Formula Drift Japan 2018 champion
Mad Mike Wins FD Japan 2018
It's the win that Mad Mike and Team Magic have worked so hard for, and on Sunday at Okayama, during the final round of the 2018 championship, the Formula Drift Japan title became a reality.
From the first qualifying session at Round 1 back in May to the final battle at Okayama International Circuit, at no time during the five-round championship series did Whiddett not lead the points standings. But despite what that accomplishment suggests, he had anything but an easy road to the title behind the wheel of TCP Magic's manic FD3S Mazda RX-7, better known as HUMBUL.
After dominating the first two rounds of competition, a string of mechanical issues really tested the team's mettle. No one said building a custom four-rotor, twin-turbo engine good for more than 1,000hp would ever be easy though, and for Whiddett and team chief Taisuke Kawato, it only makes the win that much sweeter.
With just 22 points separating Whiddett and Shinji Minowa coming into the main event, winning battles was essential for the Magic/Red Bull team. But before HUMBUL's Toyo tyres could even burn in the first Top 32 match-up against Yoshitaka Ogane there was a major problem to contend with.
“The car was feeling really good in the practise laps we ran just before the Top 32 kicked off, but towards the end of the session I could feel a bit of a flat-spot [on the tyres] from all the chasing. While I normally drive around things like that by altering my technique, there was still a few minutes to go, so I thought we might as well throw on a new set of rear tyres and scrub them in ready for the first battle. It should have been straightforward, but on the very last practise lap the driveshaft blew. This is something that needed to be changed, but with only minutes to get the car to the grid I really thought this could be the end. I don't know how they did it, but Kawato and the guys got it changed and I was able to get back out on the track and get the job done.” – Mad Mike
Minowa won his Top 32 battle too, so the pressure was still on for Whiddett. In the Top 16 he faced Saori Iwasaki, and right from the get-go it was apparent that HUMBUL's huge power output would be a distinct advantage. Despite Iwasaki running clean lines on her chase and lead runs, her Nissan was no match for the Mazda, and driving with poise and precision Whiddett convincingly bagged himself a spot in the Great 8. On the other side of the bracket Minowa moved on too, but with every passing battle that Whiddett won it was becoming more difficult for the second ranked driver to snatch the championship away.
Before Whiddett could even line up against his next match-up, Benjamin Chiam, another issue presented itself. HUMBUL's engine's primary injectors, which supply fuel at the lower end of the rev range, had stopped working, and there was no time to fix them. To make matters worse, Chiam was piloting a Toyota Supra packing huge horsepower. If the injector problem was causing Whiddett any grief, you wouldn't have known it from the way he drove, though. A win on the lead lap and the same on the chase saw Whiddett move up to the Best 4, one step closer to the title.
It was at this point of the competition that things got interesting. Minowa had met Ng Shen Nian in his Great 8 battle, and a result was determined: Ng won on the back of an error-laden chase by Minowa. With Minowa out Whiddett was announced as the unofficial 2018 Formula Drift Japan champion on points, but that was reversed when a protest was lodged and carried. Ng had missed a gear shift on the entry to his lead lap, and his momentary drop in speed had caused Minowa to fault. Given that Minowa's lead lap was stronger, he was re-announced as the battle winner. Elation in the Team Magic with Red Bull pit was quickly doused – there was still work to do.
“It was crazy; one minute the board was showing that Minowa was out, which meant we had won the championship, and the next minute he was back in. It didn't matter though, we were still 100 percent focussed and taking each battle as it came. We knew we could do it.” – Mad Mike
With only a few battles remaining in the event, Whiddett needed just one more win to secure the championship title. With his eyes squarely on that prize, he launched HUMBUL out of the gate on the lead lap of his Best 4 battle with Kazuya Iizuka packing on a lot of speed into the first corner. Iizuka faulted slightly, seemed to lose his rhythm, and then spun. His lead run was much cleaner, but Whiddett kept the pressure applied throughout the entirety of the section; there was only one way the call could go. Before the battle victor was announced though, the judges scrutinised the first pass and questioned whether Whiddett had initiated Iizuka's error by using his e-brake outside of the designated deceleration zone. The unanimous decision in Whiddett's favour for the win said not, and in doing so the championship was won.
Despite the final battle having no bearing on the series outcome, there was no way Whiddett or his opponent, 2017 Formula Drift Japan champion Andrew Gray, would come out with anything less than all guns blazing. What ensued was one of the best battles of the event; it was easily the smokiest. The judges were split, but Gray took it out.
A Formula Drift Japan championship win has been a long time coming for Whiddett and Team Magic with Red Bull, and given the challenges they've faced and the rollercoaster of emotions they've endured this season, it's well deserved.
“To win a championship here in Japan, the motherland of drifting, is absolutely insane. I met Kawato-san here at Okayama in 2009, and ever since we've never stopped dreaming about the day we could win the championship together in a rotary-powered Mazda. Today we did it. HUMBUL has really challenged us this year, but all the effort and determination has paid off. The trophy is testament to the hard work of everyone involved in putting this programme together; it's a huge task and there's so much work that goes on behind the scenes. I'm grateful for every single person who has helped me achieve this dream; my family, Toni, Linc and Jett, my team, and all my sponsors and supporters, I can't thank you enough. This is by far the biggest result we've had to date, and true testament to Kawato-san and Team Magic with Red Bull. We did it, we're #1!” – Mad Mike
Source: redbull.com - Brad Lord