The Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship has been scene to some of the toughest conditions in New Zealand motorsport, but perhaps none as trying as those seen last weekend.
The D1NZ paddock was put to test come Saturday afternoon when a bizarre incident unfolded at Levels Raceway, Timaru.
During the top-four battles for the D1NZ Pro-Sport Series, fifth place qualifier Callum Neeson suffered a high-speed crash following a tyre debeading. He collided with the tyre wall at turn one of the drift section (turn five of the full circuit) and caused significant damage to his car.
He came to a sudden halt and an ambulance was sent immediately to the site of the crash as well as recovery crews. Neeson was checked over, he was sore, but otherwise fine.
An extensive cleanup was required, including the tyre wall being put back upright, track sweeping carried out, and Neeson’s car removed.
With a 5:00pm time-certain finish on the table, the team worked quickly to clear Neeson’s car. However, in the process of doing so one of the stabilising legs on a recovery vehicle was left down.
That meant when the vehicle left the circuit the leg dug into the grass and across half the width of the track surface. The right-hand side of the circuit was deemed undriveable by the MotorSport New Zealand Clerk of the Course.
With most of the Pro-Sport Series still yet to run and the Pro Series later on in the day, officials were left with two options—end the competition or work around it.
Quick thinking by the judges and officials led to a fast decision and the circuit was changed.
Cones were repositioned and the cars started from just behind the damaged part of the course, the cars initiated into what was formerly turn two of the drift section before a new final corner was added at turn nine of the full circuit (turn four of the judged course).
The circumstances were unlike any other seen in the history of D1NZ. An emergency drivers briefing was called for the remaining competitors to advise of the change. The drivers were given one sighting lap before getting into the competition.
D1NZ Category Manager Brendon White said with the extent of the damage they had few options to choose from.
“When building custom circuits and pushing racing cars to the limit of their capabilities we’re always going to experience challenges,” White said.
“But in the first time in 10 years a track was inadvertently damaged beyond any possible immediate repair.
“Following a fast response from judges, drivers, and the D1NZ crew, we managed to quickly think on our feet to establish a new section of the track.
“Thankfully Callum walked away unscathed from what was easily one of the biggest crashed in recent memory for the series. It’s a testament to the safety of the circuit and these professionally built and run cars.”
Photo: Tony Crossed
White and track officials have already assessed the damage, which will be repaired on Monday before a South Canterbury Car Club test day takes place later next week.
D1NZ Pro Series winner Darren Kelly said it was a challenge, but one the whole field had to work around in the end.
“It was pretty unexpected,” he said.
“We haven’t experienced that before. It’s something that you really don’t have a backup plan for, so for what they managed to get done and run a section like that, it’s pretty cool.
“That section there actually ended up being nicer to run and chase, so it was something that was different but cool at the same time.”
The Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship moves to Feilding's Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon for the penultimate round of the calendar on April 20-21.