For the third round of this year's Keep it Reet Battle Royale season, drifters would return to 'The Gauntlet' layout, last used in 2019 as the first round of that years VicDrift championship. With half of the season already over, it was now or never for drivers to grab wins in battles for points in the championship, whilst those at the top of the standings couldn't drop their form now.
Jason Ferron led the championship after his round 2 win, whilst Marcus McCathie was only 6 points behind after his two podium finishes to start the year off.
Keep it Reet would bring travelling drifter Grant Anderson (aka InstaaGrantt) over from the USA, to compete in their R34 Skyline, taking to it like a duck to water.
The Gauntlet layout would be new to most drivers or at least faint for others. Drivers start on the back straight of the National Circuit, heading anti-clockwise as they throw it into what is the North track's hairpin, before sliding right onto the main straight.
They then flick their cars towards the wall before sliding through the final corner onto the crossover.
The first corner would prove to be the most problematic, with plenty of drivers coming in with too much speed, heading off into the dirt. Often times, the chase car would also follow suit, trying to match the speed of the lead car.
After over two hours of practice, the qualifying battles would begin to determine the Top 16, with qualifying finishing during golden hour. Names like Aaron Gorton, Aaron Dewar and Sam Mudge who was 7th in the championship heading into Round 3, were knocked out in qualifying.
Just like the previous round of the Hi-Tec Drift All Stars, Patrick Barlee would grab the top qualifying spot, but only just pipping Marcus McCathie.
Patrick Meehan in the Tuff Lift AU Falcon would qualify for his first Battle Royale Top 16, as his teammate Jamie Stevkovski would qualify a personal best of sixth, and Grant Anderson would qualify on the edge in 16th.
Scott Massari, who hasn't drifted competitively since 2021, took first blood to Grant Anderson, as Jason Ferron defeated Blake Coady, although we mostly remember the flame throwing competition before the winner was declared.
There was a lot of flame-throwing during Round 3, as Mike Lake was knocked out losing his second battle to Anthony Romano, whilst Cam Marton took his first loss in a battle against Jordan Sanderson, who then knocked out the guest Grant Anderson. It was great to see Danny Pesek back sideways after a hiatus, qualifying in 15th, but ultimately took his second loss against Jamie Stevkovski.
We'd get down to the nitty-gritty in the Top 12, as last chance knockout battles became more frequent. An upset would occur as Pat Meehan would knock out reigning Pro champion Cam Marton, meaning there'd be two AU Falcons in the Top 8. Scott Massari would also continue through to the Top 8 after defeating Matt Walker as their two S13's went door on door.
With Patrick Barlee and Marcus McCathie going undefeated into the Top 8, they would go head-to-head in an attempt to get their ticket straight to the final battle.
In this battle, Pat Barlee would over rotate through turn 1, sending Marcus McCathie through the grass with a de-beaded tyre. With Barlee deemed at fault by the judges, all McCathie needed was a clean lead run. He did exactly that, sending him straight to the final battle.
The track was getting colder, and mistakes were starting to creep in. Scott Massari would hand a second and final loss to Jason Ferron after he also over rotated at the final corner. Jordan Sanderson, who was looking to be a strong contender for the win all night would defeat Jamie Stevkovksi after Stevkovksi had to straighten up and re-initiate his drift during his lead run.
One thing I will mention though that was great to see was no mechanical failures, only a couple of de-beads. All drivers that qualified, competed in all their competition battles, which is quite uncommon in drifting. It was also cool that they had the big screen in front of where the drivers would park to find out who won each battle, as they could immediately watch their battle and discuss with their competitor.
To find out who would battle Marcus McCathie for the overall round win, the minor placings would have to be set first. Both fellow photographer Mitch Peterson and I thought it would be Jordan Sanderson and Patrick Barlee in the Top 2. That didn't quite happen, but we did get to see these two V8 gladiators battle it out regardless, with Sanderson heading to the Top 3.
The battle of the Scotts was next, with South Australian champion Scott Miller edging out Massari with a great lead run, and a closer chase, bringing Scott Massari's brilliant return to competitive drifing to a close.
Now it was down to Scott Miller and Jordan Sanderson to decide who would take on Marcus McCathie for the victory. Both drivers had a fantastic first run, but Sanderson would run away from Miller for most of his lead run, to move forward once more.
In the battle for fourth and fifth, Patrick Barlee harassed Scott Massari's door, able to grab fourth place after a few shaky battles in the Corvette. With time running out, the round win would come down to one single battle, rather than the best of three, between the VE Commodore Ute of Jordan Sanderson and the S13 of Marcus McCathie.
The battle begun, the cheer squads, roared their support, but McCathie would go very wide into Turn 1 during his lead run. And in the second half of the battle, Sanderson would drive away.
Jordan Sanderson would take a convincing win, as Marcus McCathie would settle for second once again. Scott Miller would finish third, with Patrick Barlee fourth. Scott Massari would ultimately be placed fifth whilst also taking home the 'Thrash Kings' award.
This leaves McCathie with a 35-point lead ahead of Jason Ferron heading into the final round of this year's championship. It's going to take some serious competition to stop Marcus' consistency, but stranger things have happened.
Top 8 after Round 3:
1. Marcus McCathie 296 points
2. Jason Ferron 261 points
3. Scott Miller 249 points
4. Patrick Barlee 239 points
5. Jordan Sanderson 217 points
6. Adge Punaro 165 points
7. Cam Marton 158 points
8. Jamie Stevkovksi 145 points