If there’s one thing Ross Thurston knows, it’s fast cars — he’s been racing them since he was a teenager. His association with motorsport goes back even further.
“My father got me into racing many, many years ago,” Ross explains, “he used to take me down to the track, so it was a childhood dream to race.”
His competitive career dates back to 1985 when he started racing a Datsun 1200 coupe. He also competed the Wellington street race in a Barina GTI, winning the 1300 class at that same meet. Ross dabbled in speedway, too, and in 2001 he came second at the New Zealand superstock champs. Ross was back on the tarmac in 2004 in a DC5 Integra Type R, which competed in the NA Production Car Championship.
Ross has even tried his hand at rallying, using a Subaru Leone. He had a horror run with the car and its reliability, and vowed never to drive a Subaru again.
Which is how he happened to be pedalling an Evo VIII when he won the 2005/06 New Zealand Production Car Championship.
The success of that car led naturally to Ross building an Evo as a street-drivable track hack. At least, that was the original plan. Once Ross started tinkering with the car, a stock Evo IV RS, that plan went out the window.
It all started with a floor-mounted pedal box. Fitting the pedal box meant that the driver’s seat mounting had to be moved back, which required the steering column to be shifted so that Ross could reach it. These alterations had a roll-on effect that saw Ross’s street driven track hack transformed into a fully fledged race car that can devour the Manfeild Motorsport Park racetrack in 1:10.
The build took the better part of three years to complete. There were two reasons for the lengthy gestation period. First, it enabled Ross to spread the considerable cost of performance parts, which were shipped in from RHD Japan. Mostly, however, when you’re as meticulous with your preparations and fabrication as Ross is, these things simply take time.
He isn’t fussy just for the sake of it. The knowledge that his car has been put together with minute attention to detail gives him the confidence he needs when he is pushing his Evo to the limit.
“I’ve made some parts four times,” he says, indicating the front exhaust pipe as an example.
Many hours were also poured into the engine bay and how it would be set up, getting welds just right on all his hand-fabricated components. As you’d expect from a perfectionist, Ross did all the fabrication and tweaking himself, apart from the rollcage and the assembly of the engine.
The engine components and the block were given to Phil Blummont, who expertly pieced the motor together knowing the abuse Ross would deal to it. The combination of parts netted 332kW at wheels and 492Nm of torque, a figure that puts a huge smile on Ross’s face every time he races.
Once the engine was completed, RHD Japan received regular calls for suspension components. All the original suspension bushings have been taken out, replaced either with spherical or rose-jointed ends. These handling aides help set up the car with pinpoint precision, and assists the suspension to work in unison with the body.
While the rest of the vehicle was being sorted, the car was fully stripped inside and sent to Octane Automotive in Palmerston North to have an extensive MSNZ-approved chromoly rollcage fitted.
From his vast racing experience Ross knew that if he wanted his car to be fast on a track, it would have to good at scrubbing off speed. The entire factory front braking package has been replaced with AP racing callipers and two-piece rotors. The rear received a similar two-piece rotor upgrade, and Endless brake pads are used all round.
Ross has been as fastidious with the exterior of the Evo as he was under the shell. It’s immaculately presented, and aggressive looking, too.
With its modified Damd front bumper, large carbon 3D rear wing, wide fibreglass guards filled with 18×8.5-inch ANZ RS rims in Hyper black wrapped with Michelin Porsche Cup slicks, the car looks purposeful and staunch at the same time.
Ross’s attention to detail is also apparent on race day. He spends a lot of time mentally preparing himself, which is helped by the confidence he has in his machine. And once racing is over, preparation for the next meet begins. “The car is given a wheel alignment, the oil is changed, the corner weights are inspected and every nut and bolt is checked after every meeting,” Ross says. No wonder he’s a champion driver.
But even after so much time, so much preparation, and with a car that has won him more races than most of us will ever experience, Ross still isn’t satisfied.
“I want to run the car on E85 fuel,” he says, “and to try to net more reliable power so the rest of the components aren’t so stressed.”
At 332kW, this Evo has a power output similar to many street cars. But a street car would not come close to the lap times Ross’s Evo is capable of. This is due in part to the combination of grip, weight reduction, suspension development and braking ability. It’s also because of how experienced Ross is behind the wheel and how well he knows his car, two key elements that should never be underestimated.
Nor should Ross’s passion. He’s been around cars for most of his life; racing is in his veins. And his Evo is a rolling testament to all the knowledge, skill, determination and, yes, fastidiousness that make him one of the country’s very best behind the wheel.
For more photos and full specifications, visit the Performance Car website.