Even casual readers of Modified are sure to know about Full-Race owner Geoff Raicer's "Frankenstein" project car, dubbed the R14. However, if you're one of the few who hasn't heard of this thing before, it's Geoff's brainchild and basically consists of a '95 Nissan 240SX S14 chassis coupled to the motor and drivetrain from a RB26 Skyline GT-R. Sound a little nuts? Well, you can bet your ass it is, and it's also clear proof that a mechanical engineer, which Geoff is by trade, will do just about anything just to show it can be done. And I say God bless 'em, because no one in his right mind would go through the unbelievable effort that Geoff and his amazing Full-Race team have gone through - unless they wanted to prove something.
Geoff wanted to go for the overall win this year at the Modified Tuner Shootout, and he wanted me behind the wheel of the R14. Now, that might not send a shiver down your spine, but it did to mine when he first asked if I was interested. I mean, seriously, how often do you get asked to drive a 700hp car that has developed a cult following among the Nissan S-chassis and GT-R faithful (and is pretty much an untested quantity)? To be honest, I was flattered and honored - and agreed to Geoff's offer on the spot.
Geoff, whose modest-looking Phoenix-based shop turns out some of the most beautiful headers and twin-scroll turbo kits anywhere, knew that the whole idea would be a bit of an experiment. After all, although Geoff sells the do-it-yourself R14 kit to "any competent mechanic with a 220V MIG-welder to install," he's keenly aware that it's still a street car. With the entry list for the 2010 Modified Tuner Shootout including proper cars like the multi-time winning Gary Sheehan-driven GST Subaru of Mike Warfield and the simply amazing Chris Rado Scion, using a street car was a bit like bringing a knife to a gun fight - OK, it's a really, really sharp knife!
Geoff was not to be deterred, however, as he and his crew did some incredible work to get the R14 ready. They shed as much weight as possible, added some aero and fabbed up a killer V-mount radiator/intercooler assembly. Along with a ported, machined and radius valve worked head done by Headgames Motorworks, the R14 also sports a modified JUN oil pump and TRUST increased capacity sump. A Ferrea valvetrain, Tomei 280 cams, Hypertune intake and an ITB manifold were also thrown in the mix. And with the anticipated massive boost numbers, Geoff made sure that fuel would flow well with ID 1,000cc injectors and two Bosch 044 fuel pumps.
Speaking of boost, Geoff decided to use a BorgWarner Airwerks S300 prototype turbocharger with one of Full-Race's twin-scroll kits. He has been doing a fair amount of work with the smart boys at BW, and the dyno numbers for the shootout proved it.
Horsepower is great, but the Tuner Shootout also requires that a car turn, and the handling equation was taken care of with an R32 GT-R front suspension with modified upper control arms to allow for 7 degrees of caster. A Quaife front diff helped with power placement. Moton dampers helped with controlled suspension movement, and massive 275/35R18 Ventus C91 Hankook meats put the power and the grip to the ground. Geoff also decided to give me the slowing power of a set of Brembo brakes from a track-model G35 armed with Raybestos motorsport pads.
If you want more detailed info on this monster, you can drop by the Full-Race website or shoot Geoff an email - the guy is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the cars he's built. We could write eight pages of info on this car and still miss stuff.
After more blood, sweat and tears than any car deserves, the R14 was ready for an initial shakedown. It didn't go very well. The car runs on E85, so it was very tough to start and keep at idle. Also, it was later found that the wastegates had torn diaphragms just before this shakedown, causing a boost leak and adding lag. The big turbo powerband made nothing below 5000 rpm and then would explode in horsepower, vaporizing all four tires in rubber shredding wheelspin. That makes it pretty much undriveable, especially when I thought about the upcoming autocross and time attack competition, which both put a huge emphasis on throttle response and usable power.
It was back to the drawing board for a couple weeks and then back out to the track. The second test was much better, as Geoff had installed a new prototype turbo designed to produce the same power level but with much quicker spool and response. Also at the second test was World Challenge race driver Andrew Wojteczko and his super cool dad, Andy Wojteczko, assisting Geoff in the handling department. Andrew and his dad were very helpful in trying to get a proper suspension setup done for the awkward handling characteristics of the R14.
During the second test (you can see on-track video at youtube.com/watch?v=-rbVCuz94QY) we began to notice binding with the power steering system or the diffs, or both (we must have pulled out a quart of excess PS fluid). Power delivery was much improved, but the bind in the steering had us all stumped, and it made the car very hard to drive physically. We also began to experience some mysterious front-wheel lockup when braking and adding steering load. I began to chase my tail a bit and never did quite catch it. With a few days left before the event, Geoff and his team went back to work again.
Finally, the day of the shootout arrived. The car made good power on the dyno and we were sitting in roughly third place after that part of the competition. The first driving event was the autocross, which was held early in the morning. Dodging cones is something that, as a team, we have struggled with in the past. This year was no exception, as boost response was simply not where we needed it. I found myself waiting on the car through several sections of the course, knowing that I was losing time. On my last run, I drove the car a lot more aggressively, having tried everything else I could; although we lowered our lap time considerably, I think I also destroyed the already damaged rear LSD, allowing the car to get inside tire wheelspin. We ended up in fifth place after the autocross.
The drag race part of the shootout, which was held around noon, actually turned out to be one of the most fun parts of the event. I have to give a disclaimer here and let you know that when it comes to running the 1320, I have about as much experience as my five-year-old - except he has better reflexes. Thankfully, though, the organizers agreed that we didn't need to actually cut a light and the times would be determined simply by car performance.
Seven hundred ponies is a decent chunk of power to lay to the asphalt, and I needed some help with technique. Luckily, Geoff brought along Ernesto Arango, an accomplished Honda drag racer and Full-Race's right-hand man on the East Coast. Ernesto, upon hearing that I really didn't know how to drive a quarter-mile at a time, was about ready to drop his sockets and leave the property. But he ended up giving me some pretty helpful tips.
Each team was allowed five passes. We used the first two to get the launch correct. Ernesto had suggested getting slop out of the drivetrain by using the handbrake while inching the car forward. "You do it wrong, man, and you're gonna snap an axle, guaranteed," Ernesto said.
My first two hole shots were on the money and I was feeling pretty good about myself, but we used low boost settings. I ran low 12s for each pass with 2.0-second 60-foot times. Ernesto made it clear that when we upped the boost, the car would go better, but the launch would be harder to nail. He also told me that my 60-foot times needed to improve. He was spot on, but I ended up releasing the clutch too quickly and got some wheelspin even after the car hooked up. We finally got a 1.8-second 60-foot time and ran a high 11. I was OK with that, and it didn't hurt us in the standings. And let me tell you, the pull that car produced was stunning.
The time attack was the last event, and one where we needed to do well to keep our position and possibly move forward. I ran the car reasonably hard, but probably could've driven into turn 1 a bit deeper. Our terminal velocity was somewhere in the 150s, and without ABS, I wasn't sure how well the thing was going to slow. The Hankooks were just as amazing. Not only did they have killer overall grip, but grip that came in after just one turn. I ended up running a 1:05 in a car that might have had a low 1:04 in it.
As it turned out, the excitement for the day started as I finished the time attack competition. Just past start/finish on my cool-down lap, I noticed a bit of smoke from the shift boot. Not a big deal really, as everything on the car was pretty new and a little smoke that way isn't all that surprising. However, after running through turn 1 the smoke began to get worse and was accompanied by the strong odor of burning header wrap. Again, not too surprising, but the amount of smoke began to concern me a bit. By the time I had made it to the backsection of the circuit, the smoke was bad enough that I couldn't see much and I was having a hard time breathing. I opened the door to get some airflow and it began to dawn on me that although I couldn't see open flame out the back of the car in the mirror, that we might actually be on fire.
The thing was, about the time the smoke got bad enough to where I had to open the door, we were only a couple hundred meters from the pit entrance, and I felt that stopping the car on track would mean that Frankenstein could end up burning to the ground. There was no way I was gonna go down like that! I also considered staying in the car because I never smelled gas burning. Please understand that if I even had a hint that there was a fuel fire, I would have jumped out faster than you can say, "Hey, that R14 is on fire." Then it would just have been a matter of bringing over a very long stick and a hot dog and having a carbeque!
Just as I got to pit lane, people with extinguishers came running to put out the fire.
That was the '10 Modified Tuner Shootout experience for the R14. In the end, car and driver survived relatively unscathed. Every good driver and team feels compelled to learn from their experiences, and we all agreed that what we went through was definitely an experience.
So what did we learn?
Full-Race and BorgWarner know boost!
The R14 will live another day to be a street/show car.
Don't use aluminum for exhaust.
My Sparco suit literally saved my behind.
Full-Race now knows that at this level you either drive it on the street or the track - not both. The guys will be back next year, but they'll also bring a gun to the fight.