I went home. But only after spending three days at Calder Park, covering all the competition and drifting action of Keep it Reet's biggest event yet. The final round of the Battle Royale championship, followed by their two-day Reetsuri practice style event. Day 1 would consist of crowning the 2022 champions in both Pro and Amateur class, on a classic layout not used since 2019, the Crossover!
Battle Royale RD 5: The Final Fight at the Cursed Crossover
In the Pro category, coming into the final round, 1 point separated the top 2. Cam Marton led on 29 points, with Brendan 'Bogga' O'Grady closely following. However, O'Grady would miss this round, meaning that Matt Russell would be the only one to challenge Marton for the championship. But to have a chance, Russell would have to go all the way, win the event whilst needing Marton to have zero battle wins to even have a mathematical chance.
The Amateur category was in a similar state. Andrew Pearson had dominated the championship and only Aaron Gorton was the only driver with a mathematical chance to take it away. But the battle for the minor podium positions in the championship was much closer. Gorton, Daniel Ridley, Matt McCrudden and Jesse Scott were all separated by 5 points fighting for second and third in the championship.
Round 5 would see the exciting return of the unique Crossover layout, which used the sections of track connecting the National Circuit to the Thunderdome. Drivers would fly down the main straight of the National Circuit, drifting into the left hander, over a small hill and right onto the Thunderdome back straight, before quickly sending it back up the return road to the finish line.
Three drivers would come over from interstate to compete including Flash Smith and Glen Atkins in their S15's and Patrick Barlee in his mental Sprintcar powered carbon kevlar C6 Corvette, all the way from Northern Territory.
After a couple of hours of practice and qualifying, it was time to replace any parts, fix any gremlins and make final adjustments to the cars before battles. Unfortunately for some, the damage would be too much to repair.
In the meantime, the boys at Eastside Tyres were working hard changing tyres all weekend long for the drivers. By Sunday, they had a mountain of shredded rubber to dispose of.
The battles would begin, and notably in the Amateur category Jamie Stevkovski would defeat Daniel Ridley in his first competitive drift event. Nathan Beasleigh would also put Aaron Gorton in danger of being knocked out early and putting any championship charge in jeopardy.
Speaking of the championship, title rivals Matt Russell and Cam Marton would meet in round 1 of battles and it would be first blood to Matt Russell in his SR20 powered AE86.
What became clear early on was that this layout was brutal on drivers and machinery. Many mistakes made by drivers would lead to eliminations or having to go OMT (one more time), whilst mechanical failures would sideline many others. Mike Lake would stop just before the finish line, and his BMW would become the second car to sit on the flatbed, but not the last of the night. Russell Cunningham of Team Wheel Deal would also destroy a gearbox, leaving him with only one choice but to rush home, pull out a spare and rush back to the track.
The true curse of this layout would become obvious during Cam Marton and Aleks Kantarovki's knockout battle. Cam Marton would first spin out in his lead run, but Kantarovski would lockup knocking over the water barrier. He would continue whilst Marton headed to the pits. The Judges would declare an OMT, but even after their second battle, they still weren't impressed. In their third battle, Marton would unfortunately hit the inside kerb, puncturing his gearbox. He would be knocked out with zero battle wins to his credit and a broken R33. Although unpredictable, this is exactly what Matt Russell needed to have a shot at snatching the championship.
Damien Cook would also be knocked out of Pro contention with his second twisted tie rod of the day thanks to the chunky kerbs whilst Ben Grice would suffer more mechanical drama with a broken rack.
Soon enough, the Top 8 from each category were decided and it was time for dinner and the Pro drivers signing session.
Andrew Pearson and Nathan Beasleigh, both with zero losses to the name would battle it out for the honour of heading straight to the Final Two battle. Pearson would win that battle, and with Aaron Gorton knocked out early, Pearson now had both hands on the Amateur championship trophy.
Matt McCrudden would halt Jamie Stevkovski's impressive rookie outing knocking him out in the Top 8 as Jesse Scott would fall victim to Sam Mudge who was determined to go all the way after being enterde in the Amateur category just that morning.
Jason Ferron and Marcus McCathie would do battle for the trip straight to the Final Battle, but it would end early for Ferron as he also fell victim to the gearbox eating kerbs.
Matt Russell would receive a scare as his car lost boost coming down the main straight intermittently, then having contact with Aleks Kantarovski in his chase run. Russell would still advance as Patrick Barlee would knock out Dan Ridley, who was one of the drivers pulling double duty in both Amateur and Pro. There was no doubt that Ridley's R32 was the car that drove the most laps that day.
Matt Russell would defeat Jhay Hansen in the other SR20 powered Corolla on his way to do battle with Marcus McCathie for the overall win, as Patrick Barlee would receive a dose of deja vu, battling and beating Daniel Ridley's R32, this time being borrowed by Jason Ferron.
Ridley would hop back in the seat of his R32 to face Matt McCrudden for fourth place, whilst Sam Mudge would belch flames on his way to defeating Nathan Beasleigh and taking on Andrew Pearson for the overall Round 5 victory.
In a rare set of circumstances, Andrew Pearson would send it onto the grass in his first of what was meant to be three lead runs. However, the judges had decided on a result by the end of only two battles. Matt Russell and Marcus McCathie would battle closely in their best of three battles in what would be the final dash of tyre smoking action of the night.
As tradition at Battle Royale events, the Thrash Kings award would be given to someone illustrating the spirit of drifting just like Chris Dejager, a drifter we lost in 2020 due to mental health. Round 5's award would be given to Daniel Ridley, presented to him by sport chaplain Mark Bateman.
Over to the results for Amateur, Sam Mudge would claim victory over Andrew Pearson, with Nathan Beasleigh matching his best finish of third, followed by Daniel Ridley in fourth.
Mr Happy Marcus McCathie would win in the Pro category, stopping Matt Russell's charge, with Patrick Barlee third and Jhay Hansen in fourth.
Andrew Pearson would take a clear victory in the inagural Keep it Reet Amateur championship, followed by Daniel Ridley and Matt McCrudden, both jumping up in the leaderboard at the final opportunity. The full points results haven't been released yet, but I imagine it must have been extremely tight.
Despite his bad luck in Round 5, Cam Marton would claim the Pro championship trophy by a single point over 'Bogga' O'Grady with Matt Russell trailing by only two points in the end.
With the awards given and the trophies received, all that was left to do was spray the champagne over the nearest person. And that's the best way to end a championship season isn't it?
With the championships sorted, it was now time for two straight days of drift practice for professional and learning drifters alike. Keep it Reet’s 5th instalment of their Reetsuri style events would be the first at Calder Park, allowing all drivers to try out the Crossover layout after its three-year sabbatical.
Russell Cunningham and Mike Lake had fixed both their cars the day before as the competition still raged on, allowing them to enjoy the next two full days of practice.
After a short lunch break, it was time for the Backie comp to determine the winner of the Saturday Slayer award. The best backwards entry into turn 1 of the Crossover Layout would win a $500 bar tab. With the help of the enthusiasm from the crowd, judge Tony Bishop would be looking for a run as close to the wall as possible, beyond ninety degrees of rotation and with consistent speed and momentum through the corner.
Jhay Hansen, Anthony Morano, Nathan Beasligh and those piloting R33's all had the spectators on the edges of their seats with massive sends. However, it would be Aaron Gorton who would get the biggest cheer from the crowd, crowning him as the Saturday Slayer.
For those who didn’t have their own drift car but still wanted to feel the adrenaline, the ‘Ride with a Pro’ gave fans the opportunity to be sent around the Crossover layout at full pelt.
Tauri Onus had built a new Corolla, this time powered by a 3SGE motor, and he was loving it! His angry V8 swapped Corolla had been sold to Nathan Dundovic, who was putting it to good use, giving passengers and those on the hill a fantastic smoke show.
On the other side of Calder Park, the infamous FD Layout was also being used to its fullest too, giving drifters a tighter, slower and in some ways trickier layout to master.
On day two of Reetsuri, the FD Layout would be switched up to make the DCA Layout, with drivers entering the tri-oval and sharp hairpin anticlockwise off the Thunderdome banking.
Sunday would also feature the DT Layout rather than the Crossover. No cursed kerbs, but instead a fast-paced sideways entry into the twisty corners of the Calder Short Circuit.
The final day of Keep it Reet’s biggest event to date was a relaxed one. No competitions, just casual tandem drifting with mates, the best kind of drifting.
A massive shoutout must go to the entire Keep it Reet team for continuing to put on some of the best events in Australia for drifting, and to all the sponsors and volunteers who make sure these events can go ahead as smooth as they do. The next Friday Night Drifts will be on December 9, and the Battle Royale championship will return again in full force next year!