Show an average drift course to most non-drift fans and they’ll say something like, “Is that it?” It’s an understandable reaction – most layouts these days have no more than four or five turns, seven or eight at most. Yet the majority of these tracks, certainly the top-level ones, are far from easy. As any drift enthusiast knows, they regularly chew up and spit out the world’s best, so while they may only have a few turns, those turns are very difficult to master.
Calder Park Thunderdome’s ‘FD layout’ is no different. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it only has two turns – a large horseshoe coming off the bank into the oval’s infield, and a hairpin. That’s it. But the fact the horseshoe comes off a long straight and drops into a hard compression, and the hairpin forces drivers to try and squeeze through a gap between concrete walls just a few metres longer than their cars. This means every run is a challenge, no matter what your skill level.
It’s why drivers the calibre of Levi Clarke end up losing body panels. Winner at Formula Drift Asia Sydney back in October, Clarke is one of the country’s best, yet he struggled throughout the day.
As this photo proves. Taken after a de-beading sent him into the tyre wall after the horseshoe in his Top 16 battle against Jason Ferron, Clarke’s team managed to get him patched up enough to get back out, but it wasn’t enough, and Australia’s only FD Asia winner was out.
Similarly, current and two-time champion, Rob Whyte, also had his share of bad luck, to the point where he must be wondering what he has to do to win at Calder. Regular readers might remember Whyte almost threw the championship away here at the end of last season, and seriously damaged his chances of a three-peat this time around by misjudging his chase entry to the horseshoe and running wide in his Top 32 battle with Catherine May.
He came back hard in his lead run, but obviously it wasn’t enough, and for what I’m pretty certain was the first time ever, Catherine May was through to the Top 16 in national competition.
At least this season Whyte had a pretty good excuse – his brand new MOPAR NASCAR-engined 370Z only just got sorted in time for the Melbourne round (although as you can see, sorted is a relative term). With no separate practice days this season, given everything is condensed into one 14-hour day per round, he had barely any set-up or seat time.
One the plus side, the fluoro yellow, wide body Z looked amazing.
It easily drew the biggest crowds during the dinnertime pit walk, too.
Others to get caught out by the Thunderdome’s pitfalls included a man on a serious run of wins recently, Beau Yates …
… and Finny O’Hare, both of whom you’d have seen in my previous drift post on the local state drift comp here, VicDrift.
Thankfully, both suffered only superficial damage and continued onto the main battles. O’Hare’s run stopped in the Top 16 against Jarrad Klingberg, but Yates… well, we’ll get to more of him later.
First, I think it’s best we look at some of the other contenders. A few left early, like Matt Russell in his AE86, defeated after a stunning run from Michael Bonney in his S15 …
… and Alex Sciacca in his RX-8, who also got knocked out in the Top 32.
I thought this a bit of a shame, because like so many, I have soft spot for unusual chassis in drift, and Alex runs the only Mazda body currently in regular pro competition here. But, drifting is a tough sport, and Alex was not the only one to lose out in the judges’ eyes.
Other early exits included Kelly Wong, who sadly couldn’t match Western Australia’s Brent Gordon in his new S15 (he previously ran a Sileighty) …
… and Brad Tuohy, who came fourth in the State competition finals here last season.
It’s worth mentioning here for those that might have forgotten that this season, the ADGP has abandoned the two-tier State/National format and simply put all the best drivers from each series against each other, hence battles between drivers you’d never have seen driving tandem previously, such as the aforementioned Rob Whyte/Catherine May stoush, plus the Levi Clarke and Jason Ferron tsuisou.
Ferron’s car is definitely worth a closer look here, as like several drivers at the Melbourne round, he showed up with an entirely new chassis. Unlike the others though, Ferron thought outside the box – or to be more precise, inside the box – due to this choice of an angular R31 wagon.
Given Ferron previously ran an R31 sedan, it’s not too far a departure, but the V8 wagon still stood out, especially with the oh-so-Aussie welded on VE Commodore fender flares. And despite a huge power deficit to some cars (277RWkW versus up to almost 600RWkW in the case of his Top 8 vanquisher, Michael Prosenik – above), the LS driveline, which he imported from his sedan, clearly wasn’t that much of an issue when chasing more powerful opponents down.
Just taking a moment to look at Prosenik’s car, too, I think it’s worth noting that not only has he made some alterations for this season externally (new flat, angular graphics and LED headlights), but he and his team have also made some changes under the bonnet. Most noticeably, his radiator is now off to the left and mounted behind his tube-frame front-end. It’s a set-up I haven’t seen before, even on FD cars, but one that makes perfect sense. As long as you can keep air flowing to it, you protect a key and easily damaged part in a way others can’t.
One final Nissan I’d like to look at is that of former New Jersey native, turned Queenslander, Kris Frome.
The only R34 running in top-flight drift competition here in Australia, Frome used the off-season to swap shells and upgrade to a tube-frame rear end, and while he thankfully didn’t need to test that out, Frome showed just why he won the State class at last season’s finals, easily besting Keith Adams in the blue S15 in the previous pic, and faring pretty well against Beau Yates in the Top 16. Yates still took the win, but it’s clear Frome gets better each time he goes out.
After the smoke cleared from the Top 32 battles, I used the dinnertime break prior to the Top 16 to check out the GripShiftSlide static car show, which took up a part of the spectator area. This nice little group of 86s (and one BRZ) caught my eye …
… as did the rear bumper of this VE Commodore burnout machine. Exhausts hot enough for you?
It’s always nice to see the next generation of car fans getting into things, too.
Once the Top 16 got under way, everyone was back trackside to get a closer look at the action. You’ve seen a couple of the Top 16 results, with Yates beating Frome, and Jason Ferron moving past Levi Clarke, but there were still plenty of battles after that. First-up, surprise Top 32 winner Catherine May came up against Michael Rosenblatt’s V8 R32. While May was valiant, this was pretty much always going to be a foregone conclusion unless Rosenblatt, who is one of Australia’s top drifters, made a mistake, and so it proved. Rosenblatt’s speed and angle proved too much for May, so she had to settle for a Top 16 result. Settle is a relative term, though, as it was still May’s best ever national competition result.
Next up, Jack Widdas battled Josh Boettcher in his S15. Here Widdas definitely felt some of the same luck May felt against Rob Whyte, due to Boettcher repeating a mistake he made in last season’s final and botching the entry into the hairpin on his chase. What had been a close battle until then ended with an easy win to the green R31.
Perhaps one of the most interesting Top 16 stoushes came from the Jackson Callow/Shane van Gisbergen match-up. As many of you will know, van Gisbergen is actually a top-flight V8 Supercars pilot, but he’s recently taken up drifting both here and in his native New Zealand to keep himself occupied between races and during the off-season. Callow, meanwhile, is technically the more experienced drifter, despite only moving up to national competition in his black Commodore Ute this season, so a win for either was far from certain.
Seemed the judges couldn’t figure it out, either, as they asked for a re-run after the first battle. Callow, sensing clutch problems, used the interval to get some work done, but after yet another close pair of runs, SVG won the day.
It really is quite remarkable when you think van Gisbergen is the only current top-class grip driver down under to also drift at this level, but then he is supremely talented behind the wheel. Anyone who’s ever seen him drive a V8 Supercar in the wet, or perhaps his famous victory drifts at Hidden Valley back in 2011 will know that.
The final Top 16 battle, between Jarrad Klingberg in his unique and very cool KE70 wagon, and Finny O’Hare, was dramatic in the way that only drifting can be, with O’Hare straightening mid-way around the horseshoe, leading to some minor contact. Neither car was badly damaged, though, and Klingberg went onto a Top 8 spot against van Gisbergen.
While the Top 8 drivers sorted their cars and strategies prior to battle commencing, the organisers kept the crowd entertained with some ‘Driftkhana’. New for this season in ADGP, Driftkhana is exactly as it sounds, pitting drivers who have already been knocked out against the clock as they negotiate a course marked out with cones. Running backwards to the usual FD layout, cars started from the finish area, did a loop around the first of three cones (sideways, natch), shredded the hairpin, around the second cone (above), up through the horseshoe, around a final cone and came to rest in a ‘garage’ on the banking.
Some drivers treated it as just an excuse to rip some fat skids, but others took it more seriously, like Dale Campaign, who took out the title. Either way, I thought it an excellent addition to the proceedings, adding a competitive element to the previously random and unstructured drift-fests held during breaks in competition for the eliminated drivers.
Onto the Top 8 battles, first up was Michael Rosenblatt versus Beau Yates. This was just as tight a contest as you’d expect from two of the country’s finest, with great angle and proximity from both. At first, I thought Rosenblatt may have taken it, but it turned out a few small errors I missed due to shooting cost him, and Yates went through.
Next up was van Gisbergen versus Klingberg. This clash proved a little easier to judge, with van Gisbergen showing that while he’s improved a lot in just his first year of full-time drift competition, it wasn’t quite enough to beat a seasoned campaigner like Klingberg, even though this photo proves proximity at the hairpin at the very least wasn’t an issue for SVG.
The final Top 8 clash came between two cars almost as different as the KE70 and VE Commodore in the battle prior. Having made a highly impressive run through the Top 32 and 16, young Jack Widdas put his NA V8 R31 against the supercharged V8 might of Nick Coulson’s VE Ute.
Alas, the fairytale could not be, as despite putting a sizeable gap on Coulson coming out of the horseshoe on his lead, Widdas couldn’t match Coulson’s angle and speed in the chase run and got knocked out.
That left a relatively predictable final four – Coulson, Prosenik, Yates and Klingberg. Klingberg was probably the odd one out, as despite having been drifting for years, the 2014-15 season was his first attempt at national competition. What could he do? The crowd was about to find out…
But first, Yates versus Coulson. These two have been battling it out regularly in the Figure 8 series in Sydney this year, with Yates coming away the winner the last couple of times, but considering Coulson took the win at ADGP Round 1, as well as second at FD Sydney, it was anyone’s guess. Well, it was until the Driftkid came unstuck at the horseshoe on his lead and gifted Yates the win.
So, back to Klingberg versus Prosenik. Could the SR20 KE beat the supercharged LS S13? For a while, it looked eminently possible, especially given Klingberg managed to keep the Proz at bay coming through the horseshoe – a tough ask given Prosenik’s power and skill.
Indeed, even on his chase, Klingberg never lost touch, causing the judges to demand a re-run.
However, things sadly came unstuck for the KE soon after, with Klingberg spinning coming out of the horseshoe, leaving Prosenik to grab an easy victory.
Klingberg wasn’t done yet, though, with a third-place shoot-out pitting his wagon against Coulson’s Ute. The most practical drift battle in history? Possibly. Certainly one of the most spectacular. On his lead, Klingberg maintained his famously great angles and while the Driftkid kept up, it was certainly not the walkover one would expect from such a huge power difference.
The Corolla’s chase run is what got the audience gasping, though, as Klingberg clearly didn’t have any rubber remaining on his left rear tyre (it later turned out he was on belts during the Prosenik battle, causing the spin, and didn’t have time to change tyres between battles), and after the horseshoe, it finally gave up the ghost. You could hear a loud pop, see a flash of light, and even over the noise of two drift cars on full attack, hear the audience go “Oooooh!”. That caused a competition time out, in which Klingberg obviously did change tyres, and thanks to Coulson spinning on his chase afterwards, Klingberg took third place.
So, after nearly twelve hours of drifting (gates opened to the public at 9AM, and the final battle took place at around 8.40PM), it came down to Prosenik versus Yates. Supercharged V8 versus turbo flat-four. Anyone watching their practise runs would have been hoping for this, as not only was it a repeat of the VicDrift Round 5 finals, but the pair also had the closest proximity throughout the entire day, and any battle between the two was clearly going to be epic.
And so it proved, with Yates getting about as close to Prosenik as was physically possible on his chase, making me wonder why he’s switching from his FA-20 to a 2J soon, and the Proz showing serious aggression on his. However, that gap you see above proved too costly in the end and Yates took it.
It was a fitting end to a great day. Everyone got to see some fantastic battles on a brilliantly warm summer’s day (remember our seasons are reversed downunder) and while some drivers definitely felt the pain, others tasted success at a level they never had, such as Jason Ferron and Jack Widdas. It left no doubt in my mind that Australian drifting continues to go from strength to strength, and that as long as people keep supporting it, drifting here has a bright future. Let’s hope that happens.
Editor’s Note dated January 10, 2015:
Alex Sciacca was erroneously named “Adam Sciacca.” The article has been corrected and we apologise.