Two-time Valvoline D1NZ National Drifting Championship Pro-series title winner Darren Kelly returns to the series for its opening round this weekend in Auckland as a domestic endurance champ, having successfully switched and excelled on his circuit racing debut with American-based outfit The Heart of Racing.
Kelly accepted the lofty call to join factory Aston Martin driver Alex Riberas for a comprehensive assault on both the North Island Endurance Series and South Island Endurance Series in 2020, driving a current-gen Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3. The team ended up winning the South Island title, before also claiming the overall title at the all-in New Zealand Endurance Championship finale at Highlands Motorsport Park.
“The idea came up to see what would happens when you take a drift driver circuit racing. We had no idea what to expect, it was really just an experiment that ended up going really well,” said Kelly.
“Early on I felt that the main strength from drifting was the ability to feel what the car is doing under you and quickly identify where the limit of the car is. With drifting, you are always pushing the car to its limit so it felt quite natural to find it’s happy place. Other points that I felt were strong was being in traffic, in drifting we are always trying to be as close as we can so you learn to predict what a car is going to do and how to place yourself to avoid contact.
“Alex [Riberas] is an awesome dude and it has been a privilege to be his team mate. He has been a great teacher with a huge amount of international experience and knowledge and I have learnt a lot from him.”
Switching from GT3-spec racer to R35 GT-R drift car is no mean feat, but Kelly has had a couple of shootouts in his drift car since the endurance calendar finished, and enters the D1NZ series as one of the favourites to challenge for the crown once again.
“I always love to challenge myself with car builds and the R35 has been a constant development,” he added. “At the end of each season we strip the car down to freshen up all the drivetrain, suspension, steering. They are all put under a huge amount of load with what we do and preventative maintenance is key.
“We also take this time to go through our notes and work out how we can make certain things better. We recently made some changes to the electronics, steering kit and suspension and I am keen to see the improvements in action.”
This weekend’s Auckland D1NZ curtain-raiser, staged on Friday and Saturday, sees the series return to a former stomping ground in Mt Smart Stadium in Penrose. Held in a close-confines temporary facility, the event is renowned for tightly fought battles and contact with concrete. “Pukekohe and Baypark are always favorites of mine,” said Kelly. “But I am really looking forward to getting back to Mt Smart after so long.”
The event will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in New Zealand, as well on various platforms of the Foxtel Group in Australia — including Fox Sports and Kayo Sports.
2021 Valvoline D1NZ National Drifting Championship calendar
Round 1: Auckland, Mt Smart Stadium, January 22–23 (Pro Series/Pro-Sport Series)
Round 2: Feilding, Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, February 20–21 (Pro Series/Pro-Sport Series)
Round 3: Christchurch, Mike Pero Motorsport Park, March 26 (Pro Series)
Round 4: Christchurch, Mike Pero Motorsport Park, March 27 (Pro Series)
Round 5: Auckland, Pukekohe Raceway, April 26–27 (Pro Series/Pro-Sport Series)
Round 6: Tauranga, Trustpower Baypark, April 30–May 1 (Pro Series/Pro-Sport Series)