Burke made his debut campaign on the D1NZ Pro-Sport series, going on to place 7th overall out of 44 competitors after competing in four of that season's five events.
He has returned to the competition this year, planning to improve on the result.
Burke is not the first Far North driver to compete on the nationwide D1NZ championships. Others hailing from the area have included Kingsley 'Speed Demon' Thompson, the former helicopter pilot from Kerikeri, and the Marshall brothers Tom and Joe, from Waipapa/ Haruru Falls.
The latter pair rose consistently through the Pro Series ranks — both finished inside the top 10 in 2017 — but chose not to race this summer after both recently became new fathers and began to build their respective family homes although they are expected to return in the future.
Burke's weapon of choice is an S13 Nissan Sylvia with a 2JZ Toyota (3L) motor which he built entirely himself.
He currently works as an automotive technician for Checkered Flag Automotive in Kamo which specialises in top-of-the-line performance work. Owner Zane Shelly has spent time in the United States working on performance motors and has also maintained Mark Cromie's beast for the NZ V8 Ute Racing championship in the past. While Shelly is the whiz on carburetted engines, Burke is regarded as the company's go-to technician for electronics, fuel injection and engine management.
Asked how much it costs to compete on the national series, his response is, "More than I can afford!" He conservatively estimates the cost as a minimum of $5000 to compete in each leg of the series.
Thankfully, Burke has attracted solid backing. Major sponsors include Checkered Flag Automotive — which at least means he doesn't need to make any excuses in order to get the time off to compete on the D1NZ circuit — and Measure Up, the flooring company owned by Dad Brian, who has certainly passed his love of all things fast and flying down to his son — they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Brian believes Burke's performances this year and last had totally surpassed everyone's expectations.
"While it is a massive task building, maintaining and then driving the car himself, he could not do it without the pit crew of Lyle Sangster and Kaitaia-raised Joe Sullivan (both qualified mechanics) at the track along with Liam's partner and team manager, Lasharn Datson," Brian said.
Also backing LBP Drift are Kamo Parts, MSE Turbos, Sign Supplies, Motorsport Plumbing Supplies, MASFX Signs, GKTECH, Plazmaman, Cooper Tyres, and Carpets On Cobham.
No one will dispute drifting is about as intense as motorsport comes.
Drivers are paired off over two runs, called battles, one leading, the other chasing, then the roles are reversed. Each drifter's performance is judged on the line taken around the track, proximity to the other driver, and style. The winner progresses to the next round, the loser gets an early shower.
Pukekohe is known as having the fastest drift corner in the world where the top entry speed has been clocked at over 205km/h. At last year's event, Burke qualified with the third-fastest time, 196km/h, of both Pro and Pro Sport classes.
During battles in the ensuing top-four chase run against Codey Pullenberry the two cars collided after Pullenberry dramatically lost control at more than 196km/h. Burke may have been handed the win but the subsequent structural damage eliminated him and he had to settle for fourth.
Surely that makes it all a bit of a nerve-racking business? "Definitely a rush," he responded ambivalently.
Preparing to defend his top of the table standing in round 3 in Timaru this Friday and Saturday, Burke admitted he is unfamiliar with the Canterbury track. Of course, anyone taking that remark at face value risks underestimating the Far North speed merchant, who is more than aware of what the stakes are: "You have to be on your game. It's a pretty harsh sport if you don't qualify. If you lose, you are not drifting for the rest of the week."