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When The Lights Go Green

The typical Christmas tree on sanctioned drag strips consists of a column of six lights for each competitor or lane, and goes off up in sequence – one blue, then three ambers, and green means go! The lights on the tree are automatically activated when the first and second competitor crosses the stage beam. Each driver will have up to 7 seconds to stage or else the Christmas tree expresses its displeasure by flashing red, indicating a timed-out disqualification.

Once the cars get to their starting positions, the Christmas tree proceeds to fire all three of its amber lights at once, followed by green to signal the start of the race. Unlike what you see in movies, where drag races are usually flagged off by a seductive broad in her lingerie, the lights on a Christmas tree takes no side. Its there to do a job and it doesn’t care if the competition is a 10,000hp fire-spitting Top Fuel dragster or a go-kart on steroids.

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One such patron to the lights of the drag strip is Jeff Ludgate and his 1995 R33 Skyline GT-R dragster. While most reverent 60-year olds would have settled down for something less dramatic, Jeff’s passion for drag racing won’t let him quit so easy. His foray into drag racing started with his first Japanese performance car, a Mitsubishi GTO, which he purchased from a lady. However, after a full year of regret, the former owner persuaded Jeff to sell her back the car. Done and dusted, it was time to move on.

Spoilt for choice, his son’s friend suggested that he buy a Nissan Skyline GT-R to replace the GTO. That was the first Jeff had heard about the famed Skyline. He made the ultimate decision and as luck would have it, he got himself a pristine R33 GT-R for a steal.

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According to Jeff, the car arrived from Japan with a “one-off” front bumper and side skirts. He has since replaced the stock boot lid with a much lighter carbon fiber piece and swapped out all the glass for polycarbonate windows.

The car had extremely tattered paintwork, but that had to wait. Jeff had spent whatever money he had available on the engine to make the car go faster. It wasn’t until the latter part of 2013 when Millers Oils had kindly offered to sponsor him that the R33 was painted and wrapped in decals to become what you see in pictures today.

The interior of the GT-R is still fairly stock albeit the front and rear passenger seats were replaced with a pair of Corbeau Pro Series carbon race seats. To comply with safety regulations Jeff is held securely in place with Luke Pro racing harnesses.

Murphy’s Law is often applied in motorsports and drag racing is no exception. With its bucket seats bolted down to the floor, hindering entry into and exit out of the car, Jeff installed a Nardi Competition steering wheel with a removable boss kit for the obvious reasons, and most crucially for emergency situations which requires intervention.

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As you may know, since the introduction of the R32, all GT-Rs are equipped with a 4WD system. While this is an advantage in standing starts and the drive from all four wheels gives added traction, it alone isn’t enough. Think of it as a runner coming off the starting block with a loosely laced shoe. So, to improve traction, the 26 x 10.5 Mickey Thompson drag radials on the rear wheels are brought to its optimum temperature by burning rubber with the help of a HKS Electronic Torque Split Controller that switches from 4WD into 2WD.

The most important ingredient to drag racing is high horsepower and the heart of this beast makes sure of it. Under the hood its RB26DETT has been bored and stroked to a muscular 2.8 litres. The block taken from an R32 was also lined and concreted. Literally! The engine block filler is a mix of concrete and water that is used to fill the gaps around the piston liners. When the material hardens, it dampens unwanted vibrations to prevent the cylinder walls from cracking. Additionally, it improves piston ring seal by keeping the cylinders round in shape.

Although the liners are reinforced with concrete, not all of the waterways are sealed and thus engine cooling employs the help of its stock radiator. Unlike circuit racing, cooling is not so much an issue for dragsters as the engines are run for just a short period of time.

The component responsible for producing big power is a gigantic Garrett GT42 turbine, attached to a Turbosmart 60mm wastegate that leaks out excess pressure together with the torrent of exhaust gasses via a 4” exhaust system. The charged air from the turbocharger goes through a HKS large core intercooler that cools down the temperature of the intake charge.

A huge single throttle body setup is connected to the reworked stock inlet plenum. Meanwhile, to feed the engine’s massive appetite for fuel is a set of 2000cc injectors.

With the engine constantly riding close to the limiter, uprated valve springs are put in place of the stock, which usually sag under these extreme conditions. Giving the vales their cue is a pair of 280-degree high lift camshafts that increases the valve overlap, keeping the engine’s power throughout the rev range.

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Stock pistons and conrods can’t handle the new found combustion forces that are exerted on them. Thankfully the HKS stroker kit included much stronger components to transfer kinetic energy to the billet crankshaft to create rotational movement. And where making power is concerned, ACL Race Series main bearings are used to withstand the high rotational loads and vibration that can cause an engine to seize. Flowing through the car’s lubrication system is Millers Nanodrive that cools and lubricates all the moving components of the engine in the heat of competition.
Millers Oil is renowned for its quality and performance in both motor racing and consumer products alike.

Fuel economy is not one of the things a potent dragster excels in. Supplying the combustible liquid to the injectors is a mechanical Walbro fuel pump, which is hooked up to a HKS cam belt. Complimenting the fueling system, the ignition system has been upgraded to a 36-1 crank trigger sensor kit, which produces more power consistently due to its inherent timing stability.
Keeping everything in tune, an aftermarket Syvecs S6 ECU replaces the factory unit to conduct the ensemble that also comes with a calibration switch for different RPM launch levels.
To sustain consistent boost pressure throughout the pass, the digital AMS-1000 Multi Channel Air Management system ensures stable boost pressure at high RPM. Its unique mapping features allow boost pressures to be precisely tuned to match throttle input. The result of this is a massive 2.2 bar of boost that produces a whopping 1100bhp and over 700lb/ft torque.

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On the ¼ mile run, even the slightest of things can make a huge difference and even the best drivers are known to make mistakes sometimes. To remove the possibility of miss shifting a gear from the equation, a hydraulically controlled clutch system enables the Exedy 3 plate pusher clutch set to slip only on launch, which also prevents a poor start. It also sends all of the engine’s drive to a Hollinger 6 speed gearbox that is programmed for flat-foot shifting.

That power is then transmitted to all four of its wheels via the R33’s bulletproof drivetrain with stock differentials. Amazing huh? Nissan FTW!

To control the car’s rear end squat during launches, the HKS drag coilovers have replaced the original equipment. Cusco camber arms are installed to allow competitive camber set up while the bulky HICAS system is removed and replaced with a Driftworks rear steering delete kit.

Although the car weights 1560kg, inclusive of fuel and Jeff Ludgate himself, the car is able to propel itself to 100km/h less than 2 seconds and complete the ¼ mile sprint in a time of 8.7 seconds at 161mph or 259km/h. Given a longer drag strip Jeff’s dragster would keep going all the way to a staggering 186mph or 300km/h!

Jeff is now a proud owner of 4 unique GT-Rs, including his R33. He’s also got a R34 built by RIPS in New Zealand that does the ¼ mile in 9.4 seconds. His third is an R34 R1 GT-R NUR Spec II, one of only 2 of its kind in the UK, and last but not least is the new kid in the family, an R35 GTR 650R built by Severn Valley Motorsport.

Despite being a person who owns a considerably large number of GT-Rs, Jeff remains down to earth. And in his own words, he expresses his gratitude to the people who have dedicated their time and energy into his drag R33.

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“I would like to thank everyone at Abbey Motorsport (Tony, Mark, Scott, Sarah, Will, Charlie, Bradley and anyone I have missed!) for building and maintaining the most magnificent machine and supporting me all year long in the workshops and at the track. I would also like to thank my volunteer pit crew, (Ben, Mike, John and Allan) for keeping me going on race days and my sponsors, and, without whom I could not continue with my expensive hobby. Last but certainly not least I would like to thank my wife Sandra who allows me to go out to play whenever I want.”

Car: 1995 Skyline R33 GTR

Engine: RB26 base engine, bored and stroked to 2.8 litres, R32 block lined and concreted, billet crank, HKS con rods and pistons, HKS oil pump, Trust large capacity sump, ACL Race Series main bearings and head studs, ported cylinder head with stock valve size, uprated valve springs, 280 deg duration cams, Vernier pullies, HKS cam belt, Uprated front pulley modified to allow mechanical fuel pump drive to be used and 36-1 crank trigger/phase sensor kit, Single throttle body on re worked stock inlet plenum (stock multi throttle bodies removed), HKS exhaust manifold, Garrett GT42/45/47 hybrid turbo, Turbosmart 60mm Wastegate, 4in exhaust system (short or long system), Custom Abbey Motorsport catch tank, Millers Nanodrive engine oil.

Electronics: Syvecs S6 ecu, calibration switch to enable different launch rpm levels, AMS-1000 boost control, Walbro mechanical fuel pump, 2000cc injectors, data logged Oil pressure/fuel pressure.

Transmission: Stock Nissan 4wd system, Holinger 6 speed gearbox over drive 6th gear, Abbey rebuilt transfer gearbox, Exedy 3 plate pusher clutch set up, Hydraulic clutch control system, Flat shift, Stock front and rear driveshaft, Abbey burn-out electrical system, Stock rear differential, limited slip in front differential, 4.11 final drive ratio/s.

Chassis & Handling: HKS drag coilover kit, stock front and rear suspension hubs, stock steering rack, electrical power steering pump, stock front and rear suspension lower arms, Cusco camber arm complete set, Driftworks rear steering delete kit.

Brakes: Standard R32 GTR front calipers using DBA rotors and Hawk pads (soft pads), standard R33 GTR rear calipers using DBA rotors and Hawk pads. ABS removed, line lock to front brakes, stock servo and metal brake lines, HEL uprated brake lines.

Wheels & Tyres: Standard R32 GTR wheels, Mickey Thompson Streets 26 X 10.5 R16

Interior: 8.5 second spec roll cage by Webster Race engineering, 2x Corbeau Pro Series carbon race seats with LUKE Pro harness. G-Reddy gauge set.

Exterior: ‘One off’ front bumper and side skirts, carbon boot lid, polycarbonate windows (excluding the front screen), stock body panels.

Text: Bryan Photos: Matt Woods