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

Iclimb into the im­pos­si­bly tight con­fines of the cock­pit, sit­u­ate my six-foot-one body into the car­bon-Kevlar Re­caro, and do the five-point har­ness shuf­fle, all the while do­ing my best to keep my com­po­sure and not act like a five-year-old who has just been handed a crisp fiver in the sweet shop. I click the quick-re­lease hub back onto the spline and triple check it as I grip the well-worn RE Amemiya wheel. Mine are quite pos­si­bly the least-qual­i­fied hands ever to grip it. Just as that dawns on me, owner Ai­dan Bar­rett leans in the win­dow and runs over the start­ing pro­ce­dure.

“Turn that, flick those two switches, and then hit the starter. If it sounds like it’s go­ing to fire, give it a tiny blip; if it sounds flooded, floor the pedal and it will kill the pump,” he says.

I needn’t worry; the RE Amemiya 20B pe­riph­eral-port (PP)

This was the last year that GT300 ran fac­tory steel tubs. The Mazda items were built at Mazdaspeed, with three be­ing built in 1998. The rear sub­frames alone re­port­edly cost the teams a cool 100K!

barks straight to life at the first flick of the starter switch. With an empty Hamp­ton Downs Na­tional cir­cuit to my­self, I’m not wait­ing, so I pluck first and give it the ham­mer as I re­lease the clutch; a lit­tle wheel­spin to test the grip, and I’m off. First, sec­ond, third — the au­dio res­o­nance is mu­sic to my oth­er­wise bleed­ing eardrums.

All I want to do is feed it more, but I have to steady and get into a rhythm. I’ll be hon­est here: this is my first drive of a pro­fes­sion­ally built GT car at more than 50kph. The steer­ing in­puts are sharp, and the 380mm Brembo calipers bite and throw me for­ward. The throt­tle is light, and the mo­tor revs free and easy. But, man, is there one hell of a brap trap. The only way through it is to drive it harder and keep the revs up in the range — like a race car should be. I feel at home, and com­fort­able to lean on it (some­what). I can see how Tet­suya Ya­mano and Haruhiko Mat­sumoto could have gone ham­mer and tongs with the fac­tory-backed teams for up to 1000km in this cock­pit and lasted to taste that sweet cham­pagne re­served for those who earn a spot on the podium. As I nav­i­gate each turn, it’s that glo­ri­ous ex­haust that’s etch­ing deeper in my brain — a sound I’ll carry to my grave.

As I pull into the pit lane, I en­gage first and bark my way down, try­ing to avoid that vi­cious brap trap. In the im­mor­tal words of Ice Cube, “To­day was a good day”.

Ex­actly how I found my­self be­hind the wheel of an ex– Ja­panese Grand Tour­ing Cham­pi­onship (JGTC) GT300 Mazda FD3S is a story that be­gins back in Ja­pan in the mid 1990s. A young Ai­dan Bar­rett was vis­it­ing his un­cle, who was liv­ing around the cor­ner from the famed RE Amemiya work­shop. Be­ing a young ro­tor-head, daily vis­its to the shop were a must for Ai­dan. At the time, ro­taryle­gend Isami Amemiya and his team were el­bows deep in Amemiya’s long-running GT300 cam­paign, one that be­gan in ’95 and spanned 16 con­sec­u­tive sea­sons with the FD3S, in­clud­ing a cham­pi­onship in ’06. Un­like many of Amemiya’s com­peti­tors, Mazda quickly pulled its sup­port, and, by the 2000s, RE Amemiya was a pri­va­teer team go­ing up against the might of fac­tory-backed Porches and Sil­vias.

For an im­pres­sion­able young teen like Ai­dan, the Ja­pan

Draped al­most en­tirely in car­bon, from the wide body to the doors and the hood, the kit is a one-off of RE Amemiya /bomex de­sign The cogs be­ing swapped are from a Hew­land sixspeed H-pat­tern dog­box, which is cur­rently out for re­pairs. The Hew­land came with a few sets of gears, and the box is O-ringed for on-the-fly ra­tio changes if needed

ex­pe­ri­ence would ce­ment his love of the ro­tary and he would go on to build a string of amaz­ing Maz­das. If you’ve been around the block a few times, his plate’s ‘ROTATN’ and ‘7SINZ’ will prob­a­bly be fa­mil­iar to you. Cur­rently in stock is an RX-3 GR Sa­vanna resto, a JDM Se­ries 3 12a turbo RX-7 and a Group C RX-7, which of­ten sees the pants driven off it at events like Lead­foot.

Ai­dan tells us that he wasn’t even in the mar­ket for an­other racer when the FD sur­faced, but, stum­bling on the list­ing on an on­line race car clas­si­fied, Ai­dan knew how rare it was for one of these to come up for sale.

“At the time, we were get­ting ready to ren­o­vate our house, so I asked my wife if we could put that on hold. I called the owner, Hugh, the next day, and he sent me through some pho­tos. I knew cars like this don’t come up for sale so I had to act fast,” re­calls Ai­dan, who had no time to do any real re­search and fig­ure out ex­actly what he was about to buy sight un­seen; it be­came a case of se­cure it and then go about ob­tain­ing the finer de­tails.

The FD had been in Aus­tralia since its re­tire­ment from JGTC in 2001, but, seem­ingly, no one knew about it. A for­mer RE Amemiya team mem­ber had pur­chased it for re­port­edly eye-wa­ter­ing amounts of fold­ing stuff and shipped it home to Perth, only to have it sit dor­mant in his shed. It would prob­a­bly still be sit­ting there if not for the owner’s chance meet­ing with Hugh O’Brien, who was in Perth rac­ing an­other ro­tary. The pair got talk­ing, and an of­fer was ex­tended for Hugh to view the RX-7 race car. As the yarn goes, Hugh, who was not to­tally con­vinced that the dude ac­tu­ally had some­thing of note, de­cided to go any­way. The mo­ment he laid eyes on it, he knew ex­actly what he was look­ing at, de­spite the re­paint it had had. His instant of­fer to pur­chase the car was turned down, but, six months later, the phone rang and he was told, “It’s yours, if you have it gone by the week­end”.

Hugh then set about restor­ing the car to its for­mer glory, com­pletely strip­ping it and get­ting as far as re­paint­ing the Mazdaspeed tub in that iconic BOMEX yel­low, and re­build­ing the 20B, re­plac­ing the steel apex seals with car­bon to pre­serve the hous­ings. How­ever, that was where the resto stopped, and, when Hugh needed money for other things, the RX-7 was the first toy on the chop­ping block. That’s when Ai­dan came into the pic­ture.

Orig­i­nally, Ai­dan had in­tended to bring the car back to New Zealand as it was — in pieces — and give it a com­plete re­build ready to be raced, but, when the mad man be­hind World Time At­tack Chal­lenge (WTAC), Ian Baker, got wind of Ai­dan’s pur­chase, he was on the blower quick smart, de­ter­mined that it would pound laps at WTAC along­side the NISMO S15 that it had once traded paint with on the cir­cuits of Ja­pan; the S15 was also liv­ing out its re­tire­ment in Aussie. Phone calls flew back and forth, and a plan was set in mo­tion whereby Hugh would piece the RX-7 back to­gether, and Ian would take care of the rest, in­clud­ing hav­ing it sign­writ­ten in inch-per­fect 2000 JGTC livery.

That livery is one that is etched into the minds of many older petrol­heads with a dis­po­si­tion for gam­ing, as it is im­mor­tal­ized in Gran Turismo 2. It is for this rea­son that for many — Ai­dan in­cluded — it’s the dream JGTC ma­chine, de­spite be­ing only a GT300, a class of­ten over­shad­owed by GT500, which fea­tured cars such as the TOM’S Supra and the Cal­sonic GT-R.

All Ai­dan had to do was show up at Syd­ney Mo­tor­sport Park and drive the FD for the first time in front of thou­sands of fans — no pres­sure at all! First, how­ever, the team — which was over in Aus running Andy Duf­fin’s FD3S in Open Class — had to fig­ure out how to get the car running, with no idea which switches did what, which fuses worked with what cir­cuit, or even how to get the damn thing fired.

Crack­ing open the vin­tage MoTeC M4, Richard Green was able to get things to a stage at which it was safe for Ai­dan to feed it and also be able to start it. Apart from some new seals, the in­ter­nals of the RE Amemiya 20B en­gine re­mains as run in pe­riod, with the bolts-ons also present, com­plete with the class-man­dated 32mm re­stric­tor, which must be rob­bing the 20B big time — not that you get that feel­ing from be­hind the pedal.

Be­hind the re­freshed and re­painted kit, the rear quar­ters tell a tale of past bat­tles for po­si­tion and plenty of rub­bing’s rac­ing, so clearly plenty of hard driv­ing was needed to take wins

“There is noth­ing too fancy un­der the bon­net; it’s not like they were try­ing to make every last horse­power. So the fo­cus was on torque and mid-cor­ner speed,” Ai­dan says.

Most 20Bs could make 224kW in their sleep, but where this car re­ally dif­fers from your run-of-the-mill FD is in the chas­sis prep. It’s proper race car equip­ment of the high­est or­der yet close enough to still look like an FD. As per class rules, the tub was sup­plied from Mazdaspeed and wears the ID tag show­ing it was one of three built in 1998. While a fac­tory shell orig­i­nally, it’s been mod­i­fied ev­ery­where you look — from ex­ten­sive seam weld­ing to the in­te­grated roll cage and the ge­om­e­try-cor­rect­ing sub­frames. From this stage, the cars would go to the teams and be fit­ted out as each saw fit.

“It’s sur­pris­ing that a lot of the parts are UK-based brands, like Hew­land for the gear­box and Quan­tum for the sus­pen­sion,” Ai­dan tells us. “The UK is ob­vi­ously where mo­tor­sport is its strong­est in terms of tech­nol­ogy, but you would have thought that it would be all Ja­panese brands.”

The car came with an im­pres­sive stack of the very soughtafter cen­tre­lock Des­mond Rega­mas­ter Evos

This is es­sen­tially the last of the GT300 ma­chines be­fore teams shifted to non-OEM-de­rived shells and wild parts such as bell-crank sus­pen­sion. It’s still Mazda FD ar­chi­tec­ture through and through, although most of the sus­pen­sion pick­ups have shifted and parts such as the up­rights are cast race pieces. Which is where the chal­lenge for Ai­dan lies. Each piece will need to be gone over and the spares sorted ready for rac­ing. How­ever, un­like a mod­ern fac­tory-built racer, for which you’d re­ceive a well-doc­u­mented build and set-up info pack list­ing each and every com­po­nent, the team is shoot­ing blind, with noth­ing more than the car it­self to work off. Not that that will stop Ai­dan: “The idea ini­tially was to en­durance race it, and then peo­ple started telling me, ‘You can’t do that’, so I started think­ing, is it too good to do that sort of stuff with? It’s got to be used as a race car; I don’t want it just to sit there. Given that its tech is 20 years old now, it’s not go­ing to be a front run­ner, but it will be great to get it out there and use it as it was in­tended to be used.”

While the per­fec­tion­ist that Ai­dan is wres­tles with the ill-fit­ting pan­els, ham­mered quar­ters, and other race-earned im­per­fec­tions, it looks as if this old dog will come out of re­tire­ment very soon to bat­tle door to door once again — only, this time, it will be here on our soil.

So, on be­half of all oc­tane-fu­elled Ki­wis, I’d like to thank Ai­dan for se­cur­ing this piece of race his­tory for all New Zealand to en­joy. It truly is an icon, and we’re spoiled to have it pound­ing lo­cal pave­ment — now all we need are more lucky JGTC finds to join the party.

You could call the MoTeC M4 vin­tage now. Tuner Richard Green was able to crack it open and see that the last changes were made in 2001 at Fuji Speed­way

HEART EN­GINE: 20B PP, 2000cc, three-ro­tor BLOCK: Pe­riphal ported hous­ings, car­bon apex seals IN­TAKE: Car­bon-fi­bre in­take, JGTC 32mm re­stric­tor, car­bon air-box, MoTeC throt­tle bod­ies EX­HAUST: Three-into-one stain­less head­ers, stain­less ex­haust, small res­onator FUEL: Bosch fuel pump, three 1000cc in­jec­tors, dual fuel tanks with dry breaks IG­NI­TION: NGK plugs ECU: MoTeC M4 COOL­ING: Arc al­loy ra­di­a­tor, Arc oil cooler, Arc diff cooler, car­bon-fi­bre vent

SUP­PORT STRUTS: Quan­tum coilovers BRAKES: (F) 380mm Brembo ro­tors, Brembo six-pot calipers; (R) 355mm Brembo ro­tors, Brembo four-pot calipers EX­TRA: Mazdaspeed-prepped shell with tubbed in­ner guards, Mazdaspeed roll cage, Mazdaspeed sub­frames, RE Amemiya sus­pen­sion arms, ad­justable sway bars, air jacks

PER­FOR­MANCE POWER: Es­ti­mated 224kW FUEL: Gull Force 10

SHOES WHEELS: (F) 18x9.5-inch Des­mond Rega­mas­ter Evo (cen­tre-lock), (R) 18x10.5-inch Des­mond Rega­mas­ter Evo (cen­tre-lock) TYRES: (F) 250/650R18 Yoko­hama Ad­van, (R) 280/680R18 Yoko­hama Ad­van

DRIVER PRO­FILE DRIVER/OWNER: Ai­dan Bar­rett AGE: 37 LO­CA­TION: Taupo OC­CU­PA­TION: In­sur­ance bro­ker LENGTH OF OWN­ER­SHIP: One year THANKS: My very sup­port­ive wife, mum, dad, and en­tire fam­ily, all of who I’m very lucky to have in­volved; Green Brothers Rac­ing, for help­ing to get the car running prop­erly; Andy Duf­fin of 3 Ro­tor Rac­ing and his fam­ily

EX­TE­RIOR PAINT: 2000 JGTC pe­riod livery EN­HANCE­MENTS: RE Amemiya / Bomex-de­vel­oped wide body, car­bon-fi­bre doors, car­bon-fi­bre bon­net, fi­bre-re­in­forced-plas­tic (FRP) guards, FRP bumpers

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