Mad Mike Whiddett has wrapped up his Formula Drift Pro Championship return season with his best result of 2015, placing fifth at Formula Drift’s Final Fight at Irwindale Speedway over the weekend.
Headed into Irwindale Speedway, the Kiwi driver was geared up for a solid end-of-year result. Having campaigned both his MADBUL Mazda RX-7 and BADBUL Mazda RX-8 at Southern California’s ‘House of Drift’ in the past, Whiddett knew what to expect from Irwindale’s unforgiving high-speed banks, but dialling in RADBUL for the revised course layout for would still be a huge challenge for the team.
Over the course of five select Stateside rounds this season, Whiddett and his crew have worked tirelessly to perfect the 1,200hp twin-turbo 4-rotor Mazda MX-5’s setup, and that effort has come with big rewards. No one could have predicted how competitive the brand new, untested and totally unique build would be amongst a field of highly-developed Pro-spec machines, but if they needed proof that it is, Whiddett’s qualifying performance on Friday said it all.
Having gotten comfortable with the car, Irwindale’s judged section and the punishing daytime heat which neared 40ºC, the Red Bull driver threw down a 78.00 score line in his first qualifier to make his intentions clear. Had he only made that one pass, it would have been enough for Whiddett for qualify in the top ten of 35 drivers in the final round’s Pro division – but there was more to come. Riding the bank with RADBUL’s back bumper mere centimetres from the wall and checking off all the clipping points with precision, his next score was an 83.00. That matched the qualifying performance of championship points leader Fredric Aasbø, putting Whiddett into 4th position – his highest ever ranking in Formula Drift Pro competition – and one spot ahead of the Norwegian.
Confident in RADBUL’s chassis and suspension tune and his own ability on the Irwindale track, Whiddett came out charging on Saturday morning’s practice session. Things didn’t quite go to plan though, and on his first lap of the day he hit the wall with enough impact to bend one of the Mazda’s rear wheel hubs. It needed to be replaced, but time wasn’t on the team’s side before the Air Force Top 32 commenced, which meant Whiddett would have his work cut out for him battling Sikky Racing driver James Evans. Quickly adapting to the car’s handling shortcomings, the Kiwi pushed on with clean lead and chase runs that resulted in a unanimous win decision from the judges.
An gap in proceedings allowed the crew the necessary time to swap out the damaged component, and when Whiddett re-emerged after the Ford Top 16 driver introduction ceremony to face high-ranked American driver Ryan Tuerck, RADBUL was fighting fit once more. As far as Pro battle wins go, this one was as easy as they come; Tuerck faltering in his Retaks/Maxxis Scion FR-S, first by clipping Whiddett’s back bumper and then by running wide into a concrete barrier just shy of the finish line. A five-minute competition time-out was called, but the car couldn’t be repaired quickly enough and Tuerck retired.
Beating Fredric Aasbø in the Nitto Great 8 was never going to be an easy task, and given that the Norwegian driver had by now claimed the Pro and World Championship titles on points after his Top 32 win, he had nothing to lose. Whiddett led first, powering through the section with plenty of speed, angle and style to set up for a close match. But in chasing Aasbø’s Rockstar/Hankook Scion tC, the Kiwi’s event came to an end; blinded by tyre smoke a missed clipping point sealing Whiddett’s fate.
Like his qualifying performance, Whiddett’s fifth place overall finish at the final round of the Formula Drift Pro season is an outstanding result in an abbreviated season that was all about coming to grips with a new car and a new team. “So much happens each time we test, pit and in between event rounds; our progress this season was a collective effort and I'm stoked on our finish,” he commented after the event.
Rounding out his competitive drifting year on a high puts Whiddett in a good place for a full assault on the 2016 Formula Drift Pro Championship. “The strongest advantage I have learnt this year is my mind control and focus,” says Whiddett. “I'm determined to be the most explosive driver on course.”