Surprise podium finish for our 350Z’s competition debut

Update by Tom Suddard to the Nissan 350Z project car
Jan 26, 2023 | Nissan, LS swap, 350z, NASA, Nissan 350Z, Nine Lives Racing, Morlind Engineering, Roebling Road, Triple Threat Miata

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Our LS-swapped 350Z is fast on paper–lots and lots and lots of paper, as our overfilled notebook has chronicled during a build that’s taken years.

But even after all the suspension math, aerodynamic analysis, expert help, fabrication, and parts–lots and lots and lots of parts–our 350Z had never entered anything more competitive than an open track day at the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park.

[The Grassroots Motorsports ultimate guide to track car lap times]

Our thought process was simple: Why spend time and money entering a competition until we thought our car could compete? Our goal has been NASA Time Trials, and we didn’t want to be the car that broke on track or finished dead last.

After lots of work and a few successful test days, we finally felt we were ready to dip our toes in the water. So we signed up for NASA Southeast’s Roebling Rumble, their first event of the year and the first of many opportunities to race with them at Roebling Road Raceway.

This two-mile road course located just outside Savannah, Georgia, has a reputation for favoring cars with lots of power and lots of downforce–the perfect hunting ground for our 350Z.

We even added one more CFD-inspired aero improvement as we were loading the car on the trailer, a set of Morlind Engineering carbon-fiber canards sold by Nine Lives Racing.

So how did it go? Let’s start with our goals: This event carried a lot of firsts for us: Our first competition with the 350Z. The first time we’ve driven Roebling. And the first time we’d ever competed with NASA.

So our goals were simple: Run all weekend, don’t embarrass ourselves, and don’t finish last. Here’s how we (mostly) accomplished them.

First, our classing choice: In order to reduce the pressure, we moved the car from TT2 to TTU.

Photography Credit: Tony Politi

What’s the difference? Whereas TT2 has a specific power-to-weight limit and rules, TTU is basically unlimited.

Though our 350Z is theoretically TT2 legal, this move brings a few benefits: We didn’t have to worry about paperwork or about inadvertently running the car under weight or otherwise afoul of the rulebook, meaning we could instead focus on learning the car, the track and the competition format.

TTU has a reputation for more laid-back entrants who aren’t as worried about running on the knife-edge of a rulebook, so we figured it would be perfect for our first event.

Of course, this switch does have a downside: We’d be up against cars without any limits on weight or horsepower, meaning we might have brought a knife to a gunfight.

Second, our crew: Though we drove up alone, we had some expert help at the track: Andy Hollis, professional race engineer and GRM tire testing wizard, was waiting in the paddock with his Triple Threat Miata MX-5 project car. Throughout the weekend, we leaned heavily on Andy’s expertise.

And those choices paid off: We ran a 1:16.021 and earned two podium finishes against some fairly serious entries in TTU. Our lap times were fast enough to podium in TT2 both days as well. In short, all that time and effort in the garage paid off as we rolled our 350Z right off the trailer and onto the podium at its first event ever.

Photography Credits: Tom Suddard

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as we also uncovered some serious limitations: First, our tires. We’ve been testing the car on used Pirelli slicks, but they’re well past their prime. And we never did manage to get them up to temperature in Roebling’s 28-degree air and 20-minute sessions.

Second, our oiling system. Our car has a fancy oil pan and a giant oil accumulator, but now develops too much grip to keep oil pressure as high as we’d like. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and design a dry sump for the 350Z before it enters any more competitions.

Third, our spares: We missed one session when a broken axle necessitated an hour-long drive to the parts store, then a second when the car wore out a brand-new front hub. We’ll need to carry more spares (and buy higher quality replacements) now that we’re playing with a car with lots of power and lots of grip.

Photography Credits: Tom Suddard

And lastly, us as the driver. Most of our experience is in momentum cars like our string of Miatas, which means we’re still learning the skills to extract the most potential from our 350Z.

Overall, though? Every hour in the garage was worth it, and we think we have a real TT2 contender on our hands. Thank you, everybody, for your help to get us here. Now let’s refine the car and go trophy hunting!

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

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Robbie (Forum Supporter)
Robbie (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/25/23 12:14 p.m.

Nice work!

mhulbrock New Reader
1/25/23 2:25 p.m.

Zs are notorious for popping boots like that. Add a simple boot vent like a WD40 straw under the smaller end of the boot. Let the hot grease gasses expand and contract. Nice work! 

sleepyhead the buffalo
sleepyhead the buffalo GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/25/23 4:05 p.m.

time to throw some 285 200tw's on it and dip your toe into GridLife StreetMod?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
1/25/23 9:42 p.m.

In reply to sleepyhead the buffalo :

Assuming I can get the dry sump together, I'm thinking about joining the fun at CMP. 

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