I have spent the past few years following the drift scene in Australia and have covered countless local events over the years. In 2011, Australia saw the return of a national drift series, the Australian Drifting GP. When my friend Rob Whyte told me that he had committed to competing in the 2012 series, I told him I would find a way to join him at each round to cover the action for the Monster Energy Motul Drift Team.
With the series traveling from Tasmania to Melbourne, then Adelaide to Perth, it was always going to be a massive commitment, but we were determined to make it work.
The first leg of the series came around in April and involved a two day drive, then an overnight trip by boat to get the car to Tasmania, a total of 2,268km. This was a massive start to the year and our very first trip to Symmons Plains Raceway.
It was a daunting start to the year as we counted the costs of transport, but we found a way to make it work. The new track was also not the only thing we had to contend with, as we faced up against some of the biggest names in Australian drift, that had all resurfaced to be part of the national series. With names including ‘The Godfather’ Danny Vahoumis and the unstoppable force of multiple Australian Champion and JDM All Stars Champion Luke Fink, we knew it was going to be a tough year.
The Nissan 350z prepared by Bullet Cars had been well set up after many months of testing and we were confident with the package. Under the bonnet is a Nismo VQ35HR with a Rotrex supercharger setup and E85 race fuel making the most of the combination.
The track had a high speed entry, requiring you to come over a crest at full speed and full lock, making for some tense moments and more than a few cars ending up in the tennis ball sized rocks off the track that wreaked havock on the cars.
With the weather turning from cold to freezing with a heavy dose of rain, the slippery conditions made for some spectacular battles and it was great to see the locals tearing it up on their own track along with drivers from around the country.
The drivers weren’t the only ones struggling with the inclement weather, as the judges and organisers that tried to stay dry and warm up in the exposed tower!
For Rob, his main goal was to see how he would go against Luke Fink, a man who had proved unbeatable in the Australian drift scene. In a formidable S14 chassis that is highly developed and with Luke’s sheer level of skill, he is hard enough to get up next to in a battle, let alone try to give him a push in a battle.
Luke secured the number one qualifying position and Rob surprised himself by securing the number two qualifying position. In our first round, we had no idea where we rank in the field, but to end up fighting up the pointy end of the field was everything we hoped for. The battles were door to door, but Luke proved why he held the top spot as he secured the round win.
Round Two took us another 1,702km from home as we hit up the Thunderdome at Calder Park Raceway. Completed in 1987, the Thunderdome was brought to fruition by Australian motorsport legend Bob Jane in an effort to bring NASCAR to Australia. Unfortunately, NASCAR in Australia never hit the dizzying heights that it sees in the USA. The Calder Thunderdome has lost some of its former glory and in some parts, even has a post-apocalyptic feel!
Strangely, this adds to the appeal of the whole event and I even spotted Bob Jane himself at the track over the weekend!
With two wall running, outside clipping points, the track made for some incredible battles and once again, we saw the onset of rain adding another dimension to the battles.
The drivers made the most of the high speed technical track, putting on an impressive show for the crowd.
Having had a chance to find his feet, Rob managed to lay down a perfect run and secured the top qualifying position.
Heading in to the top 32 battles, it was always going to be a tense day.
In between sessions to break up the pressure, the team hit the track on their Fiik boards tearing round the circuit!
With Luke Fink qualifying in second position, our hope was to again face up against Luke and do our very best against him. Our hopes were realised, when the final battle came down to Luke and Rob. Almost like clockwork, the heavens opened up drenching the track, for a repeat of the rain soaked final that we saw in Tasmania.
The battles between Luke and Rob were so close that the judges called for a re-run. The judges had made their decision, but decided to wait until the presentation to announce the result.
The wait for that announcement was tense to say the least, but as they announced Rob Whyte as the winner, the realisation of what had just occurred rapidly sunk in as Rob had just secured a win against the best driver in Australia.
Round 3 rolled around in September, with the team now battle hardened and getting used to the long road trips, with the next stop at Mallala in South Australia, 2,006km from home.
With a win to Rob and a win to Luke, we had now started thinking that we might actually have a chance in the race for the championship, making the result of this round critical.
The competition at Mallala hit a new level for the season, with drivers baking the track and Luke Fink redefining the concept of ‘getting on the door’.
During the battles, Luke suffered battle damage and was knocked out in the top 4 and Rob fought his way to the win. The elation of the team was a sight to behold, as the pipe dream at the start of the year of chasing an Australian championship was truly taking shape before our eyes.
The next test was to be the toughest for the year. Having never traveled the country for motorsport before, we were rapidly learning the expensive lesson of race car transportation. With our destination in Perth at Barbagello Raceway over 4,000km from home and the team and the car starting to show signs of wear and tear, we knew before we even arrived that it would be a fight to the finish. Our commitment to the team and our championship goal was the what kept us going, as the bills piled up and the challenges mounted.
Just before the 350z was due to be driven to Sydney to be packed in to a shipping container and complete the trip by rail, it was discovered that pressure from the engine was seeping into the cooling system and had the potential for disastrous consequences. The team at Bullet pulled off the unthinkable, stripping out the engine, getting the heads machined and getting the car back together in 12 hours before getting the car to Mercury Motorsport for a final tune.
A seemingly unbelievable turn of events, given the phone call I had received late on Friday night, as we discussed the possibility of heading into the final round with no car. We knew the Nismo race engine was living on borrowed time, as there was still evidence of a leak into the cooling system, but with no options available, we sent to car on its way and hoped for the best. Arriving in Perth, we were greeted by the team from Antilag.com as we drove straight from the airport to a massive meetup.
We settled in with some Chicken Treat and enjoyed the checking out the local scene. It was a welcome reprieve as we tried to push the mechanical issue from our minds. The next day was our first chance to hit the track, Rob had the chance to open it up on the very impressive Barbagello Raceway.
A high speed track, it was going to be a tough weekend as we were to face up against some very talented local drivers on their home track.
Our worst fears were realised as Rob took the 350z on track for the first session of practice and the cooling system pressurised and resulted in a blown hose spraying on to the supercharger belt and a complete loss of boost mid-run.
With Rob qualifying in 10th place, this was not the fairy tale finish we had hoped for. With the engine screaming for the end and a challenging draw based on our qualifying result, Sunday was going to be a long day. We spent Saturday evening on the phone and driving to auto stores looking for Chemiweld or something similar, hoping that we could muster some liquid voodoo to keep the engine alive for another day.
After a number of failed stops and way too many phone calls, we managed to secure some and all of our hopes rested on those little containers. In reality, we knew that it didn’t stand a chance, but it gave us the one thing we needed. Hope.
Arriving early at the track on Sunday morning, we readied ourselves for the day ahead and made a plan. Don’t drift any practice runs and just save it all for the battles. Our line up saw Rob facing up against the Godfather himself, Danny Vahoumis in the top 8 and with Barbagello being Danny’s home track and only good luck holding the engine together, we knew we were in for a hell of a fight.
Rob managed to keep the 350z on song and managed to make it through to the top 4 where he faced up against fellow Queenslander, Nick Coulson. A fierce competitor in his V8 powered ute and the 350z on its last legs, I’ll be honest. I was terrified.
Everything we had worked for all year came down to this battle. If Rob made it through, we would fight for the top spot at the round against Luke Fink and secure the series win. Lose the battle, we would lose the round and the championship all in one go. No pressure. I can’t even imagine how Rob must have been feeling, but I was standing next to the track ready to shoot the battle feeling sick to my stomach.
The battles were so close, I stood staring at the judging tower waiting for the result to be announced. After what seemed like an eternity, the judges announced that Rob had taken the win, the stress from a minute before evaporated and was replaced with complete relief as the realisation dawned that we had secured the Australian Championship. In that one moment, all the travel, stress, expense and endless hours we put in came together and I cannot explain the elation of that moment.
There was one last challenge as we headed into the final battle against Luke Fink to see if we could go for a round win as well. Luke and Rob were driving as hard as they could, a fight to the finish as with every round this year.
After the two battles were run, the judges couldn’t split the pair and called for a re-run. Rob drove back to the pits for a tyre change and the Zed literally said enough. No matter what was done, we couldn’t get the engine to tick over, with every last drop having been squeezed out of the supercharged race engine. Not the way we wanted to finish the event, as we really wanted to decide a winner on the track, but we forfeited the re-run with Luke taking out round 4.
The aim of the game for the team however, was to secure the overall championship and with the national title in the bag, there was nothing left to do but celebrate! This final shot is one of my favorite images that I have taken all year. I have known Rob since 2009 and I have never seen a smile from him like this one.
To wrap up what was an epic adventure, I want to leave you with the post I made to share with my friends of what we had accomplished, 2012 ADGP was an incredible journey and 2013 looks like it will be even bigger again!
Four years ago, I met a guy by the name of Robert Whyte, who was competing in local drift comps in his road registered Nissan 350z and we started working together to build a drift team. This has been an incredible journey with the help of so many people and has been more hard work, cost and travel than I ever imagined. Our big goal for 2012 was to take part in the national series and I am simply blown away to advise we have just won the 2012 Championship of the Australian Drifting Grand Prix! Chase your dreams, you will never believe the places they can take you!!!