So the weekend begins. Over these next two days we would see hearts break, teams crumble, new champions born and new records made. This ANZAC weekend was surely going to be the pinnacle of the D1NZ 2016 calendar, drivers have had a whole year to plan their attack strategies for this track. If last year was anything to go by, drivers should, and would be unwise not to have planned for dry and wet conditions. With such a fast track, and practice here during the year not allowed, the smallest error could change everything. Who’s going to take out Darren Kelly holding on to the current Drift King title? You’ll just have to wait and find out.
Drivers, mechanics, engineers, team members, organisers, family, friends, media, sponsors, and loyal fans added up to the thousands of people that would soon pass through the gates to the motor racing circuit located in the town southwards of Auckland City know as Pukekohe. A track that is close to many Auckland residents hearts as this was where it started for most drivers. This was the first place where they felt the enormous amount of horizontal g-force push their spines back into their seats, and the first place that pushed their scrotum back into their body since they were a toddler. At this point I could see drivers and team members planning their weekend ahead, how they wanted it to go down for them and how they could secure a spot on the podium. This however, is motorsport and in motorsport there can only be one winner.
Thankfully, unlike last year we were granted deep blue skies, white fluffy clouds, and a smooth and dry track to commence practice on. Mostly used as a horse racing track, once a year drifters are welcomed back to compete in the biggest drifting championship in New Zealand. What you can see here is the initiation point where drivers follow the white inside fence at speeds of up to 200kmph. Just think about that for a second, that’s double our national freeway speed limits, and drivers are literally throwing their cars sideways at that speed. VIP tickets definitely secured you and your friends prime viewing locations at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
Like any kind of event, trade stands are a big promotional tool. D1NZ events are no different. Sponsor tents lined the front straight’s protective fences where you could buy anything from car insurance and clothing, to personalise drifting lessons. I’m a big fan of this kind of advertising as it helps promote the driver’s sponsors that help make drifting in New Zealand what it is today. While it’s not at the level of Formula Drift in America, it sure has passed the days when the first initial Drift Kings drove 20DET Cefiros and Laurels.
It’s not only a competition, it’s also a show. Without the fans, drift events that require so much effort in New Zealand just wouldn’t be plausible. The drivers and cars need to portray an image that excites and intrigues the watchers. It’s a fully judged sport, so just being the fastest won’t cut it. It’s a sport about following the rules, while bending them as much as humanly possible without cutting through. You must stand out, or else you’ll be left in the smoke of the driver next to you.
Out of the sheds the cars come for another day of excitement. I remember coming to this track nearly ten years ago, standing in the pits (which were much different and not nearly as fancy back then) and looking at these machines in awe. I’d probably just watched the first Fast and Furious movie and was engulfed in all things cars at that point in time. Fast forward ten years, and I wasn’t just engulfed in it, it had become my oxygen. Everything I do is related to Motorsport in one way or another. Over the last two seasons that I’ve been on board covering D1NZ I’ve discovered a whole lot about drifting. Most of which is what happens behind the scenes.
A lot of what happens behind the scenes, to my knowledge, is unpaid and done for the love of drifting. People do this because they love it, the vibe you get when you’re in the pits of a drifting event is unlike no feeling I’ve felt before. Even when you invite direct competitors, Aussies onto our turf, they are treated like best friends. No one does things out of spite, people are here because they want to be. They want to win fair and square, it’s truly inspiring the things you learn behind a camera.
Teams worked around the clock to get their cars on the starting grid that Saturday morning at practice. Even if it’s a full engine transplant, it’s not often I spot someone who isn’t smiling or having a half decent time. So while drivers are discussing what the judges want from them at the morning briefing, their dedicated team will get their car prepped and ready, waiting for the door to open, the seat to be filled, a steering wheel to be pushed back on, and the throttle pedal pushed to the floor to start off what every team hopes to be their weekend.
There’s a lot going through one’s mind when they’re behind the wheel waiting for the green light. It’s probably the only time the driver gets to themselves where they can calm down and hone in on their senses. When you’re constantly pushing your car to the limits, or in the pits working with your team to get it back out on the starting grid, it can put a bit of a strain on your mind. Having those short few minutes, even seconds sometimes is enough to gather themselves where they can go back out there fully calm and collected.
It’s a good time to roam through the pits in the morning on Saturday, it’s somewhat quiet. Although engines are constantly roaring, you have time to take in the surroundings and decide on a game plan for the day without any distractions. A lot of effort goes into these cars, so I take it as my responsibility to portray them in a way that tells the true story, from my first round last season, to now. I’ve learnt that there is way more than just taking a photo of a moving car. There is passion, frustration, enjoyment, sadness, and exhilaration to capture through my lens. Being part of this series for two years has given me the chance to capture that essence of what participating in a motorsports event is really about.
That time was now upon us, where the lights would turn green and the first car would pass the yellow lines and exit the pits. Over 50 drivers would pass over that yellow line multiple times during the next two days. There aren’t many other motorsport events out there where you can say that out of the 50+ cars out on the track, that not one is the same. Sure they all follow the same rule book, but the rule book has half the pages left blank. Because that’s where the spirit of drifting comes from, it’s not about following rules, but creating your own car and having it reflect who you are as a person and your personality. However at this level of driving, we do have to stick to some rules. As I look up from my camera, I see that the lights had turned green (the flagman had flagged the flag) and an eventful weekend of drifting was ahead of us.
For those of you who are only just discovering drifting, or who have never witnessed smoke screaming, sideways action at Pukekohe Park Raceway, we’ll go over the track layout and the ideal lines that drivers should be taking to gain maximum points throughout the weekend. The first drift section starts just after the VIP viewing area. With a rolling start of between 170kmph to 210kmph, it is a fast and long first drift section where picking the right line off the bat is key to scoring high.
This drift section starts on the outside of the main straight and cuts to the inside of the first corner, this is considered the first inside clipping point and the only clipping point in the first drift section. Not only do you have to provide a favourable line, the judges are also looking for the amount of angle you provide and how much style you do it with. Three areas are judged, so to score above the rest you must account for all three areas. Here you can see Daynom Templeman pushing lots of angle and smoke, however he sits just a tad far away from the inside clipping point, lucky it’s only practice.
It’s really a fine line hitting the clipping point. A lot of drivers over the weekend were either on the line perfectly, or getting way too close to the concrete barriers and having to pull off the angle and straighten up their car. The big wings started to come off during the morning sessions as drivers and team members quickly learnt that their car had too much downforce on the rear wheels providing more grip than necessary. Each driver would get only two runs during qualifying, so having the car set-up correctly for this was extremely important. You only get two shots, and if you miss those, it’s in the pits for the rest of the weekend.
Separating the boys from the men is what this drift section is best at. Entering with maximum speed would up your style points, but if you fuck it up and come off the track, you’re left with a zero points run. The idea most drivers had was to secure a decent first run just to get some points on the board, then on the second they would push to be at P1. Getting stuck in the sand pits was all too familiar this weekend, so staying on the throttle was the only way to avoid a tow from the track staff and take up precious track time.
If you did get stuck, you’d be going nowhere until help arrived. Bumpers just flew straight off in the kitty litter. Some of the cars are so low, their bumpers touch the grass and they fly directly under the chassis of the car and exit in hundreds of little pieces. What a spectacular site that was.
Moving on to the second section. It’s a little more complicated than the first section where there is only one inside clipping point and one corner to go around. The second section has three inside clipping points and an outside clipping point along with three corners. That’s a lot to get right especially when the pressure is at boiling point. The first part of the drift section is the most difficult, which proved true over the weekend as this was where the majority of mistakes happened. The driver must drastically reduce their speed to initiate their car into an aggressive switch.
This switch pushes the driver from one side of the track all the way over to the other, so it’s a lot to get correct. At this point drivers would either not switch and follow the first corner into the wall, smashing into the concrete barriers, or do the complete opposite and switch too aggressively and spin out onto the grass. Both of these would secure a zero pass if it was qualifying.
If you didn’t come off the track you’d be left facing the wrong way on the tarmac. In any other motorsport at this track I’d be certain that you’d get hit straight on if left in this position for more than five seconds. If the driver can secure the first and second inside clips without falling off the track or spinning out, they are then rewarded with the easier part of the second drift section.
The second and final switch pushes the driver towards the GT Radial corner. Again going from the left to right side of the track, the final switch isn’t an easy task, however it is easier than the first switch as speeds are somewhat slower than before.
If we were in the qualifier, what you can see here is a zero run: both wheels off the track. Following the correct judge’s line would see the driver having the back of the car on the right side of this photo, and the nose of the car following smoothly around the rumble strips. Once the driver has switched for the second and final time, it should be smooth sailing from there on out. With just an outside clip and an inside clip remaining.
The only outside clipping point on the track is greeted with nasty rumble strips, so you don’t know you’ve hit the clipping point until you’ve hit it. Hitting that clipping point with max angle is where lots of your points come from in qualifying, come up short with not enough angle and speed and your chances of qualifying with some seriously good results will be unlikely to happen.
The last clipping point sits again on the inside of the track, following the blue and white rumble strips. Getting close to the clipping point here is key to being able to finish the drifting section correctly. Come out too wide and you’ll have to switch back or finish just short of the checkered flags.
The drifting section finishes with a rolling burnout, so taking a shallow line and hitting the clipping point will allow you to push out wide further down the track and slowly straighten the rear of the car into a rolling burnout. What a high speed and technical track we have to look forward to. So many places to make mistakes, but if you breathe and stay calm, big points will surely be added next to your name, and hitting P1 won’t just be an unattainable dream.
Drivers can score a total of 100 points during the qualifier, which are split up evenly into the two drifting sections. The line judge and angle judge award the driver a maximum of 17.5 points for each section, these two judges can potentially award a total of 70 points. The style judge can award a little less for each section, only 15 points, pushing the total to 100 attainable points.
What is style though? How do you judge someone on how cool they are or their car? Being one of the only judged motorsports it sure is a different way to do things. Judges take the burden of destroying dreams and creating miracles. Their words are final, and while that might not always be everyone’s cup of tea, they are veterans at the sport and do a damn good job of it.
We now know the new drivers, we now know the track layout and how drivers will be scoring their points. The last thing to know is who will win? Who will be able to keep their cool and takedown every opponent on competition day to be handed the biggest trophy in New Zealand drifting motorsports, only time will tell.
Photos: Shaun Constable | Words: Shaun Constable | Proofer: Chadd Davis
Additional Photos: Sean Foster @seannylfoster
© Ambition Works 2015