A race isn't won in the first corner and a championship isn't won after the first round. But after Round 1 of the 2023 Battle Royale championship both Marcus McCathie and Adrian Punaro were the favourites, both having huge momentum behind them coming into Round 2. The hype was real and was intensified with Keep it Reet's special guest.
Drivers were excited and preparing early, with new livery and car updates. Jordan Sanderson. Patrick Barlee and Nathan Makovec all had fresh war paint added to their drift machines.
The FD layout would be the battleground for the second installment of the championship. Drivers would need to focus on pointing the rear of the car as far onto the clipping points painted out on the track as possible. The judges also made a point that the lead driver needed to be high up on the banking coming into turn 1 to give the chase car a chance at getting as close as possible.
The FD layout would also be an appropriate track layout to use, as the special guest would be none other than Formula Drift driver Chelsea Denofa, who had flown all the way from the US to compete. His Ford contract however meant that he was unable to compete in any of the Reet fleet Skylines. That was no issue though as Keep it Reet had their mighty RB20 powered AU Falcon Ute on hand.
I love coming here and driving. Australia is one of my favourite places to drive and hang out with everybody. The vibe is really good." -Chelsea Denofa
Regardless, it was tricky coming from a Formula Drift spec Mustang to a 320kw ute with leaf springs. The thing Chelsea most found difficult to get adjusted to however was the car being right hand drive, whilst the leaf springs made it difficult to feel what the rear of the car was doing.
[The AU] is different to everything [else] I've driven. I'm used to left-hand drive... the positioning of your body in the car and also how it actually drives, the steering and the leaf spring rear [was] very difficult for me." -Chelsea Denofa
Despite being thrown into the deep end with a completely unique drift car, Chelsea and the AU went through the event without incident, and he was very positive after the nights action had finished.
It ran all [day], never let me down and did everything it was supposed to. I think I could have won in that car if I kept it together" -Chelsea Denofa
If you thought Chelsea Denofa had brought along his RTR teammate Adam LZ, you’d be wrong. Reigning Battle Royale champion Cam Marton would be a late entrant with his refreshed R33 that now resembles more of a championship challenger rather than a crumpled beer can.
The first corner in practice proved as always to be troublesome, and thanks to the mud, it was clear who had become a victim.
Drivers had two and a half hours of practice before battles began to acclimatise to the concrete jungle. Make a mistake, go wide, and you're either off into the mud with a debeaded tyre, into a tyre barrier or worse, straight smack into a concrete barrier.
Following on from Round 1, without any changes would be the new qualifying battle system, except drivers aren't battling each other, rather trying to help each other qualify into the top 16 by getting clean runs as both the chase and lead car. Cam Marton and his R33 would be right at home during its maiden outing, being the top qualifier, with Chelsea Denofa a solid third despite spinning out in his first run. That's the beauty of this system, your worst run being thrown out and not contributing to your overall qualifying score.
Throughout the whole day and into the night, drifting excitement was always present on the track, but one of the highlights from the night came from none other than Shane 'Sharky' Crawford. Initiating the drift at the bottom of the banking, the right rear wheel and spacer on his Commodore exploded, sending the face of the rim flying past the Commodore. Shane drove the car back to the pits in the state you see it in, as he knew that if he stopped on track, it was going to stay there for a while. After literally pondering what had happened for a while, the team theorised that the spacer had come loose, causing the wheel to shatter, due to the wheel wobble felt before initiation the drift. Certainly, one of the most bizarre things I've witnessed shooting motorsport!
Into the Top 16 battles now and Jason Ferron would go up yet again and defeat the driver that he'd invited over to compete in his championship. Luckily, as it was only the first battle, Denofa could still continue, but one more loss and he'd be out.
The two South Australians would take on each other for the very first time in competition, despite drifting together for many years. They certainly put on a show, demonstrating to all us Victorians how it's done, even when Scott Miller clipped the inside of Turn 1, ripping off part of his front bumper. Beau Gagliardi in the Madhouse MX83 Cressida would take the Top 16 victory, but this wouldn't be the last time the two would face off.
The Top 2 finishers in Round 1 would both be handed losses early, with Gagliardi continuing on his strong form by defeating Adrian Punaro, and Jason Ferron taking victory over a spinning Marcus McCathie.
My two favourite drift cars of the night would be paired together for a Top 12 knockout battle. Patrick Barlee would spin out at the final hairpin during his lead run, and Jarrad Klingberg would do the same, albeit due to a debeaded tyre, which flew straight under Barlee's Corvette! As they both made the same mistake, the judges would declare a 'One More Time' battle, with Patrick Barlee advancing into the Top 8.
Speaking of debeads, Jamie Stevkovski, who knocked out Mike Lake, would suffer the same issue as Klingberg directly after in his battle against Scott Miller, who would go on to win and thus, knock out the AU Drift Society driver.
The battle we'd all been waiting for between the two S13's of Adrian Punaro and Marcus McCathie would take place also as a knockout battle during the round of 12. The rematch from the Round 1 final would consist of another 'One More Time' battle and a five minute mechanical break for Punaro to fix his scraping exhaust. After all that, Marcus McCathie would take his redemption and advance to the Top 8.
Before the Top 8, the drivers would take a break for a signing session, handing out stickers, signing posters and even the odd pizza box. Chelsea Denofa would be the busiest man though, as he signed Formula Drift Hot Wheels, a BMW steering wheel and took photos with the Australian fans. During the break however, the conditions would change drastically as the rain began to bucket down.
Scott Miller would end Chelsea Denofa's night, giving him his second loss in the Top 8, as Cam Marton continued his reign, defeating Jason Ferron and Beau Gagliardi to receive a bye run straight to the Top 2 Final Battle.
Not everyone mastered the wet conditions. Sam Mudge would smack the concrete in a battle against Marcus McCathie, his second accident in as many Battle Royale events. It wasn't all smooth sailing either for McCathie, his S13 failing to start in the rain meant he had to borrow an S14.
In the borrowed car, McCathie would advance to the Top 4, however would be defeated by Jason Ferron. Scott Miller and Beau Gagliardi would battle again, this time for 4th and 5th, with Miller's rear bumper coming off, Gagliardi understeering into the tyre barrier, very near contact and a 'One More Time' battle.
It would be the two blue 4-door Skylines of Cam Marton and Jason Ferron that would duel for the overall round win. In the first of three battles, Cam Marton would understeer off track, jumping through the mud. The spectators that combated the weather would witness two close battles between the two, but the damage had already been done for Cam Marton.
Jason Ferron would win his first Battle Royale event, with Cam Marton second, and Marcus McCathie again on the podium finishing third. Scott Miller would this time beat Beau Gagliardi to finish fourth. Thanks for the champagne shower guys, as if I wasn't soaking wet already!