Expect the unexpected
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It’s hard to deny that Pukekohe Park is New Zealand’s home of motorsport.
Most today will equate that to the 2.9km circuit’s stint as a favourite on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship calendar, while others will make reference to its role as host of the New Zealand Grand Prix through the 60s to the 80s — names such as Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, and Keke Rosberg visiting little New Zealand to rule the roost.
But Pukekohe Park’s true impact transcends circuit racing. It’s felt through Auckland’s grassroots scene, and it’s felt in drifting.
Turn the clock back 15 years, and the D1NZ was only just starting.
It was small, but showed promise in the passion through the grid and the bones of professionalism highlighted in teams like the now illustrious D-Corp squad.
This weekend, the Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship enters the final round of its 15th title.
It’s helped kick-start international motorsport careers for drivers, designers, and engineers. Practice and qualifying take place today, with the title-deciding battles to unfold tomorrow.
Nine drivers have a mathematical chance of joining that championship winners’ list, but realistically the focus is on the top five; David Steedman, “Fanga Dan” Woolhouse, Matty Hill, Cole Armstrong, and series leader Darren Kelly.
After debuting his Nissan R35 GT-R in last year’s title fight, Kelly snagged a breakthrough round win at round three — contested in Timaru. Second place at the most recent round further bolstered his points situation.
His closest rival is defending champion Cole Armstrong; just 24-points behind. Having reverted to his faithful Nissan Skyline R34 sedan this season, Armstrong has benefited from competing in Japan’s D1 Grand Prix series late last year.
He’s also a defending Pukekohe round winner — the event and its ferocious 200km/h turn one lending itself to his aggressive driving style.
Hill and Fanga Dan’s seasons couldn’t be more different. Hill, the only Australian in the series, won round one but was then involved in some of the more physical battles.
Often qualifying high, a lack of luck and a knack for getting caught in incidents has seen him slide 48 points adrift of Kelly.
Woolhouse has been the season’s quiet achiever. Debuting his wild new Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5 at round two, Woolhouse often clocked points through top-eight and top-four finishes.
Looking well adapted to his left-hand drive Mustang, the dual D1NZ champion is the dark horse of the group.
Like Woolhouse, the fifth-placed Steedman has also spent most of the season accumulating points and avoiding on-track drama.
Clean consistency sees the Team DSR pilot enter Pukekohe on 209 points — 68 points off the lead in a series where more than 100 points goes to each event winner.
What complicates this championship equation is this season’s unpredictable results.
Each of the year’s four rounds has seen a different winner, and two of those winners — Drew Donovan and Adam Davies — are unlikely outside chances this weekend.
Others such as Shane van Gisbergen, a continually improving Jaron Olivecrona, and Troy Jenkins (the latter both sporting new cars for this season) could further shake up proceedings.
Whether it’s circuit racing or drifting, Pukekohe Park’s message is the same; expect the unexpected.
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