Every great story has to start somewhere. In truth, the origins of this particular tale go way back to October last year, when the Australian Drifting Grand Prix kicked off its third ever season in Mallala, Western Australia.
There, we saw Victoria’s Andreas Paraskevas, or Aggess, as he’s known, take the win and light the touch paper on a season where every round at the top ‘National’ level produced a different winner, and every battle could have led to a new championship leader.
By the finals at Calder Park, we had a situation where less than 50 points separated the top seven, and any of them could have taken it.
But first, they would have to qualify, and that meant taking on a track very few had driven before.
You see, until now, the ADGP has used a completely different layout to the one it chose to use last weekend. Starting in the infield (seen above) of the steeply banked ‘Thunderdome’ oval (yes, really), drivers came towards the camera, flicked right, then left through a long hairpin, before hitting the banking and executing another right-left flick. It was fun, but hardly technical.
That all changed when Formula Drift Asia came to town last year, and showed you could put in a really technical course using the same tarmac. Reversing the layout, and having drivers negotiate a tight final hairpin between two concrete walls to make it into what would otherwise have been pit lane, the FD layout, as it’s now known, delivered a real challenge, and thus the ADGP adopted it for this year.
The trouble was, apart from those who competed in FD Asia last year, very few Australian drivers had any experience on the course. This led to some inevitable offs and spins. Most of the time, trouble came at turn one, where drivers had to negotiate a banked start and sharp descent into the infield. Many got the initiation point wrong here and ended up either skidding off into the grass at the outside of turn one or just going straight on towards the (distant) concrete barriers closing off the rest of the oval.
Others had trouble at turn two, which in many respects was trickier. While drivers approached this turn at a far lower pace than turn one, threading a car between two walls barely wide enough apart to fit a car lengthways certainly led to many an, ‘Oh crap’ moment. Thankfully this driver, Jackson Callow, ended up avoiding a date with the tyres.
Making this whole enterprise tougher again was the rain. You see, Melbourne has a reputation for having four seasons in one day, and so what started out sunny and mild, ended up cloudy, then rainy and cold. I can tell you it wasn’t fun.
The drivers didn’t have much luck, either. While they sat under cover, as it were, they not only had to get seat time on a track they either didn’t know, or knew from only one event, they had to do much of it in the rain.
Thankfully, prior to lunchtime, much of the precipitation had ceased, and the track started drying out for the final few runs before the break.
Ah, the break. Like Formula Drift, the ADGP has a midday interval, allowing everyone to grab a bite to eat, and in the case of the spectators, letting them into the pits to see their favourite cars and drivers up close.
This is probably a good time to show you some of the hardware that powers top-level drift cars here in Aus. As is the case in FD, LS engines make up the majority of the field, whether native, like in Nick Coulson’s VE Commodore ute, or in the huge numbers of Toyotas and Nissans (there’s almost nothing else used in drifting here). In all honesty, this is not a surprise, as Australia shares America’s love of the V8, and with Holden supplying a huge number of them in cheap sedans and utes here, availability is greater than any other drift-able power plant.
That said, many did stick with their chosen brand’s motive power, even if some, like Ryan Cummings, did add a few cylinders here and there.
Indeed, some drivers even went with stock engines, although ‘stock’ is a subjective term. Championship leader coming into this round, Rob Whyte, used a supercharged Nismo 380RS donk in his Z33, for example.
Beau ‘the show’ Yates even went as far as using, gasp, an FA-20 in his new for 2013/14 86. Stunning to look at, this little piece of machinery showed you really could get the job done without resorting to V8 power.
Thinking of Toyota, you did see a couple of other interesting motors on show that weekend. Firstly, the 2JZ of Keith Adams’ Verossa. Nothing special about that, you say. Correct, other than this engine’s competition pedigree. You see, this is the Verossa that very nearly took Tom Monkhouse to his rookie FD Asia championship.
Driven by its owner this time, it didn’t do nearly as well, but Keith still had fun, so who cares?
Finally, here’s one Toyota engine that will annoy the purists no end, because it’s in a Mazda RX-8. That’s right, this 1JZ sits where the rotary used to, making Wankel fans cry, I’m sure. At least its side-exit exhaust and consequent high-pitched whine on full blast made it sound a bit like a rotary. A bit.
After lunch, drivers in each group (two for ‘National’, two for the feeder ‘State’ series) went back out for 20 minutes to get final practice runs in before quali started. Just to clarify for those unfamiliar with the ADGP rules, ‘National’ competition is between the top level folks who are mandated to compete in every round of the ADGP. The ‘State’ feeder category is for those who compete in local state-level events, such as VicDrift, and do ADGP rounds when they can.
One thing to point out, though, is that from next season, this is being abolished, and all drivers will be in one category, all going up against each other. In many respects, this is less confusing, and it also means all drivers, as long as they qualify for an ADGP license by way of good results in either past state or national competition, get the potential chance to compete with everyone else, which can only be a good thing in terms of letting the ‘State’-level drivers improve their skills by battling the big names.
No matter which category, though, drivers from across the country battled hard to make sure their lines were as good as could be prior to actual judgment.
As a Victorian, it was nice to see guys from VicDrift pushing on, such as Moe El-Haouli …
… and Jason Ferron who always looks mint (yes, I know) in his R31.
The interstate pilots didn’t hang around, either. New South Wales’ Brad Tuohy showed some serious conviction in his bright orange V8 S13, showing why he’s one of the top competitors in the country.
Meanwhile, Brent Gordon from Western Australia made sure his 3,500km or so journey wasn’t wasted, with some impressive lines each time.
Drivers also got some tandem practice in, with Beau Yates looking ominous in his ZN6 up against Dale Campaign …
… and ‘Silent Assassin’ Michael Rosenblatt showing his skills against the Blaze Unit’s James ‘Jabbit’ Abbott.
Even without someone else to hit, though, a couple of people did push a little too hard in solo practice, with Anthony Cece removing his rear bumper …
… and Alex Sciacca, whose RX-8 had been blazing hard until then …
… inexplicably losing his right rear tyre mid-corner. Given he already had a damaged wheel, he decided to sacrifice it completely and head back to the pits on the bare metal.
Come qualifying, the State drivers went first, with West Australia’s Chris Day justifying his stupefyingly long cross-country journey with a first place in his VX Commodore and 71.7 points.
Brad Tuohy and Brent Gordon came in second and third, respectively, with Queenslander Kris Frome taking fourth. You might remember Kris from our World Time Attack coverage last October, where I noted just how good his R34 smoke machine looked at Sydney Motorsports Park. Well, the looks haven’t changed, but perhaps Kris’s skill has.
Other notable State performances included that of Gerald Govender, who took eighth despite driving a street-registered, and completely sticker-less R33 sedan …
… Catherine May’s run that, while only placing her 13th out of 19 drivers, demonstrated her ability to overcome some very obvious nerves on the unfamiliar course …
… and Sean Davies in his XR Ford Falcon, who actually got a DNF, but showed up the entire field just because he was game enough to drift a classic rust-bucket with air suspension and the narrowest rear track you’ve ever seen.
Stepping up to National, Jack Widdas took a surprise P1 in his R31. I say surprise, as while a strong drifter, he hasn’t qualified first before in ADGP, so I’m sure he was happy with his Saturday’s efforts.
Beau Yates came second in his 86, showing that ominous form I talked about earlier …
… while Dale Campaign slid his way to third in his Onevia.
Despite not being one of the favourites, and certainly the less well-known of the VE ute-driving pair in ADGP, Hayden Buckham took fourth and proved he was a force to be reckoned with …
… while Rob Whyte blasted his way to fifth. This one move would prove decisive later on Sunday, as you will find out in part two.
Ben Purtell and his unmissable yellow 180SX came in sixth, while big bad Michael Rosenblatt piloted his gorgeous V8-powered R32 to seventh.
A couple of big names to not make the top ten included ‘Drift Kid’ Nick Coulson in his always angry-looking VE ute, who came in 13th …
… and Levi Clarke in the Exedy S15 just behind in 14th.
Of the Victorian drivers, Michael Prosenik ended up eighth, with Aggess in 10th, Matt Russell in 12th and John ‘Papa’ Papadopoulos (pictured) in 17th.
Easily winning the ‘show car of the meet’ award, Queenslander Ryan Cummings looked reasonable in practice …
… but gearbox issues meant he hardly had the ideal amount of seat time, and he fell to 22nd.
The lone female driver in National competition, Kelly Wong, also had a troubling day, but this had seemingly more to do with never quite finding her rhythm, so she placed 20th.
Thus, with the field set for competition, it was just time for those who felt like it to burn up some tyres and enjoy the last of the day’s light. What would happen on Sunday? Tune in to part two in the next few days to find out!