I have drifting to thank for pretty much my entire career and the majority of my friend circle.
I would hope that it’s understandable enough then, that while I don’t shoot the motorsport as much as I used to (just two events since 2019), drifting still holds a special place in my heart. As do a lot of the people which I used to see a lot more regularly.
There was a time (which doesn’t feel all that long ago, but a quick search shows me it was 10 bloody years!) where I would make a monthly trip down to the small town of Buttevant in County Cork here in Ireland.
While Buttevant and its surrounding areas are quite nice, my visits were always to visit the workshop of one Darren ‘D-Mac’ McNamara. I would always consider Darren the first ‘big’ name to come out of the Irish drifting community. Whether it was putting it up to the Japanese drivers at a D1 Grand Prix exhibition in Silverstone, or becoming the first regular Irish driver in Formula D, he’s certainly done more than his fair share of paving the way for other Irish drivers around the world.
While Darren might not be at the fore of competition from a driving perspective these days, he’s still heavily involved in the sport. Whether it’s building customer cars or developing and testing his own range of products, Darren has never left the world of drifting.
His current business, Group-D, is located only a couple of units down from where I used to visit him, but somehow Darren has carried over all of the nostalgia and history to his new shop. That is arguably the most famous AE86 to ever come out of Ireland, now resting on top of an office container.
Beside it, is probably the most sought after example of an AE86, the rare Black Limited model. I personally prefer to refer to this particular example as ‘Darren’s retirement fund.’
I do enjoy taking a look around people’s workshops, and particularly when they have lots of character. I had caught Darren and his team on the hop, so the place wasn’t up to Darren’s fairly exacting standards, but that’s the best time to shoot somewhere like this. Ongoing projects, random parts and spare engines hidden under the stairs… I think I appreciate places like this even more now considering the ever-increasing cost and scarcity of some of these things.
The yard outside of the workshop tells a similar story, although it featured more variety than you might have expected. What was left of an AE86 sat on a standard wooden pallet, while nearby a Lexus GS 300 had already been scavenged for its 2JZ engine. I don’t think there’s a yard or shop in Ireland which deals with drifting or Japanese cars that doesn’t have an engineless GS lying about somewhere.
These weren’t the reasons I had made my first post-Covid visit to Group-D. Instead, it was to finally take a look at something which had piqued my interest some months beforehand: Their latest project, a slightly unorthodox PS13 Nissan Silvia.
Darren has always been pretty outspoken about things in the drifting world, and while we disagree on some things, I think we agree on a lot more. One thing in particular is actually a question: With such an open rule book, why do so many drift cars look alike?
We’re not necessarily talking about the well-proven mechanical recipe for a top-level drift car (800+hp from probably a 2JZ, sequential transmission, quick-change rear end and a lock kit) but rather the appearance of the cars themselves.
With this question in mind, Darren and his team set about building something a little bit different to the norm. The result is something with clear Group B inspiration, with a little bit of US of A thrown into the mix. If you’ve ever spent time with Darren, this will be unsurprising combination; his love and passion for those particular ’80s-era rally cars and oval racing is abundant.
For me, the obvious visual comparison of this Nissan Silvia is with the 1987 Audi Sport Quattro S1 ‘Pikes Peak’. The combination of that rear wing and the deep front bumper with the additional panels which connect the bumper with the front wheel arches are very much of the Audi Group B era.
The shark-fin, which bridges the rear window and rear wing, is Group-D’s own design with the purpose of manipulating the trail of tyre smoke, and has the added benefit of further differentiating the overall visual appearance of the car.
It’s not just aesthetics, though. In fact, despite how it looks, all of the real development work has gone into making the car work to the best of its abilities. Extensive weight reduction, along with consideration for weight placement, has been carried out throughout the car. The panels are all FRP, and even those headlights are just blanks with convincing-looking stickers applied. The net result is a wet and ready to rock weight of just 1,150kg (around 2,500lb).
It’s the heart and soul of the car that reflects Darren’s love for US-based oval racing and stock cars. Darren has been sitting on this motor for a while, waiting for the right build to use it in. While it’s a V8, it’s not an LS or any sort of lazy, road-going V8 which has been shoehorned in here. It’s a World of Outlaw 410ci Sprint Car SBC, with a ridiculous level of throttle response that you would ordinarily only ever expect to hear from a sports bike.
The spec list is impressive. A Dart block, All Pro heads, JE forged pistons, Callies connecting rods, an Ultra billet crank, Jesel valvetrain, custom BC cam, Kinsler ITBs and a custom Group-D 180-degree crossover exhaust manifold make for a potent 700 naturally aspirated horsepower. Engine lubrication is handled with a Dailey dry sump setup with a heated Peterson dry sump tank mounted behind the cockpit. Management is exclusively by Haltech with their Elite 2000 ECU, WB2 wide-band controller, CAN hub and coils.
On the transmission front, Darren has opted to use a 4-speed G-Force G101A gearbox mated to the engine with a Quartermaster clutch, flywheel and bell-housing. At the rear, a Group-D Winters Performance quick-change differential transmits power to the hubs via a pair of Driveshaft Shop axles. As with all pro-level drift cars, reliability and the ability to quickly change final drive ratios are the priority when specifying the driveline components.
The interior is as sparse as you would expect for a lightweight competition build. Aside from the forms of direct input which every car requires, there’s a small control panel to the driver’s left which brings the car to life along with some other functions. An interesting part is the ‘double passenger side’ dashboard which removes the factory driver’s binnacle, making the column-mounted Haltech IC7 digital dash a much cleaner installation.
There’s a seemingly infinite amount of custom fabrication in the chassis, along with neatly crafted brackets and mounting points which have been emblazoned with the Group-D logo. While of course part of this is for marketing purposes, it’s really to show how much of this car has been custom made. It’s one thing to be able to buy and install the parts you need from respected manufacturers, but it’s another to create them yourself from scratch.
Suspension-wise, it’s all Darren and Group-D’s making. The Silvia benefits from a custom-made front crossmember with Group-D’s own steering rack, a custom steering angle kit, Group-D-spec coilovers, and custom rear knuckles, rear arms, anti-roll bar and rear subframe for the quick-change rear end.
Of course, Group-D have lent on others for certain aspects of the car. This includes the Work Emotion ZR10 wheels, the K&N carbon air box which protrudes through the bonnet, and some Wilwood components for the rear discs and handbrake callipers.
I appreciate that this whole build came from a rough sketch on the whiteboard in the Group-D office and, even more-so, how they stayed so true to the idea all the way through to completion. Considering Group-D were fully responsible for the design, fabrication, anything mechanical, the engine, transmission, wiring, plumbing, aero, suspension, brakes and even the concept and application of the livery is testament to Darren and his team’s commitment to this project.
While Group-D haven’t tried to change the world with this car, they have at least made an attempt to put a fresh spin on things. If you removed the liveries from most of today’s current crop of drift machines, you would struggle to tell them apart. That’s not the case here.
Since this pre-season shoot, the car has successfully been shaken down and seen victory at the first round of this year’s Irish Drift Series with Darren at the wheel.
There’s a certain amount of joy to be found in that win for Darren, as during our shoot, he was dismissive of being able to compete with the current generation of younger drivers while knocking on 40 years of age. I guess there’s still life in the old dog yet.