As soon as Mad Mike announced that he was bringing back Red Bull Drift Shifters this year, I immediately made sure I was free that weekend, and started making my plans, because I knew that this was one event I did not want to miss. This year saw it come back bigger, and better than the first one in 2012, not only was the course longer, but also wider. Of course the driver line up was even bigger as well, with 4 Drivers from the USA, 2 from Japan, 1 from Australia, and 9 of New Zealand’s best. As the morning of the 6th rolled around, my excitement levels were through the roof, it’s not every day  that one of the busiest streets in Auckland, gets shut down for 16 of the world’s best drifters to battle it out in a game of high octane drift pinball. The event managed to draw a crowd of 20,000 people to Quay Street in the heart of Auckland, to check out the action, and meet the drivers.

Image 1Once I had collected my media pass, I headed down to the pits to check out the cars while they were still in one piece, because I knew that by the end of the day, they would all be bearing some kind of battle scars. One of the cars that I was immediately drawn to was Jake Jones’ Sonvia, I had been watching videos of him limiter bashing that RB27 under the hood at Mallala, and was rather excited to see and hear the car in person.

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After we had been booted out of the pits so the drivers could begin their final preparations, I headed down to the other end of the course and waited for the tyre destruction to begin. The first driver to turn wheels on the course and lay down some rubber, was the one and only Mad Mike Whiddet, the creator of the event. Mike started the day with the RX7, but unfortunately he had an incident in his second practice run, and went hard into the wall coming out of the cube angle box, this would see him switch over to the RX8 for the rest of the day.Image 3

There was plenty of carnage throughout practice as the drivers got themselves familiar with the course, and worked out the setup for their cars. The Japanese drivers seemed to be struggling the most out of everyone to get familiar with the course, and Nomuken left a bit of that beautiful Uras kit on the course as he got a bit to close to the walls on several occasions.

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The USA drivers on the other hand were looking very comfortable on the course, and got their car setup sorted very quickly. It was certainly quite the experience watching Tyler McQuarrie get up close and personal with the walls in that massive Camaro. The big rowdy V8 under the hood was a real assault on the senses, it was so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think!

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Daynom Templeman was looking to be on form in the beautiful 2JZ RX7 until he had a collision with the wall, destroying the left rear of the car. This saw him switch to his backup car, only to crack the subframe, putting him out of competition for the day, which is a shame as I feel he could have been a strong contender.

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Another New Zealand driver that was looking strong in practice was Gaz Whiter, Current NZ number 1, and 4 time D1NZ champion, he was getting up close and personal with the walls and showing some great speed. The way his car behaves is rather amazing to watch, it squats rather heavily under power and is just such a balanced chassis.

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Once practice was over, qualifying kicked off, with each of the 16 drivers getting 1 run to bank a score, to try and get themselves into the quarter finals. The top 6 drivers would automatically go through to the quarter finals, with the top 10 drivers going into the LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier), and the top 2 out of those driver woulds get the last 2 spots in the quarter finals.

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Nico Reid had been looking good in practice, but had an engine failure so couldn’t make a qualifying run, ending his day early and putting the car on the trailer. It wasn’t exactly the finish Nico was hoping for, and I am sure he would have been a contender for a top spot, he has come on strong over the last year in D1NZ and is definitely a driver to keep an eye on.

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The 6 drivers that earned the first spots in the quarter finals were Matt Powers, Mad Mike, Andrew Redward, Fanga Dan, Ryan Tuerck, and Chris Forsberg. Mad Mike and Matt Powers both breaking the 3 million point mark straight out of the gate, with Matt banking 3,465,799 points, and Mad Mike racking up 3,439,936 points. This was especially impressive for Mad Mike, as he had only had one practice run in the RX7, and had to qualify in the RX8 after he put the RX7 into the wall about 10 seconds into his second practice run.

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That left 9 drivers to go through into the Last Chance Qualifier, Cole Armstrong, Ken Nomura (Nomuken), Jake Jones, Gaz Whiter, Bruce Tannock, Darren Kelly, Daigo Saito, Curt Whittaker, and Tyler McQuarrie. All of those drivers would get one more run to battle it out for the last spots in the quarter finals, with only 2 of the drivers getting to go through to the quarter finals.

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The 2 drivers that managed to earn the last spots in the quarter finals were Gaz Whiter, and Daigo Saito, managing to rack up 2,379,199 points, and 1,977,915 points respectively. It was great to see Daigo managing to get into the quarter finals after he struggled in practice.

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Sadly Jake ‘DriftSquid’ Jones didn’t manage to make it through, after he had a run in with the Go Pro Wall Ride in his first qualifying run, which damaged the rear end quite heavily. Jake managed to get the car back together but it still wasn’t 100%, so he was fighting the car throughout his LCQ run, and didn’t manage to post a very good score.

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Another driver that didn’t manage to make it through to the main show was current D1NZ points leader Darren Kelly, he had been massaging the rear end of the car into the barriers, and hanging the wing over the top of them during practice. Darren was looking to be in good form but just didn’t manage to hit the combos he needed, and wasn’t able to score enough points to qualify.

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We were now starting to get down to the business end of the day, drivers were pushing harder and harder, risking it to get the biscuit, as the saying goes. Fiberglass was starting to fly by this point, as drivers pushed harder and harder, to get closer and closer to the walls, to try and rack up the points. Ryan Tuerck had been looking strong until the rear left wheel assembly failed on him, ending his day, which was a real shame, as I loved the way the car sounded, and Ryan is a great driver to watch.

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Andrew Redward was also looking strong, managing to collect 2.9 million points, before going hard into the wall on his way back down to the Achilles Undertaker, destroying the front left wheel assembly, ending his day. The event was definitely starting to take it’s toll on the cars, with every one of them looking worse for wear.

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One of the drivers that did manage to make it through to the semi finals, was defendng Drift Shifters champion Matt Powers, banking the highest score of the day, with 4,101,229 points. Unfortunately it would all fall apart for Powers in the Semi Finals, with a score of only 1,982,799 points, it left Powers with a 4th Place finish for the day, not exactly what he was hoping for.

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Andrew Redward had managed to bank a score high enough to get himself into the semi finals, but since he wasn’t able to drive his car due to his encounter with the steel barriers in his quarter final run, Fanga Dan Woolhouse stepped into his place. Fanga would end up with a score of 3,216,985 in the semi finals, which would be enough to see him take third place for the second time at Red Bull Drift Shifters.

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Now it was down to the two Finalists, Mad Mike Whiddet, and Chris ‘The Force’ Forsberg, they would battle it out to the very end, to try and be crowned Drift Shifters Champion. Chris Forsberg would take the slower and more methodical approach, sacrificing speed in an effort to try and hit every single sensor, this would see a lot of left foot braking employed to try and control the speed of the car, for more accurate placement. Chris would bank a respectable final score of 2,650,885, But this would not be enough to beat Mad Mike.

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As usual Mad Mike was driving at 110 percent, throwing the car around the course, and employing a lot of loud pedal, he wasn’t only quick through the course, but  very precise as well, managing to fire off all the sensors on the obstacles he used during his run. This tactic would see Mike get a final score of 4,012,088, which was more than enough to beat Chris Forsberg, and become the 2014 Red Bull Drift Shifters Champion.

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Now that the driving was over for the day, and the Champion had been decided, it was time for the victory speech, the podium ceremony, and of course the obligatory, and traditional spraying of the champagne. There were celebrations all around, from everyone involved, especially Mad Mike’s family, friends, and team, who were over the moon about the victory. They had all worked so hard, not only creating the event and organizing it, but working throughout the day to keep the car running, and to keep Mike out on track.

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After the Celebrations everyone headed down to the pit area to meet the drivers, and get their posters, t-shirts, and anything else they had on them, signed by the drivers. You could guarantee that everyone walked away from the tables with a smile on their face, after meeting their favourite drivers, and getting their hands on a limited edition signed poster.

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Everyone involved with the event did an amazing job, from Mad Mike and his crew who organised, and coordinated the event, to Azhar and his 4&Rotary crew who were the track marshals for the day, they kept the event running smoothly and on schedule, with very little down time. Even the drivers participating in the event, who drove the wheels of their cars (quite literally in a couple of cases) and kept everyone entertained throughout the day, Nomuken even kept entertaining after the event was over, the don’t call him the drift monkey for no reason. I want to say thank you to everyone who made this day enjoyable, not only the drivers, but fellow media who were always down for a chat and a laugh about things, it was great to meet new people, put faces to names, and event meet up with old friends from previous events, and to shoot alongside all of you.

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– Josh