It wasn’t the result he had hoped for, but Red Bull drifter ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett can take solace in an outstanding performance at the 2011/2012 Cody's D1NZ National Drifting Championship. And he has the second place silverware to show for it.
Going into the sixth round of the series and the grand finale at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park on April 6-7 Whiddett held a very slim lead over equally seasoned driver, Curt Whittaker. But even before Whiddett’s ‘MADBUL’ Mazda RX-7 was rear-ended and damaged in the event’s first official practice session, the Auckland-based international was up against it, citing afterwards: “This was probably one of the toughest weekends we’ve ever had, let alone with the added pressure of being the final round and leading the points.”
Although Whiddett was on-form at a test day the week prior to D1NZ’s final showdown, a driveshaft fault late in that session bent the output shaft in the Mazda’s HKS sequential gearbox, causing a huge vibration in the driveline. With no time to repair the damage before the D1NZ event, the team was left with little choice but to fit its spare transmission – another HKS unit, but one specified with gear ratios not at all suited for the Hampton Downs course. There was a glimmer of hope, however – Whiddett’s ‘BADBUL’ Mazda RX-8, due to land back in New Zealand a few days before the D1NZ event after a three-year stint in the US. Although the team knew there would be little time to shake the car down – if in fact they could even get their hands on it – the powerful, turbocharged 20B-powered Mazda, which Whiddett had used to contest the Formula Drift championship, was a far better proposition.
“We managed to pull some strings, and thanks to some hard work by Jenners Worldwide Freight BADBUL was released from customs at 4.00am on the morning of the final,” says Whiddett. “A few of our guys unpacked the container and loaded the car on the trailer and drove it up from Tauranga to Auckland. But unfortunately, by the time the car arrived at Hampton Downs the final practice session had just finished. I really wanted to drive the RX-8, but with no spare parts on hand and no time left to test the car before qualifying we decided it was just too risky. That was probably the hardest decisions I’ve had to make this season.”
Uncomfortable and noticeably struggling with low wheel speed in the RX-7, Whiddett still managed to qualify seventh overall with a best scorecard of 80.00, setting him up for a Top 16 battle with highly-talented D1NZ newcomer Darren Benjamin. Whiddett defeated the rookie and moved up the ladder to square off against Whangarei’s ‘Fanga’ Dan Woolhouse in the Top 8. The experienced Woolhouse led first, and as the two drivers initiated their drifts into the judged section the physical gap between the cars could be measured in mere millimetres. If Whiddett had pulled it off the chase might have gone down in the D1NZ history books, but instead the two cars touched, Whiddett’s RX-7 sending Woolhouse’s Commodore into a spin resulting in a zero scorecard for the Red Bull driver. Woolhouse followed up with a clean chase lap and took the win, and a spot in the Top 4. On the other hand Whiddett’s championship-winning chance were all but over.
“At the end of the day we got second in the championship, so I’m still super stoked,” said Whiddett in his pit garage afterwards. “A big congrats to Curt [Whittaker] for taking out the title though. Like us he’s had his ups and downs all season, but that’s drifting. We push these cars beyond their boundaries – not only when it comes to the actual drifting, but also mechanically. These cars are totally maxxed out!”
Whether Whiddett will launch an assault on the 2012/2013 D1NZ Championship beginning in October is yet to be determined, but between now and then he has a lot going on. Included are select rounds of Japan’s 2012 Gran Turismo D1 Grand Prix Series, beginning with the opening round – Tokyo Drift in Odaiba – on the weekend of April 14-15. For those events Whiddett will use another four-rotor Mazda RX-7 (dubbed ‘JAPBUL’) recently built by Japanese racecar engineer, Magic Total Car Produce.
Back in New Zealand Whiddett’s MADBUL RX-7 will receive a cosmetic overhaul before being shipped off to Norway in May destined for the famed ‘Gatebil’ event, while the RX-8 will undergo a complete freshen up in preparation for the Tectaloy International Drift Challenge being held in Australia in August. “Kiwi RE will pull BADBUL’s 20B engine apart and freshen it up so we can really get some power out of it,” says Whiddett. “It’s only been running nine pounds of boost pressure since we originally built it, but still makes over 650 horse’ [power] at the wheels. If we can get it to 800 horse’ at the wheels, it should be a real weapon. We’ll also take a bit of weight out of the car with some carbon fibre panels from Seibon, upgrade the steering to the same specification as MADBUL and get it on some lightweight wheels. The RX-7 is awesome to drive, but let’s just say I’m really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of BADBUL again!”