1600++ HP Tundra V8 in Celica

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May 1, 2003

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Drag Barrier Celica
Turbonetics Boosts Past 200 mph and into a sea of controversy
By Evan Griffey
Photography: Evan Griffey

Since day one, Turbonetics has been behind the boost of the quickest and fastest strip warriors in import drag racing. In 2000, the company decided to go beyond supplying parts to fielding a full-tilt racing effort. The tumblers aligned as Spearco Intercoolers was acquired and, just as Turbonetics was expanding, Sport Compact drag racing was undergoing a big growth spurt. When the project got off the ground, the Toyota Celica was the latest, hottest import and Turbonetics elected to use the sporty coupe to drop the bomb on SC drag racing. The project, code named Drag Barrier Celica, aimed high, indeed. Its mission was to become the first import to break 200 mph in the quarter mile and collect the $25,000 bounty put up by Summit Racing. Turbonetics teamed with the Scranton Brothers, who bolted a Turbonetics turbo to their NMCA SS Class Mustang, and went undefeated in 2001. Driver, Matt, and crew chief, Jay, are responsible for the upkeep and logistics of getting the Celica to the races.

With a 200-mph top speed goal and six second aspirations, the road to success started with a chassis stout enough to handle the rigors of four-digit power. Marc Garland Racecars of Port Richey, Florida, melded NHRA-spec chrome-moly into a superstructure that was up to the task.

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The next logical step was to build an engine capable of producing four-digit power.
The party started with a TRD custom-prepped 331 ci Toyota Tundra iForce V8 block. The block featured a reinforcing girdle and was converted from two-bolt mains to four-bolt mains in a most ingenious manner, ensuring rigidity. Robert Fulco of Fulco Race Engines was given the tall order of putting the engine together in a short amount of time. This buildup was much more than an "assemble and go" proposition. Time constraints and limited parts availability challenged Robert's considerable machining talents.

The core of the problem was compression ratio. The Tundra heads were trashed in favor of more performance-oriented Lexus GS400 heads that benefited from TRD's involvement in CART. This resulted in a static compression ratio of 10.06:1. Usually, a set of custom pistons and/or a thicker head gasket would solve the compression problem, but only a gasket was available. The gasket bought Robert 9cc of the 18ccs he would need to attain the target ratio of 8.0:1. The remaining 9cc would be hard earned indeed. The engine was designed to be bored and stroked from 4.7 liters of displacement to 5.3 liters. While Ross Racing Pistons could have made another set of custom slugs, time was against this method. The next logical option was to dish the existing Ross pistons.

"The Toyota V8 was dimensionally challenged," says Robert. "The tolerance between the bottom of the piston and the top of the rod was 40 thousandths."

With logic not working, it was time to innovate. Robert elected to shorten the Carrillo rods by moving the wrist pin bore, which would drop the piston in the cylinder and create less compression. Robert accomplished this by machining the pin bore larger and adding a concentric bushing to effectively lower the bore centerline. The bushing material was Rockwell tested to ensure it was up to the task at hand.

The piston was then modified and the existing dish was expanded outward.

The V8's high-revving Ferrea-infested valvetrain is commanded by custom-ground TRD billet cams. Robert had a hard time accepting some of the numbers TRD threw at him regarding spring rates and pressure on the cam lobes.

"It was so foreign to me. I had a hard time understanding motorcycle technology on the top of a V8. I had to go with what I knew, so I made some hardened tool steel valve seats and used a few other pushrod tricks."

The project's pressure players are a set of twin Turbonetics Y2K turbos with .70 A/R compressor housings and .96 A/R turbine housings. Boost is directed to a Spearco air-to-liquid intercooler that has been cleverly positioned at the front of the engine and fitted with twin Godzilla blow-off valves.

After the chill, charge air makes its way into a TRD custom high-volume plenum intake manifold that was augmented to accept the fuel rail and other fuel system items by Wayne Young of Young's Performance.

Once the charge air is in the combustion chamber, fuel is introduced by a hard-hitting fuel system. A Weldon 2035 fuel pump keeps the Toyota V8's veins flowing while eight 160 lb/hr injectors deliver the VP C16 race gas to its final destination. Spark is generated by an MSD Digital 7 ignition system. All fuel and ignition timing events are controlled by a FAST stand-alone engine management system wired and tuned by Young's Performance. On an engine dyno, the hybrid V8 was off the chain, generating a wicked 1,260 hp at its 20 psi low-boost setting. At the engine's highest competition boost of 35 psi, Turbonetics has calculated engine flywheel power with datalogging info to be a mind-altering 1600-plus (and we mean Plus) hp.

As Mister T might say, "I pity the fool who has to put all that power to the ground." The V8 puts an ungodly twist to the car's three-speed, air-shifted Lenco gearbox. The tranny uses an 8-inch custom TCI converter with a Bruno's converter drive to keep the power flowing. The rest of the drivetrain consists of a Strange rearend with 40-spline Strange axles and a Precision Shaft Technologies driveshaft. The Toyota's brake calipers, rotors and its third member were constructed by Aerospace Components. The Celica runs Penske race shocks all around with the rear units sporting remote reservoirs. The contact patch is provided by meaty Mickey Thompson 34x17 slicks mounted on Bogart Force 5 aluminum.

The Celica has been on the scene for some time, attending shows like the 2001 SEMA Show in Las Vegas and the 2002 PRI Show in Indianapolis. The car definitely had the looks and attention to detail of a purebred speed demon, but it was time to make the impression a reality on the track.

In Gainesville, Fla., at the NHRA 2002 season opener, the Turbonetics Celica unleashed a 199-plus mph blast on its first competitive pass. Debuts do not get more impressive than that. The Drag Barrier Celica ran a 7.26 at 197.06 in the finals to take the win. Amid protests and a trail of fire on the Internet, the NHRA formed a new class, Pro V8, in the three weeks between Gainesville and the second race at Englishtown. While this separation was foreseeable (as was the backlash of domestic Mustang racers be so successful so quickly in the import scene), many were surprised it was initiated after the first event with only two V8s being campaigned. While the rules were aimed at isolating the Celica, Craig Paisley and his nitrous-fed Tundra were big losers too.

Undaunted, the Turbonetics Celica and pilot Matt Scranton rolled off the trailer at E-Town and picked up right where they left off in Florida. The Celica's first qualifying pass was a 7.13 at 198.09 mph. The second qualifying lap was a quicker and faster 7.10 at 198.99. Summit Racing should have had the check ready, because it was clearly evident the Celica was on top of its game. In eliminations, the Celica cranked out a 7.11 at 198.61 and then motored into the record books with a 7.15 at 202.55 mph. Check please. While it's easy to look at the 202-mph trap speed and be impressed, it is also worthwhile to check out the e.t.s the car was laying down--.13, .10, .11 and .15. Wow.

At the NHRA Maple Grove event in June, the Drag Barrier Celica took aim at its second goal--6-second e.t.s. With a class that has been comprised of the Celica and Craig Paisley's TRD Tundra, it's hard to get runs in. There are more qualifying opportunities than actual races. This means the Scrantons and Turbonetics must be on their game and squeeze every last ounce out of each pass. Things got off to a shaky start when the Celica ran an 8.41 at 120 in the first and only qualifying pass on Saturday. The crew worked feverishly to trace the problem to the ignition box and was fortunate enough to borrow one from the GM Racing guys. Rain cut short the first day of qualifying and an additional qualifying round was conducted on Sunday. The Celica responded with a 7.27 at 197.51.

In the finals race, which was the first round, the Celica put down a 7.036 at 200.68 mph and backed it with a 7.057-second, 201.37-mph effort on an exhibition run. This moved the mph record to more than 200 and signaled without a doubt that entrance into the 6-second club was imminent.

Would the Pro Stock guys on the domestic side of the NHRA would go for a grudge race? Turbonetics is wondering the same thing. In fact, it's operating with the assumption that the Pro V8 class will be disbanded after the 2002 season. Or, more precisely, that its car will be banned. Heck, in their minds the exile the car is going through now equates to banishment with the only other V8-powered imports in existence in America being Paisley's Tundra and the Blast SC400; the latter which hasn't seen action since the season opener. Turbonetics isn't waiting for the ax to fall. The team is having a well-known fabricator build a chassis car that will be V6-turbo powered. TRD is working on a V6 engine program, but the body of the car has yet to be decided. So, be sure to look for the Scrantons and Turbonetics to land in the Pro Class in 2003.

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