The first round of the Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship finished in dramatic fashion with Australia's Matty Hill coming out on top of a turbulent season opener.
Having taken the Pro Series pole position on Friday, Hill battled mechanical breakages all the way through to the final. The Max Motors Wellington Family Speedway facility proved to be a tough slog, with Hill fortunate to get away only slightly bruised on the technical circuit.
There was drama from the outset in the top-16 battles. Ben Wilkinson spun out through turn one on his lead run. Rival Cole Armstrong clouted the outside wall as he tried to avoid Wilkinson, but was fortunate not to suffer too much damage.
Pole sitter Hill defeated Link ECU backed drifter Stuart Baker to progress through to the top-16 and came up against Armstrong for their top-eight battle.
Hill went well wide in both of his respective runs, but the judges ruled they both made an equal amount of mistakes, which led to a One-More-Time (OMT) call.
Hill led Armstrong who chased strong. But Armstrong's run came undone when a series of errors kicked off. Hill and Armstrong made mistakes and got loose at almost exactly the same time. Lost in the smoke, Armstrong panicked and veered into the outside wall.
A long deliberation between the judges initially saw Hill given the advantage, putting pressure on the V Energy team to get their car repaired in five minutes. But on further review the judges decided it was too close to attribute blame either way. In the spirit of drifitng, Cole and his team were given more time to repair their car.
However, with Armstrong idle in the pit and his crew not willing to send him out in a damaged state, Hill progressed through to the top-eight.
After scoring a zero in his first run due to mechanical issues, Gaz Whiter performed one of the most exciting runs of the top-16 against George Myburgh. Whiter pushed the envelope and hung onto Myburgh's door, but it wasn't enough to force a mistake for a re-run.
'Fanga' Dan Woolhouse's first time out competing with his Ford Mustang started strong with a win over 12th place qualifier Adam Davies. That pitched him against Myburgh. Their first battle eventually went to an OMT following mistakes from them both.
Woolhouse's run came to an end after making a pair of mistakes. The judges said that Woolhouse probably would have taken the win, but for a pair of wheel drops during his chase.
Ben Jenkins excelled on his Pro Series debut. He moved through to the top-eight after Vincent Langhorn spun during the lead run. However, his run through to the top-eight came to an end after Team DSR driver Dave Steedman edged out Jenkins in a close battle.
Brown came up against Templeman in his first heavyweight battle and performed strongly. The judges said Templeman wasn't convincing in his first run, so an OMT was called, which his duly won. However, the judges were impressed by Brown's efforts on debut.
The first top-four saw Hill face Myburgh, but their battle was short lived. Myburgh made a mistake early and ran shallow to the inside of the apron. He tried to correct a wheel drop, but that slowed him down. Chaos ensued as Hill, who was following close behind, made wheel-to-wheel contact.
The impact sent Hill's car skyward briefly and broke Myburgh's rear suspension. The judges ruled Myburgh's correction left Hill with nowhere to go, so he was given the first finals position.
On the other side of the tree Templeman came up against Steedman. Templeman was initially quite strong and was given the advantage, but a bobble and brief straight line meant he was deducted points. Steedman ran shallow in his chase, but that wasn't enough to warrant a bigger deduction.
With the order sorted, Hill and Steedman faced off for the final spot. Rather fittingly, the pair qualified first and second a day earlier.
Hill was rewarded early on in his lead run for matching the lines set by the judges, excelling on the technical circuit. Matt made speed and smoke, which created a gap to Steedman. Unfortunately for Steedman, who was trailing, he got lost in the smoke and tagged wall and slapped the right hand side of his car as he exited the final turn.
The contact subsequently dragged him into the wall and resulted in a 10-zero in favour of Hill. After a lengthy delay to try and get Steedman's car ready, a brief moment of elation when he got his car started turned to dismay as the car conked out. Hill was given the win as Steedman couldn't get his car to the grid.
The next round of the Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship takes place at ASB Baypark Stadium in Tauranga over February 19-20.