The final day was upon us, the day where four new champions would be crowned. It was going to be a day of smiles and heartbreak. A day that would push everyone’s skill level to its limits. In typical Auckland fashion, and to recreate the conditions of last year’s final, we were welcomed with weather that was less than ideal. The clouds were dark and thick, spitting unwanted liquid onto the grounds below, creating a completely different track than what everyone had been practicing on. It was going to be an exciting day, because we all know, wet conditions can cause anything to happen, and with the championship points rather close, it was anyone’s trophy.
Fans didn’t care about the weather one bit, thousands of loyal followers of the sport packed the stands to see if their favourite driver would take the win for the weekend and the championship. If i learnt anything from last year’s event, it was how to shoot in the rain. Some photographers may hate it, but not me, it’s just another situation thrown at you when the majority of your work is outdoors. I was prepared, as I taped a massive rubbish bags around my lens. I also slipped into my fluro yellow rainproof pants, and waterproof shoes. Water would not penetrate my camera or skin today, that I was sure of.
Shooting D1NZ is great, the media that attend the events are part of what makes it that way for me. Someone to have a yarn with in between sessions doesn’t go amiss. This round would see me completing my second year covering the series. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure that I covered all the action from the weekend. I had another photography buddy that wanted to shoot the round, with two photographers on board I was sure that we’d capture the essence of that weekend. After approval from the media team at D1NZ, I was able to welcome Sean Foster to the team to help me shoot on Saturday and Sunday. What a treat.
It was the first event that I had acquired help on, and the first event Sean had to spend two whole days, over 18 hours, at the track, half of those would be in the wet weather. Some people may take their DSLR cameras to an event, and really want to be over the other side with us ‘media’ people. It’s never a situation of the grass is greener on the other side though, the amount of time we spend behind the scenes upon the hours we put in at the track is crazy, it takes a lot of dedication and determination to cover just one event from D1NZ. The time at the track, the time afterwards editing hundreds of photos, sorting and cleaning gear, and writing multiple articles equals around a typical working week of 40hrs plus. It’s a lot of time and effort, if you’re wanting to apply for media accreditation next year, do it. Just don’t expect an easy ride, just like the drivers, each round I’m pushing myself to do better.
The horrific weather was what I was hoping for, no smoke would be getting in my way today. All the angles I wanted to shoot the last two days but couldn’t because of dry conditions, I could shoot today. Just like how I had to change up my game due to the weather, teams and drivers were no different. On would come the big wings and different suspension/tyre set-ups to try and bring back all the grip possible for the slippery circuit.
The tow trucks came out far too often today as we saw car after car slide ever so gracefully off the track. It’s great to watch drivers get out of their cars with a smile on their faces. Each time a car has a mishap, the driver accepts it. It’s already happened, they know that, and they move on thinking about how to overcome it. However, one thing from being a spectator at D1NZ for many years, I now realise how much downtime their was. It’s not at the fault of D1NZ, it’s just the way drifting is. People come off the track, only two cars battle at a time, so of course there will be downtime.
The organisers behind D1NZ have done a good job recently at trying to fill that down time. Whether it be through the likes of promo girls handing out free cans of Demon Energy, or crazy stunts from motocross riders. If you’re lucky, some of the current drivers will even put on a smoke show to keep the crazy fans under control. Doing this between battles is a good way to keep everyone happy. The Pro-Sport championship winner had already been announced a couple weeks before, Chad McKenzie took the Pro-Sport championship with a massive lead, so much so that no matter how bad he did at the final round, he’d still win.
That didn’t necessarily mean he’d win the final round. Missing out on the final battle for 1st and 2nd was Vincent Hopkins and Kieran Stuart coming in at 3rd place and 4th place respectively for this round. The top spot on the podium was left to the winner of the battle between already crowned 2016 Pro-Sport champion Chad McKenzie and Gagan Khan, both of whom always put up a decent and consistent fight. Gagan Khan pushed a little harder in the rain and took out the top spot on the podium. The overall championship saw Vincent Hopkins staying in 3rd place, with Calvin Clark hitting 2nd and as you know Chad McKenzie taking the big trophy.
Pro-Sport was now finished, although we didn’t actually find out who took home the gold until the end of the day. It was now time to focus on the remaining three championships. The Club Auto Triple Crown, the Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship, and the Trans Tasman Drifting Championship. It’s not very often three different events would finish off all at one place. With the introduction of the Trans Tasman series, that is now possible. The rain still greeted us from above as drivers put in work on their few remaining sessions of practice for the day.
Every year, the final round falls on ANZAC weekend. For those of you who don’t know, ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The weekend is dedicated to celebrating and remembering all the people who served and died during World War I. As we were host to the Australians this year, the organisers of the event decided to do something a little bit special. Nearly every car was lined up facing the crowd, and each driver stood next to their vehicle while the New Zealand national anthem and the Australian national anthem played over the loudspeakers.
I totally love the designs of drift cars in New Zealand. There is so much colour put into them and they just pop. Especially when they are lined up like this. You can easily see here that Nissan is on top, as basically all of the cars in the photos have come out of the Nissan factory. When will they give us a new 2L rear wheel drive to drift in? Some day soon I hope!
The Rattla Motorsport team had gone all out and printed two silver ferns made up of soldiers onto their rear quarters. Curt Whittaker and Shane Allen with teammates who stood beside them. Along with the national anthems playing, a speaker was there to say a few words about the events that happened over 100 years ago and to remind us to never forget.
In usual D1NZ style, each driver has a chance to speak a few words to the fans; a good time to introduce the Australian drivers as well. I’m a sucker for team cars, and as luck would have it, the Trans Tasman series brought one team to New Zealand. That of Team Blaze with their pair of Nissans: one an S15, and one a 180SX with an S15 front. Can you tell which is which though? It’s always hard spotting the driver when smoke is billowing out the rear and all you can see is the front. My little tip for this problem is finding blemishes in the paint, different sized logos, or variations in the bonnets.
Usually I’m not a big fan or black paint on the front of the cars as it causes trouble when trying to focus while panning the camera. However Matthew Hill’s S15 is a little different, it’s the exception. Every now and then you find a car that breaks the norms, and this car is one of them. Not a bad driver I might add either, one day soon we’ll have to cover the Australian drift series and see all the other drift cars that were born in that country for sure.
The girls of the event most definitely bring good vibes. While we may not have many compared to teams in America, the main sponsor Demon Energy still provides with five stunning girls handing out drinks all day long and shooting prizes out of the crazy handheld cannons. At the end of the day they also have to keep a smile while countless amounts of drivers pour their winning champagne all over their body, causing a sticky disaster afterwards!
After the ANZAC parade the drivers got to squeeze in a few more sessions before lunch time. Placing their ideal lines in the wet for the battles ahead. Drivers had trouble taking the ideal line in the dry, so in the wet it must be a mission and a half for sure!
Getting closer and closer to hitting the grass was the real attempts of most drivers, I think. Driving as aggressive and as fast as they can to entertain themselves and put on a show for the crowd, something Mike Whiddett was excellent at doing. With practice now over and only battles left, it was going to be an exciting second half of the day. First though, the free pit walk provided by D1NZ. This gives each and every fan the chance to meet drivers, check out what’s under their hood, grab a photo with them or a sweet signed poster.
Crowds of people stormed the pits as the gates across the front straight opened. Drivers hurried back to their cars to set up their stands, getting their pens and posters ready to start participating in the other side of competitive drifting. Conversing with frantic fans. It’s a show after all, without paying spectators walking through the gates, there wouldn’t be a competition to participate in. This is the time drivers can create a stronger relationship with the young and old fans that walk up to their stands. It’s so much easier to keep current fans than to make new ones, putting on a top notch smile is key in this situation.
Team DMNZ was the first stand to be seen in the pits. Always putting on a good show for the fans and another two car team. Jodie Verhulst with her Supra fitted up with the new Toyota 86 front end and Drew Donovan and his classic S15 with a trusty V8 swapped into the engine bay. The only team competing in D1NZ that is also actually a couple, very cool to be drifting side by side next to your other half I’m sure!
If you don’t really care about the drivers, this is your chance to have a close up inspection of what each car has hidden under the bonnet. I’d say it’s rather unlikely for a car to still be running the same engine that it had from factory, so every car should be intriguing to stare at. One of the cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing engines is Ben Jenkins SR with a colour coded rocker cover to match.
On the other side of the track, Auto Mania had a little hard park showing off some of Auckland’s and Hamilton’s street cars. One of the newly completed RWB Porsches even graced us with its presence. Along with that there were the usual boosted Skylines and Silvias along with some Rotaries and a few VIP styled sedans. The battles were now upon as, who would hold their cool in the rain and take the championship?
The rain didn’t cool off until the very end either, so drivers not only had to battle each other, but also the slippery conditions. With so much at stake, there was no holding back. It was either push for a perfect chase and lead run, or wreck your car because you went too hard. Michael Prosenik and Jaron Olivecrona are always at the top of their game and sure do push the limits when it comes to battles.
Brad Smith is another driver slowly climbing the ranks, getting knocked out of a podium position wasn’t the best for his team after their great result last round. However they finished in the top 10 overall which was one of their long term goals for this season. The Marshall brothers, Joe and Tom are another great team to follow. Although when smoke is billowing out from the rear it’s rather difficult to tell who’s who in some cases. Marshall let loose an impeccable chase run here and took the win over Smith.
Sadly the C’s Garage team got disbanded this season and only Adam Hedges entered. Probably the most worldwide known team in New Zealand drifting is the Hedges brothers. They don’t always place well in the pro-championship, I feel as if they are there to just have fun and put on a show. Hedges was up against Daniel Woolhouse, who qualified first in his spare Holden Commodore. He just couldn’t take the win as Woolhouse was on form in his old chassis and progressed.
The Trans Tasman series saw NZ drivers take on Australian drivers. New driving styles would be put on display during the battles. Not knowing how the other person drives would surely put a bit of stress on putting down a good lead and chase runs to beat the opposition. Andrew Redward didn’t take it easy though, sitting right on the door of the Blaze Unit S15 the whole run. Entering at well over 160km/h then chasing that close is an impressive talent, those veterans.
Ben Wilkinson’s newly built S15 has been doing its paces lately. While not even having driven it before Round 3 at Bay Park, he’s starting to look rather comfortable behind the wheel. Still yet to grab a podium spot, I’m sure we will see him up there next year for sure.
In an unexpected turn of events, Gareth Grove kicked Nico Reid out of the battles rather early. Sadly this made Nico miss out on top spot at the end. What a cracker of a season though. Four round wins in a row. From a guy that’s only just moved out of Pro-Sport as well. Some people have to work for talent, Nico seems to just be born with that crazy driving ability. With Nico losing out on progressing further, Grove moves ahead. However not all hope was lossed for Nico as he ended up winning the Club Auto Triple Crown which also gives him free entry next season!
The last round of the Trans Tasman series saw Darren Kelly take the round win. Second place went to Dave Steedman from Team DSR and James Abbot from Blaze Unit took the last spot on the podium in third place. Privileged enough to be labelled as the first ever winner of the Trans Tasman Championship was Rob Arbolino, staying at second was Dave Steedman. A tie in third place saw Woolhouse and Kelly sharing a cup with a pinkie each as we watch the first Trans Tasman Championship come to an end.
Grove had a great battle with Former DK Darren Kelly. Which saw him secure the last spot on the podium for the round, and Kelly just missing out on a spot. As it would have it, pushing his own cousin out of the running for a podium finish was Dylan Woolhouse. Taking out the round win was V Energy driver Cole Armstrong, Woolhouse just couldn’t keep up with the veteran. A first for Woolhouse this season, he decided to celebrate by drinking his celebratory champagne out of his shoe! Legend.
To everyone’s surprise, but mostly his own, Cole Armstrong placed third overall. In second place the man who always has the biggest crowd was Nico Reid. Not the finish they were hoping for with such a consistent season, but it’s still a great result for someone new to the Pro league. That leaves only one spot on the podium, the new Drift King of New Zealand.
Curt Whittaker reclaims the title of DK. What an epic end to the season. The V8’s took out the championship with the turbos close behind in second and third. It’s never a dull moment in D1NZ that’s for sure. The sheer joy on Whittaker’s face shows the amount of effort that went into this win, and just how much he wanted it.
That’s a wrap folk. Our second season covering D1NZ. We couldn’t get to every round this season but still did our best to bring you interesting stories and quality photographs! Look out for announcements about the next season of D1NZ that should be coming in the not too far future. Now that D1NZ is over, we can take a little break from New Zealand antics and get back into the Japan side of things, because we still have a whole bunch of rad content to release over the next few months. Stay safe and keep it interesting folks!
Photos: Shaun Constable | Words: Shaun Constable | Proofer: Chadd Davis
Additional Photos: Sean Foster @seannylfoster
© Ambition Works 2015