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SE-Rious Strip Sentra

While Hondas dominate the world of import front-drive drag racing, threats to their front-drive records are becoming more common and more serious.

Aug 7, 2002 SHARE

The Mitsubishi, Toyota and Nissan camps are all moving forward to grasp the title of the world's quickest, whether the category is unibody or tube chassis. Mitsubishi has the Extreme Motorsports Mirage and Talon piloted by Sean Glazar, Toyota has Chris Rado's new tube-chassis Celica and, last but not least, AEBS has what we think will be an impressive Nissan.

We tend to feature vehicles that have proven themselves by running a number but one glance at this SR20-powered Nissan and we knew we had a feature worthy of running a single-digit number. At the IDRC East Coast Nationals, we witnessed James Farrer's SE-R push the limits of a moderately built SR20DE engine. The vehicle qualified number 8 in the Quick XVI, landing its best e.t of 10.37 at 138 mph.

Considering the Sentra ran with the factory computer, stock valvetrain, a bottom-end loaded only with forged pistons and a stock transmission, there is a great deal of potential still to be tapped. This means no re-sleeved block, billet rods, stand-alone engine management etc. With the mods on this Nissan, we can honestly say the AEBS Sentra is going to open a 55-gallon drum of whoop-ass on those flexing the VTEC badge.

This San Diego-born racer started out its drag race life at Carlsbad Raceway and it was here where AEBS would learn the grueling lessons of building a competitive front-drive drag car. Nissans were not considered a threat to the Honda camp, but back in the days, this Nissan was able to boast a best time of 12.1 at 122 mph. Considering the car made 420 ponies and turned in a 122 mph tells you it was in need of traction. It was also a street car. After experiencing clutch, transmission and drivetrain problems, the idea of re-designing the car from scratch arose; from that point on, this vehicle has been on the rise to front-drive stardom.

The powerplant is a US-spec, front-drive SR20DE. The engine went through a full makeover, from top to bottom. The block was sent to Ed Hale Machine to receive a set of centrifugal spun ductile iron cylinders. With the sleeves in place, the bottom-end was then loaded with a set of 10.1:1 Ross Racing pistons, which received a ceramic and Teflon coating. Off the shelf Tomei billet rods and main studs were also used in the bottom-end for added reinforcement.

The cylinder head is also a U.S.-spec model loaded with Tomei and Ferrea gear. The valvetrain from valve springs, valves retainers and rocker arm stoppers are all of Tomei and Ferrea make. When this project was first initiated, the SR20 pumped out 420 horses utilizing the hydraulic valvetrain assembly. As engine speed rose, the hydraulic units would fail; this led to incorporating a set of Tomei solid lifters with AEBS modified rocker arms designed for high-rpm operation. Adding more reinforcement to the cylinder head are a set of Ferrea valve springs complete with titanium retainers. Porting was handled by Paulus Le, who gave the head a custom, four-cloverleaf combustion chamber design, finishing it with a layer of Polymer Dynamics ceramic coating.

Both induction and injection systems received the AEBS treatment. Everything from the intake manifold to exhaust manifold was made in house by AEBS engineer Paulus Le. The SR20 now pumps exhaust through a custom, ceramic-coated, equal-length header into a T51 FasTrax turbo. Exhaust is expelled through a 3-inch downpipe and a 1 7/8-dumptube. Boost is managed by a Tial wastegate and controlled by a Blitz SBC. With hours upon hours spent on the induction system, AEBS finally mapped what it believes is a single-digit setup. Charge air is chilled via a Spearco liquid-to-air intercooler then distributed through a custom aluminum intake manifold where it receives a dose of fuel from an eight injector sequential/staged fuel system. Engine operating parameters are handled by a Racetech SDS ECU which utilizes an individual coil setup. Adding more juice to the coils is a Crane ignition system.

The car originally had problems with the factory transmission, as well as the clutch setup and driveshafts so AEBS decided to scrap all that was used in the past for aftermarket models that are much stronger. Luckily, Quaife had a used bolt-on replacement sequential transmission for sale that AEBS quickly snatched up. With this transmission, miss shifting was virtually impossible since the trans requires dumping the clutch pedal only in first gear. Although the trans bolts to the SR20 trans bolt pattern, the clutch and half shafts were another dilemma. The Quaife input shaft uses a different spline pattern when compared to the OE inputshaft so this resulted in using a clutch that was designed for the transmission which happen to be an AP triple disc. Axle King modified the OE models to suit the needs of the sequential unit.

All the necessary chassis modifications were in the hands of chassis builder RJ Simrock of RJ's Racecars. The first step was to fabricate a roll cage worthy of nine-second certification, so now the Sentra utilizes a chrome-moly eight-point cage. Not stopping at the cage, RJ decided to prep the car with a parachute in case the Nissan runs passed the 136-mph minimum requirement and added custom wheelie bars for additional traction control. Sheetmetal fabrication was also handled by Simrock. This included new inner quarter and door panels along with an aluminum cowl. The key to 9s not only lies in making a gang of power, but also in having the correct set of tires and suspension mods to use it effectively. Ground Control specifically designed custom components for the AEBS Sentra. The wheel and tire combination consists of 26x8-inch Mickey Thompson tires in the front with 22.5x4.5 skinnies in the rear. Bogart provided a set of 14-inch Pro Fours in the front and a set of 22.5x3s in the rear.

It's easy to point out that with the arsenal that this Nissan packs, it should be nine-second ready. The craftsmanship involved in this project made the vehicle worthy enough to feature; if our prediction is correct, the vehicle should be in the 9s in the 2001 season. A few years back this car was a streetable 12.1-second weekend warrior that hit the traps at 122 mph. (Just for the record, your favorite tech editor, Gary Castillo, was at the wheel when the Sentra ran its quickest time of 12.1.) The question is, what can it do as a Serious Strip Sentra?

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