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Killer Elite (Ninja Assassin)

Daigo Saito is a name that has gained significant recognition throughout the drift community. Never has there been a drifter who has made such a fast and steady progress from grassroots to a world class professional. With his aggressive driving style and showmanship, Daigo always leaves a lasting impression wherever he smokes those rear tyres.

Let’s recap some of his accomplishments; he was crowned 2008 D1GP overall champion, 2011 D1GP second place overall, debuted at the 2012 Formula Drift USA and became the only rookie of the year to win the championship, winner of the 2010 Formula Drift Malaysia, AND consecutive championship wins in the 2011 Formula Drift Asia, and 2012 Formula Drift Asia. In fact, Daigo is the only driver to claim both the D1GP and Formula D championships, proving his versatility as a driver and ability to adapt in any competitive environment.

Even when he’s not winning, Daigo still makes headlines the world over. Remember his battle against Kawabata Masato in 2007 at Fuji Speedway, which resulted in the biggest crash in D1GP history? He also became the first driver to attempt a high speed jump drift at the Ebisu Minami circuit in Japan. Not forgetting his recent battle with Fredric Aasbo in Long Beach CA, which became cited the “Greatest Drift Battle” in Formula D history. Due to the intensity of the battle between the two drivers, the judges had to call for two rematches (6 runs total) before coming to a decision.

To help with his global assault, Daigo teamed up with Achilles Radial Drift Team, ESPERANZA Tuning Japan, Design Craft, and USA technical partner Bridges Racing. For the Formula D Asia series, the team built a car using the Lexus IS 250 C (the hardtop convertible version) as the platform. Sure, he could have used a regular IS model, but that would have been kind of normal. Plus, Formula D regulations allow for convertible cars to participate, so why not? Style is a part of drifting after all.

Daigo is pretty particular and meticulous when it comes to building his car. He gives a lot of input on what goes into the car to suit his preferred driving style. So let’s start with the engine; it is none other than the bulletproof 2JZ-GTE, the preferred choice of many Japanese teams.

From the get go Daigo has always been pushing for high horsepower, so to kick off this engine build the team fitted in a 3.4 liter Brian Crower stroker kit. Now, professional builders rarely use a stroker kit unless they are pushing some serious hardware, and it doesn’t get any more serious than a massive ball bearing Garrett GT42R mated to an equally huge CX Racing intercooler. To improve response, a set of NAPREC high response valves and a HKS cam pulley kit is added in. To make sure the engine is always running optimally during competition, the team makes sure it’s lubricated with NEO Synthetics engine oil and transmission fluids. Oh, and a nice big tank of NOS nitrous oxide is installed in the rear for good measure, along with the racing fuel cell and radiator components. This setup allows for better weight distribution to the rear, and also helps to reduce the chances of any car-to-car contact from disabling the vehicle.

With the current setup, the engine is producing approximately 1200 bhp, and that means the transmission needs to be bulletproof as well. Known for their high performance and durability, a Holinger full sequential gearbox is selected to take on all that horsepower. Now, if you use a regular clutch for this kind of power, you can expect it to disintegrate like shredded paper. So the team swapped in a set of SPEC clutch and flywheel to cope with the punishment.

Formula D regulations are quite lenient when it comes to chassis modifications, so these competition cars come with some pretty funky stuff. The front wheel well has been removed to allow the technicians better access to the suspension components. Oh yes, the suspension components; DG5 designed and fabricated a set of adjustable coilovers to suit Daigo’s specification, paired with a custom knuckle setup for increased steering angle. The brakes are just as impressive, a set that would be the envy of any professional race car; a set of Willwood front 6-pot and rear dual calipers with scallop disc rotors, which are specially designed to reduce unsprung weight, improve heat dissipation and reduce rotational mass. As with most professional drift cars, a hydraulic handbrake is used to help lock up the rear wheels with minimal effort.


Just as a competition race car should be, the interior is stripped out to a bare minimum and fitted with an FIA approved rollcage. It’s nice to see the factory dashboard is still retained, but now fitted with a custom switchboard and an extended steering column with a Prodrive competition steering wheel. A Racepak digital dash and data logger helps to keep the space clean and simple, yet allowing the driver to monitor all the vital information of the car. The floor mounted adjustable pedals with individual fluid reservoirs gives a more precise pedal feel for Daigo, and costs more than my car. The ever popular Bride Low Max full bucket seats with Prodrive racing harness are the proven choice to keep Daito planted at all times during those high speed sideways action.

The Lexus is dressed up in a Kazama Auto original wide-body kit, which are easily detachable. This allows for quick parts change and maintenance access, or in case of body to body contact the panels are easily replaceable. SEIBON provided the carbon fiber parts for the fenders and the enormous GT wing.

So what’s next for Daigo? Well, word on the street is there’s a Dodge Viper currently being built for competition in Japan, and he also purchased Samuel Hubinette’s ex-Formula D Dodge Challenger. Yup, Daigo just seems to keep pushing harder and harder, and shows no sign of slowing down. When the time is right you can expect a feature about it from Hypertune magazine.

Car: Lexus IS 250 C

Engine: 2JZ-GTE 3.0-liter 6-cylinder turbocharged, 3.4 liter Brian Crower stroker kit, Garrett GT42R, HKS cam pulley, NAPREC high response valves, CX Racing intercooler, Koyorad radiator “special made for Daigo Saito”, custom fuel cell, HPS silicon hoses and air intake, NOS Nitrous Oxide, NEO Synthetics engine oil and transmission fluid

Electronics: Blitz sequential boost controller, Racepak digital dash and data logger

Transmission: Holinger full sequential gearbox, SPEC clutch and flywheel

Chassis & Handling: DG5 full adjustable coilovers

Brakes: Willwood front 6-pot, Willwood rear dual calipers, scallop disc rotors

Wheels & Tyres: M7 Japan RT87 – 19 x 9.5 offset +40, Achilles R123 – 265/35R18 front and rear

Interior: FIA spec roll cage, Bride Low Max bucket seats, Prodrive harness, Prodrive steering wheel, floor mounted adjustable pedals with individual fluid reservoirs

Exterior: Kazama Auto original wide-body kit, SEIBON carbon fiber fenders and GT wing

Fabricator: Design Craft

Garage: ESPERANZA Tuning Japan in collaboration with USA technical partner Bridges Racing

Text: Sean Eu
Photos: Kenny Yeoh and Driftpac

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