Drifting: Mad Mike has ground to make up at Taupo
Top New Zealand drifter 'Mad Mike' Whiddett has some ground to make up on early season series points leader Cole Armstrong at the third round of the D1NZ National Drifting Championship in Taupo tomorrow.
Auckland-based international Whiddett won the opening round of the championship at Feilding's Manfeild circuit in October but was an early casualty of diff failure at the second round at Pukekohe last month.
That round was won by fellow Aucklander Curt Whittaker, but it was runner-up Cole Armstrong from Tauranga who assumed the lead in the series points standings thanks to a better finish at Manfeild.
Over 60 drivers from all over the country set to descend on Taupo this weekend, showing drifting is still a fast-growing discipline in New Zealand.
The field is split fairly evenly between the D1NZ (Pro) and ProAm (Rookie) categories with Armstrong the man to beat in D1 and Pukekohe round winner Shane Poulton (AOSC Nissan Silvia S15) the new points leader in ProAm.
However series organiser Brendon White stresses that it is still early days yet.
"We've had two fantastic rounds so far and points-wise there's still nothing in it. It was a shame for Mike (Whiddett) that he broke a diff at Pukekohe but he's by no means the only one who has had problems meaning that heading to Taupo there are only 12 points between Cole and Mike, another five between Mike in second and Curt in third, and only one between our top new face Darren Benjamin in fourth and Fanga Dan (Daniel Woolhouse) in fifth."
So competitive is the series this season that defending and three-time former D1NZ champion Gaz Whiter is back in sixth place and former off-road and circuit racing star Daynom Templeman is 13th.
Taking the battle to the established series stars like Armstrong and Whiddett, meanwhile, is Hawera driver Darren Benjamin.
After impressing in Pro-Am last year Benjamin has been nothing short of sensational in D1 this year, qualifying seventh and finishing fifth at the first round at Manfeild then qualifying first and finishing third at Pukekohe.
Top 'local' driver heading into next week's event, meanwhile, is Rotorua's Brad Lauder who is currently tied for seventh place in the series points standings with New Plymouth's Steve Sole.
Hastings driver Mac Kwok will also be a driver to look out for.
In the ProAm competition for newcomers to the Drifting scene, it will be interesting to watch the return of round one winner Russell Sifleet from Auckland.
Sifleet beat Waiuku's Shane Allen to the top step of the podium at Manfeild but damaged his car's radiator in qualifying at Pukekohe, leaving fellow Aucklander Shane Poulton to win that round from Pukekohe's Cam Vernon and Aucklander Joe Kyle.
That means Poulton leads the ProAm point standings heading into the Taupo round from Allen, Matamata's William Foster and Joe Kyle.
Supporting the D1NZ championship this weekend is the D1NZ organisation's new NZ Time Attack series.
In stark contrast to Drifting - where drivers are judged on the speed, angle and amount of tyre smoke produced by their opposite lock action - Time Attack is all about keeping a car straight so that it can produce the quickest lap time possible.
Like Drifting, Time Attack has its origins in Japan. Though in the past three years it has expanded into the United States, the UK and Europe and here and Australia.
At the first round of the inaugural 2011/12 series at Pukekohe a month ago Pro-Am class competitor Harry Dodson set the fastest lap time of the weekend in his Nissan GTR-35 but Pukekohe's Hans Ruiterman claimed Pro class honours in his Nissan Silvia S14.