These days, Robbie Ward is a household name within import circles and a regular name in NZ Performance Car. Like many, he first featured in the Under Construction section, in Issue No. six, circa 1997. He had been playing with Nissans for a few years and sent in a picture of a Datsun 1200 coupe that he was building as his serious drag car. Oddly, that picture, or perhaps the solid moustache he rocked in the accompanying photo, saw him win the monthly prize, a V1 Link ECU. Which logo can now be found on Robbie’s door? That of Vi-PEC, of course.
It was early days, but the mechanic from Rotorua was already beginning to stamp his name on Meremere Dragway. “I was doing all the servicing and repairs for a car yard when the first GTS-Ts started coming into the country,” Robbie says. “A salesman took me for a ride in one. It was only a 2.0-litre turbo, but, at the time I was like, holy f**k. I bought one, did it up, and sold it off, and then did another, and another, and away I went.” His first GT-R was only just around the corner, and netted Robbie his first 10-second time slip. That would become somewhat of a regular occurrence over the next 10 or so years, as Robbie’s two-man shop, R.I.P.S Racing, churned out brutal Skyline after brutal Skyline for customers around the world.
All those time slips started to stack up as his own builds became more serious, and, as he attempted to feed the need to go as fast as possible, vehicles like the seven-second 240Z and six-second FED — both former NZ Performance Car cover cars — claimed national and world records for the R.I.P.S team.
The next challenge came in the form of a Stagea, a test mule to prove the worth of his new invention, a 4WD Powerglide trans for an overseas customer, Dave Greenhalgh. The problem he was trying to overcome was the fact manual transmission GT-Rs seem to struggle to leave the line smoothly — they would unleash all that power violently on the line and if the gearbox didn’t break, the pilot would be in for a wild ride as the car darted left and right with every gear change.
‘MGAWOT I’ proved its worth in the one and only season it raced, running a best ET of 8.76s at 257kph in nearly 100-per-cent street trim, with a tank full of E85 and a WOF and rego on the window. Next came Daves own ‘MGAWOT II’, a low eight-second R34 GT-R he races in the UK.
Back here at home, ‘MGAWOT III’ was about to get under way, as Robbie explains: “Glen [Suckling] had mentioned a few times he was thinking about selling the GT-R, but I had told him I wouldn’t want the engine or gearbox. Somewhere along the line he rang me and said yeah, I will sell it without the motor and box. It was the right colour and he is just as fussy as I am, so all the work he had done, I didn’t have to redo. He was very supportive, he wanted to see me get out there and do well.” Robbie had a new goal in mind: the long-standing world GT-R record, held by fellow Kiwi Reece McGregor in the Heat Treatments R32, with a 7.41 at 310kph.
What Robbie was purchasing was no unfinished project that some unknown guy had cobbled together from parts off Trade Me and a $100 MIG welder; the GT-R had been built to the highest level, had a 7.91 under its belt, a world record for the fastest manually shifted GT-R, and it had graced the cover of NZ Performance Car Issue No. 150.
Once the rolling body was in his Rotorua-based shop, it was stripped out and the engine and trans from the Stagea soon installed.
This engine began life as an RB30, before Robbie dropped in Nitto pistons, rods, and a stroker crank to increase capacity to 3.2 litres. A brand-new RB26 head received the full Kelford Cams treatment, with custom-spec cams and valvetrain and a healthy dose of porting. The turbo was actually the Garrett GT47 Glen had run during the years he had campaigned the GT-R. The ECU side of the build was sorted by Vi-PEC with its top-of-the line i88 and a M&W Pro-Drag6 CDI to provide firing power.
The reborn Red Baron MGAWOT III made it to the track at the beginning of the 2013 season. On paper, it looked promising — the R32 was 460kg lighter than the Stagea — but no one, Robbie included, believed it would go a full half second faster than Glen had in the first season: “I thought we would run a seven pretty easily; not at the first meeting or anything, but I thought over time we would get down to around a 7.7 or 7.8, which is where Reece [McGregor] got to after three or four years. Even Godzilla Motorsport in Australia, on good tracks with big tyres and methanol, only went 7.60 and it took quite some time to get there. So I thought there must be something that happens around that ET, as everyone seems to hit a brick wall around that time and it takes a lot of development to get past it. I was more than expecting to hit that wall on Meremere at around 7.7.”
But Robbie unknowingly held a trump card that was going to catapult him well past that perceived brick wall within a few meetings, as he explains: “I’m adamant it was the transmission; we can make it leave the line so smoothly. If you look at the in-car of the 7.48 [achieved in the last meeting of the year], it looks like it’s on rails, whereas the other guys are all over the track from side to side, fighting the car all the way. We aren’t really pushing very hard yet.”
The last meeting of 2013 was really when things got serious, with a 7.60, 7.59, and a 7.48. Jason from Infomotive then put together a tune they believed would put the car well beyond the 7.48, after taking data from a few different runs.
It was the last run of the season for an engine that had now done two seasons of trophy snatching. The R32 left the line hard, but the head lifted around the 150-metre mark and it dropped a cylinder. Then, at the 300-metre mark, it dropped another, but Robbie stayed in it, and, even well down on power and running on four cylinders, the car crossed the line with a 7.59 at 185mph (298kph). Had the head not lifted, the early data showed that run to be quick — really quick. Achieving that in the last run of the season — that’s the kind of thing that plays on a racer like Robbie’s mind all winter long.
The RB32 had been pulled down for a full refresh, there was a second set of big injectors going in, and methanol will replace E85 in the tank. The latest custom-built GTX55 turbo is also on its way from the States, so power figures closer to 1491kW (2000hp) will be on the cards. With the increase in output, grip will be increased via 28x11.5x15 slicks with a new set of wheels. So, yes, it’s fair to say the team will be stepping up their game, and, with the world record almost within their grasp and data collected looking promising, the new goal is to run into the 7.3s at Meremere then take the car to Aussie.
The one area we haven’t mentioned until now is the suspension, and for good reason, as it’s all as it was in NZ Performance Car issue No. 150, right down to the wheel alignment. “We know there are plenty of refinements we could make to the suspension, but we haven’t needed to yet. Once we start to struggle, that’s when we will start to make some changes. The stock R32 rear subframe has terrible geometry, [but] it’s improved in the R33 and even better in the R34. I know if we swap in an R34 one, it’s worth a reasonable amount in the 60-foot,” Robbie says.
Since the original article on the GT-R was published in September 2014, the R.I.P.S Racing GT-R has seen change once again. The stroked RB30 has been rebuilt, and it now has an upgraded Garrett GTX55. The team have also made the upgrade to methanol — a move that didn't come without its headaches. “It certainly gave us some trouble in the beginning. It was a mind f**k to get around, but once we figured out what was causing the issue it took me 30 seconds to fix, although it was a very long process to get to that point,” Robbie explains.
However, the changes and stresses were ultimately worth it, after the GT-R ran a 7.49, 7.45, 7.41, and then an astonishing 7.32 at 191.95mph (307kph) at the 2015 New Zealand IHRA Nationals on March 13–15 at Meremere to clinch the title of the world's quickest four-wheel drive GT-R. “It’s been hundreds of hours behind the scenes with everyone busting their arse. What people see at the track is only a small amount of the work that goes into it,” Robbie said. “It’s always been the goal to get the record at Meremere on the small tyre, we think that’s a great achievement. We are pushing hard to do it, but we’re pretty confident there is more in there.”
More often than not Robbie chooses to run in drag classes with the V8 guys, and over the last few NZDRA/IHRA seasons, running in Super Sedan, the R.I.P.S team claimed more than a few national records, something that sometimes didn’t sit so well with the old guard. They are starting to take note, and not in a pat-you-on-the-back, nice work sort of way, but in a ‘we are going to make submissions for rule changes to even the playing field’. First it was penalties for four-valve heads and EFI, and now it looks like all the indexes will be changed so the older tech cars can be competitive in the class again and separate EFI records will be introduced.
But we aren’t here to discuss the politics of drag racing, and neither is Robbie. Like we said earlier, the team is only focused on one thing, going as fast as possible — something we don’t doubt will happen as the team really begins to start pushing the boundaries of what everyone has thought is achievable with such a set-up. Exciting times are ahead, people, so grab some popcorn and go sit in the stands at Meremere, or in the stands at the forthcoming Brisbane Jamboree — trust us when we say it will be worth it!
1991 Nissan Skyline GT-R
- Model: Nissan RB32 stroker
- Block: RB30, Nitto stroker crank, Nitto pistons and rods, R.I.P.S/Ross dry sump
- Head: Custom-spec Kelford Cams, extensive porting, Kelford valvetrain
- Intake: R.I.P.S plenum, 90mm R.I.P.S throttle body, custom carbon air intake
- Exhaust: Custom stainless exhaust manifold, six-inch stainless dump pipe
- Turbo: Garrett GT47
- Wastegate: Turbosmart 60mm
- BOV: Turbosmart
- Fuel: R.I.P.S custom fuel cell, Aeromotive mechanical fuel pump, Turbosmart regulator, 2500cc injectors
- Ignition: M&W Pro-Drag6 CDI
- ECU: Vi-PEC i88
- Cooling: A.R.E water-to-air intercooler, R.I.P.S 60mm radiator
- Extra: R.I.P.S catch can, Pederson remote filter housing with primer pump
- Gearbox: R.I.P.S custom 4WD Powerglide, R.I.P.S torque split controller, B&M shifter
- Trans: Custom torque converter
- Diff: Factory GT-R limited-slip
- Axles: Custom Driveshaft Shop
- Struts: Bilstein shocks, King Springs
- Brakes: (F) Wilwood Superlite four-pot calipers, custom two-piece rotors; (R) Wilwood Superlite two-pot calipers, custom two-piece rotors
- Wheels: 15x8-inch Bogart Racing drag
- Tyres: 26x10x15 Mickey Thompson slick
- Seat: Racetech
- Steering wheel: Momo
- Instrumentation: Link Dash
- Extra: Carbon dash, carbon door trims, RJS 5-point harness, Wilwood pedal box
- Paint: Air brushing by Spook at Machine Skins, bumper and wing painted by Robs Auto Spray, Rotorua
- Enhancements: R.I.P.S custom front bumper, R.I.P.S drag wing
- Power: 1044kW (1400hp) at the wheels, 1268kW (1700bhp) at the flywheel
- Elapsed time: 7.48 at 189mph (304kph)