To the untrained eye, Nascar seems like nothing more than a bunch of rednecks running flat out around a track consisting of two left turns and two straights, in front of a grandstand packed full of gun toting, beer-swigging southerners. And while this is pretty close to the truth, with millions of diehard fans glued to every 10-car pile-up, the win on Sunday sell on Monday philosophy means manufacturers like Toyota, Chevy, Ford and Dodge (until it pulled out) don’t mess around when it comes to throwing money into car and engine development to gain an edge. And the sheer scale of Nascar has created its own parts market for those outside the sport scooping up spare engines, second-hand parts and complete cars at hard-to-argue-with bargain prices. All you have to do is look at a race series like the local Central Muscle Cars, with most of the front-runners utilizing Nascar components, to see the effect this has on the ability to trophy-snatch in your local series.
But what does all that have to do with Cole Armstrong? Well, sitting under the bonnet of his new Nissan G35 drift car is the heart of a fully-blown Nascar, a 5.9-litre Dodge R5/P7 V8. Developed in the early 2000s and run until 2008, these engines are not modified production power-plants, but race motors engineered from the ground up. Each and every component used is there for performance, there’s no emissions crap, no cost cutting or concern about fuel economy, these engines were built with one thing and one thing only in mind — to be reliable and to dominate. For the last two years, as Cole’s new build has progressed, the team has managed to keep the engine combination under wraps, which kept everyone guessing. But the moment that race-prepared V8 fire into life at the car’s unveiling, there was no denying the roar of Nascar had come to D1NZ.
The choice to run the Dodge motor was no impulse buy off eBay, the team carried out extensive research in the hunt for the perfect power solution and priced up numerous options, but bang for buck you just couldn’t beat what the Mopar had to offer. Best of all, the engine was local, as a GTRNZ racer had purchased it brand new from Kroyer Racing Engines, only to find it wouldn’t fit his chassis. The only question was, would an engine designed to run flat out at high rpm and around in circles work well in a drifting application? This was somewhat of an unknown, as only a couple of guys overseas had gone down that route, including Team RSR with its TRD Nascar-powered Toyota 86, and Daigo Saito, who is building a Dodge Viper powered by an R5.
The problem is that Nascar engines are engineered to run at full throttle, so the cam profile makes everything happen up the top of the rev range and there’s not a whole lot anywhere else. That was something Cole considered, “We knew the engine was down on mid-range torque, when we first picked it up Marsh Motorsport ran it on the engine dyno and it made the expected 850hp [634kW] at the fly and 450lb/ft [610Nm] of torque with the carburettor still on.” Similar to what Daigo and RSR had done, Cole made the switch to EFI, running eight 1000cc injectors, a plenum with a large 117mm throttle body and a Link G4 Plus Extreme ECU. Tuner Carl Ruiterman was able to pull back some of mid range power it had lacked, which is ideal for the on-off-throttle style of drifting. “We know Mikey (‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett) can make the four-rotor work, which has a similar powerband, he just has to drive it differently. We assumed the V8 will be similar and that I would just have to learn to drive it.” You see there was another consideration which anyone with a love of cars will understand. Those Nascar engines just sound so damn badass: “Drifting is as much about being competitive as it is about putting on a show, and the sound of the thing is unlike anything else in the sport.”
But this car is a lot more than just a fancy race engine slapped inside a Japanese shell. The team has taken time with every aspect to make sure it’s perfect. Cole has always been a Skyline man from the days of his street-spec R32, through to the R34 coupé that saw its demise in Sydney and the current R34 sedan. “I have always loved sedans, and wanted something modern. We picked up the 250 [R35 250GT] from Turners for $2000. It was written off by the insurance company due to a frontal, but the damage was minimal. It was near perfect, and I drove it around as my daily driver for four months before tearing it apart. It was so mint I didn’t want to turn it into a race car.” Thankfully Cole got over his love affair with daily driving the 250, and eventually pulled it into the workshop and tore it apart. Over the next two years the build transformed from street car to D1NZ pro-spec machine. Battle Cage built a full roll cage, and the team began selecting the engine and suspension components. But as we all know, money doesn’t grow on trees, and Cole’s account was looking pretty slim. After all, he was still competing in D1NZ during the build, and those sponsorship dollars don’t stretch as far as you would think. The solution came when he packed up and moved to Perth to chase that almighty dust money. A solid seven months of hard labour got together the necessary funds to continue, and complete the project. “With my hard work earning as much cash as I could, and good friends and deals, we were able to carry on with this beast like a true grassroots drifter, wheeling and dealing and finding out what could work as cheaply as possible.”
Although building to a tight budget, Cole knew he needed to spend some money on the suspension department to get the competitive chassis he was after. Unlike the R34, which uses mostly modified standard stuff, the 250 was equipped with Whiteline adjustable sway bars, Parts Shop Max front hubs and an adjustable steering kit and fully adjustable rear arms. The coilovers chosen were high-end KW Suspension two-way adjustables. All this matched with the blessed factory geometry should make for a very competitive car.
Many people dismiss the 250 as a good base, but on paper it makes for compelling reading when it’s stacked up against the R34. “The body is 40mm shorter, but the wheelbase is 120mm longer. It has a very short boot, and with all the concrete tracks we are running it should allow us to basically put the back wheel on the wall. The wheelbase is also wider and longer with a better weight balance. We were able to set the V8 real far back, with six of the eight cylinders behind the struts, unlike the R34, with which half the engine sits over.”
But the biggest question still remained. It looked good on paper, but would it work on the track?
The base alignment settings from the R34 were dialled in, and the team got into the first testing session. There is no denying this car has the credentials to be competitive, and the Armstrong drift team has taken its time to build it right. Using a combination of years of knowledge gained with the R34 chassis and plenty of research, the package is showing lots of promise.
During the initial test Cole performed a few demo laps, and a mammoth burnout that destroyed one side of the bodywork and the rear diff cradle in front of the V8 Supercar crowd, and the car will now undergo some serious testing. “Over the winter we plan to do a lot of testing and hit the ground running come next season. We have built this car to be competitive, but we also now have the luxury of a two-car team, able to select which car is more suited to which track. I have a few changes to make to the R34, it’s still really fast and a solid second car. The idea is to have both cars very similar, so I can jump from one to the other.” But understandably at the moment the 250 is a completely different animal. The additional 100kg of weight, the different centre of the gravity, the extra lock and rear bite give it a completely different feel.
What feedback he could obtain from the few test laps gave Cole a few ideas on how to improve the new chassis, and a feel for how it responds to his inputs. The engine has very little rotational mass, and backed by a light flywheel, the chassis reacts instantly once you get on or off the gas. Cole hopes this will come into play when he’s looking for proximity during chase battles, and allow him to get up close and personal on the lead car’s door.
With five months to test before the new D1NZ season kicks off, there will be plenty of time for him to come to grips with the new chassis. With a new look, a new logo and a new car, Cole is here to gun for that elusive D1NZ DK crown. Will the 2014–2015 season be his time to shine? Only time will tell!
MAKE AND MODEL: 2002 Nissan Skyline G35 250GT
ENGINE: Dodge Mopar R5/P7 5.9-litre, eight cylinder
BLOCK: Dodge R5 select castings, Winberg crankshaft, Carrillo tapered beam connecting rods, JE pistons, Dailey dry sump pump, fabricated stainless oil pan
HEAD: Comp Cam, Manton three-piece pushrods, Dodge R5 select castings, complete CNC machining and porting to Kroyer Racing Engines (KRE) specs
INTAKE: Custom EFI manifold, 117mm throttle body, Bosch 1000cc injectors
EXHAUST: Sinco Customs 4-2-1 headers, twin 3.5-inch straight-through exhaust
FUEL: Two Bosch 044 main pumps, Walbro in-tank 373kW lift pump, 5.0-litre surge tank, Aeromotive fuel regulator, Bosch 1000cc injectors, custom fuel rails
IGNITION: MSD ignition coils, NZEFI igniters and coils, Link 2.5 bar map sensor
ECU: Link G4 Plus Extreme
COOLING: 110mm thick C&R Racing radiator with in-built oil cooler
EXTRA: Peterson 11.3-litre dry sump tank, custom power steering reservoir, external high mount radiator tank, 500ml V Energy can radiator overflow, -20 braided dry sump line, -16 braided dry sump feedline, de-loomed engine bay
GEARBOX: Jasper four-speed dogbox
CLUTCH: Performance Auto Clutch twin plate, Tilton pressure plate
FLYWHEEL: Custom lightened
DIFF: Nissan R230 LSD
EXTRA: Wilwood pedal box, custom two-piece Regal Automotive driveshaft
STRUTS: KW Suspension twi-way adjustable coilovers
BRAKES: (F) Nissan GT-R four-pot calipers, slotted rotors, (R) twin Nissan GT-R two-pot calipers, slotted rotors, custom hydraulic handbrake
EXTRA: Whiteline subframe bushes, Whiteline adjustable sway bars, Part Shop Max adjustable steering kit, Part Shop Max lower arms, adjustable rear arms
WHEELS: (Drift) 18×10-inch TBC Torque, (show) 19×10.5-inch TBC Torque
TYRES: 265/35R18 Westlake RS
PAINT: Steve Sole Customs painted interior and roll cage, full custom wrap applied and designed by Sign Studio
ENHANCEMENTS: Custom front bumper by Keri Composites
SEATS: Sabelt Taurus
STEERING WHEEL: Sportline
POWER: 500kW at the rear wheels
Driver/owner: Cole Armstrong
Build time: 20 months
Length of ownership: 24 months
Previously owned cars:
Thanks: Tim Robinson, Alain Thomson, Conrad Williams, Andrew Smith, Steve Sole at Steve Sole Customs, Rick Gregory at Battle Cage, Ashley Nunn, Carl Ruiterman, Dan Kane, Glen Hodges, Gavin Thomas, Adam Worsnop, Allan at Endeavour Engineering, Mum and Dad — Bryce and Leanne, Mike at Sinco Customs, E&H Motors, Chris Allen, Craig Hyland, The Bling Company, BNT Automotive, Mark West, Mobil 1, Neil at Performance Auto Clutches, Heath Lett, and anyone else I may have forgotten, as there have been so many people helping me get this car to where it is now — thank you.
Words: Marcus Gibson Photos: Adam Croy