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Friday, May 11 07:30pm
AUTHOR: Matthew Hansen

Ranking the nine contenders for the 2018 D1NZ 'Drift King' crown

The final round of the Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship kicks off tomorrow at Pukekohe Park — a circuit that's been intertwined with the sport since its New Zealand infancy. 

 

After a season punctuated by plenty of twists and turns, an incredible nine cars have a mathematical chance of clinching championship glory. With wet weather looking likely to threaten an already largely unpredictable venue, and a dash more than 100 points on the line, there's every chance of a championship upset. 

 

Velocitynews.co.nz takes a look at those nine contenders, one by one.

P9 / Gaz Whiter

Points to championship leader / 101

 

Whiter

 

A four-time champion, Whiter and his V8-powered Nissan Silvia S14 returned to the D1NZ series after a brief stint on the sidelines with nothing to prove. 

 

Often drawing competitive battles in the top 24 and 16 battles, Whiter's season has lacked the element of luck. A few physical battles (including contact with Matty Hill at Manfeild's round four) hasn't helped his championship standing either. 

 

Nonetheless, Whiter is still in the title picture — if only by the skin of his teeth. A fifth title is almost impossible, but Whiter could still prove to be a factor at Pukekohe given his history of explosive performances at the venue. 

P8 / Ben Wilkinson

Points to championship leader / 98

 

Wilkinson

 

It's been a breakthrough season for the Pak'nSave Nissan of Ben Wilkinson. Third place at round three of the series at Timaru was his first D1NZ podium, and solid drives on either side of the south-island visit help keep him in the mix for a possible top-five title result. 

 

That said, Wilkinson will be hoping to not repeat his feats from the series' last visit to Pukekohe — a heavy crash at the 200km/h turn one causing lengthy repairs. 

P7 / Daynom Templeman

Points to championship leader / 96

 

Templeman

 

After almost claiming the title at the end of the 2016–’17, former circuit racer Daynom Templeman is in the middle of a round-win drought. 

 

Though he was still firmly in the mix at the pointy end of the standings, until a disappointing result at round four at Manfeild. Recording just 18 points, he slid to seventh in the points. 

 

That said, Templeman and his 2JZ-powered BMW E46 are a formidable duo at Pukekohe. They made it all the way to the top two the last time D1NZ visited the venue. Like Whiter, they too could make things difficult for the favourites.

P6 / Drew Donovan

Points to championship leader / 84

 

Donovan

 

After a number of years of trying, Drew Donovan grabbed his first D1NZ victory at round two of the series. Consistent performances since the win have kept him in the loop, but having missed round one things were always going to be tough for the Cryptopia-backed drifter. 

 

Pukekohe result or not this weekend, it's been a season to be proud of for the Tauranga local. 

P5 / David Steedman

Points to championship leader / 68

 

Steedman

 

A few weekends ago, all the focus was on Dave Steedman's Team DSR teammate Adam Davies, after he won his first D1NZ event at Manfeild. 

 

But it's been Steedman that's shown better consistency. In his tried and true Silvia, second place at round one helped build the foundations of an impressive season. 

 

Having breached the 200-point barrier, Steedman will need a top-three finish or better (with some selective bad luck) to steal a popular championship win. 

P4 / 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse

Points to championship leader / 63

 

Woolhouse

 

Like Templeman, two-time D1NZ champion Fanga Dan Woolhouse has flown under the radar for most of the season. 

 

Much of this came off the back of a conservative campaign while debuting a pair of new Ford Mustangs (the first a high-spec show car, the second a fully fledged RTR Spec 5 Formula Drift–spec beast). Both are very different to Woolhouse's old Holden Commodore, namely through their left-hand drive layout. 

 

But despite the car swapping, Woolhouse has looked like a potential winner in waiting at each of the year's events. No actual wins have been forthcoming (third at round two being his best result), and 63 points is still a meaty gap to bridge in a single event. But never say never. 

P3 / Matty Hill

Points to championship leader / 48

 

Hill

 

D1NZ's only full-time Australian competitor has had an action-packed season. It's been underlined by a variety of on-track clashes, including on the way to victory at round one in Tauranga.

 

One of Hill's key strengths will be his frequently strong qualifying runs. If he can continue this trend, he might be able to find an easier route through to the top eight and beyond — critical, given the level of competition throughout the grid. 

 

Less than 50 points off the lead, the affable Aussie is well and truly a contender. 

P2 / Cole Armstrong

Points to championship leader / 24

 

Armstrong

 

The defending champion might be behind in the points, but with just 24 of them separating him and the series leader it's not beyond logic to consider Pukekohe something of a 'winner takes all' shootout. 

 

The defending champion's shift to his old Nissan Skyline R34 sedan was taken in his stride. All season he's banged doors in battles precariously close to the top step, yet he's still winless. 

 

If he's going to win anywhere though, it'll be Pukekohe. His aggressive, flamboyant, on-edge driving suits this place — as highlighted by his round win last year. 

P1 / Darren Kelly

Championship leader / 277 points

 

Kelly

 

Against anyone else, Armstrong could be classed as a clear favourite for the championship. But against Darren Kelly, it's like flipping a coin. 

 

In his second season with the Nissan R35 GT-R, Kelly thrusted himself into the lead via victory in Timaru and a second place at Manfeild. He and his car are in sync, and Kelly has tasted championship gold at Pukekohe before. 

 

He and Armstrong have already gone to war head-to-head a couple of times this season — each battle memorable for tight proximity, high speeds, and traded paint. A final comprising the two Nissan pilots would be hell of a spectacle. 

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