Daigo Saito goes one-on-one with Ahmad Daham for outright victory at the 2017 Drift King of Desert Pro Series in Abu Dhabi
We cannot display this galleryAn atomic bomb in a shotgun fight. Such was the paddock consensus at round one of the Drift King of Desert Pro Series event at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit when Daigo Saito’s Toyota JZX Chaser rolled off the flatbed. Punching 1000bhp from a 3.1-litre 2JZ straight-six meant the Formula Drift star – and all-round Japanese legend – easily had the legs on his regional rivals. Not that victory was a foregone conclusion, of course…
Having secured top spot in qualifying the day before, and having narrowly avoided terminal mechanical woes during his opening run, Saito would ultimately face reigning King of Desert Champion Ahmad Daham (Jordan) in the finals, a lightweight car and monumental grip from his bespoke WANLI tyres helping his climb. Early alternator issues aside though, Daham had been nothing short of flawless during his own Top 16 charge, vanquishing Egypt’s Ahmed Tarek in a surprisingly close contest to make it an all-energy drink final, Daham’s newly Red Bull-sponsored Silvia S13.5 taking on Saito’s Monster Energy atomic bomb.
Given the performance difference, the result was closer than ultimately it should have been. Indeed, a mis-clipped cone on his opening run and a broken turbo blade leaving him down on power left many wondering whether Daham could have run the Japanese star even closer on any other night. Ultimately Saito could not be felled, but the Jordanian, down on power or otherwise, had fired a decisive warning shot. If the fight for outright victory had left the Yas crowd perched on its plastic seats, the semi-final had done anything but, technical gremlins costing Ahmed Tarek dearly and halting his charge before it had even started. A no-less deserving Tariq Al Shaihani (Oman) thus made it two local boys on the podium after a spirited run in his underpowered S13 Silvia, having not put a tyre wrong.
We cannot display this galleryRelieved to walk away with anything other than a duck egg, Luke Fink’s weekend proved more eventful than fifth place overall would suggest. His V10-powered BMW E46 M3, newly developed by Kinetechnik Motorsport, had completed just 10 laps before official qualifying got under way, and while it was easily the best sounding noise rattling the paddock windows, pre-event delays ultimately cost the Aussie badly, two broken drive shafts, problems with the steering rack, and alternator failure losing Fink power and a place in the semi-final against Tarek. Fink would bounce back in round three in Oman, taking both event victory and the overall lead in the standings, but will miss rounds four and five in Japan as he awaits the arrival of his first son.
Also under the spotlight was Fahad Al Jadei (Kuwait), whose victory at the opening King of Desert Pro Series in Oman vaulted him to the top of the standings, only for mechanical issues to sideline his PS13 ahead of the Abu Dhabi event. Competing in a borrowed Toyota GT86, the Kuwaiti would make a respectable Top 8 showing and hold onto his standings lead for another weekend after a terrific opening scrap with the BMW M2 of Mohamad Al Khayyat (Qatar). Jordan’s Rafat Haroun made a similarly impressive showing in 2JZ-powered GT86, making it to the Top 8 despite limited experience of tandem drifting. Mohamed Al Mansoori would fair less well though at his home circuit, a hefty thump into the barriers during his first run ending the Emirati’s weekend early.