Project Drift Chick – Part 1




Team Drift Chick embarked on a unique and perhaps risky journey by building a new Formula Drift competition car. In this five part series, we will share insights from the team regarding the unique build and, in particular, the teams’ interesting choice of engine, a Ford Performance Parts, Coyote based, 5.0 liter, Aluminator crate engine.

 Kelsey Rowlings’ first season in Formula Drift PRO2 was very much like the first season of most first year drivers; a true learning experience, filled with events that alter and illuminate one’s life.

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A key contributor to the first year education was some form of mechanical failure at every competition, including a catastrophic engine failure during practice in Seattle, after travelling 3000 miles to compete. 

Burned piston

Texas was better, but not by much, with a blown differential 45 minutes before qualifying.

blown Diff

Each of these failures had a significant impact on the season including both practice time and the ability to compete effectively.

The pink 240SX that had served her so well for six years, including three Pro-Am series, was simply not capable to meet the demands of Formula Drift in terms of performance and reliability. The proverbial “knife in a gun fight” was a clear and true statement. Significant improvements were required if Kelsey was to match up with the level of competition.

While traveling to the West coast for the final round of Formula Drift in 2015, Kelsey, Dan Rowlings (her Crew Chief Dad) and Alberto Rosa (crew member and owner of Kaizen Performance) began to discuss options for 2016.  Discussion ranged from a new build to modifications of the current car as well as to choice of power plant.  Kelsey preferred to stay with a turbo if possible and did not wish to follow the crowd with another LS car. Engine availability, cost and available support would also affect the decision and plan for a new build or upgrade.

Engine Options

While apparently headed down the path of the venerable Toyota 2JZ engine, and with an interesting LS engine option now also on the table, Dan suggested something completely different for the team to consider. With the new option perhaps a bit of a longshot, all of the options considered would rely on obtaining some form of support from engine and/or aftermarket suppliers, a big unknown.

Among other contacts, arrangements were made to meet with a representative of the Ford Performance Parts group during the 2015 SEMA show to explore options for possible support.  Ultimately, the idea to install a Ford Performance Parts Aluminator crate engine in the 240 was born.


 It was a bold and different move, and it carried some risk because there were not any guidelines to follow.  The Aluminator had never before been installed in a Nissan 240SX chassis destined for Formula Drift, so new ground was being explored by the privateer team. Given the amount of time and effort estimated for the project, it was decided to pursue a new build so the current car could still be drifted during the off season. The existing car would also serve as the back-up in case the new car did not work out as planned or was not completed on time.

Preliminary investigations indicated the new Ford “Coyote” 32 valve V-8 Aluminator would fit in the cramped engine bay of the Nissan 240SX… barely.

There was little space to work with and some pretty significant interference in some locations. With some early guidance from FD driver Justin Pawlak, who runs the same engine in his Mustang, and some design configurations by Dan, it was concluded the engine could be made to fit, with some effort, and the idea was finalized.

Mid-November 2015, there were just five months to build a completely new car that had never been seen in a Formula drift before. 


Will it fit – Ford Coyote install considerations

Further work was performed to determine the fit of the Ford Coyote 5.0 liter engine in the 240SX chassis. The initial concept was to stay with a front mount radiator vs rear mount to help simplify the build and help the budget. However, much work was still required and the engine install alone would entail:

  • elimination of the brake booster and clutch master cylinders with installation of new pedals with integral master cylinders
  • design and installation of a new steering column to work with the new pedals.  
  • modification of the stock exhaust manifolds, which were retained due to time constraints, to fit within the narrow frame rails and revised steering column.
  • fabrication of custom engine and transmission mounts.
  • creating clearance to fit the Ford Boss 302 high performance alternator.
  • relocation of the stock oil filter and filter mount.
  • confirming fitment of a Ford power steering pump


It all seemed doable, so the team began.


Ford Performance Parts – Awesomeness in a crate

Since the car would be running the exceptional E85 of Thunderbolt Racing Fuel, the 2015 Ford Performance Parts 5.0 Aluminator NA Crate Engine (M-6007-A50NAA) was selected to enhance overall torque and power band vs. the lower compression “SC”. The Aluminator NA is built specifically for high performance applications and includes hard anodized Mahle® 11.0:1 compression ratio forged pistons with Grafal® low friction coating, premium Manley ® H-beam connecting rods with ARP® 2000 bolts, BOSS 302 high performance bearings and valve springs and Ford’s billet steel gerotor oil pump.  Quite bulletproof right out of the box.

The engine ships securely in its own self contained crate.

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Removing the Aluminator reveals an awesome work of art, assembled by a single builder,  and the hand assembled engine carries the signature of its proud builder.

To stay completely Ford Performance Parts powered, Dan chose the 2015-16 MUSTANG GT SUPERCHARGER KIT for the Aluminator.  While a few of the components of the kit would not be used, the system, developed with Roush Performance, is awesome and can make 670HP at approximately 9 psi of boost with 93 octane fuel. With that as the starting point, far more would be expected with Ethanol fuel and higher boost. The kit comes complete with all hardware for installation and includes the tune if using a Ford ECU. Given the demands of drifting and the power levels expected, to help avoid belt slippage, Dan replaced the 6 rib supercharger pulley setup supplied with the kit with an 8 rib SC pulley setup. The 8 rib setup had already been proven in drifting applications. Rounding out the parts sourced from Ford was an electronic accelerator pedal, required for the electronic throttle body provided with the supercharger kit. 

The Haltech engine management system was chosen for its superior logging capability and flexibility. Haltech also provided a complete, fully terminated, plug and play Coyote harness to help the team. For more mild or street applications the Ford Performance Parts Coyote 5.0 controls pack could also be an excellent option. 

Driftchick Build 2016-192

The Drive Train Team

With the newly planned power upgrade, drivetrain reliability was also be a priority for the build. For the transmissions, Dan chose to go with a “Dog Box” chosen by many of the Formula Drift Pro Teams;  A rebuilt G-Force GSR was sourced for its high reliability and simplicity.

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To transfer the power, Advanced Clutch Technology stepped up to provide a twin disc unit that would work comfortably and reliably behind the heavily boosted Aluminator engine. Given the team has had excellent success with ACT over a number of years on the SR engine, it was no time to try something unproven. A Quicktime bellhousing was procured to mate the transmission to engine.

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Since Kelsey experienced a catastrophic differential failure just prior to qualifying for FD Texas in 2015, Dan decided the new car should have a quick-change differential installed along with Drive Shaft Shop 900 HP axles, to improve reliability and to enhance performance. The quick change also provided the ability to easily change rear gear ratios to suit differing track layouts. Given the short time to build the car, it was also decided to go with an already fabricated Sikky S14 sub-frame designed for the far bigger quick-change differential.

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Rounding out the drive train are Drive Shaft Shop 900 hp axles and an awesome carbon fiber driveshaft.

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In Part 2 we will review chassis preparation and some of the many challenges faced by the team when installing the Ford Performance Parts Aluminator crate engine.



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