NEVER SAY DIE

BOOSTED AND STROKED ROCKET BUNNY 350Z

NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS: MAR­CUS GIB­SON PHO­TOS: RICHARD OPIE

When drift­ing burst onto the scene here in New Zealand, the sport was new the world over: it was cheap; at­tain­able; and, most im­por­tant, that sh*t was exciting. It was a young man’s sport that proudly pointed the mid­dle fin­ger at tra­di­tional motorsport afi­ciona­dos, and then rubbed their faces in it as crowd num­bers swelled and spon­sors flocked to get on the drift band­wagon. For many young Ki­wis, drift­ing was an op­por­tu­nity not to be turned down, and with train­ing classes held reg­u­larly, the sport ex­ploded here.

Brad Smith was among the con­verted youth who fell head over heels for drift­ing and dreamed of mak­ing it to the big time — the world stage. Even if he ad­mits that at his first track day he couldn’t so much as keep a dough­nut go­ing around a cone with­out spin­ning out.

Over the next few years, his skills im­proved (vastly) and so did his car. He made the switch from an RB20DET Ce­firo to a RB25DET Sil­via and climbed his way to­wards the top of the D1NZ ranks. In 2008, the young Mag and Turbo staffer de­cided it was time to go big, and he bought a crashed 350Z: “I pur­chased the 350Z chas­sis be­cause Tan­ner Foust and Chris Fors­berg were win­ning cham­pi­onships in them in the States. Like ev­ery kid, I wanted to be this top-dog drifter, [and I thought] they are win­ning cham­pi­onships, so, OK, that’s the shell I should go and buy.”

Not two years old at the time, the 350Z was New Zealand new and had barely had 30 klicks on the clock be­fore some­one sideswiped the sh*t out of it, to the point that it re­sem­bled a peeled-open sar­dine can.

Engine­less, the body made its way to Brad so the build could be­gin — or so he fool­ishly thought. The re­al­ity was that his dream of build­ing a truly next-level build for New Zealand drift­ing far out­weighed his min­i­mum-wage-earn­ing bank bal­ance. You have to remember this was a two-year-old car, and barely any­one was de­vel­op­ing parts, apart from top fac­tory-backed teams in the US.

As he only had limited funds, progress was slow. Some ad­justable arms were de­vel­oped lo­cally, and a very ex­ten­sive roll cage found its way into the shell. The search for an en­gine was a real eye opener. At the time, VQs were com­mand­ing $4500. But, when a dis­man­tled one was of­fered for $2K by Kelford Cams, it was promptly bought, though it had been com­pletely stripped. “They had pur­chased it to start de­vel­op­ing head swaps for the VQ and then re­al­ized there wasn’t a mar­ket, so they had this motor sit­ting in parts in the crate. They gave me the ported-and-pol­ished heads with all the valves and cams, etc. — the cams alone would have been worth $2K. But, once again, through lack of re­search, I

The front-mounted Pre­ci­sion 6870 turbo left lit­tle to no room for the cool­ers up front, so Plaz­ma­man had no op­tion but to cus­tom make the ra­di­a­tor and in­ter­cooler to suit the tight con­fines

This sea­son saw the ad­di­tion of a 6666 Cus­toms Rocket Bunny kit, which ab­so­lutely swal­lows up the 18x10-inch (-35) and 18x11-inch (-55) Work Meis­ter S1Rs

still had this motor that was su­per ex­pen­sive to build. So that’s when it went and sat in the shed, while I went off and did other things, met my wife, and we built our first house. Through all this, we had this ‘thing’ fol­low­ing us around. We moved into a lit­tle two-bed­room place in Paku­ranga with a tiny one-car garage — the race car took that space along with all its parts. The re­al­ity was, I had a dream to build this car, and I wasn’t not go­ing to build it. I sold off parts like the gear­boxes I had, and al­most sold the motor, but never even en­ter­tained the idea of sell­ing the shell.”

In 2013, af­ter he’d dragged the car around for five years, and with only eight weeks un­til the start of the D1NZ sea­son, Burger Fuel came on as nam­ing right and it was rolled into the No Cams work­shop where the build was kicked into top gear. The 350Z was com­pletely stripped to noth­ing more than a caged shell, and it was de­cided to scale the dream back and build the car with noth­ing but the bare ne­ces­si­ties to get Brad on the grid in two months flat.

With such a short pe­riod, as many off-the-shelf com­po­nents as poss were or­dered from the US and Oz. The en­gine was pieced to­gether in fac­tory form, and a Rotrex Su­per­charger kit was bolted on, which made just un­der 500 ponies. The car was fin­ished the morn­ing of the sea­son opener — Brad made his re­turn to D1NZ, and, de­spite the rushed build, the 350 per­formed fault­lessly, even with a sleep-de­prived and very rusty driver. “It wasn’t the build I wanted to do, but it was fi­nally go­ing, and I was back,” he says.

That first sea­son was a real test for the team. The car blew an en­gine mid sea­son, when the fac­tory rod ex­ited out of the block, then there was the big crash at the fi­nal round, which tore the back off the car. He’d been feel­ing more com­fort­able be­hind the wheel that round, thanks to some sound ad­vice from D1NZ OG Justin Rood, so the crash was a kick in the guts. Just prior, Brad had made a change: “I had heard 10mm toe in the rear for grip was the thing to do. So I was strug­gling with a car that was twitchy and very grippy. Ini­tially, I thought it was just me get­ting used to drift­ing again — but the re­al­ity was [that] I should have set it up to what I knew, and made it slip­pery to be­gin with. Which is what I did pre Mount Smart.”

At the end of that sea­son, the car was taken to In­ter­na­tional Motorsport (IMS) for a com­plete over­haul, giv­ing Brad an in­sight into how a well-oiled motorsport ma­chine can run. IMS re­built the 350, tube fram­ing the front and rear and also of­fer­ing a Quaife sixspeed with V8-su­per­car flat shift as an al­ter­na­tive to the four-speed route Brad was eye­ing up. At the same time, the en­gine was back at Glen­dene En­gine Re­con­di­tion­ers (GER) re­ceiv­ing a Brian Crower 3.8 stro­ker kit and larger front hous­ing on the blower — which saw

the power rise to around 480kW, with a very lin­ear power curve.

With IMS now on board, the 350 was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal — one that was su­per re­li­able and al­lowed Brad to con­cen­trate on the most im­por­tant as­pect of drift­ing — the driv­ing.

The fol­low­ing sea­son, he made huge in­roads in the com­peti­tor field, go­ing from 23rd to 10th in the sea­son, qual­i­fy­ing at each round, and mak­ing a podium at Christchurch af­ter nab­bing P1. But, de­spite the re­sults, the car was still not as com­pet­i­tive as Brad wanted. That su­per-smooth power de­liv­ery just wasn’t suited to his driv­ing style. “I would be pinned ab­so­lutely ev­ery­where and hav­ing to clutch kick it,” he re­calls. “We wanted to in­crease the wheel speed much ear­lier in the rpm, which would help me drive it.” The an­swer? Go­ing turbo.

A few weeks out from the sea­son, Lim­it­less Motorsport came on board and sup­plied the nec­es­sary gear, a spe­cially specced turbo from Pre­ci­sion and cus­tom cool­ers from Plaz­ma­man, to suit the ex­tremely tight con­fines of the 350’s bay. The re­sult was 599kW at 7800rpm and a tyre-de­stroy­ing 1007Nm of torque on only 14.5psi. But again, mak­ing all these changes so close to the sea­son opener ham­pered Brad’s per­for­mance, as he had to re­learn the car en­tirely, which meant that he slipped back in the ranks. So, head­ing into another new sea­son, don’t ex­pect to see dras­tic changes to the 350’s me­chan­i­cals. The plan is to change noth­ing in that de­part­ment, and in­stead fo­cus on get­ting Brad some se­ri­ous seat time — some­thing that any drifter knows is key to re­sults.

You can’t but ad­mire the way that he’s stuck to the dream he had as a 24-year-old. The car he now has is un­doubt­edly the ma­chine he set out to build all those years ago. Sure, it didn’t hap­pen overnight, and he learned some lessons along the way, but he never gave up — and still to­day, he is push­ing hard for per­fec­tion. This truly is a next-level build, one of the high­est-cal­i­bre race cars to call the De­mon En­ergy D1NZ grid home.

Al­though equipped with a flat shift from a V8 Su­per­car, it’s rarely used for drift­ing, as Brad prefers to stomp the clutch to swap gears with the Quaife E69G sixspeed se­quen­tial Since its de­but in 2013, the 350Z has run the full swag of Parts Shop Max catalogue items, in­clud­ing the pro coilovers. There was talk of go­ing Wise­fab at some stage, but Brad is still weigh­ing up the idea

HEART

EN­GINE: GER-built Nis­san VQ38DET, 3800cc, 6 cylin­der BLOCK: VQ35DE, Brian Crower billet crank (86.4 stroke), Pro H rods, JE 1mm over­sized pis­tons (10:0.1), 625+ fas­ten­ers HEAD: Kelford Cams portedand-pol­ished heads and cus­tom ground cams, Fer­rea valve springs, Su­pertech 1mm over­sized valves IN­TAKE: Cus­tom plenum, K&N air fil­ter, Plaz­ma­man in­ter­cooler with V-band clamps EX­HAUST: 3.5-inch straight­through, V-band clamps TURBO: Pre­ci­sion 6870, DKM Fabri­ca­tion man­i­fold WASTEGATE: Dual Pre­ci­sion 48mm BOV: Pre­ci­sion FUEL: Fuel Safe 60-litre tank, V8-su­per-tourer lift pumps and surge tank, Dual Bosch 044 main pumps, Tur­bosmart 1200 fuel-pres­sure reg­u­la­tor, Siemens 2400cc in­jec­tors IGNITION: Fac­tory coils, HKS spark plugs ECU: Link G4+ Xtreme COOL­ING: Cus­tom Plaz­ma­man al­loy ra­di­a­tor, -20 AN fit­tings EX­TRA: Cus­tom oil catch-can

IN­TE­RIOR SEATS: (Driver) Racetech 4009HR, Racetech har­ness; (pas­sen­ger) Racetech 4009 STEER­ING WHEEL: Racetech 70mm dish, Racetech quick-re­lease INSTRUMENTATION: Link dash

SUP­PORT STRUTS: Parts Shop Max Pro coilovers; (F) 12kg Parts Shop Max springs, (R) 8kg Parts Shop Max springs BRAKES: (F) Fac­tory Brembo, (R) fac­tory Brembo; Parts Shop Max hand­brake with se­condary calipers EX­TRA: Parts Shop Max lock kit, tube­frame front, tube-frame rear DRIVELINE GEAR­BOX: Quaife E69G six-speed se­quen­tial, Quaife bell­hous­ing, V8-su­per­car flat-shift sys­tem CLUTCH: Pow­er­train triple-plate FLYWHEEL: Cus­tom billet DIFF: Locked fac­tory (3:3.0 ra­tio)

SHOES WHEELS: (F) 18x10-inch (-35) Work Meis­ter S1R, (R) 18x11-inch (-55) Work Meis­ter S1R TYRES: (F) 235/40R18 Jinyu semis­lick, (R) 265/35R18 Jinyu semi-slick

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