An accomplished 944 Spec racer, Ashley Burt was looking to go faster, and he found just what he was looking for in Spec Z, a platform with ample power, a tunable chassis and class with a tightly controlled rules set and competitive drivers to race with.

He lucked into this car, which was partially built by a driver who decided to go in a different direction. That was sort of the best of both worlds in terms of the age-old decision whether to buy a car already built or to build a donor car from scratch. He bought the incomplete car and finished it off, which meant he got to tailor the car to his own needs.

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When he bought it, the car was a base model. Through the Nissan Motorsports program, Burt purchased the NISMO bodywork and the upgraded braking system. The result is the car you see pictured here.

“We have a phone number and we have dedicated racer customer service that helps us with parts selection and will ship them directly to us,” Burt said. “We’re very well supported by Nissan. It’s one of things that neat about this class.”

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Now that the class is a few years old, the rules set has been established, as has the knowledge base on how to set these cars up and how to ensure reliability. Burt said he and fellow NASA Rocky Mountain racer, and Spec Z National Champion David Dirks dive right in and help any new racers with setup information. They also share data to help new racers get up to speed quickly.

“That’s what it’s really all about: good, close, tight racing,” Burt said. “Nobody wants to hold setup secrets close to the chest because that’s not the push of the class. The push of the class is to get everyone on the same platform, get everyone close and tight and let’s race.”

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Burt said the two key elements to ensure reliability are an uprated radiator and ventilating the front brakes. It’s possible to race with the standard calipers, but the front and rear Brembos that come on NISMO 350Z’s are the hot ticket. You might find them on eBay or in a salvage yard, but the parts are readily available — and discounted —directly through Nissan Motorsports.

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Because the class is established, racers have had a chance to really test the engines and chassis. Many of the donor cars become racecars after they have logged more than 100,000 miles of street driving. Burt said he knows of no engine failures so far and the chassis has been rock solid in factory form.

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“We really haven’t uncovered any weak spots in this platform,” Burt said. “Once you get the new radiator in, you get the new brakes ducted, from there it just kind of goes and goes. We haven’t run into any major issues and the whole thing has been incredibly robust.”

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Burt estimated that it would cost around $20,000 to build a car. A recent Internet search revealed a few cars from $20,000 to $26,000. So, the platform works and it’s reasonably priced, but how fast is it? If you look at the NASA Timing and Scoring website, http://timingscoring.drivenasa.com, Spec Z lap times are comparable to a GTS2 car, which usually costs more to buy and build.

That’s one of the other things Burt likes about Spec Z: the cars are genuinely fast.

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“It has the ability to break the rear end free under throttle in a variety of conditions, so that to me is sort of the next level of fun in handling a car where you have to apply power thoughtfully,” he said. “The 944 is a fantastic platform, and I loved racing that thing, but you could get on the throttle almost anywhere. The Z, you have to be thoughtful about your timing and the enthusiasm with which you apply throttle because it does have the power to rip the rear end free in a lot of situations.”

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In addition to the rules on spec parts and allowed or prohibited modifications, Spec Z also has a power cap at 258 horsepower at the rear wheels. The VQ35DE engine, which was on the “Ward’s 10 Best Engines List” from 2002 to 2007, was rated at 287 to 300 horsepower when new. Aside from an ECU reflash that raises the rev limiter, the engine remains all stock, and the power cap keeps costs in check. You can’t buy your way to the top of the podium in Spec Z.

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“What it says to the participants is don’t waste your time and money trying to figure out how to work around this rule set because there’s a second component here, being the horsepower cap,” Burt said. “And you can’t work around that, so let’s go racing.”

Owner:

Ashley Burt

Year:

2004

Make:

Nissan

Model:

350Z

Weight:

3,100 lbs. w/driver

Engine:

VQ35DE 3.5-liter V6, 258 whp

Transmission: 

Six-speed manual

Suspension:

Front: KW Sport coilovers

Rear: KW Sport coilovers

Tires:

Front: Toyo RR 275-35-18

Rear: Toyo RR 275-35-18

Brakes:

Front: Brembo four-piston calipers, Hawk DT70 pads

Brembo two-piston calipers, Hawk DTC60 pads

Data system:

Traqmate

Sponsors:

Nissan, Toyo, Hawk, Hanksville Spec Z Cage

 

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Image courtesy of Brett Becker