San Diego native Tyler Wolfson is hard at work – preparing his GT Radial/SAE Motorsport Mazda RX-7 for round 1 of the 2014 Formula DRIFT series in Long Beach. We caught up with Tyler for a quick Q&A session and here’s what he had to say:
Rumor has it that your new Mazda RX-7 is nearly ready for testing; how is the build coming along?
This is absolutely right! We are finishing up breaking in the motor today and should be doing full dyno pulls by this evening at RRR Dyno Tuning. The build has been nothing short of exhausting. We have a great team and some really smart people involved which has made everything so much easier than our previous builds.
What entails a drift car test session and what kind of data do you expect to collect from a typical test?
We do different kinds of testing but a standard test session is really designed to do two things; make the car drivable and find as much grip as possible. Typically we start out our day dialing in tire pressure; tires are absolutely the most important part of the whole car. Once we get to a range where we like the pressure we will make alignment adjustments and damper/spring adjustments. Every driver likes different things and an ideal setup for one driver may be a nightmare for another on the exact same car on the same track. When we make all of these adjustments we take notes of every stage so our engineer can go back over the data and convert it into ideas for our next test or event. Typically, the data that is most valuable is vehicle speed, wheel speed, slip angle, tire temperature, tire wear characteristics, suspension travel, and the subjective one – driver comfort.
Your team has spent countless hours building your highly refined hot rod; there are a number of complex components on your RX-7, but let’s start where the rubber meets the road: Can you explain your tire set up and why you prefer this particular package?
Like I mentioned before, the tire is the single most important component of the drift car. It determines whether I end up in a wall or on the perfect line making clouds of smoke. We are running the GT Radial Champiro SX2. It is an extreme performance summer tire; which means it has crazy amounts of grip, but can still be used for every day driving. We wanted to run this tire because it is the stickiest tire that Formula Drift would allow. The tire rules state that we are allowed to run a tire with a tread wear rating as low as 140. The SX2 comes in at a 200, which makes it perfect for our application. Our second decision was tire sizing – with our car being a Mazda RX-7 based chassis, we wanted a very light car. Formula Drift also determines the tire size allowed based on weight class. We fall into the 2400+ lb weight class, which allows us to run a 250mm tire (or smaller). We opted for the SX2 in the 245/40/17 flavor.
This is your first year as a professional in the Formula Drift series. What does it take for a racer to make it to this level of competition?
Simply one thing: not taking “no” for an answer. The biggest thing that separates the people that make it from the people that don’t is willingness to fail and to keep going. As a team, we have been through more than I ever imagined possible, but we always kept the same attitude – not giving up. There is always a way to keep moving forward. Every time something goes wrong we look at it as an opportunity to learn. We have done a lot of learning but we are still here today because we take those lessons and find ways to avoid repeating our mistakes. I guess it’s just the idea of progression; we are constantly hungry to learn and push ourselves.
What are your personal goals for this season and what will it take for you and the team to consider the upcoming season a success?
I personally want to win rookie of the year in Pro 1 and win the Pro 2 championship. In my book a successful season is one in which I am able to provide the people that support me with value in marketing. Results always come second to my partners; people and the relationships we have with them are always number 1. I want everyone who has become a part of this dream of mine to end the year with the feeling of accomplishment.
How many sets of radials do you expect to burn through in a typical drift racing season…including testing?
If I am not mistaken, we have a rough estimate of 240 tires in total for all of the competition events and testing. With the addition of Pro 2 that number might be a little low, but it still probably sounds absurd to most people.
Formula Drift Long Beach is right around the corner; who do you think will be your stiffest competition for round one?
The walls… Literally and figuratively the walls there are very stiff and the lack of practice time offered to rookies at this event makes it a huge challenge. I don’t look at anyone as our “stiffest competition” per se, but there are a lot of drivers I respect a lot that are gunning for the rookie of the year title, so I guess they have to be my competition.
The RX-7’s rotary engine emits a distinctive sound at high RPM. How fast does your Mazda rev before it starts to bang on the limiter?
We actually don’t rev our motors that high. The main reason is power band; drifting requires immense amounts of torque, which can’t be found at very high RPM, so we tend to keep the limiter somewhere around 8500 RPM. We do however pump our motors full of all kinds of crazy stuff. This season we are going to run a giant twin scroll Comp Turbo, with water/meth injection, and a progressively controlled wet Nitrous Express system. When you consider that the motor we run is considered a 1.3L the amount of power we are able to consistently develop is wild.
You are obviously trained to push a car to its limits on the racetrack, but how would you describe your driving style when you’re just cruising around town?
I drive like a grandma; I think part of it is that I have stuffed enough cars into walls with the proper safety gear to realize that street cars really aren’t that safe. I guess the other part is that I get most of my aggression out at the track so I don’t really find joy in it anymore. If you asked me when I was 16 you would probably have gotten a totally different response…I guess I am getting old.
Tyler Wolfson will compete in all 7 rounds of this year’s Formula DRIFT series with his new GT Radial/SAE Motorsport Mazda RX-7. Visit Tyler’s Facebook page and follow his progress throughout the 2014 Formula DRIFT season.