In rare cosmic instances, uncontrollable forces in the form of gravitational instability cause dense clouds of gas to collapse, emitting intense energy and heat and forming the beginnings of a star-not unlike your inner bowels after one too many bean burritos. In both instances the, ahem, explosive events cause wonderfully astounding effects that deserve witnessing.
Similar pressure, heat and plumes of (completely non-stinky) gas gave birth to a new star at the D1 Grand Prix final round in Irwindale, CA in the form of a never-before-seen blue AE86 Corolla Levin tearing up the track while flying orange, white and green flag colors, which three-quarters of the audience (including myself), thought were of our southernly, speedy-in-the-Gonzalez-sort-of-way neighbor, Mexico. Only when a fair-skinned, brown-haired driver emerged after qualifying did I realize that this was either the palest Mexican ever, or Bush's No Child Left Behind scheme wasn't working.
Making my way to the car to investigate, two polarizing passions of mine collided singularly in a celestial-like manner: drifting and breakfast. Within earshot of the driver talking to his crew, their unique accents piqued a particular Pavlovian hunger for cereal. Not just any cereal either, but Lucky Charms-the magically delicious one. Confused, and now hungry, it dawned on me-this Ese ain't Mexican, he's Irish. Like Bono, the pre-Hollywood, before-he-had-sunglasses-surgically-grafted-to-his-face, Irish to the bone, Joshua Tree Bono. But how did the luck of the Irish manage to find its way to Los Angeles? Where'd he get those drifting abilities? And, more importantly, is he after me Lucky Charms?
Interest piqued, we set up a photoshoot with the Irish O'neders er, wonder car. And in case you didn't get that obscure '90s cinematic reference, readers might say to us, funky allusions and introducing the hottest new drivers is "that thing you do." Moving on, thanks to coordinated efforts from Falken Tire and Blitz, we were able to lock everything down with the fighting Irish himself, Darren McNamara.
First things first, I know what you're wondering, cause it was the first thing I was curious about-besides Jonny's sexual orientation, that is-what's under Darren's hood? A turbocharged twenty-valve, maybe? Nope. The motivating motor comes with the designation of Sr. No, the overtly omnipresent SR20DET motor out of a Kouki 180SX. Gasp, but why a Nissan motor?
"The original plan was to build up a 4AG like Ueo's car, a personal idol of mine, but it was going to cost $15k for the motor alone to get to the hp I would need, so I decided to go with a turbocharged Nissan motor instead," says Darren. Makes cents, er, sense, right? And with Darren operating his own shop, MCN Sport, he was able to perform any sort of rarefied swap himself. Initially, Mr. McNamara had a complete CA18DET fitted into the bay, but after noticing the 1.8's propensity to burst and the dearth of parts, he decided to squeeze in a SR using custom MCN Sport mounts, wiring and a V-mount intercooler. The only hiccup he ran into shoehorning the motor was modifying the sump to clear the steering rack. Keeping the block near-stock, Darren decided for a conservative (read: dependable) route with a HKS GT-SS turbo and manifold, GReddy pulleys and turbo outlet, Samco hoses, Twin Pacet fans, Blitz exhaust and Denso Iridium plugs.
The transmission is out of the same 180SX. The casing was modified to fit the newly enlarged AE86 tunnel (i.e. he pounded it like it owed him money) and a Exedy clutch set with a 5kg flywheel, Nismo solid shifter and locked differential ensures all the torque makes it to the tarmac. Besides the MCN tranny mount, Darren fabricated a custom lightened and balanced one-piece prop shaft to adjust to the shorter Corolla body. To get the newly swapped setup singing, a HKS F-CON in conjunction with a GReddy Profec B boost controller and custom fuel system (MCN Sport SSB aluminum tank, Sytec FSE fuel pump and filter, stainless lines) was tuned to 340hp at the crank-milder than a So Cal winter when compared to the typical field of 500-plus ponies of D1.
So when Darren took out the brawny, American-muscled likes of Hubinette and gave RB-powered Nomuken a run for his monkey money, you know focus was on the chassis setup. The entire frame was seal-welded by MCN Sport and propped with a nine-point rollcage. Combine the weld-work with Largus, Race Spec and Tein bars and the Corolla causes Volvo engineers to tuck their Swedish tails in shame. Darren's own MCN Sport front coilovers, Drift springs and camber plates along with Tokico HTS shocks, TRD and Powerflex bushings give the newly reinforced chassis improved dampening. As for setting up the alignment, a horde of Tein, Ueo Style, T3 and Whiteline adjustable goodies give Darren full flexibility, and a Quaife RHD quick rack improves steering input.
Surprisingly, one of the few things that you wouldn't expect to be stock are the brakes. Utilizing new AE86 calipers fed through custom hard and Goodrich brake lines, the Black Diamond slotted rotors and Project Max 900 pads are the only things that keep the Toyota from tapping the wall. A Vertical Hydraulic handbrake assists in smoking up the 16-inch Falken FK452s wrapped in Rota wheels during US adventures. It should be noted that back in Ireland, Darren sparks up rubbers from his other sponsor, Hankook.
Like a Protestant in Dublin or a cold pint of Guinness in a pub, most of the stock Hachi interior is gone. The only things left are the OMP seats standing on FIA brackets, OMP Corsica steering wheel, Williams harnesses, Nismo shift knob, Varley Red Top battery and a set of Defi gauges. Darren fabbed up a custom console chock full of aircraft switches, and sprayed the cabin an Audi A8 Silver to match. The exterior was also painted, but in a contrasting Imperial Blue sheen. But before the blue coats were applied, a Vertex body kit, CBY fenders, fiberglass hatch and TRD wing were all fitted to the Levin. Kouki Redline taillights, headlights and inner foglights lend the AE86 the revised J-touches.
Sitting down and talking with the 22 year-old Darren was refreshing. A drifting celebrity for years back home, his continued passion for the sport of drifting and the AE86 was a stark contrast to the layers of built-up jade permeating our scene. And the amount of respect and homage he pays to both US and Japanese competitors speaks volumes for his character. Rolling Stateside for the first time with his boys, Darren summed up his experience. "It was a dream come true to be able to come here and compete. We've seen D1 at Irwindale for years and it was just amazing, we thought we'd never get here." And now that he's here, you can be sure the rising star of Darren McNamara will only get brighter.
Ireland: Turning Japanese?
-The whole mixup with the flags has a lot to do with ignorance-after all, I am American. But the truth is I had no idea how big the drift scene was in Ireland. Thanks to Derek and Karl of Prodrift, organizers of the Irish/European drift series, my ignorance is no longer bliss. www.prodriftseries.com
-Like Catholicism and potatoes, drifting is huge in Ireland, a lot of it stemming from the countries love for Rally racing.
-With entries hovering at 110 per event, the four-year strong Prodrift series divvies up the drivers into four skill groups (Junior, Novice, Semi Pro, Pro), drawing spectator crowds in the five thousands-tremendous considering Ireland has a population of 4 million and only one racing facility.
-Besides the coveted AE86 Corolla, other popular makes in the Prodrift series are the KP Starlet, MK II Ford Escort, Opel Manta, E30 BMW and of course, the Nissan Silvia.
-The Irish equivalent to Irwindale Speedway, aka House of Drift, would be Tipperary Raceway (Rosegreen).
Facts of the Irish
Here are some random little known facts of the soon-to-be-largely-known Darren McNamara:
-He started Oval racing at the tender age of 11.
-He got into drifting watching-no, not Initial D-Japanese drift videos.Apparently, Takumi's animated exploits are hard to find in Ireland.
-In a wet dream, er, come true moment, his Hachi-hero, Ueo, is in talks with sponsoring his Corolla with parts next year.
-If there is anyone he'd like to challenge on the Touge, it'd be Beau Yates, the Australian drift champion who also drives a SR-powered Corolla.
-The Levin he drives was the only iteration of the AE86 sold domestically.
-He's a hardcore Hachi fan. Need proof? When asked if he were to be given $500k to build any drift car, he'd spend $40k building a Hachi and sit on the rest.
-The blue Corolla you see will stay Stateside for the '07 season. He's planning on building another Corolla to fight the EU front.
Owner Darren McNamara
Hometown Buttevant, Ireland
Daily Grind Building and driving drift cars
Power 340hp at crank
Under The Hood SR20DET conversion; HKS GT-SS turbo, tubular manifold, adjustable actuator; GReddy Profec B boost controller, pulley kit; modified AFM; MCN Sport engine mounts, wiring loom, three-Core custom "V" mount intercooler with 3-inch piping, three-core custom "V" mount radiator with aluminum breather tank, SSB aluminum fuel tank; Samco silicone hoses; Twin Pacet competition fans; Trust turbo outlet; Blitz Nr-Spec exhaust; modified sump; lightweight alternator; Nismo oil cap; Stant hi-pressure radiator cap; Denso Iridium spark plugs; Sytec FSE fuel pump, pre-line Bullet filter; stainless steel braided lines
Drivetrain Nissan 180SX transmission with modified casing; Exedy paddle clutch, pressure plate, 5kg flywheel; MCN Sport lightened and balanced one-piece driveshaft, gearbox mount; Nismo solid shifter; locked differential
Brains HKS F-Con
Stiff Stuff fully seal-welded; pop riveted chassis rails; Custom MCN Sport nine-point rollcage, front coilovers, camber plates, Drift springs; Tokico HTS shocks; T3 four-link kit, roll center adjusters, front tri-bar, adjustable panhard rod; Whiteline traction brackets; Largus D1 Spec rear antiroll bar; TRD rear polyurethane bushings; Powerflex rear link bushing kit, Race Spec front antiroll bar; Powerflex front bushings; Quaife RHD quick rack; Ueo Style adjustable track control arms, tie rods; Tein tension rods, camber suspension plates; Cusco OS strut bars, rear tri-bar
Rollers 16x8 Rota Grids; 245/45R16 Falken FK-452s
Stoppers custom brake lines; Goodridge hoses; Black Diamond slotted rotors; new AE86 calipers (all round); Project MAX 900 pads; Vertical Hydraulic handbrake
Outside Vertex body kit; CBY overfenders, carbon fiber bonnet; Custom MCN Sport "Big" wheel wells; Kouki Redline taillights, headlights, inner fog lights; fiberglass hatch; TRD rear wing; Imperial Blue paint
Inside OMP ARS bucket seat (driver), HTS bucket seat (passenger), Corsica steering wheel; FIA seat brackets; Williams four-point 3-inch harnesses; Sparco Group N Snap off Boss; Defi Link Control Unit 2, BF gauges (boost, oil pressure, water temperature), tachometer; Nismo GT shift knob; Custom MCN Sport center console, aircraft switches; Varley Red Top battery; Audi A8 Silver paint
Props D1, Falken Tires and Blitz in the US; Pro Drift, Hankook, Abbey Motorsport and everyone who supported MCN Sport
Connect blitz-performance.com; falkentire.com; greddy.com; hksusa.com; mcnsport.com; tein.com