I have been crewing for Vinnie for the past 2 season’s of D1 Pro. The opportunity came available when we were all at Zak Poles leaving party in town a couple of years back and Vinnie had just won the Pro-am championship. He had told me of his plan to completely rebuild the car including the RB26DETT and seeing how dedicated he was I was instantly in. He is a funny character to help out. Even if he really needs your help he will still be too stubborn to ask for it! After the week just passed and the number of people asking what the real stories on the road were, it was a no brainer that I needed to write this article! This is how it happened through my eyes from my office, the passengers seat.
It all began for me exactly one week from when we left, Tuesday 22 November. He asked me to come around and help him lift the bonnet back onto the car. He then dropped the bomb that he was going to drive it down to Dunedin and compete, asking whether I’d be keen to come help. At this stage there was still an enormous amount of prep that needed to be done. It had no wof, a diff that was about to collapse, a few parts that needed installing and a bunch of other maintenance to be completed. After a bit of a push he got the warrant on Friday, all it failed on was a couple of bulbs which was a relief. Our friend James Williams took the car into DKM on the Monday to get a pre-event safety audit and again it only failed on a couple of small issues. It was on!
He picked me up from my house at 5.30am on the morning of Tuesday 29 November. As soon as I put my luggage and an extra 100kg into the car it made the rear wheels rub on the guards too much to deal with. We were trying to beat the Auckland traffic but ended up making the call to stop in a carpark before the motorway and remove the rear spacers. The left side came off fine but when I went to take the right side off there were 2 21mm nuts which the wheel brace did not fit inside the spacer, whilst trying to push it in a bit too hard I pushed the car off the jack, crushing the fuel tank. Luckily I managed to borrow a scissor jack from a nearby bakery worker and get the jack back under it, but as we didn’t have a socket to fit inside the spacer we left the right side on and got back on the road. 5k’s later and the car cut out on the motorway. Not ideal Vinnie found that the fuel pump relay power fuse was blowing, he hard wired it and got the car off the motorway to a nearby gas station. After a bit of thought we worked out that the fuel pump must’ve been pushed up in the carrier so we removed the pump, straightened out the carrier and the issue was fixed. We made it all the way to Hampton Downs where we stopped in and borrowed a socket and removed the spacer, which stopped the wheel rubbing on the guard.
It was plain sailing from there down to Ross Honnor’s tuning shop in Taranki, DDT Dobsons Dyno Tune. The boost gauge on the car was reading 18psi but when it was measured on the dyno it was making 370kw at 24psi!!! Not bad for a $1000 RB25DET long block. The boost was turned down to 17psi and made a super reliable 320kw. We continued on the road to another friend, Geoff Piercy’s place in Wellington arriving around 9pm where he generously let us flush the gearbox fluid, then let us sleep in his lounge for an hour. We got up at 1.30am and heading to the ferry terminal for our 2.30am ferry across to the South Island. On the way we got pulled over by a cop, informing us that our tail lights were not working. After stressing out trying to find the problem he let us get to our ferry and we fixed the problem, luckily just a spade terminal that came unplugged with all the extra tools banging around in the boot. We slept roughly across some seats in the lounge of the ferry for a couple of hours then we were back on the road.
We came across a Mclaren cruise when we were near Murchison, so of course we popped in and had a look around, but we really just wanted to get to Dunedin so we kept moving. About 20mins down the road we arrived upon a horrible fatal truck accident, so we stopped there and helped slow down drivers coming from the opposite direction for as long as we could, It really hit home about how dangerous the narrow roads we were driving on were. Once we the emergency services arrived(approx 30mins after the accident occurred) we hit the road, making good time to Christchurch. When the fuel tank got damaged it also stopped the fuel level sender from working so we were judging how full the tank was off how many K’s the trip meter had on it. We knew we were low but trying to find BP 98, the prefered fuel for the car in Christchurch was a mission! The third BP we found had it so after gassing up we hit the road. Coming out of Timaru the heater core started clicking so we pulled over to check it out. After popping the bonnet we noticed that the fuel hose from the pressure reg to the rail had expanded 2 times its original size! We went back to a local Super Cheap Auto and got some fuel hose, and while fixing that we noticed a pin hole leak in one of the under-manifold water lines so that was repaired. Back on the road again and it made it to the Stadium with no other issues.
We had a look around the stadium while we waited for our mates who we were staying with, and had a little sleep in the press box up the top of the stadium, It was being used for the judges/commentators at the event. They arrived around 11pm so we headed to their bach to get a good nights sleep we were back at the stadium again to get the final things for the safety audit signed off, and ready for practice the following day. We watched a few fellow competitors have their first run on the track, we knew they had leveled up the playing field, the quality of the cars that are competing this season are unreal! Back to our bach for a good night’s sleep in preparation for the practice/qualifying day.
Friday 2nd December-Qualifying. After a couple of practice sessions Vinnie was feeling confident with the track. He was the first car out there doing mock-battles with our good friend Joel Patterson from Team VID. The aim of this trip was not to come first, but not to come last either, and drive the car home! Vinnie spun out on his first Qualifying run putting the pressure on him for the second run. After trying to calm him down and make him realize that he does this sport for fun, he banked a safe second run Qualifying him in 19th place. Again it was back to the bach to relax, work on the car and prepare for the following day.
Saturday 3rd December-Battles. In practice he was hit by fellow competitor Gaz Grove, putting a big dent in the drivers door and stoving in the rear quarter! We know this case all too well so James jumped into the boot and pushed the quarter panel out while I stitched the bumper back together and vinnie panelbeated the rear end to get the car back on the grid. His battle was against Stu Baker, another really solid driver who was driving well, we knew it was not going to be an easy battle to win. Unfortunately on the first pass, Vinnies chase run, the car cut out coming into the section. After calling 5 minutes and trying to find out what was causing the issues(we were all scratching our heads a bit) he went back out and laid down a solid lead run but it wasn’t enough. Back to the pits and we started piecing the car back together while watching the rest of the event unfold. New Zealand really does have some talented drivers and it was so good to watch the sportsmanship as the night went on! After the event we headed back to our bach for our final sleep in Dunedin.
The next morning as we were leaving the bach owner came by, of course being drifters we were used to being told off by accommodation staff, but this was not the case. Her 3 sons just wanted to come over and check out the race cars. Before you knew it we had the eldest boy strapped into Vinnies car and off for a hoon around the block, needless to say he loved it! From there we headed up Baldwin Street(the steepest street in the world) and also to the Speights brewery tour. After hanging out with our our friends from Team Vehicle Imports Direct for most of the day we headed back up to Christchurch to sleep on another guys lounge, thanks Brendon Young! He even got his Mazda MPS out of the garage and left it on the road so that Vinnie could park his Laurel in the garage overnight, we didn’t have enough time when prepping the Laurel so it had no back windows installed!
Monday morning we had a look around Christchurch then hit the road to make our 6.45pm ferry back into home territory! On the way up we were pulled over another cop who had a good look over the car, again he could see that we were doing things properly and were all legal beagle. We made it to the ferry with 10 minutes to spare, no matter how much planning goes into getting to the terminal on time it always ends up cutting close! Once off the ferry it was back to Geoff’s for some rest before the final leg home.
Once awake we headed to Palmerston North to catch up with a few friends and get some spare parts. While driving around looking for a wheel bearing Vinnie found another original Laurel for sale, put on the side of the road with a price tag on it that morning, what a coincidence!!!! It was quickly purchased, literally laughing all the way to the bank. I drove it home from Palmerston North.
On the way back up I managed to get the go ahead to do one final drift session at an abandoned Prison. The alternator on the Laurel was starting to let go and the front pulley had about 2mm movement side to side and at this point we found the cause of the cut-out at battles, the fuel pump relay was intermittently cutting out. Of course that did not stop Vinnie, putting on an awesome display for the locals who turned up to watch. There is some really good footage from that session. Back on the road again and we get to Te Kuiti when the alternator completely seizes! Luckily a good friend of mine Neal Jackson opened up his work for us and raided his spare parts finding an alternator and belt. It was a fairly un-eventful drive home from there, we were all very tired arriving home at 3am on Wednesday morning.
It was such an awesome experience especially riding shotgun! The time Nick and I drove Max to compete in Christchurch in 2009 was my favorite road trip ever, up until this trip went down. Massive respect to Vinnie, he does everything on a shoestring budget and does 95% of the work on the car himself. He would like to thank his sponsors:
-DDT/Dobsons Dyno Tune
-and his mother Susan Langhorn for booking the ferry one day before we left!!!
Now the focus is on trying to get the car turned around and ready for the next Round in Manfield on the 6th & 7th of January.
If anyone reading this is interested in sponsorship opportunities please email me firstname.lastname@example.org a little goes a long way with this car and the exposure is next level!