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 high of third gear, sideways, into the most important hairpin. The black JZX100 Toyota Mark II was piloted by Alex Graff.
I might inform by the arrogance 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 seek out him within the paddock after the occasion, partway by loading all his spare wheels and instruments into the automotive 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 is not 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 world wide 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 stay out each teenager’s JDM fantasy by buying a Skyline.
On the time – that is 11 years in the past keep in mind – R33 GTS25Ts had been simple (and comparatively low-cost) to come back by in Japan, so that is the place Alex began. Nonetheless, a second buy was rapidly 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 choose 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 automotive needed to go, however as Alex rapidly discovered, nobody else was eager on the headache both. Finally, the Skyline was cut 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 automotive was tremendous simple to float, primarily as a result of torquier nature of the 1JZ-GTE VVTi engine over the RB25DET Alex had turn out to be used to.
That drive sealed the deal, and directly Alex picked up the very automotive we’re that includes at the moment. Nonetheless, 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 a assure that you may carry your automotive with you. However Alex acquired fortunate, and as is all the time 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 slightly massive turbo.
A bit older and wiser, by this level Alex had transitioned from avenue to trace drifting. His native tracks in Italy had been longer and sooner than these he frequented in Japan, so finally Alex changed the ECU with an aftermarket system with the hope of creating extra energy, and added a steering angle lock equipment. Sadly although, he didn’t get a lot additional than that.
Alex had wished to show himself how you can 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 street tune. It was there that issues rapidly went south when Alex “obliterated” the engine after melting a piston. It’s important to 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 aspect. 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 working once more with no points. For peace of thoughts, Alex left this one working on a manufacturing facility ECU.
Alex’s adventures continued in Italy with as many drift observe days as he might attend at Verona, Castelletto di Branduzzo and Modena. Castelletto was considered one of his favourites; as a result of 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 related over their love for the motorsport. If Alex’s Japan expertise was the cake, Italy was the cherry on high.
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 method into the automotive. This time Alex has gone for long-term reliability and elevated efficiency, which implies an improve to solid internals and all of the supporting modifications required. He additionally has plans to make the automotive extra usable, one thing that can embody elevating the experience top a bit of.
Dwelling by Covid launched Alex to the world of sim racing, and conventional grip racing has grown on him too. Whereas he’d prefer 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.