Around the globe winter is usually considered as a time where outside sports are on a hiatus. New Zealanders don’t listen to the usual trend of when things should be done, we do things rain, hail, or shine. This winter we were lucky enough to bear witness to a very big, if not the biggest, grassroots matsuri event ever held in New Zealand (NZ). It was with a can-do kiwi attitude, that even in NZ’s winter season, organisers were able to hold such an extraordinary event.
The four day event had me getting up at 3:30am and taking a four hour road trip to reach the motorsport park. Bruce Mclaren Motorsport Park, previously known as Taupo Motorsport Park, is situated right above Lake Taupo (the biggest lake in NZ), which is at the dead centre of NZ’s North Island. It’s equal driving distance from NZ’s biggest city, Auckland, and NZ’s capital city, Wellington, so it’s a great place to hold an event and get everyone from the North Island attending.
Taupo is most famous for its massive naturally formed lake, as well as massive waterfalls, volcanic and geothermal activity, and numerous amounts of hot springs. It was a long solo mission from Auckland, but I arrived safe and sound to this beautiful view of the lake. The forecast of the weekend was looking good, no rain, however it was going to be extremely cold, way colder than what I had prepared myself for. I wasted a few minutes gawking at the lake, grabbed a hot chocolate from NZ’s finest takeaway joint – Burger King – and headed along to the first day of what would be known as an epic matsuri event.
Boy, was it cold at the track. Each day the temperature dropped below 0 degrees celsius, one day reaching a low of -4 degrees. The view was stunning though, the clouds stayed away and we were greeted with four days of crisp blue sky. This was my first time covering a four day event, but I was ready for automotive heaven to put itself in front of my lens for me to capture. Also being the keen person I am, every day I would arrive before everyone else, to watch the whole day go by. I wasn’t going to risk missing out on those photos that wouldn’t be possible at other times.
The four day event was being run by Chris Howard, operator of Zeroclass Drift, and New Zealand Drift Matsuris. Chris has run many drift events in the past, as well as a handful of two day events, and a couple three day ones. This was his first time taking up four days of the drivers’ week; 96 hours of management, with sleepless nights ahead, it was going to be a tough one for everyone involved. You come to these events just for that reason though, right? To get away from reality and live in a dream world you only wish could last forever.
With 165 entrants over the four days, it was not going to disappoint. Drivers were up early every day, even if they were hung over, prepping their cars for the next day of mayhem. This BMW with a JZ swap took my eye as I was wandering around the pits each morning. It was so cold. The grain you can see in the photo isn’t actually from the camera, this was in front of me. I’m not even sure what to call it, rain, snow, ice? Everyone participating was not going to have cooling issues that’s for sure.
As drifting in NZ usually goes, the morning briefing is delayed 30 minutes to an hour. This meant each day I found myself with an hour or two to spare before anything actually happened. The second day (Saturday), nature threw surface ice over everyone’s cars. Before anyone could do anything, that had to be removed to gain visibility when sitting in the chilly cabin.
The four day event saw sponsors coming on board to help cover costs. There was a diverse selection of companies from all over the North Island. As well as running these events, Chris also runs a clothing brand, Zeroclass Streetwear, and has just started up a canned drink company named Two Rooks, so naturally these two were on board. Vehicle Imports Direct was another big sponsor who had a few cars driving over the long weekend, and also advertised with our photos to help us cover the event. Other sponsors included IMR Race Fabrication, 41 Degree Wheels, Wellington Automotive Gearbox Specialists, The Bling Company, and Burgerfuel Taupo to help drivers keep on top of their starvation while focusing on driving the hell out of their cars.
An uncountable amount of different styles of cars made their way to the entrance of the track every day. Albeit they are mainly all Japanese, however, there were still lots of other makes and models hiding in pit garages at this time. From cars with excessive amounts of power, set-up at a competition level, to cars that only have minor suspension mods and an LSD or locked diff.
I’d say at least a few hundred tyres were burned over this four day event. The long flowing Track 2 made for high geared drifts with fast spinning tyres, and cars driving on Track 3 left a smoke screen when powering out of the drift section. Also special thanks goes out to all the Prius drivers that saved gas so drifters could use more than their fair share.
While it wasn’t an event with fierce competition between drivers, everyone still tried their best to improve their skill level. The Friday and Monday events were held on Track 3, which is a smaller track suited to cars with less horsepower and drivers that are less confident to take on the long sweeping corners of Track 2. It’s a good track to learn on, with one slow corner pictured here that’s ideal to start kicking the back out at.
There wasn’t much chasing involved on the beginner/amatuer days on Track 3. But the bigger Track 2 certainly had a lot of action, with plenty of tandems, some small drift trains, and even five car long drift trains. Very visually pleasing!
Over the whole four day period it was pretty much car after car after car – full on action. Being a non-competition event meant that there was no down time waiting on judges, officials, or competitors trying to fix their cars in time to battle their opponent. The only time spectators, family, friends, and crew were waiting was when someone had spun off the track, and to be honest, that didn’t actually happen too often.
On the friday we were lucky enough to have a few Toyotas attend. I’m still trying to get a hang of all the different names and chassis codes for these four door Toyota drift machines. Team Sparkle brought along their Mark ii, with Riki leading, driving his freshly landed (only a few days ago) Chaser.
Over on Track 2, on the Saturday and Sunday there were less jzx90s and jzx100s in attendance. That’s okay though, as there were plenty of other rad cars to gawk at. Jai Ewens took out the best presented car award in his turbo powered S13. Full on Japanese inspired with Japanese plates, anime girls, small and wide wheels, as well as the all too important open face helmet.
Some cars had the bare necessities to drift during the matsuri. Then there were some that went overboard and did crazy modifications to their cars. This R33 skyline, for example, had twin pipes sticking out a good metre from the rear bumper. Is it practical? Does it look good? Who really cares? If the owner likes it and it doesn’t make drifting harder, the more mods the better, I think.
As always with big events, the parking area usually fills up with some nice examples of automotive machinery. How about this one? You may remember it when it was doing the rounds on the internet a few months ago. It’s now raised up a tad, with some new white wheels. I think this looks suits it much better than the previous edition.
The matsuri event also gave drivers a deadline to finish their long winded builds. Bryce Mcvicar-Laulau’s pretty much completed S14, labelled FR1SKI, now has a 180SX front and an extremely nice SR20DET sitting snug in the engine bay. Bryce was kind enough to take me for a few laps to show me what it could now do after many years in the garage.
If the sound of cars burning rubber wasn’t enough to keep you going over the weekend, event organisers had acquired DJs to pump out some ‘dope’, ‘lit’, and ‘rad’ tunes to slide their way into your ear holes. What a sensation.
It’s great to see so many different cars line up in the pits. Each car has its own unique style. No car was exactly the same as any another. Some interiors were completely stripped out to reduce weight and only the minimum reinstalled. Other cars had completely factory interiors with only minor modifications.
Now, i’m not to sure who the owner of this AE86 is, but he had a rough time at the track. Come Sunday I saw him go out for a lap or two. An hour or two later he was in the pits taking the engine out! The whole engine! This was so he could swap broken parts out with another engine. He did this overnight and had the car back at Track 3 the next afternoon all for a few runs. Bad luck, but immense dedication to the sport and to his car.
Two exceptional looking cars over the weekend had made the trip up from Wellington. Josh Church driving his massive winged S14 and John Tamerler piloting the wide bodied R32 were going head to head, chasing and leading for many runs. It’s great fun watching team mates in tandem.
The stand out run for the weekend in my eyes was this one right here. Three Nissans and two Toyotas. A C33 Laurel, two S14 Silvias, an A70 Supra and a JZX100 Cresta all pushing through the slight downhill of Track 2. It’s moments like these where I love drifting the most.
Although I did say this was a non-competition event, there may have actually been a little bit of competition. Towards the end of Sunday, a big entry competition was held on the first corner after the front straight. About 20 or so cars entered and tried their luck for the biggest entry. Current D1NZ Pro driver Cole Armstrong brought his R34 out of retirement mainly for his father to drive on Sunday, however he took over to see if he could win with the biggest entry. Coming in too aggressive he managed to do a complete 360 spin and keep on drifting, the crowd loved it, but it wasn’t what the judges were looking for.
Former D1NZ Pro-Am driver Joel Paterson driving Scott Dodunski’s four door R32 Skyline would be the one to take out the best entry pulling off massive reverse entries while being able to keep the car drifting through the corner afterwards. Coming in at a close second was current D1NZ Pro-Sport driver Tully Puckey pushing his R33 Skyline to its limits.
I think we may have been blessed by the weather gods this weekend. Not one single drop of rain and no clouds the whole weekend. Just blue crisp sky. Weather plays a big part in drifting events, in all motorsport events actually, but drifting in particular. Without water covering the track, it created a weekend of fast driving and impressive amounts of smoke.
As well as this matsuri being a massive four day event, on the Saturday and Sunday drifting ran into the night finishing at around 6pm both nights. Since it’s currently winter in NZ, this provided some epic dusk drifting moments.
Cars had prepared themselves for this unique opportunity that doesn’t often happen in this little country. Lights had to be refitted, or new lights had to be added. We saw full on light bars, glowing neons, and even police styled lights. The last time I shot during dusk and into the night was at Bay Park Arena in Tauranga for the D1NZ series, when Ryan Tureck appeared as a wildcard and drove the new Toyota 86.
Everything changes during this hour or two. Smoke looks different, cars sink into the shadows, the blue sky starts to change colour, and the sun sits so low it fits into your shot. I’m pleased that I was able to shoot during dusk again and hope that another opportunity like this appears in the not too distant future!
A big thank you to Steve Milo at Vehicle Imports Direct needs to be said with his advertising on these photos. Without Steve we may not have been able to shoot this epic matsuri. He also sponsored the main event and a few drivers that attended. Quiet plans are in the works for the next season of D1NZ, so this is only the first you’ll be hearing of VID I’m sure.
And with that we come to an end of an epic journey. 1000 kilometres, two tanks of gas, 96 hours, 8000 photos, 65 gigabytes of memory, plenty of hot laps, lots of laughs, hundreds of tyres ruined, and thousands of ear drums left damaged. It’s an event I’m not in a rush to forget. Well done to Chris and his team for organising such a successful event. If you’re thinking about coming to NZ, make sure you plan your trip around one of these matsuris, you won’t be disappointed.
It was now time to make the tiring drive back up to my home city in Auckland. Taupo had put on a great show and I can’t wait to come back. For the meantime, I’ll be staying in Auckland. Next we will be checking out the new Club Circuit at Hampton Downs International Motorsports Park in the Waikato Region. Stay tuned for the article next week!
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Photos: Shaun Constable | Words: Shaun Constable | Proofer: Chadd Davis
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