Surprise champion crowned following chaotic D1NZ finale
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Rattla Motorsport's Curt Whittaker back on top for the first time since 2012
After emerging from the penultimate round of the series as a major championship threat, Curt Whittaker has won the 2015–’16 Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship — the second title win of his career.
“Coming into this round we were pretty uncertain we were going to. We were hoping to keep number two,” Whittaker told Driven.
“We've been second a number of times over the last couple of years, and it's been pretty frustrating. To be right there and to pip it at the last round is unbelievable. Wickedly happy. Just a little bit in shock.”
Sneaking into contention via consistency, Whittaker's confirmation of victory only came right at the end of the day after all three major championship contenders — himself, Nico Reid, and Daynom Templeman — were knocked out early.
Series leader and former championship favourite Reid was the first toppled, after meeting his match during the top-32 battles while facing Gareth Grove in the rain [below]. It wasn't all bad for the South Auckland driver, as he still managed to secure the Club Auto Insurance Triple Crown, which sees him gain eligibility to compete in the Trans-Tasman Drifting Championship.
“That chase run was phenomenal from Gareth [Grove]. I take my hat off to him — to be only put on the trailer by two people this season, Adam Davies and Grove, I'm not complaining,” Reid said.
NAC BMW driver Templeman would fall for a similar fate, knocked out of the event, and the championship hunt, during his top-16 battle with NZKW's Dylan Woolhouse. With Whittaker progressing into the top eight before fittingly getting knocked out by reigning champion Darren Kelly, it was up to the series to calculate whether Whittaker's performance had been enough to bridge the 30-point margin that separated the pair at the beginning of the day.
“I sort of had an idea that it was going to be close. The boys tallied up the scores they found there was only a few points in it. It just shows in this sport that that's how perfect you have to be, and the little mistakes, the little things are what add up,” said Reid.
Whittaker and his team meanwhile were “flabbergasted.”
“It was like 'so, now what goes on?' Everyone was trying to do the math, and we just were like, well, let's just wait and see. We knew it was going to be close. There were 30 points in it coming into the weekend, and we were going as hard as we could.”
In the end, the points were enough to seal the championship for Whittaker and Rattla Motorsport; the Aucklander's first title since he won the 2011–’12 series.
“The second time is definitely the hardest. Everyone's so hungry for it these days, everyone's got wicked machinery and teams, and the support that goes with it,” he said.
“I'm looking forward to a bit of a holiday, a bit of a break from it all. The last two months or three months has just been nothing but drifting, and trying to organize and run around the country. But it's all paid off. The team's put in such an effort, and we put our life, soul, and heart into this. I'm so stoked.”
With the favourites out of the hunt, the round victory was up for grabs — eventually won by V Energy's Cole Armstrong. The Tauranga local had surprising company in the the top four in the shape of Darren Kelly, Dylan Woolhouse, and Gareth Grove, the latter-two drivers making their first ever appearances in the top four.
Armstrong [pictured above] eventually faced off against Woolhouse for the win, subsequently claiming the battle after Woolhouse made a mistake during the pair's second run.
Most surprising of all to Armstrong was that the win was enough to catapult him to third place in the overall championship standings ahead of Templeman; something he only found out during the podium presentation.
“Big surprise. I had no idea. But as I said I can't do this without my sponsors, my mum, my dad, my family; everyone,” he said.
“We worked hard all year round to try and get wins — we've had a second, we've had a third, had a couple of DNFs. Very stoked to finally get up on that podium. It means a lot, and it bumped us right up to third in the championship.”
“This car looked amazing at the start of the season, obviously it's a bit banged up now, but that's what we do. We put this thing through its paces, and yeah, what a year. Hopefully next year we'll be bigger and better.”
The Pukekohe event also signaled the final round of the Hi-Tec Oils Trans-Tasman Drift Championship, which was claimed by Rob Arbolino and his Nissan Silvia S14. Team DSR's Dave Steedman finished second overall, while a late surge and victory of today's event saw Darren Kelly tie with 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse for the final step of the series podium.
While Whittaker and Arbolino were the two main champions of the day, the driver who claimed the title in the Pro-SPORT feeder series — Chad McKenzie — nearly stole the show, after he successfully proposed to his partner while on the podium in front of thousands of fans [pictured above].
Photos / Matthew Hansen