The Willow Springs International Raceway is a hidden gem of race courses situated in a not-so-beautiful part of the desert, way out in the middle of BFE, close to Palmdale, a city known to most Los Angeles county residents for its more "affordable" housing and to many car enthusiasts as the legendary birthplace of import drag racing. At Willow Springs, you are more or less a nameless racer and your car is your vessel. Lap times are recorded and some are broken. It's a safe haven for those who have a spiritual bond to the automobile, letting their four (and in some cases, two) wheels do the dancing as they glide around a ballroom floor made of tarmac, providing the ultimate thrill ride for anyone who has the time and enough spare change to pay the man at the gate for a day of racing.
Most weekends at Willow Springs serve as track days for local racing clubs and the occasional weekend racer. And because it is the desert, you can be sure the forecast around these parts will bless you with conditions ranging between these three levels: freezing cold, windy or hotter than the tenth level of hell. But this is the closest track to Los Angeles and it's a damn good one to test, practice and become a better driver on. And so it begins: our love story between man and machine.
For Dominic Chen, racing is a passion that burns very bright, and by working as part of Endless Japan's U.S. operation, that passion ties in perfectly with the company's own philosophy towards racing: to kick much ass. So, it only seemed natural to pick a car to represent Endless' dedication to racing, a Nissan S15 Silvia. He says, "[The S15] has been one of my favorite cars for years and the opportunity to acquire one that could be registered legitimately presented itself. I wanted it for myself, but since I have an incredibly strong devotion to Endless, I decided to build it as an official Endless car. Although the S15 is used predominantly in drift, drifting is not what Endless Japan is into, and since I felt it was going to be too risky to drift it, I decided to turn it into a Super Lap car instead." With close ties to other big name Japanese companies like HKS, Yokohama, Moonface, ARC, Bride and C-West, Dominic went forth with the mindset of building the S15 the same way Endless Japan would have, by working with those companies' U.S. counterparts to build one hell of a car. "This car's unique because a lot of cars built by U.S. versions of the Japanese companies are dominated by price," he explains, "You see all these great Japanese parts and all of sudden see parts that aren't so 'JDM.' Our S15 represents the strong relationships and the respect Endless carries between itself and these other Japanese companies."
Whereas most people start from the engine and work their way down, Dominic dove straight into the prep work for the chassis first, most of which is custom and the hardest part of the build. Parts like the Zeal Function X coilovers (with custom valving) and brake upgrades were pulled from inventory and installed first-cake. It was then sent out for rollcage fabrication to Henry Schelley, a driver for Schelley Racing and Federal Tires in this year's Formula D series, where a Super Lap-legal cage was placed in. The next problem: a GT wing from C-West needed a custom brace made to fit on the underside of the trunk for extra support because of the wing's size. "Since this wing is universal, the mounting posts are in the middle and makes it incredibly unstable due to the flex of the trunk lid," says Dominic. "Gary Castillo at Design Craft made a brace that not only kept it stable, but actually helped in creating downforce and not just a place we hang dry clothes on." Later, when the car was moved to the body shop to install the widebody, the rear fenders weren't cut, forcing Dominic to "cut through massive amounts of bondo to reach the metal," he says. "That was fun." Wheel sizing was also problematic. The 18x9.5 wheels that were originally chosen for the front rubbed a lot regardless of tire size, but switching to 17x9 and a 245-series tire solved that. "Figuring out the S15 was a challenge at times because my friends only knew S13s or S14s," he continues. "I worried if certain parts would fit or not, but this really forced me to learn more about the car than originally intended."
Despite the minor setbacks, the fun kicked in once the engine work took over. With guidance from Neptune Speed's Yajima-san, Dominic took the SR20DET's cylinder head apart so that he could rebuild it with a Step 3 head package from HKS, which includes cams, dual inner/outer valvesprings, retainers, rocker arm stoppers, solid lifters and valve seals. Upon reassembly, a metal head gasket from HKS was sandwiched in between the block and head and a quick-spooling GT-RS ball bearing turbo took over the factory T28. Some other key performance add-ons include more HKS goods, like a Type-S intercooler, 740cc injectors and air intake. Then, the master tuners from HKS USA-Jon Kuroyama and Katsu Hibio-took possession of the S15 and began tuning the F-CON Vpro on HKS' dyno where the two were able to make 335 hp and 334 lb-ft on a stock bottom end. We'd love to see this number go up in the future, but with a GT-RS setup, these figures are about right and actually very quick.
After tuning was completed, Dominic quickly installed a new OS Giken clutch and 1.5-way Super Lock LSD in preparation for his first race, a Super Lap Battle qualifying event (catch the coverage in next month's issue). He made further enhancements to the suspension by piecing in Moonface tension rods and Peak Performance rear camber arms and toe arms. Lightweight AME Circlar Spec-R wheels are the track wheels of choice while ADVAN Neova tires provide the grip needed to perform. Bride seats cradle the driver and passenger with comfort, but Dominic gets all the good toys, like a Personal steering wheel mounted to a Works Bell flip-up Rapfix steering hub, a Moonface shift knob and BF gauges from Defi to keep him up to date on all engine operations while going full speed ahead. "I have an Alpine head unit, too," he laughs, "but there's no way in hell you'll hear the stereo over the car."
Dominic's first shakedown race proved that the S15 had a lot of oversteer. "I guess it's a car that wants to go sideways at heart," he says, "but since this is my race car, the learning curve is going to be endless-no pun intended." More importantly, building this kind of car and learning how to drive it only pushed him to love it more than ever. "As a car enthusiast, I'm happy. We're dialing the car in and I've become a better mechanic because of it. No matter how street-able I wanted to keep it, I figured out quickly that those elements are thrown out the window, especially when the objective is to go fast." Sounds like true love to us.
'99 Nissan Silvia S15
Owner Dominic Chen
Hometown Irvine, CA
Daily Grind Executive directorof Endless USAUnder The Hood 2.0L SR20DET built by Neptune Speed; HKS Step 3 camshafts, dual inner/outer valve springs, retainers, rocker arm stoppers, solid lifters, valve seals, 740cc injectors, air intake, Twin Power DLI II ignition, GT-RS turbo, Type-S intercooler, head gasket and oil cooler; Tomei fuel pump; Kakimoto exhaust; Moonface test pipe, throttle ring and engine damper; NGK iridium spark plugs; NISMO thermostat, radiator cap and engine mounts; Eneos 0W-50 oil
Drivetrain OS Giken Super Lock 1.5-way limited slip differential, STR clutch and tranny oil; NISMO transmission mount
Brains HKS F-CON V-Pro and EVC Anniversary Edition boost controller
Power 335 hp, 334 lb-ft at 1.2 bar
Stiff Stuff Zeal Function-X coilovers with custom Super Function valving; ARC titanium front strut brace; Moonface tension rods; Peak Performance rear camber arms and rear toe arms
Stoppers Endless six-pot mini calipers with race alumite finish and 324mm rotors (front), CC-R brake pads, Swivel steel brake lines and RF-650 racing brake fluid; Z32 rear brake conversion with Endless Straight-6 rear rotors
Rollers 18x9.5 (+12)/18x10 (+15) AME TM-02 wheels and ADVAN Neova 265/35R18 tires (street); 17x9 (+10) AME Circlar Spec-R front wheels with ADVAN Neova 255/40R17 tires (race only)
Outside C-West GT-Type body kit, GT-Wing, carbon canards and vented hood; Bellof HID Evolution Neo with Stinger Beam (Super GT passing system); molded rear fenders; Endless Blue paint by SDCS of San Diego, CA; Endless race graphics; Craftsquare carbon side mirrors; Moonface rear wiper delete
Inside Bride Zeta III and Stradia seats; electrical kill switch, Stinger Beam trigger; custom console work by JT Audio; Defi BF gauges; Personal steering wheel; Moonface titanium shift knob; custom rollcage by Henry Schelley; Willans FIA approved harnesses; Works Bell Rapfix GTC steering hub; A-Spec spin turn knob; Japanese protection charm; trunk-mounted Odyssey battery
ICE Alpine head unit;
Props Inamoto, Minami and Kent from Endless; Yajima from Neptune Speed; Garrett, Jon, Ryan and Kazu from HKS USA; Sean from OS Giken; Mark from Yokohama Tires; Bun and Shino from Bride; Daiji from C-West; Logan from A-Spec; Justin from West Covina Nissan; Steve and Nima from Corner 3; Eddie and Steve from Mackin Industries; Benson Hsu; Cheryl Litiatco; Bellof; Nippon Seiki; Moonface; AME Wheels
WWW aspecproducts.com (Works Bell); bellof.co.jp; c-westusa.com; endlessusa.com; eneos.com; hksusa.com; moonface-int.com; tees-usa.com (Bride); thenismoshop.com; tomeiusa.com; yokohamatire.com