Right now, a lot of racing teams are catching their breath. Few could have ever imagined a global pandemic derailing plans across motorsport the way it has, yet here we are; much of the world is figuring out how to move forward and make life a semblance of normal, and so too is racing, embracing new ways of doing things, like competing virtually, and entertaining the unconventional, like staging live events without spectators. For a lot of series, teams and promoters, the year was just starting when everything got shut down, and harsh as it seems to sit idle, in many respects the silver lining may be this time can be used to reset and refocus, or at least try to get ready for whatever's next. Like Formula DRIFT pro driver and team owner Aurimas "Odi" Bakchis, who is making a chassis change this year from Nissan S14 240SX to S15 Silvia (but still V-8 powered) and wants as much time as he can get with his new oversteering weapon.
"We tested the Feal Suspension Falken Tire S15 [for the first and only time] a full month before the first Formula D round was to take place, so I felt like we were doing great," Odi remembers about life pre-quarantine. The Bakchis squad is historically known to be on top of their game, and this interruption gave them just a bit more margin to prep and organize every facet of what it takes to run the team. It also gave Odi, who owns and runs Feal Suspension USA with a small staff, time to adapt his business to a stay-at-home order from the state and operating with a skeleton crew. The whole thing has been a learning experience, no doubt, but Bakchis realizes this opportunity he's been given to prepare for what's next has also been given to his FD competition. "I feel like we need to do something above and beyond just being ready for the first round," he observes. "I need to be ready and dialed for the whole season."
This will be Bakchis's 10th season in the Formula DRIFT USA pro championship, and if you know anything about his history, you know Odi is always on the hunt. With the exception of the 2018 season, he has finished among the top five in driver points each year since 2014, last year nabbing two overall event wins (Rd. 1 Long Beach and Rd. 2. Orlando) in a season for the first time. And except for 2016, when he was in the Feal ARK Performance Hyundai Genesis Coupe, he has amassed his impressive FD record in a V-8-swapped S14.
Actually, it's been two S14; his first was totaled in 2012, so the 240SX he retired after 2019 had been his go-to for nearly seven years, and as Odi puts it, there's only so much hacking up of a seven-year-old chassis you can do. So, part way through the 2019 year, Bakchis set in motion a plan to build an S15 Silvia for 2020, getting a huge jump on the project because he knew it would take a ton of work. Because the Nissan platforms are so similar, Odi already had a wealth of technical knowhow from years of S14 experience and could literally transplant many of the systems with little to no modification to the S15. The 240SX is now put out to pasture as a backup car, while the V-8 Silvia—converted from RHD to LHD because Odi prefers it—will be the first in FD USA since Ross Petty's last saw the circuit in 2012.
One of the biggest changes Odi made to the Silvia—and reasons why he wanted to start with a fresh chassis—is weight balance. S-chassis tend to be front heavy, especially with a big heavy V-8 in between the forward strut towers, and after attempting to tweak engine position with the S14 (with limited results), he realized it may not be worth the effort. "I wasn't about to cut up the S14 for insignificant little changes [in balance], so when I was building the S15 from scratch I knew I had to push the engine back 1.5 inches, or the max that we could, and I also had to do a lot more than that to get the full effect of shifting weight on the corner scales." This included things like moving back his seating position in the Silvia another 5 inches from where he was set up in the 240SX, and moving the dual Optima YellowTop batteries to the rear, among other measures.
While there is V-8 power under the S15's hood like in the 14, it's a brand-new mill and part of a mostly new powertrain. Texas Speed & Performance built the custom 427 CID (or roughly 7.0L) engine featuring PRC heads equipped with Crower shaft rockers and custom TSP cams and solid lifters; it runs on E85, is plumbed for NOS nitrous, and flexes a big ol' Vortech supercharger on the driver side. In general, Odi's 2020 car has seen improvements in data collection and fuel system simplicity, and in particular Holley was a big help on this build, the Silvia sporting Hooker exhaust products, Earl's lines and fittings, and Racepak electronics, in addition to the NOS system and others. All the go-fast goodies (minus the NOS) coupled with the S15's new quick-change rear and new axles put down 900 horsepower and 880 lb.-ft. of torque on the dyno in the last tune before shaking down the car, which is right about where Odi wants it (they also did a tune naturally aspirated with nitrous and made 665 and 686).
Before the shutdown, Odi was able to take the Feal Falken S15 to Willow Springs' Balcony for one test day and was not disappointed. Right off the trailer it "was a monster," and while he definitely needs more time to dial in the car—Bakchis says he generally likes to have four days of pre-season testing in the books—he feels the Silvia is heading in the right direction. "There were moments where it picked up speed faster than the s14," Odi recalls. "The S15 definitely has more grip, speed and control than the previous car, it makes me want to go back out there and try to squeeze out its potential. We have to take advantage of those things in order for all our effort to pay off."
Part of that effort involves cranking up the marketing of his team, which he's tackling as a first-year YouTuber. Partnering with Falken Tire teammate and FD "Frenemie" Matt Field, the duo post driving videos, shop life edits, BTS action, and insights into their respective Formula D builds, including the entire evolution of Odi's V-8 S15 Silvia. And the timing couldn't have been better; Odi recalls, "When shit hit the fan with COVID-19, I was thankful we had this YouTube channel already going and I already had content for it." For a guy who always seems like he's looking to meet the next challenge completely prepared, we expect nothing less.