Tauranga's Cole Armstrong has come from behind to win the 2018 Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship title; the V Energy ace subsequently becoming the first driver to win back-to-back crowns since Gaz Whiter.
Ironically, Armstrong pulled up in the final battle up against Whiter. It was Whiter who would win the round, while Armstrong would win the championship. Darren Kelly had to settle for second place in the standings, while Whiter's victory elevated him from ninth in the points all the way to third overall behind Armstrong and Kelly.
As part of the championship-winning prize, Armstrong is now set to compete in a round of the world renowned Irish Drift Championship.
It was an event of attrition, with three of the big championship contenders getting knocked out without being able to threaten the top four. Though arguably the biggest moment of the day was a scary crash for Jaron Olivecrona and his V12-powered Nissan Silvia. A mistake at the switch between turns one and two saw him slide wide into the grass. He narrowly missed hitting the concrete wall, but then hit the tyre wall further down.
The first was former series leader Matty Hill — pipped by Dave Steedman. 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse was then knocked out in the top eight by a tightly contested giant-killing battle with Carl Thompson. The pair had to repeat their initial battle via a one-more-time repeat, which saw Thompson emerge victorious — sending him into the top four.
The other big championship casualty was Kelly. Entering the day as series leader, Kelly was knocked out by an invigorated Ben Wilkinson during top-eight competition. This effectively ended his championship charge as Armstrong progressed to the final four.
Armstrong's day had been chaotic. He would once again face off against Shane van Gisbergen in the top-16 (a repeat of ASB Baypark and Timaru), which — again — was too close to call by judges in the first instance. After an OMT battle Armstrong emerged on top, having survived contact and a subsequent van Gisbergen spin during his chase.
He then progressed to drift alongside Wilkinson in the semi finals. On the other side of the top four, Thompson lined up against Whiter.
After securing pole position yesterday, Whiter looked to be the driver to beat for most of the day — defeating Troy Jenkins and Steedman, and then eventually Thompson. On the other half of the ledger, Armstrong's avoidance of carnage continued after both he and Wilkinson spun during their first run.
With Wilkinson's spin occurring while leading, the panel of judges tipped in Armstrong's favour. And he wound up lining up with Whiter in the final.
Armstrong was put on the back foot in his chase, with Whiter building a big gap during his lead run. Any considerations that the defending champ was being conservative, however, would be shot to pieces after he recorded an incredible 196km/h run (the fastest through the turn-one speed trap all weekend) during his lead run.
The impressive showing ensured a tight judgement call, but the officials eventually sided with Whiter to award him his first round win since returning to the D1NZ series this season.
In the playoff for third, Wilkinson would defeat Thompson to help solidify his strong championship position.