Formula DRIFT is recognized as the North American professional drifting championship series. As the first official drift series in North America, Formula DRIFT has taken competitive motorsports to the extreme, attracting fans and car enthusiasts from all walks of life. This high-skilled, high-powered motor sport has drivers intentionally maneuvering their cars into well executed, controlled sideways slides at high speeds through a marked course. Judging is based on execution and style-rather than who finishes the course in the fastest time. Autoblog has been invited behind-the-scenes with GSR Autosport, and their driver Michael Essa, as the team builds, tests and campaigns a V10-powered BMW 350R during the 2010 racing season. This is the first in a regular series as we follow the team throughout the build, testing and race season. With that out of the way...
The idea is mildly deranged, but everyone around the table is wildly grinning. Someone has just suggested mating a BMW 3 Series Coupe to a V10 engine ripped from a BMW M5 and then entering the beast into the 2010 Formula DRIFT series. A few nervous laughs. Then, a bunch of nodding heads. The plans are set.
Common folk – that would be most of us – think this sort of absurd talk is pure madness. To drifters, this type of deliriousness is simply considered being competitive.
Meet Michael Essa – the driver and creative genius behind the aforementioned concoction. Last year, the Los Angeles resident and owner of Tech Trix Motorsports campaigned a Mazda RX-7 in the 2009 Formula Drift Championship Series. (Let's clarify this – his "RX-7" was gutted down to 2,300 pounds and was sporting a Corvette-sourced LS2 rated at 400 horsepower.) The two-door Mazda was a very potent tool, and Essa used it to land runner-up spot for the 2009 Rookie of the Year.
Essa wanted to light the afterburner for 2010 so he enlisted the help of GSR Autosport. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the company is a multi-facetted professional automotive racing business founded and operated by genuine racing enthusiasts. GSR Autosport designs, develops and builds turn-key race cars – mostly Porsches and BMWs. Essa and the GSR Autosport team sat down over a few beers and came up with a formidable brute. They would campaign a BMW 335i powered by a V10 engine sourced from an E60 M5.
The package would be unique. While others have drifted BMW 3 Series models, the new GSR Autosport "BMW 350R" (acknowledging the 5.0-liter V10) would be the first all-BMW model in the field–a pure German drift car. The team set a target weight of 2,700 pounds (the stock "E92" 335i weighs 3,571 pounds) and 550 horsepower (a stock "S85" V10 puts out 500 horsepower). The transmission would be a custom sequential gearbox and the custom rear end would be fitted with a quick-change clutch-type rear differential to offer adjustability for different tracks. Wheels, suspension and all of the other go-fast parts would come later. The hunt for a donor 335i and V10 engine began...
It didn't take long before a suitable BMW E92 was found on eBay. The 2008 335i was lightly optioned – sans leather or sports package – and fitted with a six-speed manual transmission. With only 32,328 miles on the clock, the Southern California car was almost too nice for its upcoming Frankenstein-like surgery.
The V10 engine, currently found under the hood of the BMW M5 and BMW M6, was a bit more difficult to acquire. A powerplant was located in Oregon, but it proved blown. Another was found in South Carolina, but it too had undiagnosed issues. Finally, a luckless M5 owner plowed the rear of his M5 into a tree at high speed. The car was written-off immediately – the drift team promptly bought the whole car, including its perfect engine.
With a clean BMW 335i, a wrecked M5 and boxes of parts sitting in the garage of GSR Autosport in Anaheim, California, the radical transformation from street car to Formula Drift contender was all set to begin.
More to come later this week..