NEWS: Interview with Brendon White on the Future of D1NZ
Recently Drifted had the opportunity to talk to Brendon White, managing director at D1NZ, to discuss the details of the upcoming twelfth season and get his opinion on where things are headed. After our guest article by Paddy McGrath kicked off debate around the world on the future of drifting, we were eager to hear what Brendon’s take on the whole topic was.
Drifted: First off, what’s in store for the 2014 / 2015 D1NZ season?
Brendon White: D1NZ – now in its twelfth year of drifting here in New Zealand – looks to add in new elements, whether those are custom tracks, different event attributes, or new ways to get the media involved. We are always after ideas, input, and driver interaction to make our national series better. However, while innovation is an important focus, this season our main priority is getting all the little things right. Our first big announcement, exclusive to Drifted, is that we have a new naming rights sponsor this coming season: Demon Energy drinks. The partnership comes at a great time with new owners behind the young NZ-branded drink that are just as eager to get out and succeed as D1NZ is. We are really grateful to pick up the partnership and excited about our future together. Our second announcement on D1NZ comes out in another month’s time exclusive again to Drifted – stay tuned!
We return to Manfeild Raceway in the lower North Island for Round One. This is a favourite for local drivers and fans alike due to the fast, top-of-fourth-gear entry. The past season we were unable to include Manfeild in the series as the dates available clashed with World Time Attack in Sydney which many D1NZ drivers attended. However after loads of work we secured the dates for this season but it does bring the series forward eight weeks. We then head to the other end of the North Island for our first night round of the season at Mt Smart stadium in Auckland City for Round Two which had great success earlier this year! Baypark in New Zealand’s beautiful Mt Maunganui is locked in for January’s Round Three which also hosts NZ’s biggest action sports festival with the nation’s largest custom-built indoor BMX and skate park. The series then does a quick skip over to the Waikato for Round Four at Hampton Downs followed by a month off to let drivers save for the long haul down to the South Island. This round is the car killer, not to mention the longest drift section, of the series. This is followed by the Grand Final, a round we cannot release the location of until our August announcements with Drifted, but we think everyone knows where this will be. We feel the line-up of tracks for this season is the strongest in four years for D1NZ. The decision not to return to Northern NZ (Whangarei) or Central NZ (Taupo) is not one taken lightly but with pressure to grab more densely populated areas and put on a more action-packed show, we are really excited about the destinations this series has.
“As a sport we need to be thinking about breaking the boundaries of what’s possible, not copying what’s already been done”
Round 1: OCTOBER 3RD – 4TH 2014 Manfeild Raceway – Feilding, Manawatu + TRIPLE CROWN
Round 2: NOVEMBER 7TH – 8TH 2014 Mt Smart Custom Round – Penrose, Auckland – Night Event
Round 3: JANUARY 17TH – 18TH 2015 Bay Park Raceway – Tauranga, Bay of Plenty – Night Event + TRIPLE CROWN
Round 4: FEBRUARY 20TH – 21ST 2015 Hampton Downs, Te Kawhata – Waikato
Round 5: APRIL 4TH – 5TH 2015 Mike Pero Motorsport Park – Christchurch, Canterbury + TRIPLE CROWN
Round 6: MAY 2015 – Date and location to be announced – Auckland
Drifted: Sounds like a great season! There’s been a lot of discussion lately around the future of drifting – specifically about the increasing amount of money teams are investing to be competitive, with some saying that it goes against the ‘spirit of drifting’. What’s your take on this?
BW: Drifting is a new show in the scheme of the Motorsport timeline. Things change and morph constantly and as the sport becomes increasingly popular people will always try to stake their claim on what they think is the best way or right way forward as far as the future of drifting. As an organiser I am constantly watching what other series and events are doing, and checking out new ideas both within our industry and from outside. I’ve always known that listening to the voices and knowledge of many is a safer decision than trying to steer the ship all by yourself. That may not make sense to many but basically what I’m saying is you need to keep your finger on the pulse but also have your drivers’ best interests at heart.
Of course this leads to the question of money. Well, to be frank, money is a huge part of drifting now. No doubt many people who dub themselves purists will always moan about keeping it grass roots but I don’t see crowds of 25,000+ people at grass-roots events. That’s the good thing about drifting, the sport is attractive, it’s in your face and that in itself attracts big brands, money, fame and exposure. My two cents on the matter is simple: cater for all and ensure we adapt and change to suit the market when needed to retain and attract new investment for our drivers. There is plenty of room for all to co-exist. There will always be people who want to spend mega-dollars on machines and push them to their limits and as a series we look to feel out what is the best way forward by installing new classes: a restricted class, a semi-restricted class and a class that will align with the other international series.
Drifted: Along with the ongoing ‘horsepower war’ there have been talks about putting restrictions in place to offset running costs. Are tighter regulations on tires or even horsepower limitations something we’re going to see in the near future?
BW: This is not an easy answer: in short, yes, but not over the whole series. We already have a restriction on our Pro-Am class with a maximum tyre size of 235 which was well received during the past two seasons. In NZ it has been a very heated debate. One issue that was brought to a driver vote at the Final Round of last season was whether to ban sticky or Superior Radial tyres in our Pro Series. While the majority supported the change, finding ways in which to implement it while still looking after the tyre manufacturers who have supported drifting in NZ for the past 10 years was a nightmare. It wasn’t something we could square away in time for the coming season, so we put it back to the drivers that any rule changes from this coming season onwards must have support of 15 pro drivers and present old and new wording around the rule. This allows the drivers who are engulfed in the sport help steer the sport alongside the series organisers.
“For the fans, door-to-door action through most of the field rather than just a select 10 makes for a better show in the coming seasons”
For our international readers, the reasoning behind this debate from a driver’s perspective is quite simple. We have 60 drivers and many cannot afford sequential boxes, quick-change diffs, strengthened axles and 600 – 1000HP engines. Many feel the gap in mechanical ability between the cars is becoming too great. Many feel for the fans, door-to-door action through most of the field rather than just a select 10 makes for a better show in the coming seasons. Of course, not all drivers feel the same.
From a series point of view, we need to cater for as many needs as we can without forgetting about our own needs to make all this happen. In 2015-2016 (following the coming season) we would like to see a restricted class that sits alongside the Pro class. This restricted class can run controlled tyre brands without the top class sticky Radial / semis, throttle body restrictors and other conditions that are being floated. The Pro class may have some tyre restrictions if drivers and the series agree on a way it will work. From this D1NZ also plans to release a new ANZ Super Series within Australia and NZ. This will comprise three rounds starting in Australia followed by three rounds in NZ – unrestricted ‘run what ya brung!’ We are working on the logistics and venues for this as well as ways we can reduce the shipping for our drivers to a minimum or covered by sponsorship.
Drifted: Interesting. So the progression of classes would be similar to Formula Drift’s new Pro2 category?
BW: D1NZ for the past three to four years has had what readers would call a Pro2 class dubbed Pro-Am with the one restriction of tyre size. The rules in Formula Drift Pro 2 allow the same rules as the pro Category, here we are creating a restricted class that retains some restriction around the car but not the driver, many may use this as a natural progression from a Pro-am driver to pro but many may also choose not to move up into the Super Pro Class and stay within a class where budgets are kept lower, once again it hasn’t been done with drifting so feeling out what’s going to work and how we police it will all be trial and error but there is a demand for this in NZ so we are happy to potentially test the waters following the coming season for 2015-2016.
Ideally our format we would like to see in years time for our drivers is below, the names may change but it gives you an idea.
– ANZ Super Series Championship (Australia and NZ)
– Top 16 D1NZ Super Pro Championship (Currently D1NZ)
– Top 32 D1NZ Pro Championship (Restricted) - Replaces D1NZ Pro-Am
Drifted: How can the judges enhance the show? Formula D’s judges work behind a curtain, compared to D1GP’s judges who started the sport transparently in front of the crowd in Japan. Where can we take the judging aspect in the next phase?
BW: Judging is the hardest role of drifting. I can’t comment on Formula Drift or D1GP, but I feel for any judge of any series. I have always loved the Japanese and how they judge / present an event but that’s what makes them unique, even if half the world doesn’t know what they are saying.
I see so many comments about bias judges and unfair calls, but what fans and teams need to remember is the judges are a judge of fact, they can only judge what has been seen in front of them at the time with the information they have been given from the series to make the call usually within a gap of 20 seconds before we release the next battle. We as a series realise there are some areas that need improvement on: Our drivers’ briefings need to be more transparent and sent to drivers a couple of weeks in advance to study. Also recording drivers’ briefing so drivers can refer back to the session so there is no confusion, and allow fans to view it online so they understand what is being asked at the event if they are interested. The Series needs to allow instant replays for our judges so a better call can be made, something we finally have, ultimately eliminating the possibility for the judges not to have the right information on hand to make the right call. This is the best way forward. I’m getting off-track a bit here to your original question, but my view is to give them the best resources possible, watch for new technology that may help them (such as replays), give them the spot light on the live stream to fans, and if they have time (which often they don’t) between one run to the next let them explain their call live.
“We focus on putting on a show; that’s what drifting is - a show”
A judge’s role in my eyes for the coming season is not just making the call, it’s walking the pits and mentoring our drivers as to what they are looking for in downtime, giving spotters feedback to help improve them, and being a credible judge to have the right of sitting in the judge’s seat. If we can be transparent and interactive with the judges to fans in future, of course we will, and some new ideas are being floated around this.
Drifted: What in your opinion is the ideal engine choice and horsepower figure for D1NZ? Is an SR20DET enough these days?
BW: That’s the beautiful thing about drifting; there is no set choice of engine and power. It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation and in the future a restricted engine or HP may be seen but the essence of what drifting allows is a driver and team to come up with a crazy contraption and battle door-to-door against other totally mind-blowing engines. To lose this may be detrimental to the sport and fans and I think that’s a key thing ‘purists’ need to understand – you are no different from the person who has the crazy high HP engine; they have just gone a little crazier than you but still love drifting.
Drifted: Drifting to the uninitiated probably does appear as general hooning when compared to traditional forms of motorsport. Is professionalism an issue drifting is always going to have, or will it mature given enough time?
BW: As I said earlier, on the timeline of Motorsport, drifting is very young. In NZ we have had great interest and support from corporate brands and the media as we run a great event, we focus on putting on a show; that’s what drifting is - a show. I think there needs to be more globalisation of rules, regulations, and sharing of resources between organisers to help drifting. There is a very active approach from some series including FD, with talks amongst organisers on a more global set of rules as such, but I think it’s a fair way off potentially. As a sport, show or motorsport, call it what you want, we need to make drifting a lot clearer and I put my hand up a lot to say we get things wrong, but we’re learning from it. As we grow, we get better and we plan to develop ways that fans will be able to understand the judges’ decisions better. We will give elements to the judges such as mentioned live action replays that the fans can also watch to understand how the judges came to their decision. I think the biggest thing to the people who consider drifting to be “hooning” is education, and if our mainstream TV broadcasts have good visual elements and good interviews the sport can only go from strength to strength to inevitably be in the F1 realm. Its only a matter of time as we get older so do our drifters and most young people are more into drifting than traditional motorsport so where does that leave us in 20 years’ time?
Drifted: New Zealand often likes to do things differently here – Is it important for D1NZ to provide an element of individuality as compared to overseas events?
BW: Globalisation is becoming very real, very fast and with social media, drifting is more accessible than any other motorsport in NZ. From looking at Formula Drift’s live stream statistics it’s really getting up there. What this does is give fans a perception of what drifting could be or should be as over sea’s series social media reach is bigger than ours here, so it’s important we maintain good quality events that align with the best in the world. We want to be leaders as well and if you keep following in the footsteps of others you will always only be second best. We have some pretty cool ideas on how to showcase drifting in future seasons but fans will have to get to the track to witness it.
Running a perfect drift event will never happen, that’s the reality of striving to be the best, sometimes the events you think will be supreme turn out to be average in your eyes as an event organiser and the ones you think will just be another round totally blow you away. Our focus for next season is the right team, good team morale and a fast track with little to no down time for viewers. We want fans to feel they got their money’s worth so they come back in future, on the flip side a track and event for the drivers that they feel proud to be associated with too is our priority as well.
Drifted: If you could build an exact replica of an overseas track here in New Zealand what would it be and why?
BW: I wouldn’t I would build something new: Tron! Haha yup, just like the movie but in a stadium. Yes you may laugh I often laugh at myself with crazy ideas!
The recent invention of solar-powered pressure-sensored roads with LEDs went viral recently, and if budget wasn’t an issue I would go to the biggest stadium I could find, lay a full course with these and mind-blow everyone out of the water with an eye opening night drifting event! Because it’s pressure-sensored, clipping points would light up, off-track would be detected, proximity between the cars could be gauged and the track would be lit. The element of show would be amazing to complete an already awesome motorsport but then again, the purists may frown upon this. But hey if it’s sideways in-your-face door to door action, I can’t see a lot of them complaining. As a sport we need to be thinking of breaking the boundaries of what’s possible not copying what’s already been done.
Drifted: Sounds awesome to me! Thanks for talking to us Brendon and all the best for the upcoming season.