One moment. One fraction of a second. That’s all it takes to wipe out what you and your team have worked for all year.
Granted, every motorsport season is made up of key fractions of a second. Near-instantaneous decisions that make or break a championship. But it’s rare you see those happen right in front of you. To be in the moment when a crowd of people all realise at once that a champion hangs in the balance.
Such a moment did occur at the Australian Drifting Grand Prix finals on April 27, 2014, when reigning champion Rob Whyte, points leader coming into the final round, went in too hard to turn one, ran wide, and ended up with a zero for his lead run against Nick ‘Drift Kid’ Coulson in his VE Holden Commodore ute. The crowd gasped. Whyte crossed the line pounding his steering wheel in frustration. And after a clean lead run from Coulson, the championship was wide open.
Everyone quickly flew into a frenzy thinking about who could win statistically. Whyte could still win under the right circumstances, but Coulson, third in the championship leading up to this round, was certainly in with a massive shot, as was Michael Prosenik. Indeed, if things went his way, so was Levi Clarke in his Exedy S15.
As is often the case, the day’s start hinted at nothing like this level of drama, with a bright, sunny forecast chasing away memories of Saturday’s rain and warming up the Calder Park Thunderdome, where the day’s events would take place.
After morning warm-ups, competition kicked off with Top 16 State battles, and whilst the crowd saw one big upset, in the form of P1 qualifier Chris Day spinning out to Jason Ferron, not much else portended the afternoon’s excitement.
That’s not to say Top 16 State clashes were not engaging. Far from it. Considering this was the feeder category, you had great proximity and angle from many of the guys, perhaps because guaranteed passes to National competition next season were up for grabs for those competing in their second round and who did well.
For example, Alex Sciacca in his 1JZ-powered RX-8 went door-to-door with Brent Gordon …
… as did VicDrift Round One winner Moe El-Haouli and Rob Prosenik, brother of Michael.
If we’re talking proximity, though, Queensland’s Kris Frome probably took the win in that category for the day.
Eventually, after some tough fights, the final four came down to Ferron versus Frome and Gordon versus Tuohy.
Despite getting amazingly close early on in his chase run, Brad Tuohy fell to Gordon, leaving him to battle it out with Ferron for third.
In this clash, the Victorian came out on top after Tuohy straightened on his chase, leaving Ferron with a great reminder of his weekend’s work.
That left Frome and Gordon to battle it out, and after a less-than-perfect turn one while in the lead, and a spin on his chase, Gordon conceded the victory.
Over on the National side, the bigger field meant we started with what was nominally a Top 32 section, although a couple of mechanical issues meant we ended up with a Top 30.
Some of the bigger names to fall early included ‘Papa’ or John Papadopoulos, seen here battling in a light-hearted ‘grudge match’ against team mate Aggess, who just could not get his turn one chase entry right against Chris Solito …
… Kelly Wong, who, like Papa, straightened out big time coming into turn one on her chase …
… Ryan Cummings, whose mechanical woes on Saturday continued Sunday with a blown intercooler pipe …
… and Matt Harvey in his lovely KE70, who despite being in 10th overall coming into this round, couldn’t put together a qualifying run on Saturday, only appearing in the Top 32 due to the aforementioned lack of cars. Sadly, his luck was short lived, dispatched quickly by Michael Prosenik.
Probably the stand-out battle in the Top 32, for all the wrong reasons, came from Michael Bonney in his S15 and Justin Codr in his Cefiro. Neither managed a clean run in their first two battles, forcing a second rerun where a mistake from Codr gifted Bonney the victory and his first Top 16 spot for the season.
Moving into the Top 16, the crowd got to see some great action from all competitors, including upsets that started to hint at what sort of day this might turn out to be. First up, despite a great chase run, Formula Drift Asia competitor, Josh Boettcher, gifted Michael Prosenik the win after a super tight battle when he straightened whilst in the lead coming into turn two. You can just about make out Boettcher’s car to the right of Prosenik’s.
Can you tell ‘The Proz’ was happy with this turn of events?
Next, in another case of the top qualifying position not guaranteeing anything, Jack Widdas lost to his own team mate, Chris Solito after an inexplicable straighten in the final turn. For Solito, it was his first Top 8 entry, so as you can imagine, he was pretty stoked.
In the battle of the utes, Nick Coulson’s new supercharger (added this season and, I might add, responsible for him having the best sounding car of the whole field) could have been part of the winning edge over Hayden Buckham, when he gapped him considerably coming into turn one. This, and Buckham’s slightly shallow angle through the same turn while in the lead, meant Coulson would take on the winner of Rob Whyte and Matt Russell’s battle.
Proving just how close competition is at the top, this clash came down to just a couple of minor errors on Russell’s part. First, like Buckham, the obvious power deficit of the little SR20-powered AE86 meant a large gap to make up coming into one, then on his lead run, Matt put a wheel on the outside of the course, handing the win to Whyte.
The final four Top 16 battles either came down to small errors in tight battles, like Abbott’s win over Ben Purtell, which went one more time twice until Purtell corrected coming into T1 …
… or big mistakes, such as Dale Campaign’s straighten coming into turn two in his tandem against Levi Clarke. This ended Campaign’s… err… campaign, as he sat second in the championship coming into Calder.
Mirroring this turn of events, Michael Bonney had a big loss of drift further down into turn one, or ‘The Horseshoe’, against Beau Yates on both his lead and chase runs, and compounded those with a small straighten into the final hairpin.
The big mistake in Michael Rosenblatt and Aggess’ head-to-head came from another noticeable power gap, after Aggess in his SR20-driven 180SX went into The Horseshoe way too late, trying to catch up with Rosenblatt’s LS-powered R32. Predictably, he went wide and spent the rest of the run choking on Rosenblatt’s smoke.
That left a Top 8 consisting of the following clashes: Prosenik versus Solito, Whyte Versus Coulson, Jabbit versus Clarke and Rosenblatt versus Yates.
Prosenik and Solito was always a bit of a foregone conclusion, as Solito, despite his great run until then, was in uncharted territory, playing with a much more experienced and skilful exponent.
And while he may seem to have a decent gap in the first shot, a run into the dirt on entry into turn two meant he could only look on as Prosenik took the win.
If the first Top 8 battle offered only mild drama, the crowd was in for some serious compensation in the next three. Abbott straightened mid-corner in T2 while in the lead, taking his wing off mere centimetres from some of the photographers (motorsport is dangerous, folks) and just to balance things out, hit the back of Levi on his chase, removing his front bumper.
Rosenblatt vs. Yates was perhaps the battle of the day, each driver showing serious skill in both chase and lead runs. As you can see, door-to-door was de rigueur. In the end, only a misjudged entry into The Horseshoe saw the scales tip, after Rosenblatt tapped the wall while in the lead and consequently went into the dirt on the outside of the corner.
However, it was a split-second mistake by Rob Whyte that created the day, and the year’s biggest drama. One second, he was leading into turn one, hoping to maintain a run that could lead to his second championship in succession. The next, he ran wide, all but gifting the win to Coulson, and leaving the title fight wide open.
The Drift Kid was under no illusion about what this meant for his championship hopes, either. An event win after this would mean the title was his.
First, though, he would have to get through Michael Prosenik. Always easier said than done, Prosenik showed great composure under pressure, maintaining a decent chase run and letting Coulson make the mistake on his.
Put it down to a younger, less experienced head, perhaps, but in the end, Coulson came charging into the final turn on his chase, got off course and struck Proz heavily on his side (seen above), leading to a correction and two wheels off course. The Kid’s chances of a title were over.
That still left Levi Clarke to battle Beau Yates for his own shot at the title, but Yates hadn’t spent the whole season trying to dial in the new 86 for nothing, and demonstrated incredible smoothness, counterbalancing Levi’s unfortunate errors on both his lead and chase runs.
So, the title, while we didn’t know it at the time, was actually decided right there and then. On-the-spot calculations being a bit rushed, it seemed like Prosenik had a shot if he won the day. Sadly, after everything had cooled down, it turned out he didn’t. He was second even if he won, and Whyte, thanks in part to qualifying fifth the day before (any lower and he would have lost it all) got his repeat. Prosenik didn’t know that at the time, though, so he went hard against Yates, closing up an initial gap into turn one and pushing the 86 driver to the limit. Michael’s lead run also looked pretty decent, and many in the crowd couldn’t separate them. In the end, video replay showed Prosenik with a shallower angle into turn one on both runs and that was that.
Well, almost. There was still Clarke versus Coulson to come, and here again, things were very close. The Drift Kid hardly had the ideal lead run, with two corrections coming into T1, but Levi lost third by cutting across the entry to the final hairpin. giving Coulson third on the day and second in the championship.
With all placings decided, it was trophy time.
Yates looked pretty satisfied with his winnings …
… while The Proz celebrated as only he could.
State drivers also got their share of the bubbly, with Kris Frome’s celebrations only dampened (pun totally intended) by him ripping off the end of the cork, leaving the rest stuck in the bottle and rendering him unarmed, so to speak.
After that, all the top finishers did the obligatory victory burnouts …
…. and left the track for the last expression session to take place. These sessions, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, are held throughout the day and are generally for drivers who have been knocked out to still get track time and have a bit of fun. Sometimes, they can have a bit too much, as evidenced by Jack Lowick’s R33, which came very close to the wall in some runs …
… and too close in others.
This was the result.
He and his crew didn’t seem fazed, though. Perhaps this sticker on the now ruined boot lid explains their priorities somewhat. As you can see, seriousness is not among them. This casualness is actually one of the things I love about drifters. They’re just so chilled. It’s a world away from traditional motorsport, and the closest comparison I can think of is the whole skier versus snowboarder thing. While it holds less truth today, where all are there to have fun on the slopes, drifters are the snowboarders of the car world. Yes they may destroy cars, but they have fun with them, too, and isn’t that better than letting these wonderful machines rot in a barn?
So that was the Australian Drifting Grand Prix for 2013/14. Big drama, big excitement and a feeling that the whole drift scene has stepped up, and will hopefully continue to grow well beyond this point and into the future.
The wheels are turning with regard to big plans for next season to ensure that happens, too. Calder Park and Mallala rounds will be day-nighters for the first time, giving both crowds and us media folk something even more spectacular to shoot and enjoy. And as I said in Part 1, next year everyone will be able to compete against each other, as long as they qualify on merit.
It’s an exciting time to be a drift fan in Australia. I hope you get behind it, too, so you can kick back, relax …
… and join us in the smoke.