Darren Kelly became the first driver to win both the Pro and Pro-Am championship, but what does it take to get there? We sat down with him to find out

Beaten, battered and bruised is how we would described Darren Kelly’s Hi-Tec Oils R34 Skyline following his win at Pukekohe Park Raceway. For Darren it was the end to a dream season, one in which he consistently finished in the top four to eventually claim the Pro championship trophy in only his second season in the Pro ranks. His R34 took a hammering during the event thanks to some of the worst weather seen at a round of the national championship, and we figured it was the perfect opportunity, so we dragged it straight into the studio after the victory skids to take a closer look at exactly what it took to win the 2014/2015 Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship. 

The R34 four-door sedan was purchased as a stock-as-a-rock roller by DKM Fabrication just after Darren’s Pro-Am championship win in 2011. His championship-winning R32, a car that had taken him from the streets of West Auckland’s industrial heartland to subsequent podiums, donated the majority of components, including a 350kW RB30 and four-speed Jerico dog box. Darren hadn’t always been an RB man, it just sort of happened, as he told NZPC. “Drifting was just starting out in New Zealand, and there weren’t as many track days as there are now, so I think a lot of guys resorted to the streets. My first real drift car was a two-door R32 Skyline that I came across cheap: at that stage I didn’t really have a prefered drift car. I knew what Skylines were, as mates had them, but starting out I never really had a prefered car until I got that R32 and did a manual conversion, a bigger turbo, and got carried away. I had that for a few years and ended up blowing the 20DET up and put in an RB25. I ended up stripping that car and purchasing my four-door R32 that I did Pro-Am in.” 

After only four track days and some other ‘practice’, Darren entered a few rounds of D1NZ Pro-Am to get a feel for how competitive he would be. He continued, “We then spent the off-season building the R32 into something that would be competitive. We went all-out in the areas that needed to be reliable, building a forged motor, and we got a dog box real cheap as I was having endless troubles with the RB25 boxes. The dog box doesn’t necessarily make it easier to drive, but I keep bending selectors from changing second-to-third or third-to-fourth too fast, and then it would only half engage the gear and blow the box.” The Jerico is clearly up to the task, as Darren hasn’t had issues in three seasons.

So with a short off-season in hand, Darren and the DKM team got to work building the R34, and before they knew it Darren was on the grid for round one of the 2013/2014 Pro season, and suddenly facing off against guys he had looked up to, guys Darren knew had been doing this since day one. “It was sort of hard to judge coming into the first year of Pro. We changed a lot of stuff to try and be as fast as they are, switching to 265s and getting a high boost tune [410kW]”. That day we got all the way to the top eight, and beat Fanga straight off the bat, that was a good confidence boost coming into the series with these guys who are the best in New Zealand. You don’t think you can beat them, so when you do it’s a massive confidence boost.” Darren went on to take his first podium at round six, and ended up finishing inside the top 10 overall for the season.

Coming into the 2014/2015 season, with a bit more seat time and a feel for how the others drove, that dream of winning the Pro Championship was there, but even after winning the NAC Drift Nationals and weeks later the first round of Demon Energy D1NZ, they still thought that one of the veterans would soon overtake. It wasn’t until round three, and they were still in the series lead, that thoughts of actually winning the championship began to sink in. But that didn’t stop the team undertaking a huge amount of mid-season changes to the R34 in the search for a perfect set-up, something Darren felt he still hadn’t reached with the car. But with someone who is a self-confessed nut for fine-tuning set-ups, that is to be expected.

The steering was a big factor as the Keto knuckles it ran all the first season had come straight from the R32, and while they managed to get them working in the 34, they were never meant to run in an R34 and were therefore not giving optimum angle or feedback. “The TDP super angle kit just sort of came about. I saw how Gaz Grove’s car performed with the TDP set-up, and I was impressed with how much angle it had. So when I was offered a set-up for an R34 I had to jump at it just to try it out.” Pressed for time, the team has still to fully get a handle on the capabilities of the available adjustments, as they were forced to basically put it in and run settings they knew would work to make it through the next round of the championship. Darren is understandably keen to start playing around with adjustments during the off season, stuff like the Ackerman, and really unearth the package’s potential. 

After running a bearing at Christchurch last season, the new block was honed to take oversized 86.5mm RB26 CP pistons with Manley forged rods. The head is an RB26 item, which has been ported and polished and runs a set of 264/272 cams with HKS valve springs. Trainspotters will note the water pump delete to allow for an EWP 

The engine combo also went through a mid-season change, with a move to a large exhaust housing on the Garret turbo (.82), and the switch over to E85 after some very in-depth research. “It’s sort of something I have wanted to do for a long time but we were a bit hesitant, but after researching some of the gains we would get out of it, they far outweighed the extra work, and having Glenn Suckling help us out with it, he told us everything we needed to look for and keep a top off. It’s been pretty full-on but the gains make it worth it.” Just how worth it? Well now the RB is hitting full boost at only 3000rpm, makes an extra 55kW on the same boost settings, and sees power figures as high as 527kW depending on the amount of boost dialled in. This means that at most of the tighter tracks a 4.00 diff ratio will allow Darren to stay in third gear, with enough low-down torque and without stretching the top end of the gear too much. 

Inside it’s a workhorse through and through. Darren will upgrade the seats and harness to FIA-spec equipment before Australia due to its differing regulations. He was one of the first drivers to begin wearing a HANS device 


Coming away from Christchurch the team was very happy with how the car felt, and Darren’s confidence was growing by the battle. He reflected on how that’s progressed his driving heading into the final. “It all comes back to the confidence thing. Once you start getting those podiums it’s easier to drive to your full potential and get another podium. A lot of it comes down to your mind, you might not think you can do it so your body won’t put 100 per cent into it, but once you’re confident and your driving at 100 per cent it’s easier to develop that much-needed aggression and further your driving. If you were to compare last year’s Christchurch and this year’s Christchurch you would see a huge difference in my driving.” 
Taking first in the D1NZ Pro championship means Darren is headed to Aus to compete against their best drivers on an international level. But first the car will require one rather large birthday, which will include all-new panels and both the motor and box being stripped down for inspection.

It looks as if the R34 will then head back to New Zealand to make its return to the grid for the 2015/2016 season with a package that Darren’s team are confident can stick it to the V8s. But what’s best of all is that Darren admits he is yet to flick the high boost (527kW) switch, something we hope to see next season — those Westlake semis don’t stand a chance. 
Can Darren earn back-to-back championships? I guess we will have to wait till the season kicks off in October to find out. 

2001 Nissan Skyline R34

  • Engine: Nissan RB30DET, 3000cc, six-cylinder
  • Block: Decked Nissan RB30E block, Manley forged rods, oversized RB26 (86.5mm) CP pistons
  • Head: Nissan RB26DETT, ported and polished, 264-degree intake cam, 272-degree exhaust cam, HKS valve springs
  • Intake: RB26DETT intake manifold
  • Exhaust: Three-inch stainless system, twin dumps
  • Turbo: Garrett GT35/82R, .82 turbine housing
  • Wastegate: Turbosmart
  • BOV: Turbosmart Raceport
  • Fuel: Twin Bosch 044 pumps, half-inch fuel lines, Speedflow fittings, Turbosmart fuel reg, ID2000cc injectors, Jazz fuel cell
  • Ignition: Spitfire coils
  • ECU: Link G4 Extreme
  • Cooling: Fenix dual pass, EWP
  • Extra: DKM catch can


  • Gearbox: Jerico four-speed, dog-engagement gear-set
  • Clutch: 6.25-inch (159mm) Quartermaster triple-plate
  • Flywheel: Lightened 
  • Diff: R200 (3.5, 4.08, 4.1) 
  • Extra: Five-bolt axles


  • Struts: OZ Racing coilovers 
  • Brakes: (F) Four-pot calipers, DBA rotors (R) two-pot calipers, DBA rotors, hydraulic handbrake with Wilwood master cylinder 


  • Wheels: (F) 18x9-inch Rota D2-EX  (R) 18x10-inch Rota D2EX
  • Tyres: 265/35R18 Westlake Sport RS semi slicks


  • Paint: Custom wrap and graphics 
  • Enhancements: Luxury Sports R34 front guards, Luxury Sports rear overfenders, Luxury Sports vented bonnet, drag-style alloy wing, Luxury Sports front bar, Luxury Sports rear bar, Luxury Sports side skirts with carbon trim 


  • Seats: Bride replicas 
  • Steering wheel: OMP suede 
  • Instrumentation: Auto Meter oil, water and oil-pressure and boost gauges 


  • 410kW 11psi
  • 490kW 17psi
  • 527kW 21psi 

Driver profile

  • Driver/owner: Darren Kelly 
  • Age: 26
  • Location: Auckland
  • Occupation: Owner at the Graphic Lab
  • Build time: Three months 
  • Length of ownership: Two years
  • Thanks: I couldn't be doing what I do without the help and support from the amazing brands that back us, so a huge thanks to Hi-Tec oils, DKM Fabrication, The Bling Company, Turbosmart, ilabb, Link ECU, NZ Performance Car Magazine, EPIK Eyewear, Fenix Radiators, TDP, Random Cool Stuff, Zero 9 Signs, Platinum Wheels, and Luxury Sports; my awesome crew Haley, Ricky, Liam, Sean and Richard

This article was originally published in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 227. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below:

Marcus Gibson

Marcus Gibson has spent his life getting a little grease under his fingernails growing up with a fascination for all things loud, fast, and low. Growing up during the boom of the import scene, the last ten years have seen him work for a few publications, as well as running his own website before taking up a role at NZ Performance Car in 2011. Marcus is as at home with a keyboard or camera in-hand as he is getting dirty in his workshop or at the track, championing that Kiwi DIY attitude.