Sunday, May 27 06:17pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

'Mad Mike' Whiddett dominates Formula DRIFT Japan opener

‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett has started his 2018 Formula DRIFT Japan campaign in dominant fashion, winning at Suzuka Twin Ring.


The TCP Magic with Red Bull-backed drifter defeated Shinji Minowa in an enthralling final battle behind the wheel of his quad-rotor powered Mazda RX-7 FD3S ‘HUMBUL’.


“Huge thanks to my team here in Japan,” Whiddett said after the win.


“Kawato San and the team, they’ve put in an amazing job getting HUMBUL ready in the off season. He’s been really busy, I’ve been really busy myself.


“I’ve been doing a lot of study as well watching all the Japanese. It’s really humbling to be here in Japan competing against the best.


“I think today our advantage was speed. Minowa figured that out really fast in our final battle off the lights. He managed to get up beside me and have a really good run.”


Third placed qualified Whiddett went up against 30th place qualifier Go Kamiya first.

Whiddett stretched his legs on Kamiya from the start line. He was strong through the first two outer zones and Kamiya was unable to match Whiddett off the line. Kamiya pulled off the circuit with a suspected broken differential, which put him out of the competition.


With victory in the bag, Whiddett progressed through to the top-16 to face Ng Sheng Nian.


Top qualifier Kanta Yanaguida was a shot early exit after Yoshitaka Ogane got the better of the 18-year-old. Yanaguida missed the second outer zone on his lead and then hit Ogane in the chase and dropped back too much.


Second place qualifier Koudai Yamashita blitzed Ikuo Saito in his lead run. Saito was shallow and couldn’t keep pace with Yamashita. Yamashita kept pace with Saito and shadowed him on the lead, however it wasn’t enough for Saito to force a one-more-time.


Whiddet and Nian faced off in an all-international battle. Whiddett led initially and entered aggressively and filled the outer zone two. Nian as unable to keep pace through the final sector.


Whiddett chased down Nian in the second run. Whiddett chased hard and stuck with Nian the entire way through the section. Nian’s initiation was strong, however, Whiddett had better proximity than Nian’s first run. The judges duly awarded the win to Whiddett unanimously.


Whiddett faced off with his drifting kryptonite Andrew Gray in the top-eight. The Kiwi initiated strongly and aced the second zone too. It appeared at first glance that Whiddett had the advantage.


In the chase, Whiddett stuck his car to Gray’s door and maximised proximity. Gray wasn’t as strong through outer zone two and Whiddett was unanimously awarded the win.


Third place qualifier Whiddett went up against second place qualifier Yamashita. Arguably two of the fastest cars on the grid, Yamashita had a strong lead but Whiddett maintained proximity and line in the pocket.


Whiddett maintained a gap to Yamashita and the Japanese driver couldn’t maintain proximity or match Whiddett’s line. Yamashita capitulated and took to the grass and Whiddett dusted the chaser with his smoke.


Fifth place qualifier Shinji Minowa made it through to the final on the other side of the table to face off against Whiddett.


Whiddett lead Minowa in a tight first run. Minowa stuck with the New Zealander in his toughest battle of the weekend. There wasn’t much to flaw either of them on, except Minowa who didn’t completely fill the first outer zone.


It looked like the chase for Whiddett would be the decider. With the pressure on, Minowa made a costly mistake but went too deep into turn one. He nearly hit the tyre wall through outer zone two as he went really wide.


Ultimately, the mistake was enough to hand Whiddett the win, his third in Formula DRIFT Japan.


The Formula DRIFT Japan circus moves to Ebisu West Circuit for round two over July 7–8.


Photo: David Ishikawa