Over the last few years, Gatebil Rudskogen has really blown up; so much so that it’s now completely natural for drivers from all over the world to make the pilgrimage. We’ve already seen drivers come all the way from the US, Russia and as far afield as New Zealand for smoky shenanigans at the Norwegian race circuit.
For whatever reason, despite geographically being just around the corner, Germany had never featured on the driver roster. But that all changed this year when Marcel Uhlig turned up with his Skyline drift car.
I think the word had gotten out too, because throughout the weekend the event staff kept referring to Marcel as ‘The German’, rather than using his actual name.
Marcel popped up on my radar back in the day when I used to cover the International Drift Series in Germany. He competed in the street class then, but in the years since Marcel has progressed in leaps and bounds, winning the Drift United Championship in 2014, just three years after starting his pro career.
His weapon of choice, a 1996 Nissan Skyline R33 GTS-T built from the ground up. It’s known as the TZ33 after Marcel’s title sponsor, TurboZentrum Berlin.
Germany has always had a spotty history when it comes to drift series’, and over the last decade many have come and gone. As a direct byproduct of this, most of the cars built in Germany are, specification-wise, not up to an international level.
So it’s refreshing to see guys like Marcel going the full length to create a stand-out, competitive machine.
Of all the drift cars built in Germany, Marcel’s is considered to be amongst the most well thought out and best built, hence why I made a point of shooting it at Rudskogen earlier in the year.
With the sun setting so late in the evening around the time of the summer festival, the officials kindly let us on the track after hours to get the feature done.The Oomph
Gatebil is known for insane engine swaps, so naturally this is a good place to start looking. When it comes to reliably producing big power on a budget there aren’t really that many options on the table, but rather than going down the V8 swap route, the base engine here is 2JZ-GE VVT-i.
At PARTS33.com (Marcel’s drift parts shop), the naturally aspirated 3.0-litre straight-six was decked out with JE forged pistons and Pauter rods in preparation for a substantial boost injection.
And providing that boost is a massive BorgWarner EFR8374 turbocharger.
A Fuelab digital fuel pump and fuel pressure regulator delivers a self-mixed explosive cocktail of 102 octane fuel and ethanol via DeatschWerks 1500cc injectors. Maximum output? 850hp and 997Nm. I quite like how Marcel hasn’t rounded it up to a nice, even 1000 newton metres of torque just for the sake of four-figure bragging rights!
All this grunt demands sufficient stopping power too. Looking through the spokes of 18-inch Nismo LM GT4 wheels by RAYS, the front brakes are sourced from an S14, with Wilwood discs and Wilwood callipers for the foot brake, and additional Kawasaki ZX10R callipers for the hydraulic handbrake all in the rear.
Stock steering angle definitely doesn’t cut it at a professional level, so there’s a Wisefab kit in the mix too.
A Driftworks kit out the back helps Marcel fine tune the Skyline for mid-drift traction.
Far away from the hot engine bay, this setup also ensures efficient cooling, even on hot days and during heavy operation.
Previously, the R33 has run with an enormous chassis-mounted GT wing, but that’s now been ditched in favour of a ducktail spoiler.
To keep the weight down as much as possible, all of the body panels are finished in fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP).
That includes the custom wide front fenders, which were designed by Fameform and produced by Mücke Carbon.
The doors are unashamedly light – just look how thin they are!
Even the headlights have been replaced with FRP shells, all in the name of weight reduction.
The diet has worked wonders too, and today the Skyline tips the scales at just 1,150kg (2535lb). That’s light considering the physical size of the car and the amount of power its packing. As I watched Marcel manji at over 120mph on the main straight at Rudskogen, I kept worrying the thin polycarbonate windows were going to peel the doors off the car!
With the rear bumper cut away, smoke from the 275/40R18 Achilles Radial ATR Sport2 tires is easily liberated. Up front Marcel runs a 245/40R18 size tire.Office Space
Regulations require the driver cabin to be separated from where the fuel system is located, and because of this everything rearward of the seats is completely sealed off and isolated from the trunk.
It’s a bit odd to see a completely closed-off cabin though, but that’s probably just my claustrophobia talking.
Currently, the R33 features a K-Sport bucket on the passenger side and a Sparco for Marcel due to fitting issues, with both sides featuring Sabelt harnesses.
The driver’s seat is flanked by a custom CNC-milled handbrake lever built to Marcel’s specification, while the IRP shifter is hooked up to a BMW E60 530D 6-speed manual transmission. To handle a lot of kicking and abuse, the driveline also features a Tilton 3-plate clutch with a custom adapter kit, and a BMW 750i differential.
All that abuse starts with a shiny OBP V2 pedal box.
The passenger side footwell is more safety oriented, featuring the automated fire suppression system.
A custom rollcage was built for Marcel by Stahlus Rennsportzellen; beefy side impact protection bars part of the requested design.
As I write this, the Skyline is being prepped for the upcoming season, and included in the upgrade is a set of Feal Suspension 441 coilovers being custom made for the application by company owner and Formula Drift driver Odi Bakchis.Hustle & Flow
Marcel told me how a remarkable amount of research went into building this car. Because the team had limited time and very little experience, a lot of their knowledge comes from studying the field and plenty of testing.
One example of this is the rearward-shifted seating position, which also require the use of an extended steering rack and relocated pedals. This was done to improve the Skyline’s centre of rotation – a key factor in drift car handling during transitions.
Working with the Uhlig33 crew you quickly realise just how much of a tight-knit family it is. Marcel’s girlfriend Tanja, who at the time of the shoot was pregnant with their daughter, even did her part, holding up the lightweight hood with a fishing rod so that I could get my shots of the engine bay.
Over the last few years I’ve been driven further and further away from the local German drift scene, mainly because of the lack of personalities and great builds. But I’m happy to say that cars like this and people like Marcel keep me coming back.