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See What Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s RTR Shop has Been up to Before this Weekend's Formula Drift
This weekend is the launch of the 2018 Formula Drift championship, kicking off a weekend of mayhemahead of the Long Beach Grand Prix with Round 1 on the So-Cal grand prixstreet course itself. Nearly 40 drivers will descend on Orange County with a mad mixture of four-digit horsepower, tire vaporizing drift cars that represent the bleeding edge of the motorsport, as we found out when we dove deep into Vaugh Gittin Jr. 's RTR Spec 5-D in 2017. Vaughn taught us the minutia of the unexpected spectrum of modifications, pro-tricks, and data that goes into what often gets too-easily written off as the "ice skating of motorsports" due to its driver skill- and style-based competition scoring.
While most motorsports uses the clock to judge a driver's skill and machine's aptitude, FD uses a scoring system that looks at how much control a driver maintains -- how much speed is carried, how tightly they match their opponent's run during a chase -- and if they hit specific target points on-track to sling-shot down an ideal racing line. The scoring aspect may not be for everyone, but there's not a single person at one of these events having a bad time -- even a KO'd driver -- it's professional fun at the end of the day, and the open-door nature of the drivers and crews to fans means that, short of an NHRA race, FD remains one of friendliest atmospheres in our ever-expanding car culture.
But you probably already know all that -- so let's dive into a little more about how these belligerent burnout machines come together in the off-season. We met-up with Vaughn's RTR team as they were wrapping up the rebuild of teammate Chelsea Denofa's own Mustang RTR Spec 5-D for the '18 season. Every Formula Drift car starts as a bog-standard chassis. No silhouette cars here, between the shock towers of every machine is the original,stock-steel chassis. The sheet metaloutside of the shock towers can be hacked out. Notonly does this bring the weight more central in the chassis, but it also allows for crash-ready, modular front and rear body structures to be built that can bequickly removed and replaced during an event.
Of course, taking the cars down to their bones helps get shed sound and heat insulation to save weight, and the team can begin modifying anything that the rules allow to get these stock chassis, which vary from this S550 Mustang t0even 20-year-old Nissan 240SXs, ready for the monumental abuse they're about to receive. RTR builds a handful of cars every year, either a fresh competition car for Vaughn and Chealsea, or any number of back-up and exhibition cars for ride-alongs and demos.
Speaking of these side-projects for just a second, RTR has teamed up with Ford largely due to Vaughn's own obsession with every aspect of the operation; and we mean that in a good way (as we discovered at Irwindale, he's troubleshooting and tuning side-by-side his crew). The wide-body kit used on his pro-level cars is styled by him and his team, and he's been blessed with an opportunity with the blue oval to put out a series of slideways-specials with RTR. This isn't your typical sticker-and-spoiler kit, with RTR developing their own spring and shock package for the ponycar along with their own fascia,splitter and gurney flap(you can see the 3D-printed prototype below)combo.
Once the cars are stripped to their core, very few factory parts go back on. The series requires that the suspension subframes and their pick-up points remain in the stock location (there is room for minor control arm adjustability), but beyond that, the preparations that go into the cars are a mixture of familiar road racing prep and some bewildering drift-centric modifications. A cage is added that not only makes the car safer, but it alsoties into the major suspension and chassis points to reinforce everything for the incredible stress imposedwhile the car is loaded up in a drift. Engine combos are also open, and there's a healthy variety of stock-product blocks and exotic, NASCAR-ready reactors.
For example, because the rear quarters, fascia, and trunk are all carbon-fiber or plastic, there's nothing sturdy to mount them to after the rear sheet metal has been removed past the shock towers. RTR's fabricators jig-up and batch-produce dozens of parts like this tail light standoff,which not only keeps the lamps in their position, but also helps hang the other replaceable panels on the hind-quarters.
The "bash bars," as they're known, are probably the most well-known of the many modular parts built for a pro-level Formula Drift car. The team will use half-a-dozen or more during a weekend per-car, so RTR's shop is stocked with the tools and jigs needed in a work station flow that physically brings parts from raw materials to final products in one progression along the shop's walls.
Because drifting is on the forefront of its own existence, a myriad of motorsports influences actually go into these cars as the development for race-condition-ready parts has already been carried out by the greater hivemind. Four-speed gearboxes from NASCAR, sintered bronze clutch discs from drag racing, tubular sway bars from circle track -- especially with the local help from Charlotte's big-oval teams, where RTR's HQ is located.
Other than the all-steel-between-the-shock-towers mandate, the teams are pretty free to do as they please. Above, you can see the one-off CNC-cut control arms that are not only nearly triple the steering angle over stock to allow these ponycars to rotate as far as possible without losing control, but they're also beefed up for the incredible suspension loads that the RTR Spec 5-D will see -- andto deal with the practical realities of a full-contact motorsport. Take the radiator, for example: it's common to remote-mount them in the trunk to not only reduce the likelihood of damaging them during competition (dumping fluids on track and costing the team time/money/results) and to move some weight out of the nose of the chassis. In RTR's setup, air is drawn from the fast-back glass, and exhausted through a pair of puller fans through the ducted deck-lid.
When we left RTR's shop, they were just wrapping up the wiring of Chelsea's Mustang as Vaughn's had rolled out for testing, but what we took away from the time was just how close these cars really are to their dealership duplicates -- with the suspension geometry, wheelbase, and bodyshell being locked into near-stock requirements. Even though the series is struggling with a few growing painsas the Pro cars depart from the home-built formulas of years ago, these tyrants of revulcanized rubber are closer to what the fans see or drive moreso than just about any other international motorsport out there at the moment. This tight connection to the street car is a key component of what makes drifting, and series like Formula Drift and its regional counterparts below, one of the hottest cultures out there right now in our eyes. Sure, there's no clock -- but you can't say they lack the hot rodding spirit in any sense of the matter.