Photos Castrol NZ and FDC Motorsport
Brought to you by Castrol EDGE
If drifting is an art form, then Daniel Woolhouse is its PIcasso, not just for his ability behind the wheel, but in the way he’s pushed boundaries and challenged conventions in the sport, especally in his native New Zealand.
If you follow drifting, the motorsport that was born in Japan and became a worldwide phenomenon in the 1990s, then you should be familiar with Daniel Woolhouse, who’s arguably the highest profile and most succcessful driver to come out of New Zealand.
Woolhouse, known as ‘Fanga Dan’ due to his all-or-nothing driving style, was involved in drifting when the sport was in its infancy in New Zealand 20 years ago and he remains front and centre in the scene today.
While his name and fame comes from drifting, it wasn’t where Fanga Dan sought to make his mark in motorsport. . .
Part of the Team
Born in Hastings on New Zealand’s North Island in March, 1983, and growing up further north in Whangarei, Dan was attuned to all things automotive from a young age, as his dad John ran a car dealership specialising in imports and performance vehicles.
“If you wanted a performance car, you went to John Woolhouse Motors. I thought he had the coolest cars in Hawke’s Bay!” Dan says.
“Back then, he used to do a bit of drag racing with his Mustangs and he had friends that were in Speedway or circuit racing. I would go and pit crew for them, so I was brought up around the motorsport world.”
Given that upbringing, it’s no surprise the young Dan dreamed of one day getting behind the wheel himself, specifically in Supercars.
“My passion was – and still is - V8 Supercars. I was never able to afford to do it, but that’s what I loved.”
Along with some serious financial backing, a Supercars seat usually requires an early start in categories like Formula Ford and a long apprenticeship in feeder tin top classes, but Dan missed out on that.
“I never really got into motorsport and drifting until I was about 19 or 20,” Dan explains.
This was at the dawn of the new millennium, when drifting was moving from an underground phenomenon to an organised, professional motorsport series in various parts of the globe, including New Zealand, where Dan and his mates consumed the new sport through magazines and DVDs sourced out of Japan in the pre-YouTube era.
Picking up what they read and saw overseas, Dan and seven others pitched in to pay for workshop space where they would build drift cars and form New Zealand’s first dedicated team – Driftcorp – under the leadership of fellow Kiwi, Justin Rood, who’d come to the sport from drag racing and performance cars.
Nissans were the go-to chassis for drifting back then, so Driftcorp was loaded with Silvias, Cefiros and Skylines. Dan started out in a Nissan Laurel C33 (a model never marketed in Australia, but broadly similar to the ‘90s-era Maxima) when the inaugural ‘D1NZ’ New Zealand Drifting Championship was held in 2003. The very first round was at Pukekohe, the iconic NZ circuit that’s about to close to motorsport activity at time of writing.
Although he was on track on D1NZ’s foundation year, Dan didn’t compete full-time until 2005, by which time he’d switched to an S15 Silvia Spec R. He’d win the championship in that car a year later.
While still part of the Driftcorp stable, Dan had formed his own business, FDC Motorsport, by this stage, so when Driftcorp dissolved in the mid-2010s, Dan began competing exclusively under the FDC Motorsport banner, building that brand with the support of key sponsors like Castrol.
Other drivers have come and gone from D1NZ since 2003, but Dan’s been a constant, which he’s pretty proud of.
“I’ve been in it from the start. Still out there, still enjoying it and still showing some of the young fellas how to do it,” he laughs.
While Dan could have continued on with a Nissan after winning his first D1NZ title in 2006, his love of Supercars, his understanding that drifting is as much a show as it is a sport and his desire to bring something new and different to the series saw him combine all those elements into one, developing one of the first Holden Commodores to be used in NZ drifting.
“A lot of people just stuck with the Nissan chassis, which is good, but you’ve got to separate yourself from the rest - come out with something different to get the sponsorship, instead of being one of fifty proposals getting put across the table - all in the same car, pretty much doing the same thing.”
That initial Commodore, a VY with a Nissan RB20 six, looked like a Supercar thanks to its wider stance, HSV Clubsport front splitter and big rear wing, which was a deliberate move on Dan’s part and led to him not only standing out from the pack in D1NZ, but also scoring an invite to compete in Thailand in 2009.
“I wanted to take my Nissan, as I’d won a championship in that car, but the promoter said, ‘No, we’ve got them everywhere up here. People want to see something different’,” Dan recalls. “I hadn’t developed the (Commodore) fully at that time, but I took it to Thailand anyway and podiumed in the first round – which was frickin’ awesome.”
That was something of a lightbulb moment, showing that a car that was different from the norm not only attracted attention (and thus media coverage and sponsors), but could be competitive, too.
A second drift Commodore, based on a VZ, was developed a few years later, this time running a supercharged LS V8. In 2013, Dan won his second D1NZ title in that car, becoming the first non-Nissan champion and first in a car powered by a V8.
“It wasn’t the easiest car to drive, but we stuck to it and made it work,” Dan recalls, adding that lessons learnt on that car were applied to a third Commodore built for drift competition, this time based on a VF.
Moving to Mustang
With the closure of Holden’s local manufacturing operations in 2017, a relationship with Holden that had lasted almost five years came to an abrupt end and Dan thought it might be the end for him in professional drifting, but salvation came from an unlikely corner.
Invited by a sponsor to pilot the latest Focus RS for a Ford Day at Hampton Downs (and having to borrow a mate’s Falcon to get in!), Dan got talking with Sam Bakalich from CTB Performance, who were NZ agents for Roush, the performance vehicle builder from the US best known for their Mustangs – which happen to be one of Dan’s favourite cars.
That led to expat Kiwi Ian Stewart, a co-owner of RTR (Ready to Rock) vehicles in the US and builder of Ken Block’s wild 'Hoonicorn' all-wheel drive Mustang, getting involved and agreeing to supply Dan with two Mustangs, one of which had previously been campaigned by American drifting legend Vaughn Gittin Jnr.
Dan then connected Ian to Sam, which led to CTB Performance becoming agents for RTR in NZ. To date, the union has seen around 140 RTR-modified Mustangs produced for Kiwi customers, with RTR-spec Rangers, F-150s and even RTR versions of the new Mach-E Mustang electric SUV to come.
“We jumped out of the Holdens, got two new Mustangs and, four years in, we won our first championship with them.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though, with the ex-Gittin car simply too powerful for D1NZ regs.
“That car is super bad arse,” Dan laughs. “It’s got a NASCAR engine, it’s super light because it’s full carbon fibre and every nut and bolt is only just long enough to hold on.
“The car was built for 315-wide tyres, but in New Zealand, we’re restricted to only 265s, and even with those, it was still way too fast and had way too much grip.”
The second Mustang, what Dan calls the ‘Activation Car’ that’s also used at ride days and demonstrations, was developed by FDC Motorsport to meet local regulations and it was in that car that Dan wrapped up his third D1NZ championship this year.
“The activation car was really well paired to our championship and it proved that you didn’t need a half-a-million dollar racecar to go and win, which was super cool. I think that made it more rewarding as well.”
That being said, Dan admits the high-spec ex-Gittin car is much more enjoyable to drive: “It sounds so much gnarlier, three wheels everywhere and does some really cool things. It actually excites me about what drifting will be when everyone catches up!”
With both the Mustangs being left-hand drive, that was a challenge for Dan to get used to, but looking ahead, he sees it as good prep to compete in Formula Drift USA (arguably the premier drifting competition globally) if the opportunity comes up.
Castrol Consistency – and Longevity
While his drift cars have changed over the years, a constant in Fanga Dan’s almost two decades in the sport has been the support of Castrol.
Through Justin Rood, Castrol originally backed the Driftcorp team as a whole, but when others either switched allegiances or left the sport, Dan essentially become the team’s lead driver.
“I was the only one that was consistently out there doing shows, like Big Boys Toys or Too Hot to Handle down in Wellington, as well as doing the championship.”
For someone with a knowledge and respect for motorsport, being connected with Castrol is a point of pride for Dan.
“It’s just an iconic brand. The vehicles they’ve sponsored through the years, like the WRC Celicas, as well as some of my favourite drivers, like Larry Perkins, makes me want to be known as a Castrol ambassador.”
Given the high strain that drift cars are put under, clutches are regularly replaced, along with things like driveshafts and axles, but FDC Motorsport have never blown an engine, and Dan attributes that to the Castrol products they use.
“All the engines that we’ve pulled down have been absolutely perfect. We’ve never had a failure from oil starvation or anything like that. Castrol’s definitely been a lifesaver.”
Given the results he’s had with Castrol EDGE oil and other Castrol lubricants, Dan’s been happy to spread the word to others in D1NZ.
“The amount of drivers I’ve helped by putting them onto Castrol - I think has saved them a lot of money. I know it’s saved me a lot of money!” he laughs.
“We listen to the people at Castrol, use the right product and make sure we’re up to date with it all the time.”
Not Done Yet
Now with a third D1NZ championship under his belt and approaching 20 years in the sport, Dan isn’t looking to hang up the helmet. He plans to continue in D1NZ, compete overseas again, add a second driver to FDC Motorsport and expand into other forms of motorsport, too.
“I really want to go to the States with the Mustang. Whether it’s a one-off event, a couple of rounds, or a whole season, I’d love to do any of it.
“And then, I’d like to take on another driver to keep FDC Motorsport going. If that person was to do well, it’d make me feel like I’ve done well, too. I want to drive my team to be bigger and better.”
While he’s focussed on what’s ahead in drifting, he’s dabbled in other forms of motorsport, too, including karting, boat racing and rallying. The flame of being a part of Supercars still burns, though.
“To get a co-drive in a Supercar, that would be a dream come true. And I think I’d be good at it, too! But whatever happens in the future, I’ll still be part of the (drifting) series.”
For more on D1NZ, go to: d1nz.com