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Templeman of speed — Inside Zenith Motorsport’s workshop

16 January 2015

Hidden deep within the suburban sprawl that is the North Shore of Auckland is the headquarters of one of the hardest-working drift teams in New Zealand, Zenith Motorsport 

No doubt you will be familiar with the name Daynom Templeman, although perhaps not the man behind the scenes, Daynom’s ever-supportive dad Dave. Tucked down the back of Dave’s home for the past 15 years, the rather large workshop isn’t what you would expect to find when you pull up the drive. 

Some sheds are clinically clean like a surgeon’s operating theatre, while others are hopelessly messy. The Templemans’ work space slots in perfectly between these — it’s one of those places that oozes racing history, which is chronicled through broken parts, old photos, selected trophies, and countless bits of memorabilia collected throughout their years of racing. And, despite its size, the shed is still bursting at the seams with parts and projects — from Dave’s first-gen classic RX-7 rally car project through to Daynom’s own first-gen RX-7 street car, and, of course, their Formula Drift (FD) RX-7 drift cars and other machines of historical significance to Daynom’s career, like the Eta Ripples Formula Ford and Toyota Racing Series (TRS) two-seater.

When we stopped by, things were relatively quiet for the team, this being the local off season and two months out from the next international event. The team’s latest creation, the RX-7 known as ‘Leroy’, was off getting some upgrades while ‘Ginger’, its sister car, sat patiently in a rare 100-per-cent complete state. 

Daynom had found some spare time and was putting it to use, adding a few finishing touches to his first-generation RX-7 rebuild, a car that holds plenty of history for both Daynom and Adam, our photographer, who had ridden in it to his Form 2 ball. It has been off the road for nearly 10 years, but when you’re running a race programme as busy as the Templemans’ is, projects like this are bound to drag on. Now nearing the end, it features a 13B bridge-port engine with a Racing Beat manifold and IDA, which should make for a fun little streeter. 

Dave, on the other hand, was busy building a new spare-parts carrier in an attempt to make life on the road a little easier for their next overseas trip. The idea is to load it into their specially built car container — alongside all the toolboxes, the pit trolley, and, of course, one of the cars — in a few weeks’ time for their trip to the final round of the FD Asia Series in Sydney. 

As the boys carried on working, we took the opportunity to soak in a bit of that history floating around on the walls. To explain where all the memorabilia comes from, we’d need to head back to when Daynom was an 11-year-old, following his father’s footsteps into off-road racing. Daynom quickly found his feet and began taking scalps. By 17, he was the youngest-ever winner of the Woodhill 1000 and had a trophy cabinet absolutely bursting at the seams.

The next venture saw him stepping into Formula Ford, claiming third in his debut season and rookie of the year. Soon taking his talents overseas, Daynom found success in both off-roading and Formula 2000. In 2001, when he was offered a drive for a Formula 3 works team in Europe, it was as if Daynom might fulfil his goal of racing Indy Lights. But, to make it at that level of motorsport takes more than just raw talent; it also requires serious amounts of the folding stuff. We aren’t talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, more like tens of millions, and, by 2003, its lack of funding saw the team resigned to the fact its Indy dreams would remain just that, despite the buckets of promise Daynom was showing behind the wheel. 

Back home, the team tried its hand at TRS, NZV8 Touring Cars, rally, and speedway midgets, in all of which Daynom performed well. But drifting soon brought the circuit racing to a halt. Without so much as a test drive in a drift car, the team purchased its first RX-7 directly from Japan, as Daynom explained: “We have always been a rotary family, and I had always wanted an RX-7. We knew Ian [Sheppard], who helped build both JT and Mike’s RX-7s, so decided we would build one. The guy who built it [the RX-7 the team bought] had done some really dodgy shit. The bolt-on cage had chair-leg extensions, the seat was held in with wood and PK screws, and the wiring was basically just twisted together. I have no idea how it ran.” 

Ever since then, the team hasn’t stopped trying to get the formula right. It’s been a really hard slog over the last five years, and very trying, at times, as it has dealt with engine-combo reliability issues and steering that just plain didn’t work. This all resulted in non-stop rebuilds, reworking, and complete new builds along the way. 

Scattered throughout the workshop, we spotted leftover pieces we recognized from past versions of the RX-7s — even the block in Daynom’s first-generation RX-7 is actually the original 13B from Ginger, the car it sits above on the hoist. 

And though the team is now getting close to a set-up it is happy with in both FD cars, we doubt it will rest easy. “Drifting is constantly evolving. You see, teams think they have it right when their LS makes 400kW and then stop developing, only to find everyone else has progressed to that next level,” Dave told us. With drifting a relatively unregulated sport, development is the only way to stay at the top. To put it into perspective, in 2006, when the RX-7 known as Ginger first hit the dyno, it made 273kW. The last time they ran it up, it shut the dyno down.

The biggest move forward for the team has been switching to 2JZs in both RX-7s, and it’s been a revelation. Even the monster 20B didn’t come close in performance terms, Daynom explained: “The first time I drove the 2JZ, I was like, fucken woo hoo; those other guys have been cheating, this is way easier. It’s taken us five years to get it right, and we are nearly there.” But, as we said before, the team isn’t about to relax, with plans afoot which it was very cagey about divulging. We suspect there must be a new project in the works to take things to the next level, but the team wasn’t about to let us in on family secrets. 

These days, the pair is taking a slight step back, with Brendan Thomas handling quite a bit of fabrication on the race cars, allowing Dave and Daynom more time to focus on the family business. But you will still find them working away together in the shed, as they were when we visited. It’s one of the reasons they love drifting. It’s a cheap sport compared with some of the other disciplines they have tried — you can still be competitive, and not just place-filler in the field, if you’re running your international programme from the shed in your backyard. 

We soon realized we had wasted the better part of a day digging through the Templemans’ place and decided to leave them to get some real work done, taking with us Henning Solberg’s Ford Focus WRC bumper — which he’d smashed off at the Hampton Downs Special stage in 2012 — as a sweet memento for the office wall. Thanks for sharing your shed with us, guys, and good luck at FD next month.