A REAL-DEAL GT300 MACHINE LANDS IN NEW ZEALAND, AND WE DRIVE IT!
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