Revenge of the Nerd - Power Wars

by Mike Kojima

It's been quite a while since I had the time to write my supposedly "monthly" column. Since we started MotoIQ In 2010 it's been a wild ride which has taken us around the world and on all sorts of adventures. I have been super busy working as well.  My normal day job here at MotoIQ is a pretty full time gig but I also do engineering consulting for several key OEM and aftermarket clients as well as several private motorsports ventures.  Perhaps my biggest outside of MotoIQ job is doing chassis engineering for Falken Motorsports' Formula D team.

A lot of motorsports enthusiasts who don't understand what it takes to compete at the top levels of drifting tend to look down on it but let me tell you that a typical pro drift car is just as sophisticated as any unibody based race car built, including the high levels of touring car racing and rally.  Setting up drift cars is more difficult and less intuitive than any form of motorsport that I have participated in.

One of the biggest controversies to grip the sport lately is the loosely defined term, "power wars".  In drifting, the cars have been getting bigger, more complicated, heavier and much more powerful as the sport progresses.  The new drift fan or the casual drift fan loves these tech based cars with their spectacular high angle tire smoking antics.  However the traditional drift purist hates them.

About seven short years ago, your typical pro drift car was an AE86 , or a Nissan S chassis, something like Taka Aono's car shown here.  Back then Taka had a high revving Formula Atlantic 4AG in his car that probably made at the most 200 whp. If you had a SR20DET with 450 whp, that was just amazing.  Tanner Foust was holding down with a 500 or so hp turbo VQ35DE.  This was the era of Initial D and the traditional JDM Fanboi drift fan. I thought drifting was stupid and did my work with road racing and time attack cars.

About 5 years ago I accidentally somehow started to work with Falken on their Formula D team and was quickly humbled by how the sport had progressed and how difficult it was to get the cars to hook up and work right.  I was also impressed with how good the drivers were.  I think guys like Ian Stewart of ASD and myself were somewhat responsible for launching the suspension revolution to where drifters started to pay a lot of attention to chassis set up and overall handling.  About this time the V8 revolution also started.  Horsepower requirements started to climb as we all learned more and more about how to get the cars to hook up while fully sideways.

Instead of building highly stressed turbo 4 and 6 cylinders, someone actually weighed some of the newer generation domestic pushrod V8 engines like the Chevy LS and found that they were nearly the same weight as many turbocharged 4 cylinders of equivalent power. The V8's could make the power with much less stress, more durability, less cost, greater simplicity and with a nice wide powerband and a lot of torque to boot. Team owners loved the American V8's and traditional drift fans hated them.

Around this time we had a modified Chevy LS2 crate motor in Dai Yoshihara's Team Falken S13 which made about 440 whp.  We were vastly underpowered to many other cars but we were in contention to win a championship in 2010 with this setup, mostly due to our car having a huge handling advantage over the field.

In 2011 Formula D came up with a sliding scale of tire size to weight in an effort to slow the cars down and contain costs.  We ran a 265mm tire at 2800 lbs that year which seemed to be a sweet spot.  At this point cars stated to get heavier and power requirements started to go up due to the new rules. 

That year we ran a more sophisticated LS7 based 7 liter engine making about 540 to the wheels.  This was run of the mill power for the time and we were probably the lowest powered of the top 5-6 cars.  However we still  had a good handling advantage despite rules to limit what we could do with suspension geometry.  I felt these rules were aimed at us because were were one of the few teams to play with suspension geometry over the last few years. 

I think that this was perhaps the most balanced package that we have yet to run and if rules were designed to freeze the cars at around this point, all would be great in the sport.  With 540 hp we barely managed to win a championship that year.  Some cars were beginning to push well over 650 whp at this point. 

The next year through a lot of testing we determined that it was better to run a bigger tire with more weight.  We ran a 295mm tire at 3100 lbs.  To move this weight around of course we needed more power.  We started to deviate from production engines and went to a race engine based on LS architecture making about 700 whp.  Other teams were pushing in the high 700's as a lot of teams came to the same conclusion that a bigger tire and more weight was faster.  Car were rapidly becoming more complicated.

In 2012 Daigo Saito arrived in America and fired the first shot of the current power wars.  With his up to 1300 hp turbo nitrous 2JZ and the sticky Achilles tire, Daigo set the Formula D world on fire by winning Rookie of the Year and becoming the 2012 champion.  An amazing feat.  Daigo caused most of us to rethink what we were doing. We struggled all year to keep up with 700 hp.  Who would have thought that more than this this power level would ever be needed?

Page 1 of 3 Next Page
Bookmark and Share
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 2:58 AM
Mike, thanks for an article that helps me understand this sport better. I'm still not into drift, but the car control is incredible.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 3:51 AM
Good article. I can see how your last ideas can be abused though, considering engines ... not sure limiting the engine to the make of the car is an answer. Nissan/infiniti already make V8s, and if american V8s are the answer, then the usual japanese chassis will be replaced by american ones.

I totally agree that power war needs to come to a stop. Otherwise it is going to drain too much money from teams and ultimately kill the discipline. How about some mandatory intake restrictors ?
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 5:27 AM
Perhaps this is a question waiting to be begged but....Why not 1/3UZ, VH/VK, 5.7/6.2L Hemi, Coyote V8.....

Why all the LS engines? Being an IS300 guy I know 1UZs can be had for $500, built for serious power (just waiting for a turbo to be slapped on) for under $3,000....And with that you get an engine that doesnt mind being held at redline as opposed to the LS architecture.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 5:48 AM
I can see these reasons : cheap, available, reliable, small footprint yet big displacement, and they can already produce decent power with few mods. Transmission is tough, mapping can be done without changing the ECU t(although at that power level i guess standalone is used anyway) and oiling problems at "high revs" seem to be a thing of the past.

A 1UZ is 4L, and there is no replacement for displacement. As i drive a turbo 1.8L, it is a bit painful to admit... anyway an LS has 50% more displacement than a xUZ, and that alone may be one reason. It usually has an auto transmission, and like most OHC engines, takes a lot of space under the bonnet. I have seen an S13 with an infiniti V8, it is so large it barely fits in, while a LS still has a lot of room.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 6:33 AM
Man, the fanboys need to stop yelling at people to get off their lawn. Like it or not, drifting has become a pro sport in the US. I know people love to claim they are running the same S13/AE86/FRS setup as the big boys, but it is now similar to someone complaining about NASCAR because they have an impala or WRC because they drive a forrester.

We should be thrilled that FD has evolved to a point where there are pro teams with pro sponsorships and even more thrilled that FD hasn't limited power output like so many other sports.

FD and TA are quickly becoming the best sports to follow. At least (most of) the cars are still rocking a unibody, not a full tube frame or tub made by some compay that doesn't sell cars. Who cares what kind of engine they shove in that chassis, it makes it all the better when you see imports rock domestic engines and vice versa.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 8:52 AM
Forgive me for being behind the times, but does Pro 2 already exist? If it's created, will it impact car counts in the existing class? Or is there truly a market for more participants?
Mike D
Mike Dlink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 9:02 AM
I just wish there were more grass roots events where I could take my car and fling it around. I dont want to be the next prostar or big name in drifting, I just want a place I can have some fun and do some learning.

Or maybe its all one giant conspiracy to keep Canadians out of drifting?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 9:22 AM
Pro 2 does exist but now it's for Pro drivers with low overall championship points. The class is meant to be a stepping stone from pro am to the big boys. My idea is for it not to be a lesser class but one with different rules much like NHRA Pro Stock or D1's street drift classes.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 9:40 AM
It's interesting looking at the evolution of things. As a very outside observer, I'm a little torn - it's very clear and obvious the advantage of building up a US based V8 with all its advantages, but seeing things like Frederick Aasbo's mill and all they've done to try to counter the V8s is pretty cool.

@-Tom-: Why pushrod V8s? Economy of scale and not having to reinvent the wheel. You could build a VK or UZ (or Coyote or New Hemi) to similar power output probably... but you're at the mercy of a much smaller pool of subcontractors unless you want to take every aspect of development inhouse. Looking at the UZ, because I've looked at it before myself, at a top flight build you're going to be looking at headwork, with the deal of finding someone who does a good reliable job, on time, with a lead time you can live with. And intake manifold fabrication. And custom pistons and rods, because it's not like the UZ is common for max effort builds. And then you're wondering what specialized issues are going to crop up that you didn't think of - splitting liners, oil issues, issues with production castings, whatever... because for people doing max effort import V8 builds, most are just drag guys too and won't encounter the same issues for run duration and g-loading, and god knows for a professional team, a mechanical DNF has financial implications. And *then* you have to do all the development for the turbo system that the domestic-based engines do.

Or you can use a lot of parts, available off the shelf and designed for racing in the first place, that let you skip a lot of the long block work - heads with castings that are close to what you need and then come already cnc'd, blocks tested to a couple thousand horsepower more or less as delivered, pistons, rods and cranks that are either catalog items or relatively small variants on shelf items, dry sump stuff off the shelf, so on and so forth. Yes, there's obviously still work to be done to have a reliable package with the powerband you want, but you don't have to reengineer as much of it. And I bet in practice that means that more budget can go to suspension, testing, and spares and the like.

I actually remember comments regarding LMP engines from someone at Judd - to the effect that forcing the builders to start from production engines for cost savings is misguided, as all the modifications to even a high performance production engine to make it suitable for racing far exceeds how much it would cost to just throw it away and make a new casting that you don't have to fix.


I do like the idea of a pro-stock or whatever... lower prep class. Something about outlawing turbos on big V8s might be a good idea, just to head things off even if it seems like it wouldn't be usable with smaller tires. Maybe a maximum 2 power adders for a 4, one for a 6, and none for an 8? Would limiting unibody mods and suspension pickup relocation make sense too? I mean I know that at the pro level hacking off as much of the front and rear as is done and replacing it with a tube substructure makes sense for repair, but I can see a lot of people on the DIY side of things being put off by it. Possibly a dollar limit on shocks - X per corner for strut, Y for non-strut, with some sort of claimer rule? Just throwing things out that I've seen in other rulebooks.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 10:33 AM
Dan, you are spot on in your assessment.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 11:38 AM
As far as power limitations for a lower level class you could just take a page from WRC and force everyone to use the same restrictor plate. This allows a wide range of engine and turbo configurations while limiting the final power output to a pretty flat range.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 11:59 AM
From looking at SCCA and other stuff where restrictors are used, apparently tuning engines around restrictors is expensive, counter-intuitive and annoying, and for that matter can lead to expensive builds trying to maximize the restrictor. Turbo inducer size limits maybe.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 1:23 PM
About Dai's car spinning violently on any dyno, why not take it to a dynapack that bolts directly to the hubs? I'm curious enough to actually pay for the session (not transport and all, just the actual session, 3-4 pulls)...
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 1:47 PM
I like the idea of a lower class, but the more restrictions that are placed on any motorsport the more expensive it gets to compete at the highest levels. For example, the pro stock NHRA class has tons of restrictions and tough competition. This means that to be at the top you have to build an $80k+ engine and be willing to trash it and build another one on a regular basis. Also if you look at drag racing, the hottest, most attention grabbing part of that racing is not the NHRA right now. It's the 10.5 Outlaw racing that is using the tire size as the limiting factor. I think Formula D is on the right track by limiting tires, not engines. In my opinion, this is because some of the biggest advances for ordinary car guys in the last few years have been the advent of cheap huge power that you can get in your own garage. After all, one of the best articles that's come out of MotoIQ all year was about all of the different kinds of engines that are being used in Formula D this year. There's no need to restrict what engine should be used, let competition do that. Once everybody is running the same setup, then change the rules so that it has to get changed up. While inconvenient for tuners and builders, this is the most interesting part of motorsports for the spectators that care about the technical side of cars. Once that particular form of motorsports is "changed out" and there are no more interesting things to change, then bring in the sponsors for people that have no clue about cars and start trying to advertise for them; because the spectators that care about the technical side will be long gone.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 6:07 PM
Mike - 2 weeks of great articles! I just happened to get real busy with work on the days you posted these. PS My research has shown the all aluminum small blocks are more expensive than LS race blocks.

I wonder with this class-line of reasoning how a 245 class would affect someone like Taka, would he have to add weight in order to qualify for the class? I mean, I like the reasoning, but I'd rather see Dyno verified HP limits or something along those lines.

I think the last 2 seasons are proving that you can win without V8s but the HP wars will be dominated by the V8s and their reliability!
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 6:16 PM
Crousti - I almost forgot.....I don't see Japanese Chasis giving way to American one due to weight
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, July 09, 2014 7:59 PM
Hence my idea for limiting tire size more for Pro 2. Limiting the Motor is difficult and lame but if tires were limited to my proposed widths and weights, the cars would be sort of like how they were in 2010 which was probably the last year of obtainable cars.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Thursday, July 10, 2014 11:23 AM
I like the idea of limiting tire width based on vehicle size and/or weight.
Friday, July 11, 2014 6:55 AM
I'm not a drifting purist, but I have lost interest in pro-drifting besides some of the personalities I've always enjoyed (Dai, Tuerck, Gushi and the like).

One of the biggest reasons for that is that I can't relate to the pro-level anymore and that started when the Scion Tc was let in. I saw it as NASCAR-ing the sport by moving too far way from cars you could actually buy. FD was no longer doing cool things with cars that I could actually hope to obtain and that made it a lot less special.
Saturday, July 12, 2014 3:31 PM
Great article Mike. It's fascinating getting insight on the evolution of it from somebody known to be a credible source.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 10:07 PM
great article, i like the v8s just wish they were twin cam. - No power restrictions, i can live with a spec tire size though
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 10:09 PM
I mean Dohc. doesnt Arias make DOHC 4 valve heads for domestic blocks?
Post Comment Login or register to post a comment.

MotoIQ Proudly Presents Our Partners:

© 2018 MotoIQ.com