As we head into Formula Drift’s 10th year of competition, it’s staggering to think about how far American professional drifting has come in that time. What started out as a strange new form of motorsport bred on the tracks and roads of Japan has become an entirely new animal. Pro drifting in 2013 is bigger, louder, faster, and has more exposure than ever.
It wasn’t always like that though. During its first few years in the states, drifting was largely a ‘tuner’ phenomenon. As much as it was a motorsport spectacle, it was a place where aftermarket companies could demonstrate the worthiness of their products in an exciting and competitive environment.
Along with the subsequent growth of the sport, there’s been a major shift in terms of cars, sponsors, drivers and just about everything else. Everyone from energy drink makers to OEM car manufacturers got in on the act, and from that point onwards the days of beat up turbocharged S13s or screaming AE86s dominating the sport were numbered.
Take a look down today’s Formula Drift grid and you’ll see some very radical machines. Race car-derived chassis and suspension design, and engines nearing and exceeding quadruple digit horsepower levels are the norm. These are big budget cars built for competition from the ground up. Aftermarket manufacturers still have a big place in the sport of course, but it’s a far cry from the early days of garage-built drift cars laden with bolt-on tuner parts.
So the question is, can there be a car that can be competitive in today’s intense Formula Drift series while staying true to the sport’s Japanese tuner car roots? I think the answer is yes: case-in-point the Scion Racing x GReddy FR-S driven by Ken Gushi.
With the support of Scion, the FRS was entirely built at GReddy USA’s headquarters in Irvine, California in time to make its Formula Drift debut last season. With a well known Japanese tuner heading up the build, it was in many ways a return to the early days of drifting. But instead of using one of those older platforms, the team used the highly anticipated Scion FR-S their base – a car that harkens back to uncomplicated FR sports cars of the ’80s and ’90s.
The Scion Racing x GReddy FR-S debuted last spring to much excitement. After all, it was one of the first ZN6-based drift cars in the world and it was on track before the FR-S was even available dealerships. Despite the fact they were working with a brand new platform, Ken and the team had a great run 2012, breaking into the Top 8 in Long Beach and eventually securing an eighth place finish in the final season standings.
So when it came time to prepare the car ready for the 2013 season, it’s not surprising that GReddy went for a more evolutionary approach. The result of the team’s offseason efforts is a natural progression from what they achieved in 2012, rather than a major reinvention of the car.
Under the hood, the Cosworth CS600 EJ25-based powerplant hasn’t changed dramatically from 2012-spec, but there have been a few revisions to further improve both power and reliability. Namely, there’s a big open space where the v-mount intercooler and radiator setup once was…
…and that’s because the radiator has now been relocated to the rear of the car. The result should be more efficient cooling as the Formula Drift circuit tours across America through the heat of summer.
Just as importantly, the relocation of the radiator to the rear helped to free up extra space for a larger GReddy turbocharger and a custom manifold. Not only has this helped the car to put down more power and torque to fight the V8s, but it’s also resulted in a smoother powerband and better drivability for Ken.
That’s in addition to the nitrous system that further helps to reduce turbo lag, while providing cooling. When it debuted last year the car was equipped with an anti-lag system, but it was replaced with N2O mid-way through season.
With the upgrades to the powerplant the car is now putting down 650 horsepower and 550 foot pounds of torque. It sounds like a lot, but still pretty mild compared to the massive numbers most of the FD front runners are playing with these days. It’s all by design though, as the goal here has always been to have an agile and responsive machine, rather than a total powerhouse.
At 2,800lbs (1270kgs), the changes to the FR-S did bump the car to the next tire size/weight class, but the team thinks that it’s a worthwhile trade-off for the improved power and drivability. Just as it did during the car’s initial development, GReddy worked closely with suspension specialist KW to get the car dialed in on its new, wider Hankook tires. The result should be higher speeds but no loss in agility.
Another area where the car saw changes over the offseason was in the cockpit. You can never over stress the importance of safety, so GReddy teamed up with Takata Racing in this department.
Takata supplied a pair of its LE FIA racing seats along with its Race 6 harnesses to keep Ken and any lucky passengers secure.
In addition, Ken will be wearing a HANS (Head And Neck Support) device for added safety. As Formula Drift competition continues to get faster and more intense, it’s only logical that there’s safety equipment to match.
While the changes beneath the skin have been more evolutionary, the exterior of the car has had a heavy makeover for the upcoming season. First and foremost is the addition of a GReddy x Rocket Bunny wide body kit.
Since GReddy is the official distributor for Rocket Bunny in the US and Japan, it’s only natural that its homegrown Formula Drift car should be equipped with the now world-famous kit. Kei Miura, Rocket Bunny’s well-known designer, will also be heading to Long Beach this weekend to see the car in action.
While I know there’s plenty of blacklash in certain circles over the aesthetic appeal (or lack thereof) of many Formula Drift cars, I have to say GReddy has done a fine job of giving the FR-S a refined, stylish look. The aggressive Rocket Bunny fenders look great matched with the gunmetal colored RAYS Gram Lights 57DR wheels.
In addition to that, there’s the all new livery designed by none other than Mr. Jon Sibal. The scheme takes the colors of GReddy’s decades-old race livery, but finishes it off with a modern twist.
The goal with the car’s exterior was to have the vibe of a more traditional Japanese drift car, and I think it’s worked. Not just in terms of the exterior, but really on the entire approach behind the machine as a whole.
Then of course there’s the driver. There really couldn’t be a a better fit for the car than Ken Gushi, who’s been involved with American drifting since the very beginning. He began as a teenager sliding around at those early SoCal parking lot drift days, but today is one of the sport’s most recognizable figures, both nationally and internationally.
With a full season of competition behind them, the team has high hopes of making a run at the championship in 2013, and possibly taking an event win or two along the way.
So while the GReddy x Scion Racing effort has already proven to be capable of success in the ultra-competitive Formula Drift series, its also brought back the spirit of drifting’s early years.
In essence, this is the traditional Japanese tuner drift car updated for the modern era. How will the machine do in competition? We’ll find out this weekend in Long Beach.
Photos by Larry Chen
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2013 GReddy Performance x Scion Racing FR-S
GReddy modified Cosworth CS600 2.57L, GReddy turbocharger, GReddy custom turbo manifold, GReddy 3-row intercooler, NOS direct port wet kit, Cosworth EC Pro ECU & dash, GReddy Profec boost controller,
G-Force GSR 4-speed gearbox, OS Giken two-way LSD
KW Competition 3-way coilovers, custom GReddy arms, sway bars, steering rack, Brembo brakes
RAYS Engineering Gram Lights 57DR 17×9.0J (front), 18×9.5J (rear), 245/40R17 (front), 265/35R18 (rear) Hankook Ventus RS-3 tires
GReddy x Rocket Bunny wide body kit, livery by Jon Sibal
Takata Racing Race LE seats, Takata Racing Race 6 SFI harnesses, GReddy Multi-DA gauge