Like all of the drift cars Daigo Saito has ever put his name to, you can expect to find a level of craziness and innovation in each new build.
Saito is definitely a guy that likes to challenge himself and step out of his comfort zone, which is pretty much the opposite of what the vast majority of Japanese D1 Grand Prix drivers have done over the years. To me, the latter has really held the D1GP series back; aside from poor management and a backwards way of marketing, there’s never been anything new to keep people coming back and traveling to see some of the rounds. Apart from Saito’s presence, of course.
He pushed the JZX100 chassis so far that it allowed him to maximize his style, stand out from the rest of the playing field, and turn him into one of drifting’s biggest superstars. But that car is no longer legal in D1 Grand Prix, following a review of the regulations. That’s when Saito decided to build something completely different, and around the same time that we first saw his Z06R. I could not believe that he was going to take an ex-GT300 race car and turn it into a pro-spec drift machine. But yesterday, at Fuji Speedway’s Drift Course, I got to see the (almost) finished Corvette.
This car is built around the spare chassis he had in the shop during my visit in the fall of last year. Cut up and modified with tube-frame sections, it now cradles a Mast Motorsports LS3 V8 crate engine with all the bells and whistles. It’s said to deliver an 800hp punch.
The dry-sump motor breathes through a Kinsler 8-throttle Crossram intake which Saito and his crew were trying to set up correctly yesterday. With a straight exhaust and the omission of any silencing, this motor sounds incredible. The response is lightning fast – almost too crisp and immediate it for a drifting application if I had to throw my own opinion into it – but I’m sure the team will get it all figured out.
Seeing as the mechanics were working on the car in the paddock for the entire time we were at Fuji, it was the perfect opportunity to take in all the details. In its partially deconstructed state, it’s even crazier than when you see it as a whole with its paper-light Kevlar body acting as a thin veil covering the interesting bits beneath.
Saito brought enough spare wheels and tires to have a proper fun day at the track, but unfortunately it turned out to be a day where he wouldn’t use any of them.
Unlike the complete GT300 Z06R we saw in his Fat Five Racing workshop, this one is right-hand drive and features a typical Daigo Saito interior with nothing more than the bare necessities dotted around the cabin and a heavy emphasis on quality materials and execution.
The only piece of instrumentation is the AiM dash unit, which is perched on a series of tubes that sprout out of the dash. Like the wheels on the outside, the wheel on the inside is courtesy of Prodrive Japan.
Here’s a better look at the shifter and hydraulic handbrake.
Turning a race car built for the track into a dedicated pro drift machine requires a very different suspension setup and geometry.
Utilising the base car’s top and lower wishbone pick-up points, custom billet arms were fabricated, holding up the billet spindle onto which the solid brake rotors and Wilwood 6-pot calipers are mounted at the front.
You can get a better feel for how the whole setup works from this angle with a wheel mounted.
There is more tubular criss-crossing going on in the back, stiffening up the shell further and also creating mounting points for the radiator. Here you can also see the hand-welded titanium exhaust arching over the transaxle.
The rear is also where the fuel system lives.
Sticking a radiator in the back requires you to vent it properly for those times the car is sitting around prior to a run or cooling off after one; the extractor fans move air across it and out of the cut-out rear section. The rear wing element is the dry carbon item we saw on the GT300 car last year.
Saito was out at Fuji with the HKS guys, driving his FD R35 GT-R alongside Taniguchi and the new HKS 86. Both drivers were called there to pull some cool moves for Luke Huxham’s cameras, all for a new HKS promotional movie. I’ll share some behind-the-scenes footage with you next week.
The headaches continued well into the afternoon for the mechanics; they even connected a spring to the throttle linkage, zip-tying it with tension onto the chassis in the hopes to resolve the throttle feel issues being experienced.
The Corvette ended up going out for a quick lap of the track, but without Saito attempting to drift it. He and his team have until the 1st of next month to get the car squared up properly for D1 Grand Prix Round 1 in Odaiba, Tokyo, so the clock is definitely clicking. His name is on the entry list, but with Formula D USA happening on the very same weekend it will be interesting to see which series he prioritizes.
Dino Dalle Carbonare