With the predicted weekend summer heat for Sydney, the Just Car Insurance, Australian Drifting Grand Prix at the Sydney Motorsport Park was going to be hot on and off the track. Round 3 of the Australian Drift Grand Prix led to the largest number of drivers entered in an Australian drift competition event.
Saturday was practice and qualifying, and for a lot of the interstate drivers this would be the first time drifting this section on the south track of the Eastern Creek complex. Matt Powers the “guest judge” for Round 3 made it clear to the competitors what they expected to see from the drivers later that day in qualifying.
As the mercury climbed to over 36ºC (97ºF) the crowd was kept entertained by over 150 qualifying runs to determine Sunday’s starting positions. After a long hot day, competitors and their crew deserved a rest, a chance to recharge and wash of the sunscreen, sweat, dust and rubber, but unfortunately for some it was going to be a long night of repairs.
Sunday arrived with the early prediction of an even hotter day, morning practice runs gave drivers a chance to iron out any last minute tweaks before moving into the battle rounds.
The early battle rounds started with most of the top qualifiers moving on to the National Top 16 battles. Top 16 driver introductions and a brief expression session after lunch ramped up the crowd for a big afternoon of close battles, re-runs and the biggest challenge trying to find shade from the sun.
The undulating section of track, allowed spectators to view the entire course, a “Drift Amphitheater”. The Top 8 battles started with only Dale Campaign out of the Top 5 in the Championship still in it. It was obvious this event was about to mix up the National Championship.
The thunderous crackle of a Top Fuel Dragster pass, testing on the strip just behind the track was just the start of the mayhem to proceed in the Top 4. Collisions in both Top 4 battles left Andy Gray’s Toyota JZX110, Simon Michelmore Nissan S14 and Levi Clarke’s Nissan S15 with a lot of damage to repair before the finals. With help and parts from other competitors including Top 2 finalist, Rob Whyte to get the cars repaired in time, all three drivers were able to compete in the final shootout. The battle for third was very close with Andy Gray just beating Simon Michelmore to third place. While the duel for top spot was settled when Rob Whyte made a mistake allowing Levi Clarke to take his first win in the Australian Drift Grand Prix.
This leaves the championship very open with any of the Top 10 drivers capable of taking it out in the final round at Calder Park, Melbourne in April.
Words and Photos by Mark Eldridge