The dedication required to become a successful competitor in any motorsport is daunting. The long hours, hard work and the fact that most participants will never see a return on their financial investment may cause many to burn out or quit entirely. However, for those who forge through the drawbacks and build on their determination to win frequently succeed. Mark Berry is one of the lucky few whose devotion to the sport has spawned into a career-and a winning one, at that.
Mark's current pro career really got going with his R32 GT-R, a build assisted by his current sponsors Hi Octane racing, and between '05 and '08 a common site at the sprints and Dutton rallies of eastern Australia, where it has dominated the leaderboards. Don't know what a Dutton rally is? Mark had to clue me in, too. "It's a three-day event-hill climbs, drag racing, 800-meter runs, everything." When asked about the apparent lack of a rally in Dutton rallys, Mark said, "Any event not on a racetrack is a rally."
Mark's winning career with his R32 continued until the Nissan reached its limit at Japan's infamous Tsukuba circuit in 2007-finishing 20th out of 60 cars on its virgin run-and Mark decided at that point it was time to retire the R32 and move on to bigger and better things. "I always liked Nissans-they're a great platform-we just needed something with more power out of the box, so we decided to upgrade to the R34." Before they left Japan, Mark and his team at Hi Octane were already planning the R34 build-up path.
"The [R34] GT-R's got inherent problems-understeer, for one," Mark said. "We thought, first thing you need to do is get the understeer out of the car to make it quicker. And they're too heavy, that was the next goal." Mark and his team got the GT-R on a strict diet, and after the car had been stripped to a shell, seam-welded and outfitted with a chromoly rollcage, Mark started hanging new body panels. The team at Hi Octane replaced as much as they could with a lightweight alternative; the hood, trunk, doors and wing are all dry carbon fiber, and the front bumper and rear diffuser (courtesy of Kagotani), gave the car an even more aggressive look and rounded out the newly slimmed exterior. To match the GT-R's new sleek body, the dash and door cards were carbon wrapped to match, and all the glass was upgraded to lexan for safety and weight reduction. Replacing the pair of front seats with a single Momo Corse carbon-fiber bucket and the steering wheel with a suede wrapped Sabelt alternative got the interior race ready.
Understeer isn't usually a problem easily addressed, so Mark contacted Murray Coote at Proflex suspensions and had him custom build a set of shocks specifically for the GT-R. "We lowered the car, which made the center of gravity lower; but [that] sacrificed handling, so we had to custom make the front suspension." Mark's custom-designed front suspension, matched with a set of Ikeya formula rear arms, made suspension tuning a breeze.
To get more power and torque in the best possible rpm range, Mark decided to go to a 3.0-liter RB block-an RB30DET to be more precise. "It's a Aussie-only Nissan motor, available in the Holden Commodore. They're really common in Australia and almost exactly the same as an RB26, the only difference is a longer stroke and a different head. It's a straight head swap, so we installed an RB26 head." Prior to mating the RB26 head to the Aussie mystery block, Mark filled it with all sorts of go-fast goodies like custom crank girdles, Pauter connecting rods, CP pistons and ACL bearings. They topped the RB30 with an RB26 head sporting a full Tomei valvetrain and a pair of Garrett 2860 turbochargers mated to a custom ceramic exhaust manifold. Helping Mark keep the new Franken-motor under control is a Holinger 6-speed sequential gearbox, which transfers all 830 hp through carbon-fiber driveshafts to all four wheels. Clamping down on all the tire-smoking power is a monstrous set of Alcon billet monoblock Spec 6 calipers-six pistons up front and four pistons in the rear-cradling 378mm and 365mm rotors, respectively.
Mark, Hi Octane and Yokohama premiered the new R34 at the end of March at Oran Park Gran Prix circuit in Australia and posted a best time of 1:13.64, a full 2 seconds slower than the R32 did last year. Seems like a setback? Not really, the subpar pass was on a wet track, incorrect tires for the conditions, with no sway bars and a drivetrain program snafu only putting power to the rear wheels. Mark believes that he could shave a minimum of 3 seconds off his time and put the Nissan into the 1:10 range, which would put Mark mid-pack in a troop of V-8 supercars. Mark's goal was always to return to Japan and "beat them at their own game" (meaning time attack). Mark's got some pretty big giants to topple, but he's confident the GT-R can compete with the best and with the planned engine tweaks the RB30 should be in the 950-plus-horsepower range. Mark didn't make any assumptions about the car's future performance, but from the times it has shown, it will be a contender when it returns to Tsukuba in December of 2009. Regarding the car's overall future, Mark said, "It's never-ending until you build another one. It's got to be quicker every time."
Garrett 2860-5 twin turbochargers, ceramic-coated exhaust manifold, Tomei dump tubes, ARC intercooler, GReddy intercooler piping, PWR radiator, PWR oil cooler, Hypertune intake manifold, Hypertune throttle body, custom crank girdle, Hi Octane Racing four-stage dry sump, Pauter connecting rods, CP pistons, ACL race series engine bearings, Tomei camshafts, Tomei valvesprings, Tomei retainers, Tomei solid lifters, twin Bosch 044 fuel pumps, Turbosmart fuel pressure regulator, Turbosmart ProGate50 wastegate, Turbosmart raceport blow-off valve
Autronic SM4 ECU, AIM electronic dash
Holinger 6-speed sequential gearbox, carbon-fiber driveshaft, NPC clutch, Quaife LSDs
Custom Proflex shocks by Murray Coote, custom-made sway bars (f/r), fully adjustable front suspension, Ikeya rear Formula arms, modified stub axles
Wheels, Tires and Brakes
18x10.5" +22 AME Tracer TM02 gunmetal rims, 265/40/R18 Advan A050 semi-slick tires, Alcon 6-piston calipers (f), 2-piece 378mm rotors (f), Alcon 4-piston calipers (r), 2-piece 365mm rotors (r), brake bias adjuster
Kagotani front bumper, Kagotani rear diffuser, Sunline Auto carbon-fiber front air splitter, dry carbon trunk, dry carbon doors, dry carbon hood, Sunline Auto carbon-fiber rear splitter, Sunline Auto carbon-fiber side skirts, C-West carbon-fiber GT Wing, air jacks (f/r), deleted hood and trunk hinges
MOMO Corse carbon-fiber bucket seat, carbon-fiber dash, kill switch, Sabelt suede steering wheel, carbon-fiber door skins
Yokohama, Hi Octane Racing, CNJ Motorsport, Pialba Smash Repairs (Hervey Bay) for the awesome paint job, Hypertune, Turbosmart, Racer Industries/Project Mu