Images: Damian Smuts
WOOHOOO! Finally, Project Rodney made its circuit debut. Held on September 28, I attended a casual track day held by a few close friends of mine, at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park. For eight months or more with the help of numerous semi-eager people, I have been building Rodney up from what was essentially a rolling, stinking, cobweb-covered shell. To say I was excited for this day would be a serious understatement. The low-cost accommodation was booked, leave was grudgingly accepted by my superiors, and the track day was paid for.
We made our way down to New Zealand’s beautiful Taupo region the day before the track day to settle in and get a decent night’s sleep. Early the next morning, I was cleaning the Altezza before it hit the circuit, then we made our way out for briefing. Thankfully, we had the use of a pit bay, so my tools were unloaded, ready for action.
After driver’s briefing, we all made our way onto the circuit for an orientation session — for those not familiar with the circuit, it was a great time to learn the lines with experienced drivers on board. I went out with my dad, and good friends Damian Smuts and Alastair Wootten. Alastair is an incredibly talanted driver, having competed locally in our Toyota Race Series (single-seaters), Midget racing, Formula Fords, and most recently Trans Am in a 800hp Nascar-powered Corvette.
During the three-lap orientation session, the lines learned from Alastair were invaluable. But, the true knowledge would come through with just himself and me in the car during our first ‘hot’ session. With him behind the wheel to show me the ropes, I was blown away at the pace in which this shed-built car could go. No, it didn’t have great straight-line speed, but the braking and cornering were incredible. Having a seasoned racer behind the wheel that is used to far greater horsepower figures, I was waiting for the comments of how slow it was. Instead, Alastair complimented just how tight the car felt.
Alright, my turn! The rev-happy 3SGE engine propelled me out of the pit area and into the action. If I’m honest, I was actually a little nervous heading out with both an experienced driver in the passenger seat next to me and out on the circuit in other cars. Everyone gave me plenty of room to learn though, which I appreciated and Alastair helped as my eyes and ears as I concentrated on my lines, which calmed my nerves — there is a reason this lad was my best man; full trust!
With every lap, I gained serious time on the last. I have driven Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park before in my Subaru WRX, but this was a completely new experience. No longer could I rely on computer assists, all-wheel drive, and 22psi of boost pressure to haul me around the circuit in a decent time. This experience was the reason I sold the Subaru.
With so much track time on offer, Alastair and I switch drives throughout the day. The day ran as an open pit, so if you wanted to be out for an hour or more, that was up to you. Alastair and I were seriously impressed with the Zestino semi-slicks. With pressures set to 24psi in the pits, they would build to 24.5psi every time we came in. We found this to be the optimum for this tyre and they wouldn’t peak over 24.5psi. We couldn’t believe how consistent they were. Being a soft compound tyre, I was worried about having driven on them every day for three months prior to this event and the amount of track time I was getting, I wouldn’t have any tread left to get home. However, the wear was extremely good — I still have another track day in them at least!
Throughout the day, we made changes to the coilover damper. Initially, we started on the softest shock setting, slowly feeling our way through the day with how the car was responding. The Wilwood brake kit performed exceptionally. During one of the final sessions, I was out there for around 35-40 minutes with zero brake fade and a great deal of confidence. During that final session, I did notice the brakes not pulling up as well as the start of the day, which was frustrating. After closer inspection after leaving the event, I noticed I had used an entire set of rear Znoelli pads! They were brand new the night before the event… The Hawk pads up front? Still mint!
With the Altezza, I built the car basically all at once, so I didn’t get to feel each and every modification. Before the track day, I was basically set up, with Cusco coilovers, a Cusco rear sway bar, strut braces front and rear, the brake kit, wheels and semi-slicks. I was blown away with the handling on the street, but there was one addition I made to it before the event blew my mind so hard there was a serious clean up on aisle three; the front Cusco sway bar. Never in my life have I felt a vehicle handle so so flat through a corner. By far the best bang for buck mod to date.
I could talk about this track day forever, so I will leave it at that. I was very happy with the performance and reliability of the Altezza and it just goes to show if you choose the right mix of genuine components you’ll be out there for as long as you want. The Altezza completed just over 300kms on the circuit, which nearly 100 laps. I would like to thank Alastair for teaching me the lines and general track day things you need to know. It was great to get my dad out in the car too, and my good friend Damian, who I need to thank for photographing the day for us all.
What’s next for the Altezza? Well, it’s far too slow down the straights. I think it was probably the slowest car on the straights, but one of the fastest through the infield on the day. Either a turbo or something similar will be added next. Alastair managed a 1:49.2 around Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, which is a whole heap quicker than I was going!