Daigo Saito has returned to the 2013 Achilles Formula Drift Asia series stronger than ever, with a dominating performance at the inaugural Formula Drift Australia.
The competition united Australian drivers with some of the biggest international names in the sport, seeing a total of seven nations represented at Calder Park Raceway last week.
Heading into the event, Saito was tipped as the favourite to win, given his reigning Formula Drift Asia and USA championship titles.
Despite his commanding presence on the track in his high horsepower Lexus IS-C, it was South Australian, Tom Monkhouse, who truly won the Australian crowd’s hearts.
Monkhouse earned a wildcard entry into the event after placing second at the ADGP exhibition match the day before.
Unprepared for the competition, Monkhouse was offered a friend’s car when his personal vehicle didn’t meet the strict international regulations - a car which took him all the way to the final.
“Going into the final, I was more than aware that Saito is the best drifter in the world and he had an outstanding vehicle under him. At the time though, I was on a roll and more than ready for that battle. When we finished up in front of the crowd, they were cheering so loudly," Monkhouse said.
"I didn’t think I had won the event, but I knew I had won it in the eyes of the Australians. I could tell they were thrilled I didn’t throw it away like others did against Saito, because he is intimidating if you let him be, and I didn’t let him do that to me.”
Monkhouse’s form was superb across the entire event. He consistently impressed the crowd, the international judges and commentators, battle after battle.
“Tom is looking like the one to beat. He has been really aggressive, took some chances and really put himself out there.” Formula Drift commentator, Jarod DeAnda said.
Those chances paid off, with Monkhouse now invited to compete in the second round of the series in Kuala Lumpur later next month.
“I can’t believe it’s all happening. Japanese Performance Centre are giving me a D1 Japan prepared Toyota Verossa to drive in Malaysia. It’s making around 800 HP, which means we’re catching up to Saito now.” Monkhouse said.
Saito’s dominance was placed in doubt early on at the event, after a close call in practice saw him collide with New Zealand based Red Bull driver, Mike Whiddett.
While the damage to Saito’s car was repairable, Whiddett faced a difficult weekend, and was knocked out early in the competition, spinning in his Top 16 battle against Thai driver, Oat Nattawoot Krerpradab.
Rounding out the podium was yet another Australian, Josh Boettcher, in the GT Radial Tyres Nissan 200SX/Silvia.
Boettcher battled Monkhouse to compete against Saito in the final, but with pressure mounting on both drivers, an unfortunate spin mere meters from the finish line handed the advantage to Monkhouse.
Boettcher then lined up against Norwegian driver, Fredric Aasbo, to compete for the final spot on the podium.
Aasbo, who debuted in arguably the best vehicle at the event, a NASCAR V8 Toyota 86 built by RS-R in Japan, managed to smoke almost all of his opponents blind.
Boettcher, however, emerged triumphant from the heart stopping battle, with the Norwegian unable to keep up with the Queenslander’s fast pace.
Australian favourite Rob Whyte made it through to the Top 8, but was eliminated by Aasbo in a battle that kept the crowd on the edge of their seat.
It seemed the win was almost in Whyte’s hands until an uncharacteristic mistake from the Achilles driver saw him pull up short, unable to hold his drift for the final corner.
Complementing the Formula Drift Australia event was an exhibition round hosted by the Australian Drifting Grand Prix on Saturday. The event brought together plenty of drivers from the national series, including reigning ADGP champion Rob Whyte, and former Australian champion, Beau Yates.
Victory, sweetened by the international audience, was handed to determined young gun, Nick Coulson, in his first ever national win.
“There’s no doubt the event was a huge success for both ADGP and FD Asia. FD Asia came to Australia looking to expand their global presence and find world class drivers," Brett Wilkinson, ADGP Championship Manager said.
"They were astounded not only at the number of quality drivers Australia delivered, but the fact they rivaled the world’s best. They’d never seen an Australian on the podium, and this time, we had two.”
Discussions are already underway for the 2014 Formula Drift Australia event, something which will only increase the popularity of the young sport.
Drifting has grown substantially in Australia since the introduction of the national series, which has now expanded to hold two categories.
Round Two of the 2013 Achilles Formula Drift Asia will take place June 29th in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where it’s expected Australia will be well represented by Josh Boettcher, Tom Monkhouse, Rob Whyte and hopefully, Victorian driver, Michael Prosenik.