Drifting in Dunedin: did it sink or swim?
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Dissecting the Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship's maiden Dunedin voyage
What a daft idea this is.
I remember thinking it having unfurled the press release. This was going to flop, no question.
Not that I don’t have faith in the D1NZ crew; they’ve done some pretty remarkable things with empty spaces — transforming dinky parking lots into glitzy drift facilities like clockwork.
But Kiwi motorsport has a filthy habit of promising plenty, then falling off the wagon at hurdle #1. And this stadium dream simply wasn’t going to happen. This wasn’t going to happen. This was definitely, not, going, to, happen.
Then five months later it happened. We all flocked to Dunedin, stepped into Forsyth Barr Stadium, and proceeded to shine our shoes with our jaws. I did anyway. What a facility.
It’s difficult to really sum up just how much effort went into putting this thing together. As someone who arrived long after tools had been put down, I most likely missed the most arduous hours. But certainly as the weekend wore on you could tell that the D1NZ team were operating on just a few hours of sleep each, if they were lucky.
The dynamic of D1 that differentiates it from other categories is that everyone’s expected to chip in. So those pulling all-nighters for circuit prep and management weren’t just the foot soldiers. They were commentators, public relations people, videographers, and all manner of other people who you wouldn’t expect to be getting their fingers dirty.
That’s drifting in a nutshell — if you’re in the frame, then you’re part of the family.
And if you’re part of the family, grab a broom.
So how did it work? How did the nation’s best drifters all converge in one stadium complex and not asphyxiate an entire crowd in one hit?
We all know about the construction; a layer of ply directly on top of the pitch followed by concrete, some sand-traps, and fencing. But lesser known are the real champions of the event — the fans.
No no, I’m not referring to the punters in the stands. I’m referring to the two big metallic behemoths that were sat at ground zero on the corners of the field.
Contrary to common belief, Forsyth Barr Stadium isn’t a sealed stadium. It has a roof on top, but open sides. Kind of like a car port for giants.
It’s actually one of the breeziest stadiums I’ve ever stood in, though not breezy enough to blow all the smoke generated from the sideways cars quick enough. Hence the four fans were drafted in to combat the mist and prevent the stadium from becoming one big hot box. And they worked. Smoke wouldn’t hang for long, typically disappearing between battles.
Though there was smoke, some drivers reported grip being limited. Understandable, the fresh concrete surface looked almost like a mirror in places. While most drivers were able to adapt to this, some struggled — meeting their fate with the concrete walls.
Naturally the most common widow maker was the wall on the outside of turn one, claiming cars as they confidently barreled in. But damage is largely collateral in drifting, and most cars on the D1NZ grid are engineered to be easy fixes.
But despite the unforgiving nature of the beast, drivers appeared to relish the place. Relishing performing in an arena — performing in a facility reminiscent of where you see overseas drift events held. Heaps of them were smiling and laughing between runs. The last time I saw that kind of happiness was at the Leadfoot Festival.
So, how many people turned up? D1NZ said 10,000 over the whole weekend, but I wasn't so convinced. The crowd on Saturday night, when challenges were being thrown down and winners were being decided, was pretty good — but certainly a bit thin in places.
It wasn’t hard to see why though. Dunedin may well be a bustling metropolis for the bulk of the year, but in early December, after the couches have long turned to ash and the students have long left the roost, the place is an absolute ghost town. For D1NZ to scrape the crowd that they did during that climate was quite impressive. And those who were there go a show; tight battles, tight wall proximity, smoke and fire. Under a roof, it was a stunning spectacle.
It’s not often that a Kiwi race series tries to reach for the stars, and it’s rarer still that it follows through with those desires.
Kudos to our National Drifting Championship for defying the rule. Fingers crossed that we get to do it all again.