The Summer Smokeout is what the third installment of the Demon Energy D1NZ National Championship is dubbed as. For obvious reasons, that it’s summer and if you’re anywhere near Bay Park during either day you will get smoked out! Living in Auckland, it’s a normal occurrence to find me at either Hampton Downs, Pukekohe or Meremere. But when there is an event outside of Auckland however, that is when I put my hand straight up like a child needing to empty the old bladder. It gets rather repetitive shooting at those three locations over and over again, so being able to shoot at any new location brings on a whole new set of exciting challenges.
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Round 3 was similar to Round 2 at Mt Smart, they both use custom man made tracks built in the stadium car parks. This means solid concrete walls around every clipping point providing an unforgiving track to each and every driver. As this was a new location for me, I spent most of day one finding the sweet spots on the track. The spots that would get great shots while also being a little different to all the other media in attendance. That wasn’t an easy task though, as everyone else had the same mind set.
I made the trip down from Auckland the night before staying in an ear shot of Bay Park. The next morning was glorious, the only two colours present in the sky the whole day was light blue and blinding yellow. It was now a fight to stay awake till the very bitter end of the day learning the track layout and taking everything in until 9pm, then the fireworks would put on an almighty show for us.
The track starts off with a nice short run up, followed by a long wall ride, then a wide hair pin. I found that the hardest part for the drivers to get right was the switch after the hairpin. It was fast and short, the switch then had another nice curved wall right after for the drivers to exit onto. Bay Park held four concrete clipping points for drivers to position their rear ends upon. And they did just that!
In my honest opinion I find these close and tight rounds extremely entertaining to shoot. Cars get far more personal at slower speeds and I don’t have to walk around as much. Competition picks up. Drivers get more competitive while pushing their limits and proximity. Also the photos come out much better! Here we can see a family feud, Daniel Woolhouse piloting the Century Batteries Holden being chased by Dylan Woolhouse in the Hooker Pacific Nissan.
If I’d have to pick a favourite car to photograph during the two day event, this would have to be it. Phil’s R34 Nissan Skyline. Some cars have a bad paint scheme that doesn’t play ball with the sunlight and other cars simply won’t take nice photos. But this. This Skyline had the most decent and in-focus shots from the weekend! The nice plain red made it easy to focus on and keep the front nice and crisp. Phil also made for great opportunities with his driving abilities and the R34 aggressiveness just added to everything.
Another great thing about this season of D1NZ is the amount of teams that are participating. Tandems are great, but when you throw two cars with identical themes in the mix it is even better! Talking specifically about D1NZ the team drivers are usually made up of siblings or partners. Jodie and Drew have come along way and done a whole lot of good for NZ motorsport. They currently run Drift Motorsport NZ and hold drift days at Taupo and various other locations throughout the year.
The show stoppers this round without a doubt was the 3 team members from C’s Garage and the two Jenkins brothers. As well as taking the competition seriously, every practice session was a tandem session for this lot. This is keeping the fun in D1 while still pushing for victory. The sun was also positioned right above the cars and while the cars may be a bit out of focus in this photo, the windscreen shined stars and rainbows right at me and the camera.
Troy Jenkins was showing that he had what it would take to win the pro-am championship, until a rather unfortunate turn for the worst happened. Coming in too close to the concrete walls at the rear, the car made contact and then rotated the front around to also hit the solid walls. This impact raised the whole left side of the car causing the car to ride the wall. He is lucky it didn’t flip the whole car over.
The damage was rather bad, but with all the help from team members and pit crew the car was back up and running later that day, you wouldn’t even know that the side of the car had made contact from a distance. These things happen when each corner has concrete clipping points and as drivers edge closer and closer, body panels will eventually make contact whether a small scrub or massive contact. It’s all part of the game. If something breaks you fix it, if you can’t fix it you swap it out for a stronger and better part.
The Saturday of Round 3 was labelled as the practice day. This gave a chance for all of the pro-am drivers and pro-drivers to get some seat time in before qualifying where they would only get two laps to provide a good enough score to get them onto the table. Even during practice the round drivers weren’t holding back, full throttle and full force into every corner to put on a show for one of the biggest crowds that D1NZ sees during a season of drifting.
Lunch time gives a perfect opportunity to check out the cars up close and talk briefly to the drivers. Teams have really stepped up their game this season with the design and look of their competition cars. Canards are starting to become increasingly popular in New Zealand and when they look like that I can see why. The paint/wrap schemes are what I like most about the cars. This is where 90% of the character of the car comes from, the look and feel of the design is one of the most important aspects of the appearance of the cars, especially when you are being judged on style.
The last corner after the very tight switch was most likely one of the hardest corners to hit the clipping point. Since the corner was surrounded by concrete walls the rear end of the cars had to follow the wall as close as possible for as long as possible. This was where cars would slow down to fix their angles meaning chasing drivers could get close and personal to the lead car. Aden Omnet from Aden Tyres has big support from his home followers and also had a massive stand in the crowd for his supporters.
You can see the proximity closing in as said above around this corner. Smokin Joe has come a long way in the last few years since his debut at Meremere. He puts on a good show and chases the lead car like an angry demon and the crowd absolutely loves him! The R32 nicknamed Zeus also looks amazing, the design of lightning goes perfectly with the name Zeus.
For anyone that pushed through till the bitter end were treated to the team battles. With an average of four cars (even 5 and 6 at one point) side by side around the track it’s easy to get overly excited. We see this often at private track days and grassroot events running 7 car tandems on the skidpan at Hampton Downs. However to see four cars battling it out blew the crowd away. The internet loved it and the photos and videos instantly went viral!
With the sun setting, memory cards filled up and batteries drained after a long and exhausting 14 hour day it was nearly time to pack up and leave. I’m glad I didn’t though because the last survivors of the day were treated to a crazy long (at least 5-10 minutes) of blasting fireworks in the centre of the man made track. The rain started to kick in right after the fireworks ended and it was a mad dash for everyone to get to shelter inside their cars. With only a short drive back to camp I was happy with how the first day went and started prepping for day two which was only a short 8 hours away.
A little bit of a sleep in was what I was able to get out of a Day 2. With an hour later start time I was able to get 4 or 5 decent hours of sleep before the main event was about to take place. The rain had run out overnight and the sun was shining even brighter than yesterday. Blue skies and no shade was going to make for another challenging day of photography. Not having a polariser filter sitting at the end of my lens, glare was going to be my main issue along with slow panning photos coming out over exposed. The remains of a spectacular show yesterday was scattered over the ground still. Blankets of shredded tyre and the leftover bits of fireworks debris were rolling around in the calm wind..
Day 2 would promise to bring an action pack day of activities with more team battles, the finals of the pro-am, qualifying of the pro division, pit walks, motocross jumps, motorbike stunts, burnouts, and the seat grabbing, jaw biting battles that would crown the Round 3 champion all packed into a short 8 hours of Tauranga sunlight. After an hour or so all the stands were packed with spectators, a rainbow of colours engulfed the background of the concrete jungle making for an awesome backdrop for photos.
The second day was no exception to the first, damage was still to be had. With a massive crowd cheering you on it was rather easy to get carried away and fall a little to wide messing up your line and going ass first into the wall. As a child I used to go to automotive events like the speedway just for crashes, that was my favourite part about the experience. If there was no crashes I would get fed up and fold my arm like the little child I was. It’s a different ball game all together now though. Although it does make for brilliant photos when you do get the crash, my view on crashes has changed drastically. I’d much rather see door by door battles than a driver hitting the wall. I know how much effort, time and money goes into these cars and to see all of the hard work disappear in a few breath taking seconds isn’t entertaining for me to watch anymore.
Matt Lauder’s 180SX definitely stands out in the pro series. Not many cars can compete in a whole season with such little sponsors and no naming rights. Louda’s weapon of choice is labelled as the Stormtrooper for obvious black and white reasons. Pushing the car along sits a healthy Toyota 2JZ. With no podium win this round it would be great to see him grab one at the next round hosted by Hampton Downs.
Shayne Giles S14.5 is another one of my favourite cars this season. His driving style is great and the front of the car just looks so aggressive. The morning practice sessions were nearly over and most drivers had gotten away with only a few broken bumpers, scratched boots, and wings. It’s easy to tell whether a driver is 100% confident with their driving ability and car control or if they are lacking. In this sport if you aren’t scaring yourself you aren’t driving fast or hard enough.
Lunchtime activities gave all the media an hour or so to refresh, grab some food, empty the bladder swap memory cards and wipe off the layer of tyre rubber covering our lenses. I found myself running back to the track after only a short 10 minutes, I didn’t want to miss any action this weekend. A few drift cars went out to pop their tyres, but then this driver went out and popped his in a matter of seconds. The wind just like round 1 was too strong for the motocross riders to take on the mega ramp so instead the crowd was treated with a stunt bike rider, a stock car doing burnouts and more…
Team battles! These were the highlight of the weekend. If D1NZ learned anything during this round it’s that team battles need to stay because everyone loved it, the crowd, the judges, the online viewers and most of all the drivers. When drifting in tandem with other people the risk level does significantly increase. Along side clipping points, there are now drivers behind and infront that will undoubtedly induce errors and different lines. It is when one person spins that the chaos can start to unfold. Lucky for all the drivers this was not the case. There were a few spins but nothing anyone couldn’t handle.
It’s rather common to have sets of front and rear bumpers piled up in your garage if you’re competing in D1NZ or even grassroot drift days. These are the first things to get dragged along the walls or munched up in the grass. They do however have a purpose other than getting destroyed. Without them the tubing would constantly be getting a hammering creating more laborious work to get the car back into shape for the next battle.
Fast approaching was the afternoon and it was nearly nice to start the countdown for the pro division of D1NZ. Although these two RX7s piloted by Ben and Daynom might not be designed to look the same they still look mental side by side and it’s not often you see two RX7s in tandem let alone at a national event.
It was now time for the top battles from the pro division. Filled up with the usual group of drivers, these battles were sure tough for the three judges to pick winners from. Joe had some unlucky calls and ended up being kicked out of the finals. It’s a shame to see him get so close but then luck out by only a few positions. Even qualifying with one of the highest scores didn’t help him secure a podium finish this round.
The battle between Achilles driver Andrew Redward and the pilot Gaz Whiter from the Nissan Silvia had tight, lock to lock awesomeness. It’s always good seeing two long lasting drivers facing head to head for the better spot at the podium. Andrew and Gaz’s battle was for 1st and 2nd, or 3rd and 4th. Gaz the 4x D1NZ champion falling short and getting dropped in the battle for 3rd and 4th and Andrew taking the win and advancing into the top 2.
The current points leader Darren Kelly was running good throughout the whole day, consistency was the key. Pushing hard for the podium spot against Gaz was just not enough on this day. Gaz ended up taking the win off Darren which would lose a few decent amount of round points for Darren. This could cause a bit of a shift in positions once the new points are calculated in preparation for round four at Hampton Downs.
Pro-am had a turn of the tables for round three with a whole new podium of winners. The usual suspects of Joel Paterson, Joel Hedges and Troy Jenkins was replaced for Stuart Baker in 3rd, Gagan Singh in 2nd and Pernell Callaghan taking his first podium ever in 1st place. It’s good to see a new set of faces up top, this creates closer overall points and pressure increases but so does good competition and competitive drifting!
Our usual suspects filled the podium stands again at the custom made concrete jungle. Hometown hero Cole Armstrong took the win after an unlucky breakage from Andrew Redward caused him to forfeit the battle. Gaz takes the last spot on the podium denying Daren Kelly any trophies this round. Demon Energy supplied the podium girls and being drenched in champagne from the ecstatic drivers didn’t even faze them one bit, they seemed to rather enjoy all the attention.
With prize giving coming to an end and the cars all lined up in front of the stage, it was now time for drivers to put their feet down and pop some tyres during the victory burnouts. What better way to let off steam from a long and hard weekend than burning even more rubber. And that my humble friends is another round of D1NZ mayhem done and dusted. Be sure to attend or watch online the next round of D1NZ at Hampton Downs on the 20th and 21st of February featuring New Zealand’s first ever Drift Race. This is one round you do not want to miss folks!
A massive thanks to S-Chassis for having us along for another round of D1NZ.
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Photos: Shaun Constable ~ Words: Shaun Constable ~ Proofer: Chadd Davis
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