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Tauranga Drifter Grabs World Series Points Against All Odds

Tauranga Drifter Grabs World Series Points Against All Odds

When Tauranga based driver Cole Armstrong left New Zealand two weeks ago bound for Round One of the World Drift Series, the passionate 26 year old was under the impression that he would be meeting his NZ built Nissan RB34 Skyline at the Chinese based round and preparing it for battle against international competition.

In a confusing turn of events, along with all international drivers Cole was awaiting his competition vehicle to arrive in transit from Shanghai to the Tianjin Olympic Centre where Round One preparations were underway and drawing close to commencement. 24 hours prior to competition commencement, Cole and his team were told that due to a Chinese customs concern the RB34 had not been released from Customs, and was not in transit with the remainder of the competing international vehicles.

“It was a huge let down, the car has been through a complete re-build in preparation for international competition, and for reason’s we’re still trying to determine we were being told it had gone all that way for nothing” says Armstrong.

“We felt pretty stranded, and the thought of not being able to compete was overwhelming. Luckily we have a strong team, and were determined to make something positive happen. With some strong support coming from New Zealand and we weren’t going to settle for not finding a solution.”

Determined not to miss out on competition, the team negotiated with Series organisers who were able to make a replacement vehicle available to Armstrong, the replacement – a 2008 Ford Mustang super-charged Shelby GT being was as far away in likeness from the RB34 as it possibly could be. Undeterred Cole and the NZ team weren’t going to let the chance for World Series points go by.

“First thing to battle with was the car is left hand drive, I had never driven in a left hand drive vehicle before. Next thing was the engine which is powered by a high-torque supercharged V8, not a turbo powered six cylinder which we were used to driving. The power provision was delivered completely differently. Third thing to grapple with was the suspension set up is completely different – and combined with driving on the opposite side of the car, and with the V8 providing a completely different response it was one of those use it or lose it opportunities.” It was definitely a baptism by fire for Armstrong.

Because of the string of events leading to the late arrival of international competition vehicles, Armstrong had only 3 x 5 minute sessions to prepare and practice in the replacement vehicle before crucial qualifying – make or break time which would either see him move through to the battle component of the event, or head home more than empty-handed.

“I didn’t really have too much on my mind apart from trying not to throw it into the wall, as much as i’m known from driving fairly hard, this level of vehicle is way beyond something I could ever afford to build myself – so bringing it home unscratched was something which kept me in check during that time on track. I had to find the limit pretty quickly. One thing I did know after those practice sessions though, is that the V8 feels amazing to drive, and it’s something I could pretty easily get used to I’d say!”

With his focus on keeping a clean run through qualifying, Cole turned out a spectacular score in the Mustang to qualify the team in 6th position. This meant Cole had a healthy point’s lead which would send him through to battles and surprise NZ fans with the news of a new car.

“Because we didn’t really know what was going on until the last minute we made the call not to make the announcement to fans until we knew that we had made it through qualifying. We have a huge fan base in NZ and Australia, and we we’re worried about disappointing them. We were really stoked to see the messages of support pouring in over social media once we had brought everyone up to speed.”

Being competition day there was an extremely short turn around before top 32 battles, with that same focus in his mind Cole made it through his top 32 battle and into the competitions major attraction following an opening ceremony only the Chinese could deliver on a grand scale.
The Top 16 battles were aired live to Chinese TV and streamed live across world via web; the stadiums crowd of 20,000 passionate supporters a ‘small’ crowd in the scheme of things apparently.

Paired against a locally based Chinese based driver in his first Top 16 battle Armstrong was shown the stiff level of competition he was up against in calibre, not only in cars engineered specifically for their driving style – Cole’s determination proved stronger in this instance pushing him another bracket further on to top 8 battles.

If Cole was to make it through in any replacement vehicle, or should his NZ campaigned Skyline made it across the border, the toughest battle was going to be with friend and USA based driver Matt Powers who is also a top contender in the American Formula Drift championship.

Wowing the judges and spectators his first run in the Mustang against Powers, it was particularly hard to call who had the point’s advantage after a strong fight from Armstrong to remain in Powers stride throughout all judging points. The second run was no different, forcing judges to make the call for ‘One More Time’ – where the battle is re-run to determine who takes the points advantage.

At that point, drivers are given the option and ability to change tyres – a decision taken by Cole due to one of his tyres wearing more in tread and grip than the other during its outing. With both tyres changed and Cole back on track within the 5 minute time allowance, another battle was run – nail-bitingly close again however with the change to new rubber Armstrong collected too much traction at last clipping point of the determining battle to see the NZ driver narrowly beaten and forced to finish in 5th place.

No mean feat for any driver as described by 2012 WDS title holder Vaughn Gittin Jr, Formula Drift Championship Winner Daigo Saito and Red Bull Drift Shifters champion Matt Powers. “Perhaps one of the biggest rewards for us is to be commended by these guys – the people we respect the most in this sport and the drivers we’re constantly aspiring to be” says Armstrong.

“Despite the week’s challenges we think things happened for a reason this time around, I am hugely grateful to WDS organisers for letting me drive the Mustang and to everyone for their support. We can’t wait to get back for Round Two now, we’re quite fond of the Mustang actually – who knows, maybe we can continue to drive in it throughout the rest of the 2013 series. Time will tell.”

Cole and the NZ Team are currently aiming to get the RB34 back to New Zealand for the final round of the 2012/2013 D1NZ season which will be held at Taupo Motorsport Park on 22 June, before the car and team return overseas to continue with international Drift campaign at WDS and Formula Drift Asia events.

ENDS

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