There's a tad over 25,000 GD-chassis, similar to this 2006 Subaru WRX STI, that were sold in America between 2004 and 2007. Turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four, driver-controlled center diff, Brembo brakes, big rear wing, all-weather grip and, of course, an awesome heritage in WRC. These 300hp sedans were highly sought-after vehicles amongst all-wheel-drive enthusiasts. The GD-chassis STI was often put up against Mitsubishi's Evo IX and while their performance was comparable, many felt the STI looked and drove better, which was why thousands of AWD fans picked up Subaru's rally-bred WRX as a project car; like Chris Neranjan of Nashville, Tennessee, for example. Eleven years ago, Chris picked up this 2006 "hawk eye" model in Aspen White. Since then, he's gradually fine-tuned his vision of the ideal weekend warrior using a majority of high-quality JDM parts and a "function over form" mentality.
I was immediately drawn to Chris' build as I'm a sucker for clean white cars with gold wheels (ahem, my Toyota Supra). But, his Subaru also reminded me of Southern California's own Tony Lee, who's 2005 STI rocks the M-Sports widebody with gold Advan GT wheels. Tony's car is a bit more of a balls-to-the-wall show build with plenty of awards to back it up, while Chris' is more of a real-world, grassroots example, styled extremely clean and using only track-focused parts. And the best part about Chris' car is that he's not fakin' the funk. He's taken his Subie to seven track days with many more in the pipeline. I also respect that he hasn't gone overboard on horsepower or too many mods for that matter. Instead, he's evolved the car based on feedback from the track. In addition, he's determined to master the driving dynamics of the vehicle and improve his own skill level behind the wheel before taking things to the next level.
1-on-1 Interview with Chris Neranjan
When you picked up your STI in 2009, was it bone stock or slightly modified?
The car was all stock except for a Greddy Ti-C catback exhaust. I remember the first time I saw the car was in a dimly lit service bay at Beechmont Subaru in Cincinnati - two hours from home, having driven there in a rental PT Cruiser. The only light that was on in the garage shone right onto this Aspen White STi, like it was meant to be. I asked the sales guy to put it on a lift to inspect it. He fired it up and I heard the rumble and fell in love. The car was completely rust-free from top to bottom, interior 10/10, not a single dent or paint flaw, the cleanest used example of a "hawk eye" I could ever ask for.
Any specific builds or tuners inspire you?
Mine's, Top Secret, HKS, and Powerhouse Amuse. The aggressive street look with track-oriented performance was highly appealing to me and that's what I aimed for with this car. I also remember seeing awesome Evo builds dripping with Voltex parts and knew I had to have those parts on my car whenever they became available. Voltex was always desirable to me because all of their aero is wind tunnel and track tested. Wheels were always Japanese, from a set of Work wheels to three sets of RAYS wheels.
A man with good taste! Now, take us over the steps you took toward building your STI.
Step 1: Budget Friendly Basics
I started down the same mod path as most Subaru owners at the time - downpipe, Cobb AccessPort, mud flaps, replica V-Limited front
lip, and topped it off with Plastidipped BBS wheels. As cliche as it sounds now, JDM dual purpose street/track builds were always my inspiration, so when I started working full time as an engineer, I could actually afford to buy parts I'd seen on awesome builds in Super Street and other magazines throughout my teenage years.
Step 2: Dialed in for the Backroads
I began to drive backroads with friends and dove into the suspension. Initially I went with FEAL 441 coilovers and a set of 18x9 Work XD9 wheels wrapped in 245/40 Hankook R-S3 tires. The first round of fender mods happened to clear the wheels and tires. At the time, I couldn't find anyone to align the car, so I made a camber gauge, learned to string up the car, and taught myself how to do an alignment. This turned out to be an invaluable skill since I messed with the suspension so much. The R-S3s didn't last long during this learning phase, but I got better over time! As the grip level of the car increased, I found myself sliding around in the stock driver seat, so I picked up a set of Recaro Pole Position seats and they greatly improved the driving experience.
Step 3: Reliability and Rigidity
After considering how fragile the EJ257 is, I decided to ditch the Cobb OTS map and get a Protune. I purchased a KTech 73mm intake and big ETS top-mount intercooler to replace the factory unit. I also built a custom dual catch can setup to help contain blow-by. Realizing another weak point in the EJ257, the oiling system, I installed a Killer B oil pan, windage tray and pickup. An Innovate wideband was also installed with a turbo timer display because I didn't want another round gauge cluttering the dash. The car felt great with the bump in power and suspension, but I wanted more. We were backroading so frequently now that chassis rigidity and safety came into play, so an Autopower roll bar was powdercoated Aspen White and Takata ASM harnesses were installed.
Step 4: Diet Plan
The next step was reducing weight from the nose of the car to combat the notorious understeer of the STi. An Oswald Performance lightweight bumper beam was installed, followed by a custom clear powdercoated Oswald Performance front subframe brace. The two mods provided noticeably sharper turn-in and understeer was almost completely dialed out.
Step 5: The Exclamation Point
Voltex had a full kit available for the car, so began the exterior journey with a Voltex diffuser and a set of TE37s with 265/35 Bridgestone RE71R tires. More fender work was done to fit these wheels and a set of Whiteline sway bars were installed. At this point, understeer was gone, there was no lack of grip and the car tended to slowly oversteer when pushed hard. Next, the rest of the Voltex kit was ordered including the front bumper, side skirts, and wing. An ETS titanium front mount kit was ordered to fill out the front bumper and help with charge temps. After this was all installed, the car went to some shows before our first track event.
Step 6: Refinements After Shakedown
The first track event was completed without a hitch. I was hooked. The second track event included a small incident when an intercooler coupler popped off and the car had to be towed off track. Weaknesses started to show in the setup that didn't present themselves on the street. For example, the FEAL 441 suspension was too soft at 8K/6K spring rates for the track, the Project Mu HC800+ pads were getting cooked, and boost creep was becoming an issue. The suspension was bumped up to FEAL 442 with 12K/10K springs, custom valving, and remote reservoirs. The brakes were upgraded to Project Mu Club Racers, Girodisc two-piece rotors, a custom cooling system utilizing Rooducts, Deft Motion brake lines, and Endless RF650 fluid. The factory unequal length headers were replaced with Killer B Holy headers, V-band up-pipe, Cobb boost controller and a TiAL external wastegate. Lap times dropped with a much more consistent car, and I am now the limiting factor in the car's track performance. Lap times will continue to get slashed with more seat time.
Your car has all the right ingredients but was there any custom work done that was required?
The car is mostly bolt on parts, a lot of them with my own twist, but there are quite a few custom parts. To name a few: the catch can system is a setup built by me, the front bash bar with tow strap was built by Chris Coffey at Coffey Fabrication in Nashville, a lot of the titanium fasteners throughout the car were sourced and anodized by me, the OEM occupant detection system for the passenger seat was transplanted into the Recaro passenger seat for protection during street driving, and the brake cooling system was developed by me utilizing Rooducts fender well ducts and dry carbon rotor ducts. There are many small details that not a lot of people notice, so it's awesome when someone spots something they think is cool. I think the one thing that gets the most comments is the steering wheel cruise control setup. There's no straightforward way to keep cruise control when you do a quick release on these cars. Originally, I just made a quick bracket to mount the OEM cruise stalk to, but that got boring and I wanted something more racecar. After a few weeks of brainstorming how I was going to do this, I started buying and making parts to turn this concept into reality. The carbon panel on the steering wheel houses buttons that toggle all the cruise control functions of the car. Yes, they do work! Haha!
Hardest parts to get your hands on?
All of my Voltex pieces required ample patience. The front bumper took about nine months to receive, the rear diffuser was about a five month wait and the wing was another nine months. Surprisingly, the side skirts were in stock and ready to go, otherwise those would've been another several months. The most difficult parts to acquire were my Recaro head pads in discontinued Valour blue. As small of a detail as it is, they took quite some time to locate and ship from Japan.
Give us a little breakdown on the track events you've attended so far.
I've done all seven of my track days through the BingeTokyo organization and their Circuit Battles and HPDE events held at The National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park. The track is laid out in a twin circuit arrangement; I've done the majority of events in the "Grand" layout which combines both circuits but have also done the "West" configuration. The Grand layout is very much for high horsepower cars or momentum cars, but the STi puts up a decent fight. West configuration is the lower speed and more technical half of the track, so you can really exploit the AWD to slingshot the car out of corners. The STi is the only car I've tracked so far. Most of my track buddies have Hondas of different flavors, so it's interesting to compare "notes" on the strengths and weaknesses of each platform on a common test bed.
Sounds like taking the STI on the track was the best idea ever...
Driving on track is by far the most fun I've ever had in this car and I wish I had started sooner. I honestly love everything about it. The pre-track prep work, the actual driving, the post-track check-up or repairs, it's all fun. You're literally responsible for your life through your prep work and driving. Getting point-bys from cars above your weight class is a great feeling. It's also fantastic to really test out the parts you're buying and actually feeling the difference they make. Also, one of the best feelings is driving home from the track in a car you built, covered in brake dust and tire streaks, after thrashing on it all day. People are looking at you funny because of your squealing brakes, but you finally get to relax a little bit, music volume up just enough to hear any potential mechanical issues, but you realize all is well and this feeling of pride washes over you when you make it home and park it safe and sound in the garage.
Very well said. Last but not least, your two cents on the Subaru scene today?
It's a lot different than it was 10+ years ago. Styles have changed a lot and I can't say that I'm a fan of all the trends to be honest, but I'm glad we've moved away from overly-stanced Subarus to more of a track look with usable camber and flush fitment. I appreciate Subaru changing things up with the new WRX with the 2.0 direct-injected twin-scroll engine, but I think the new STi's are too comfortable. The major attraction to the GD STi was how raw the car was and the lack of creature comforts. I do love what Subaru did with the BRZ and they seem to be fantastic track cars, perhaps it's time for a bump in power now that they've been out for so long. I'd say I'm a Subaru fan for life, though I appreciate anything cool from any manufacturer. That being said I don't think I'd ever get rid of the STi unless there was an offer I couldn't refuse.
More bangin' Super Street GD-chassis Subaru STI features:
Kendrick Gray's 512whp Show Car Shootout winner
812whp widebody beast by Josh Freeman
Another Voltex-equipped build from the Bay Area
Throwback to this 2012 Super Street cover car