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Trackday Chronicles VIII – The Comeback

One gloomy and damp Sunday late June 2020, the trak-life trio reunited at Wakefield Park Raceway to relive the joy of (track) days long past.

You may speculate that the lack of Trackday Chronicles is down to the fact that the trak-life machines have ceased to exist however it’s quite to the contrary to that. With the resurgence of the 90’s era JDM car scene came the reappearance of the crew.

Since the last entry, the wolf in sheep’s clothing EP3 Type R has since moved on and in its place Polar the Toyota 86 GT joined the fleet in 2019. 

trak-life Trackday chronicles VIII - 86 Polar

Regardless of the new underpowered addition, Pearl and I were doing the trackday circles rigorously that year prepping for Aus Time Attack and the momentum simply continued for both machines with at least 10 trackdays in total. 

trak-life Trackday chronicles VIII - S15 Pearl

Johnny’s Fridge and Minh’s trak180 on the other hand were notably absent for some time while major works were undertaken behind the scenes and also catching up on some overdue “adulting”.

With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, tracks were allowed to reopen after a 4 month hiatus.
NSCC put forth the call for able bodied Nissans and their non-Nissan peers to participate in Wakefield track battles whereby the trak-life crew heeded the call.

It was a sight for sore eyes – not only has it been too long since seeing the trio together at Wakefield (close to 4 years) but adding 3 more track goers to the equation was a recipe for good times.

Myself (Phil) in Pearl the S15, Johnny in Fridge the R33 GTS-t, Minh in Frosty the K swap Civic, Du in Gilbert the S15, Simon in the Evo 5 and Albert in the Evo 8 RS.

Pearl the S15

Pearl is one hell of a soldier. Mechanically, she is unchanged since build v3.0 and running faultlessly still with the SR20 stock bottom end thanks to the tuning wizard Johnny.

D2 brake kits front and rear and D2 2-way adjustable coilovers (to replace the leaking HKS units) are essentially the only performance changes to the old girl.

trak-life Trackday chronicles VIII - S15 Pearl

Having run the amazing Zestino 07RS tyre for 4 track days including Aus Time Attack 2019, the fronts were officially dead so for this track day some well used Z221 were dusted off to see how much faster I could go than the 1:07.5 set by the Zestinos.

Spending so much track time on Clubsprint (non R compound) compliant tyres made me realise how much I missed the Hankook Z221 feeling, the sheer steering response and grip level is just something else – I was keen to crack back into the 6’s and maybe even hit the new 5’s.

It wasn’t all about leveraging mechanical grip this day though, it was time to level up my driver skills by utilising heel-toe religiously to settle the car better corner entry in order to smoothly carry more corner speed. 

As most would know, I’ve forever confided in my “late hard braking, slam into gear and aggressive turn in” technique which has worked fine for me so far.

Not one to give into insanity, this is a beneficial change for the fish hook and final corner where I’d be just out of efficiency range (~3200RPM) and waiting for the turbo to spool – just 200RPM or more in 3rd would make a noticeable difference in corner exit speed. 
Sure there is an option for 2nd gear which has previously been tried however that is just way too peaky and much time lost shifting.

Using most of the first session to mop up a slightly damp track and warm up aged tyres, I left the time attack for the 2nd session.

Despite being a good 6 months since driving Pearl at Wakefield, everything felt familiar and natural. After all, we did enjoy 7 intimate track days in 2019 together with an unchanged rock solid setup.

To my dismay after 2 hard laps, it was apparent the balance was off as Pearl did not predictably rotate. The 235 wide front tyres were simply out gripping the dated rear 245 width tyres, so much for all that last minute running around to the tyre shop.

Pushing ahead regardless, a 1:09 flat was managed – a far cry from the staple 1:07’s on the 07RS.

trak-life Trackday chronicles VIII - S15 Pearl

Back on went the old faithful 265 wide Zestinos and balance was restored in the 3rd session, so was maximum attack with 1:08’s until the common “pop” from the engine bay and spluttering to pits occured.

Intercooler clamps were all in check so next on the list was a quick squeeze of the 90 degree turbo silicone elbow to reveal a gaping split (yes this has happened before).
A quick brap down to the local Supercheap, 1 missed session and a shiny new silicone hose in place, we were good to go again.

It was now 3pm and there was most likely to be only 1 session left for my group. 
Fastest time of the day so far was a mid 1:08, I spun out once on the final corner (thanks to a never disappearing puddle at the apex) and my heel-toe didn’t yield any time improvements nor was I totally comfortable utilising it. 

Surprisingly though, I felt content. 

The atmosphere, the comradery, the reliable machine, the freedom from lockdown – there were many reasons as to why being there just felt good.

One more session, time to make it count.

Combined groups meant more adrenaline chasing down cars and in the final hotlap for the day, something just clicked and it was full send.

trak-life Trackday chronicles VIII - S15 Pearl

Not having a working timer in the cockpit (Qstarz was forever waiting for GPS signal), pulling out RaceChrono on my cooldown lap revealed a 1:06.58 with optimal 1:05.61 – fist pump time!

trak-life Trackday chronicles VIII - S15 Pearl

Knowing full well Natsoft is the only source of truth, I knew not to get my hopes up as I have been disappointed before.

Just as I had predicted, Natsoft revealed a 1:07.88 – not a shabby time at all for old tyres and a track full of damp spots but the 1:06 would have been truly glorious.

With my senses still whirring at full tilt and focus undisputed, I headed out to a final unexpected session for the day consisting of just myself and another driver.

I knew exactly what worked last session, how to improve and knew a low 1:07 was on the cards.

Just as the marshall gave the go signal and Pearl rolled out of the pit exit, the heavens opened up and the heavy spray of rain pelted against the windscreen, it wasn’t meant to be.

Johnny’s Fridge R33

Now pushing out a smidge over 400kW thanks to a GTX3576R Gen II on a freshly built RB25DET, heading to the track after a bit of a hiatus was both exciting and daunting.

Exciting as there was no better outlet for such power yet daunting as both driver and car needed to refamiliarise themselves with attacking corners. Matching his old PB of 1:09 was the goal of the day with a bonus of not blowing the stock 5 speed to smithereens.

As the track conditions improved throughout the day, so did the lap times as they began to fall from 1:14’s to 1:11’s. Carving up to 7 laps per session, everything was holding together beautifully with no scary gearbox noises – then again all noise was muffled by Fridge’s screamer on full song, a delight to the senses topping the main straight over 190km/h!

Following Pearl, Fridge runs Intima Type-Dv2 brake pads all around paired with factory Nissan 350Z Brembo calipers up front, they pulled the barge up consistently even after so many continuous hard laps – just. However, there was one obvious issue which was holding back from the faster times that surprisingly wasn’t mechanical related, outright grip.

Nankang AR1s have always been a strange tyre to me. Having driven on them a few times, they are quite grippy if you find the sweet tyre temp and pressure spot but lack any real feedback or response.

Accustomed to the progressive feedback from the Nitto NT01 go to favourite tyres for Johnny, he struggled to tame his land boat and throughout the day you’d see the purple R33 facing the wrong way covered in grass and mud. At times you’d see him powerslide into corners as though he was at Powercruise as the Nankang AR1 tyres let go without warning, sometimes I think the slides were intentional too. 

Finishing the day without a new PB was no letdown. Engine and gearbox were in a healthy state, there was fuel in the tank and it was a great overdue trak-life catch up.

Once the tyre situation is sorted, there’s no doubt the Fridge will be setting some new PBs and maybe a db record past turn two.

Minh’s Frosty K-Swap Civic (section author: Minh)

As I rolled past my friends at the NSCC track day in the morning, the first thing I thought I heard was “get that rice cooker out of here!”.
It’s funny to cop that kind of Honda hate but I personally don’t take any offence as I do it myself.

As you all know, I had a really bad run with the trak180 and late last year I tried to bring it back to life because it had unfinished business with all the gear I had put into it prior. That attempt failed and for me it was the last throw of the dice and i made the decision to pull the plug on the shell and move all the bits over to my Type X shell named Barney.
Frosty the EK was my solution to still being able to drive hard while I figured what I was going to do with both 180SX’s. 

Since acquiring the EK, there were a number of niggling issues which prevented it from being pushed 100% on track. There was a strong case of rear bias which would lock the rear brakes under heavy braking and spin the car around. This is not a fun practice and with all the drivers who have steered Frosty spinning out, I knew it was far too dangerous going forward in terms of safety.
Honed Developments parts were ordered to eliminate the slop in the suspension and get the geometry on point. Their manual brake kit (booster delete) was chosen for the EK along with an adjustable Wilwood bias valve mounted in the cabin was needed to set the bias to settle the car. 

Without ABS, any prior testing for the manual brakes and running on slicks, you could say I was feeling pretty nervous considering it was essentially a baptism by fire.

Session 1 and 2 was damp and cold which prevented a lot of the guys from using the loud pedal, perfect timing for me as I could putt around the 2.2km track at a slow pace while fiddling with the valve. 

Frosty’s brake setup has been beefed up since I bought it with a pair of D2 Forged Monoblock 4 pot calipers running Intima SR pads. The rears are EK9 Type R calipers and rotors which is more than enough to stop the 1000kg chassis. 

It is definitely a cool experience seeing the way the car nose dives or squabbles the rears as the valve is adjusted on the fly, but what really surprised me was how deep I needed to push the brake pedal for it to pull up. 

Rolling into the pits I was waved down by a Marshall and was asked whether I knew what I was doing out there. Showing him the bias valve and explaining the situation I was asked to pick up the pace or risk being moved to an even slower group. 

Midday allowed for a quick lunch to raise energy levels and with the track jitters disappearing it was time to get more serious. When the helmet goes on it’s all business as they say and that couldn’t be more further from the truth. Automatically your body adjusted to the synchronised movements and I forgot about the stiffness of the pedal and drove to the conditions. 

One really hard stomp on the pedal at turn 2 resulted in a small puff of smoke coming from the rear tyre which meant that the sticky rear caliper was still there. 

No problem, I just dialed the valve slightly to the fronts and drove around the problem. I ended my last session still not braking as late as I wanted but matching the 1:09 times I did the previous track day meant that the chassis was cornering quicker than before even with the early braking points. 

Moving forward I intend to put in a more track focused race pad from Intima to see if it would make any difference to the stopping power.
Du took on Frosty for the last session with Johnny chasing playing cat and mouse while I was given the keys to Simon’s Evo 5 to try out the illustrious high boost setting. 4 laps in and my heart sank when I saw smoke coming from the rear and bonnet.
Rolling into the pits quickly I toggled the Defi ZD to see all engine vitals still in check. We popped the bonnet and realised the dipstick was partially blown off and oil was thrown all over the bay. What is a track day without a boosted car having issues right ? 

So for months of being told to be home bodies and feeling sluggish, the nice fresh air of Goulburn and the cohort of fellow enthusiasts and friends made for a much needed change. If racing is in your blood then you will know it will be a lifelong addiction and to be honest it’s been one of the best days I had with the trak life family and friends in a while. 

While everyone chewed through E85 like water, the EK completed 6 sessions and still had half a tank of fuel left. Not bad ! Good soize !

Du’s Gilbert S15

Running the awesomely responsive stock T28 turbo E85 setup like Pearl previously, Gilbert was already punching out some very quick and impressive low 1:08 times around Wakefield.

While the potential of a 7 was there, Du succumbed to the allure of power and dialled 218kW up to 276kW – just a small bump some would say.

Switching from a sweet 6 speed responsive setup to a high power 5 speed setup takes some getting used to, something I can definitely relate to. 

The goal of the day was to shake down the new setup  and to get accustomed to the rear end wiggle corner exit.

Didn’t take long as 1:09’s soon flooded the time sheet and this was still on gate pressure! Damn that GTX2860RS Gen II can really boogie!

Despite the usual blown intercooler clamp and engine protection cuts, the blue S15 had a successful day after the resident tuner made some changes to the engine protection so it wasn’t so sensitive.

Like Pearl, the several track day old Hankook Z221 tyres were past their best so next track day newfound grip will be deployed for the pursuit of the PB.
Gilbert no doubt has some very quick times ahead once Du tames the wild blue beast.

Simon’s Evo 5

After his first go at Wakefield late last year after an engine rebuild, Simon and his 270kW Evo 5 were back sporting fresh Zestino 07RS and MCA coilovers with the main goal of improving his previous time through precious seat time.

The Evo is no slouch, Minh piloted the rally bred monster to a 1:08 last appearance and the car no doubt has much more in it.

For the casual track day attendee, the AWD Evo thankfully provides an abundance of confidence and with the new grip and handling Simon was able to slash off 4 seconds off his previous time of 1:18.
Great result considering track conditions were still way off from optimal.

With more seat time to further build up confidence in his own and the car’s abilities, the times will surely fall.

Albert Evo 8 RS

The RS version of the Evo 8 was made to be driven on the track. Without ABS, AYC, a 6th gear and most creature comforts such as sound deadening, it was time this 300kW example made its debut at Wakefield.

While not being a complete newcomer to the track, it was Albert’s first time taking an AWD car to the track. Getting accustomed to pushing the powerhouse Evo in sub par conditions without ABS on Hankook RS4s would take some time for the driver.

After 3 sessions and some much needed sun, Albert got into the swing of things and punched out a 1:12.23, things started to look good as 1:11s were definitely on the horizon.
Just as the momentum started building, a misfiring issue presented itself putting a hold on maximum attack. 

New plugs from Supercheap unfortunately didn’t do the trick so smooth power delivery essentially went out the window.
Upon further inspection, heat stress fractured 3 out of 4 of his coilpacks, what are the chances of that?
The Evo finished up the day on the sombre 1:12.

Car and driver are no doubt keen to get back out there once it’s back to 100% to chase down the Nissans.

All in all, the NSCC trackday was a great success. Well organised, great track etiquette and most importantly it managed to pull out a great bunch of mates to remind us of the joy of driving the machines we poured so much effort and money into. 

Forever thankful to the track gods who bestowed their blessings onto us, driver and machine all drove home in one piece (except for Frosty who is a trailer queen) and we’re all eager to return soon with new additions.

Fingers crossed the good TL vibes continue and it won’t be another year or so for the next part of these chronicles.

Photo credit goes to https://www.facebook.com/BentheGreekPhotography/ for some of the great photos!

About Flop

Flop
Open minded car enthusiast who appreciates most things on four wheels although JDM is where his heart lies. Wannabe racecar driver but having trouble fitting into his bucket seat since he's also a dedicated gym goer.

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