Reigning D1NZ champion Cole Armstrong is relishing in the opportunity to take on Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen.
Five years on from their last battle – which was also in Tauranga – the pair faced off again; this time inside ASB Baypark Stadium on the purpose-built concrete circuit.
Local man Armstrong knocked van Gisbergen out of the competition during the top-16 battle in a face off reminiscent of their last time out in the stadium’s back car park.
“I think the last time we battled he drove my Nissan Skyline R34 and I drove my 250GT, I pipped him then as well,” Armstrong said.
“He’s such a big name, to be able to come and join our sport is awesome.”
It wasn’t an easy ride through to the top-16 for van Gisbergen in the end. The Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver flew home almost immediately after completing pre-season testing for his Supercars squad.
His qualifying performance and run through to the top-16 were particularly impressive given he arrived on competition day, qualified on Saturday morning and went on through to the battle stages.
The battle between Armstrong and van Gisbergen was perhaps one of the most enthralling and tightest competitions of the entire weekend. The pair were nearly inseparable, only Armstrong’s lead line was deemed better than van Gisbergen’s in a battle tight on proximity.
Even Armstrong admitted it was one of the toughest battles of the entire weekend for him.
“What a battle that was. I had to give it 110 per cent without any mistakes to pip him at the line.”
Armstrong went on to finish runner-up to Drew Donovan in the second round of the championship and heads to Timaru on March 9-10 second in the standings behind Australian Matty Hill.
The Supercars star is set to re-join the series again at Levels Raceway this weekend and arrives back home off the back of dual wins in the Supercars season opener.
Armstrong said he hopes that he gets to face van Gisbergen again come battle time.
“No doubt we’ll match up again. I hope one day me and him reach the final because it’ll be off its head.
“I love that Gizzy comes over and drifts with us. He’s a person that won’t do anything dirty. He’s just here to have fun and enjoy it. He uses his skills to his full potential and I love that he comes here.”
“He’s such a good bloke and such a good character. He's a guy that you can take a lot away from him because he’s just so knowledgeable. I love being out there and having a run with him, he’s a guy who can jump in anything and just peddle it.
Timaru marks the first round of the championship where the drivers will get to compete on a fast and flowing circuit. Rounds one and two were held inside speedway facilities, which proved to be a challenge for some given the short sharp nature of the section.
Armstrong said he’s looking forward to getting back to Timaru. The last time he competed there was in a Drift South meeting five years ago. It’ll also be the first time the D1NZ National Drifting Championship has held an event there in 11 years.
“It’ll be really good to see how this car performs on the high speed stuff. I love the track. I’ve driven there a few times.
“It’s technical, there’s something like three apexes on one corner. It’s a big haul, but I’m looking forward to it.”
The third round of the Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship takes place at Levels Raceway, Timaru over March 9-10.
Photo: Maria Panova