A misjudged line on a super-aggressive chase run put an end to Mad Mike Whiddett’s chance of a high-ranking result at the sixth round of the Formula Drift Pro Championship in Fort Worth, Texas, over the weekend.
On the back of a respectable Top 16 finish in Seattle in July, the Kiwi drifter was looking forward to an even better result at Texas Motor Speedway for the penultimate round of the 2015 season.
Despite having not driven at the circuit in the past, Whiddett saw the all-new judged section as a playing field leveller, because established teams wouldn’t be able to draw from their previous experience. On paper, it looked fast and technical too – aspects that suit Whiddett’s high-powered yet agile RADBUL Mazda MX-5.
Prior to the round, the notion of standing on the podium sooner rather than later hadn’t escaped Whiddett’s thoughts either.
For us as a new team, coming into this season it was all about learning the car and gathering as much data as we can at each track, so we can run a full championship in 2016 and have the best chance at winning. But from the way RADBUL has performed and how well the team has gelled, it’s all come together so much quicker than I could ever have imagined. So I’m going into the next two events looking to stand on the box.
As the team worked hard to dial the car in, Whiddett quickly found his groove during Thursday’s practice session at Texas Motor Speedway.
RADBUL is so damn fast that I’m actually having trouble slowing down, which is why you’ve seen me pull leads and close up gaps so quickly at the other rounds.
“We’ve also found that even the smallest adjustments we’re making are having a huge effect on the way RADBUL handles. So it’s all about finding the right balance, and this is where the experience of Scott [Dodgion, team manager] and the other guys is so valuable.”
Friday’s all-important qualifying session didn’t go so smoothly though. The Texas heat, which saw track temperatures soar to more than 50 degrees Celsius, played havoc with RADBUL. More specifically, the fluid that runs through the Mazda’s power-steering and clutch systems was boiling and causing air locks, preventing proper function.
The team replaced the fluids with moments to spare before qualifying, but that issue became the least of their worries when the clutch slave cylinder failed on the first pass. With no clutch, Whiddett struggled through the qualifier and was subsequently scored low
A repair was made, but with only one shot left at making it into the main event, the pressure was really on for Whiddett. Driving at his usual 100 per cent, he didn’t waver, scoring 82 from 100 for 11th overall.
Whiddett drew Mats Baribeau for his Air Force Top 32 battle on Saturday afternoon and immediately set the tone by accelerating away from the Canadian’s Toyota Mark II sedan.
On the second pass, with Baribeau leading, things got a little tighter when Whiddett dropped a wheel off-course. The judges called it too close to decide a clear winner and a ‘One More Time’ re-run was scheduled. However, during the battle Baribeau’s car had developed a brake fault – something his crew wasn’t able to repair in the allotted time, so Whiddett was gifted a free ride into the Ford Top 16.
The Kiwi’s next match-up was never going to be an easy one to win; Japanese driver Masashi Yokoi highly experienced behind the wheel of his Toyota 2JZ powered Nissan S15. Whiddett charged hard from the chase position, but midway through the section he faulted with a big correction and shut it down for a zero scoreline. All Yokoi had to do was run a clean chase, but when Whiddett powered away, leaving a thick cloud of white tyre smoke in RADBUL’s wake, the Japanese driver lost his on track position and put two wheels off the course – an immediate zero. It was up to the judges to decide which driver put on the best show in their respective lead passes, but the only thing they could decide on was another One More Time call.
After a tyre change, the two drivers lined up to do battle again, but this time the outcome was very different. Again Whiddett had an aggressive start, but in holding a close chase proximity through the final section of the course he got lost in Yokoi’s smoke and consequently drifted wide, hitting the wall heavily with the left rear corner of the car, which spun it around for a second impact in the front. Whiddett emerged from the car uninjured, but the same couldn’t be said for RADBUL.
The team called a competition time-out as the Mazda was loaded onto the back of a flat-deck tow truck and removed from the course, however, it couldn’t be repaired within the five minute limit and there was no choice left but to retire.
Despite not being the outcome anyone had hoped for, plenty of positives were taken away from the round, including yet another solid qualifying performance. The fact that RADBUL can be repaired – unlike Formula Drift front-runner Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s Ford Mustang RTR, which was completely written-off in almost the same spot during the event – is something else the team is thankful for.