This story begins on an empty, rain-sodden little island in Wales.
Six months in the past, I used to be at Anglesey Race Circuit for Drift Matsuri. I used to be getting rained on while standing in the midst of the observe (a wetlands bathroom) taking images of drift vehicles doing their factor. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face; it was good.
One of many vehicles lapping across the observe was actually going for it, hitting the prime of third gear, sideways, into the most important hairpin. The black JZX100 Toyota Mark II was piloted by Alex Graff.
I may inform by the boldness and dedication in his entries that Alex has been driving his Mark II for years. I wanted to speak to Alex, and by chance managed to search out him within the paddock after the occasion, partway by way of loading all his spare wheels and instruments into the automobile earlier than setting off.
That’s proper, whereas everybody else was loading their vehicles onto trailers, Alex was making ready to strap himself again into his Bride bucket seat for the 250-mile stretch residence after the lengthy weekend of limiter bashing. He by no means trailers this Toyota to occasions, and that’s simply the tip of the iceberg…
Alex isn’t any stranger to travelling lengthy distances in his JZX, and this story begins 6,500 miles away in Okinawa, Japan.
As a member of the US navy, Alex’s function sends him to completely different postings around the globe for prolonged intervals of time. His first posting got here when he was nonetheless a teenager again in 2011, and it was there in Japan that Alex’s curiosity in vehicles started. It didn’t take him lengthy to dwell out each teenager’s JDM fantasy by buying a Skyline.
On the time – that is 11 years in the past bear in mind – R33 GTS25Ts had been simple (and comparatively low cost) to return by in Japan, so that is the place Alex began. Nevertheless, a second buy was shortly made, and naturally that was an R34. His new Skyline was NA, however Alex had a plan and shortly the R33’s turbo RB25DET was powering the R34. That is the place the Tokyo Drift way of life began to select up. Scroll down deep sufficient on Alex’s Instagram and also you’ll discover early iPhone movies of late-night drifting shenanigans within the mountains.
When 2013 arrived the R34’s shaken was up for renewal, however because the engine swap wasn’t declared on any paperwork, it was far an excessive amount of of a headache for Alex. The automobile needed to go, however as Alex shortly came upon, nobody else was eager on the headache both. In the end, the Skyline was break up for components and the leftovers had been scrapped.
It was right now, on a visit to Ebisu circuit with a good friend, that Alex acquired his first style of JZX100. The pair had rented a Mark II there, and from his first second behind the wheel of it, Alex was blown away. The automobile was tremendous simple to float, primarily because of the torquier nature of the 1JZ-GTE VVTi engine over the RB25DET Alex had turn into used to.
That drive sealed the deal, and immediately Alex picked up the very automobile we’re that includes at present. Nevertheless, again then it was solely evenly tuned with a lift controller, 2-way LSD and coilover suspension.
After 4 years in Japan, Alex’s posting was up and he was relocated to Northern Italy, close to Milan. Alex defined that when the US navy sends you to your new posting, there isn’t any assure you can deliver your automobile with you. However Alex acquired fortunate, and as is at all times the case the navy took care of the Toyota’s transport and registration course of. It was in Italy the place the intense mods started, together with a moderately giant turbo.
Somewhat older and wiser, by this level Alex had transitioned from avenue to trace drifting. His native tracks in Italy had been longer and quicker than these he frequented in Japan, so ultimately Alex changed the ECU with an aftermarket system with the hope of creating extra energy, and added a steering angle lock package. Sadly although, he didn’t get a lot additional than that.
Alex had wished to show himself easy methods to map an engine, so plugged in a laptop computer, loaded up the software program and took the JZX out onto an Italian motorway for a highway tune. It was there that issues shortly went south when Alex “obliterated” the engine after melting a piston. You must be ready for these types of issues although, proper? Alex was, having introduced a spare 1JZ from Japan with him, however but once more luck wasn’t on his facet. Two weeks after swapping the supposedly wholesome engine into the Mark II, it developed rod knock throughout a drift occasion.
1JZ engine #3 was bought on-line from JDM specialist in Europe, and it acquired the Toyota up and operating once more with no points. For peace of thoughts, Alex left this one operating on a manufacturing unit ECU.
Alex’s adventures continued in Italy with as many drift observe days as he may attend at Verona, Castelletto di Branduzzo and Modena. Castelletto was one among his favourites; because of the snappy on and off nature of the circuit it reminded him of his time touge drifting in Japan. He additionally met with Components Drift driver Federico Sceriffo and linked over their love for the motorsport. If Alex’s Japan expertise was the cake, Italy was the cherry on prime.
In 2017, Alex launched into a brand new US navy journey in the UK at RAF Crowton. His arrival to the UK got here with one other new engine, racking up the 1JZ depend to 4. On his final dyno outing, the two.5L turbo six threw down a stable 480hp.
However now a fifth engine has discovered its means into the automobile. This time Alex has gone for long-term reliability and elevated efficiency, which suggests an improve to cast internals and all of the supporting modifications required. He additionally has plans to make the automobile extra usable, one thing that can embrace elevating the trip peak a little bit.
Residing by way of Covid launched Alex to the world of sim racing, and conventional grip racing has grown on him too. Whereas he’d wish to discover these aspects of motorsport alongside drifting, his short-term aim is to prepared the JZX for its subsequent chapter – a brand new life within the USA.
Along with his final posting coming to an finish, Alex’s adventures with the Mark II will proceed when he returns residence. Sure, this story nonetheless has much more turns forward, however hopefully not too many extra engines.