Team DMNZ drifter Drew Donovan took a seemingly unlikely win on his return to the Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship at this home round in Tauranga.
Having qualified 18th on Friday, Donovan battled through the order and managed to take out No. 2 qualifier Vincent Langhorn in the top-16 and round one winner Matty Hill in the top-eight.
It was an emphatic victory for the hometown hero, but it didn't come easily or without controversy.
“Words can't really describe it,” he says.
“We've been pushing for this for a long time. I came into this round with 100 per cent intention to win it. There was no point that I gave up on that.
“I was 100 per cent confident in myself, which is something you need to do psychologically.”
It was the first time Donovan got to drive his new-from-Australia V8-powered Toyota Supra in competition. With a win under his belt in his first event of the year, Donovan says he is seriously considering a full title challenge despite missing the first round in Wellington.
“That's probably the craziest thing. This car, although I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable in it, it's certainly not like an old pair of shoes yet.
“I hate missing a round. It sucks. We've been competing six or seven years and hadn't missed a round. Wellington was the first round we missed and it sucked. I never want to do that again ideally.
“This has essentially put us right at the pointy end of the field. There's every chance we could contest the championship. That would be epic. If I could win the championship after missing a round, that'd be amazing.
“I think we'd be mad not to at least give the championship a crack.”
It was a tough road to the top for Donovan. He faced off with another local favourite Cole Armstrong in the final. Armstrong showed all night why he deserved to make it through to the final, but was just pipped at the post.
There were several key battles from the beginning that set the tone of the night and shifted the momentum of the competition early on, many that included Armstrong.
Shane van Gisbergen went up against the series veteran in their top-16 battle. The Supercars regular pinned the front of his car to Armstrong's door, but the hometown hero fought back and was just as aggressive.
Ultimately it came down to lead lines. The judges ruled van Gisbergen's lead run wasn't near enough as good as Armstrong's. The judges said poor lead run lines were the common narrative throughout the competition.
Despite having perhaps one of the best chase runs of the night, Drew Donovan was forced to a one-more-time against Matty Hill in the top-eight. Donovan put the pressure on Hill through the first run, but Hill spun in his chase as he tried to match Donovan's lead run.
All but one of the battles in the top-four table went to a one-more-time battle. ‘Fanga' Dan Woolhouse progressed against Carl Thompson, Gaz Whiter defeated Daynom Templeman, and Donovan beat Hill, and Armstrong fought off Kelly.
Armstrong faced Woolhouse in the first semi-final and the two series veterans went hell for leather in their battle. Armstrong continued to stick his car on the door of every other competitor. In his lead run Cole stretched the lead, which gave him the win.
There was further drama in the top-four as Whiter straight-lined out of the bottom loop. He had initially held a good lead, but after Donovan dived down through the switch White slowed out of the exit with a heat cut issue — Donovan went through.
The final battle between Donovan and Armstrong brought conjecture in the paddock. The pair battled hard through the first run with Armstrong ahead of Donovan. The judges ruled they both made an equal number of mistakes and in the end scored the first run evenly.
The second run brought with it controversy. Drew spun from the lead on the exit of the bottom loop following contact with Armstrong, which forced the V Energy drifter to stop.
Up until the spin the judges saw no advantage either way. Moments before drew spun he attempted to correct his line, despite drivers being asked not to in briefing.
He tipped his car into full lock, which took him out to the designated clipping zone. Armstrong carried more speed than Donovan through the loop, which resulted in the impact.
However, once again the judges saw no advantage either way leading up to the incident. There was no conclusive evidence to rule either way and couldn't attribute blame so an OMT was called.
The final dual runs were clean in the end, but after lengthy deliberation and replay reviews, Donovan's line was deemed to be more accurate and just slightly superior to Armstrong's in both lead and chase down to the finest points margin.
The Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship heads back to the South Island to Levels Raceway in Timaru over March 9-10.