Much like the cereal you pour into your bowl each morning, the suspension components found inside the cars of New Zealand’s national drifting series — Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship — comes down to personal tastes. What chassis a driver runs, their driving style, and, of course, what the budget allows dictates how big or little they can go.
With the 2016–’17 season seeing some crazy builds come out of the woodwork, we thought you lot would like to take a closer look at how 10 drivers from both Pro and Pro-Sport classes, and at different levels of their careers, get the job done.
After speaking with the guys, we soon discovered that the size of your wallet doesn’t necessarily determine how successful or ‘interesting’ your set-up will be. From super-high budget kits to the home-built jobbies, we pored over each car so you can get a better idea of how complicated, or simple, it can be to be competitive, and perhaps even learn a thing or two when it comes to your own build.
Mazda FC RX-7 — Andrew Redward (Pro)
Making his return to D1 this season, Californian-turned-Kiwi Andrew Redward has shown up with his out-of-the-box beach-vibe FC. Running C’s Garage 555 knuckles, Andrew has developed his own custom lower control arms (LCAs) to suit, which are based off the factory examples that have been boxed and extended with bigger steel plates on the ball joints for strength. He has also used inner rack spacers to ensure it gets full travel, and tinkered with a lot of the MacPherson components.
“It used to rely a lot on the camber at the top to make all the adjustments, it changed the KPI [king pin inclination] and would get a lot of wheel flop. I brought all [of] that right out and made all the camber adjust at the hub, which means the wheels are turning at a better pivot angle, giving better traction, and better lock.” It doesn’t run much Ackermann in it, but he was quick to tell us it’s definitely not a negative Ackermann set-up. Keeper springs have been installed in the front OZ Racing coilovers after drooping everything down and measuring it out on full bump, where the wheel gets a lot more travel — impeding the front grip on lock — so that it’s not trailing around and is actually doing what it’s meant to be. The rear has had the same done to avoid hitting the bump stop and losing traction on big bumps.
“There’s not much you can do in the way of the rear, so we run Parts Shop Max arms for better alignment.” he said. There are no sway bars front or rear, as the front simply doesn’t fit, otherwise he would test it, and the rear’s been turfed at the advice of others. Depending on the track, he will adjust the rear bump between hard and soft, with smooth tracks being dialled in harder, and bumpier tracks — like Tauranga and Rod Millen’s Hahei driveway — being set softer.
STRUTS: Oz Racing coilovers; (F) 8kg springs, (R) 6kg springs
KNUCKLES: C’s Garage 555
ARMS: (F) custom Lower cotrol arm (LCA), (R) Parts Shop Max
Mazda FD RX-7 — Dylan Woolhouse (Pro)
With a fresh chassis in his hands — one that is far, far lighter and more nimble than the C35 he previously campaigned — Dylan Woolhouse quickly went about finding some serious lock. There was no Wisefab kit available for the FD chassis at the time, so he contacted Darryl from EFI & Turbo to construct the whole lot. The kit they developed consists of a custom steel plate A arms, and knuckle combo, which is spherical rose-jointed throughout.
“I suppose it’s the most New Zealand-ized version you can get [that’s] close to Wisefab,” Dylan told us.
The kit allows for roughly 70 degrees of lock and utilizes a de-powered factory rack with an electric column fitted — no pump, no fluid.
“RX-7s naturally have bugger-all lock — you end up going in and struggling to hold it against the walls … with this you’ve always got enough to play with. We wanted to be as competitive as possible with this car.”
It was a big step up from Dylan’s previous car, which housed a fairly basic set-up, making use of cut and welded knuckles that had been done at home. This car makes use of Tein Super Drift coilovers — a main selling point of the rolling body, Dylan tells us — although he would like to swap the 12kg front springs for heavier units to compensate for the LS. “Going from a rotary to LS is a bit different in weight distribution, and we’re noticing a bit of sway that needs to be looked at.”
The rear uses Townsend Brothers Racing (TBR) arms, and the sway bars were removed to chase some grip. An unfortunate contact with the wall at this round bent one of the top arms up front, but one of the local teams offered to straighten it out at their workshop and he was quickly back out on track to put in some seat time.
“We’ve had lots of silly issues so far that have restricted seat time. The car feels so much faster than what I’m used to, so it’s good to get in the car and get used to it.” Once he gets a better feel for the set-up, they will begin to look at putting more grip into it.
STRUTS: Tein Super Drift coilovers
KNUCKLES: Custom EFI & Turbo
ARMS: (F) Custom EFI & Turbo, (R) custom Townsend Brothers Racing
Nissan S14 — Blair Gribble-Bowring (Pro-Sport)
After reviewing photos and video of his runs from the first round at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr stadium, Blair noticed that the wheels were “travelling in completely different directions”, which prompted a quick shift from his home-built lock kit to a Wisefab option. The S14 kit comes with bottom arms, knuckles, rack spacers, tie rods, and top hats, and, although also provided, Blair CNC machined his own billet top hats, telling us “They’re twice as thick as the Wisefab options, so the strut tower doesn’t have to be altered to deal with camber and breach regulations.”
Although set to a minimal lock setting, the zero Ackermann kit still earned him the title of Entry Boss at a recent event in Taupo — the first event with the new kit.
“It’s made a massive difference … before, you would turn a little bit and there would be bits where the pivot would make it turn into the lock and feel twitchy. With the Wisefab, it’s super smooth the whole way around, and you have direct drive.”
The Final Connection coilovers were an easy decision, coming out of a Stagea that he had purchased — they’ve simply been set and left for now. As for the rear, Blair currently runs Luxury Sports adjustable arms for dialling in the alignment but isn’t too concerned about upgrading at this stage.
“For the power we have [303kW], we can get all the grip we need from playing with tyre pressures. So, at the moment, we’re running around 16psi — when there’s more power we’ll look at switching to a Wisefab rear, but that’s not going to happen for now.”
STRUTS: Final Connection coilovers
KNUCKLES: Wisefab (zero Ackermann)
ARMS: (F) Wisefab bottom arms, Wisefab tie rods, (R) Luxury Sports toe, caster, and camber arms
Holden Commodore VE — Daniel Woolhouse (Pro)
Known for taking ex–cop cars and turning them into tyre-slaying weapons, Fanga Dan doesn’t do things by halves. That’s why, when presented with the issue of what lock kit to run, he and the team decided that it was going to be best to make their own. This consists of scratch-built chromoly lower A-arms, with a rose-jointed front end, and the front carriers have been milled out to create their own lock kit. Ackermann was a large portion of the calculation, and a lot of research was poured into what the guys in the States run in their late-model Camaros, which Fanga tells us has a similar chassis. They tested the pivot points in different places to find the sweet spot, and now that it’s set, they don’t touch it — although there is still some Ackermann dialled into the sweet spot.
“If someone throws an ugly run in front of you, you don’t want to have a set-up that means you can’t deal with it. Over the years of testing, we’ve found that we can max the angle and whip her around like a short wheelbase car, but it becomes undrivable in battles,” Fanga says. “We ran a whole season like that and would qualify well, but run into issues during battles, so we sacrificed a small amount of lock for a smoother drive.”
S14 Tein Super Drifts adorn the front and rear strut towers, which carry a special exemption due to the need to alter the towers to suit.
“Commodores usually have an ugly plastic bearing that runs in a case, but they always smash — if you’re hitting rumble strips, they will just blow to bits. We haven’t shifted the towers, we’ve just made it so instead of a single nut with washer, it now has a three-bolt top to allow for proper top hats.”
The steering rack has been shifted to get the angles right, while a set of custom sway bars can be found in the front and rear.
“The front one runs through the inside of the engine bay, underneath the crank pulley, comes back up through some swivels, and drops through the towers on an angle so it doesn’t interfere with the lock.”
STRUTS: Tein Super Drift coilovers
ARMS: Custom arms, Whiteline rear lower arms
Nissan S15 — Mitch Gibbs (Pro-Sport)
Arguably one of the most serious cars in the Pro-Sport field, Mitch’s S15 uses TDP everything up front, with some Parts Shop Max pieces down the back. Switching over from a Cefiro running Parts Shop Max units, he has noticed a lot more lock in the new chassis, especially with the TDP equivalents.
“There’s so much more adjustment and it’s simpler to set up. TDP supply a whole guide of what they recommend for what you’re trying to achieve, and it’s also better at self-centring, with more Ackermann adjustment.”
With a recommendation of starting at 10mm Ackermann and finding what suits, Mitch’s testing has led to the current set-up with 6mm of Ackermann.
Following a big hit in Dunedin, in which the Fortune Auto front coilovers were damaged, BC Reds have been installed as placeholders while new Fortune Auto units are on their way. The original Fortune Auto rears remain in place, but have been raised slightly. Mitch raised the rear to help get it on the trailer, but discovered that it actually helped generate a bit of grip on the [class maximum] 235 tyres — helpful when you’re pumping out 521kW (700hp).
The rear has been softened as much as possible, running 6kg springs and no sway bar. The rear traction arms have been pulled right forward for more forward bite, and there is a lot of positive camber dialled in to compensate for power load — when it’s tipped in and power is put down, the rear returns to square. Although there is nothing specific he would like to change in terms of components, he would like to jump to Pro to run a bigger tyre in pursuit of more grip.
STRUTS: (F) BC Red coilovers, (R) Fortune Auto coilovers
ARMS: (F) TDP LCA, (R) Parts Shop Max hubs, toe, caster, and camber arms
Nissan S15 — Troy Jenkins (Pro)
Troy’s car has seen a series of developments in the suspension department since switching from Pro-Am to the Pro series, but one aspect that has always stayed true in his car, from the SR to the RB, is the C’s Garage 555 knuckles and LCAs.
“We [Troy and brother Ben] have always run them — it’s such a solid set-up and we’ve never had to replace anything because of breakages. We’ve had a few big hits, including my one at WTAC, but never had an issue.”
It may not be 90 degrees of lock, as Troy tells us, but there is a fair amount of it dialled into the car.
“C’s [Garage] modify the lower knuckle by cutting it, shortening, and re-welding to allow for more movement. They also extended the LCA by cutting, welding in a new section, and then bracing it all underneath.”
Putting it down to a team secret, the set-up still runs a small amount of Ackermann, but Troy ensures us that the steering self-centres as it should without issue. The front utilizes a Whiteline sway bar to compensate for the weight of the RB30.
“It’s really, really heavy when you put it in there, so that was a must,” he says, and the rear still runs the factory item. The shocks are from Stance Suspension in the US, and are also run by Formula D drivers like Forrest Wang and Dan Burkett. The team corner-weighted the S15 to calculate the right spring rates and sent the details over to Stance Suspension, which promptly sent the coilovers and the toe and traction arms to suit.
Troy told us that although the Part Shop Max pieces he had previously run worked well, the Stance Suspension equivalents have made the car a lot more stable, and it is now easier to set up correctly. There’s a lot of mechanical grip in the car, so the team play with dampeners and tyre pressures to suit the track, and the rear generally runs a low spring rate (5kg) to keep it soft and grippy. When things get a bit wet, the rear sway bar will be removed to chase even more grip.
STRUTS: Stance Suspension coilovers; (F) 12kg spring, (R) 5kg spring
KNUCKLES: C’s Garage 555
ARMS: C’s Garage modified LCA, Stance Suspension toe and traction arms
BMW E46 — Daynom Templeman (Pro)
Switching to the E46 chassis for the Daynom Templeman was a decision based on the availability of off-the-shelf steering components, something his old FD RX-7 lacked (at the time). Championship proven, the Wisefab kit has shown its worth straight out of the box. The kit comprises of custom lower control arms, and bolt-in roll centre adjusters, while utilizing the factory knuckle to achieve a zero Ackermann setup. The rear uses the factory BMW trailing arms, while Wisefab adjustable control arms replace the factory items. This removes the lower spring seat, forcing the conversion to a true coilover.
The lower arm mounting points have been altered to mimic Formula D style, which prevents it from travelling on an arc, creating a straight up and down motion.
Brendon from BNR Engineering set everything up, telling us “When we first started to do the wheel alignment for the Wisefab in the front, they said you have X amount of caster, but we wanted it to return faster, so we just upped the caster. It’s now maxed out and the only way to change that would be to change the angle of the strut itself, which becomes hard with regulations.”
They haven’t tried to dial in a lot of mechanical grip, as much of it is occurs naturally at the rear, even with the mammoth amounts of power being put out by the 2JZ. The Fortune Auto coilovers run a 5kg spring in the rear for a soft squat, and custom rear sway bars are switched out to suit different tracks. These range from 16–32mm, with the smallest being run at Tauranga, and the front uses a 32mm option to suit the lock set-up.
“It really all comes down to the throttle. If you want more drive forward, you just stand on it and it will smoke the rears, then you have the steering bits to catch it when it comes around.”
STRUTS: Fortune Auto coilovers
ARMS: (F) Wisefab LCA, (R) Wisefab adjustible control arms, BMW trailing arms
Mazda FC RX-7 — Guy Graham-Bagrie (Pro-Sport)
An under-utilized chassis in previous years, the FC RX-7 has seen a resurgence this season with four examples in the mix. Guy is one of the originals and has been drifting his example for quite some time. The Billspeer knuckles have been a staple in the car for almost as long as he’s driven it, providing all he desires in the way of lock. Because the S4 lower ball joint bolts on, Guy made a 30mm plate that it now sits atop, creating a straighter rack end connection. Although unsure on the exact setting, he believes the Ackermann to be pretty close to zero.
The front did run a sway bar, but, as expected, got in the way of lock and was quickly removed, although he did tell us, “I left the links in there to piss off Neil [crew member] every time he sees them.”
Most people in the FC world will tell you that the rear sway bar is no good, so Guy has binned his and never looked back. The HKS Hyper Ds are very, very old from what he’s told us.
“The rears are not captive, and droop quite a bit when I jack it up. It’s rough and ready, but that’s the next thing on the list to address.”
Tyre pressures and alignment are used to chase grip, with a wee bit of toe-in at the rear to give it some bite. Everything else in the rear is factory, with a camber bar fitted to lift the subframe up to take the camber out — the issue here is that it only mounts to one side and makes it uneven, so he has relocated the links to lift it up a bit further and help to balance things out.
“It does squat a fair bit, which is good for grip, but that’s probably more because of the shot shocks.”
STRUTS: HKS Hyper D
ARMS: (F) 30mm plate spacer, (R) camber bar
Datsun 1200 — Ian McShean (Pro-Sport)
One of the first things pointed out to us by the owner of the Rotang Datsun (1200), Ian McShean, was that it’s very evidently a “skid pig turned drift car”. Bear that in mind, and the fact that, with a car of this age and style, there isn’t much in the way of aftermarket support, let alone that which would allow massive lock.
To improve upon the situation, Darryl from EFI & Turbo was employed to graft in a set of modified S14 knuckles; they have been cut down and crack tested, while the front arms remain factory S14 examples that have been transferred over and persuaded to fit.
“We had to get an exemption to run the S14 steering rack because of the mounting points,” said Ian, “but we can’t dial out the camber caused by the set-up due to the regulations around strut towers.”
The amount of room the small-statured wagon offers certainly doesn’t help, leaving much to be desired when trying to craft alternative components. While the front runs S14 coilovers, the rear utilizes a simple flipped leaf-spring system, with custom tramp rods to prevent the live-axle diff from pinioning. “It’s like driving a wheelbarrow … there’s no power-steering, so the arm pump is pretty incredible, and it will grip a lot [when] putting power down, and get loose off the power — it’s a weird concept.”
STRUTS: (F) S14 coilovers, (R) flipped leaf springs
KNUCKLES: Modified S14
ARMS: (F) Factory S14, (R) custom tramp rods
Nissan C33 — Josh Smith (Pro-Sport)
An example of competing with minimal budget and the support of friends as crew, Josh’s set-up keeps it fairly simple. He runs a GKtech super lock kit that encompases a knuckle, LCA, and rack ends. It previously ran a C’s Garage 555 knuckle set up, but the change to the GKtech pieces suit his style of driving better, allowing for a smoother switch.
“It doesn’t have any bump steer and all that now, just lots more lock,” Josh told us.
For struts he runs whatever was handy at the time, being the entry-level go-to option of BC Gold coilovers up front and D2 coilovers in the rear.
“It is what it is really — I just f*cking drive it hard. Don’t mess around with spring rates, just chuck ’em in there and leave ’em be.”
The rear is equally as simple, with Hardrace camber and toe arms.
“I’m pretty happy with it at the moment, eh. It gets power to the ground well, and we’ll change tyre pressures to suit. Today it’s sitting around 26psi with a good squat.”
The rear sway bar is a factory option, while the front has been binned to allow for better lock.
STRUTS: (F) BC Gold coilovers, (R) D2 coilovers
ARMS: (F) GKtech LCA, GKtech rack ends, (R) Hardrace camber and toe arms