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Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

Text and photos by Andrew Jennings

Darren “D-Mac” McNamara has been competing professionally in the Formula Drift series since 2007. The native of Cork, Ireland won the 2006 Irish Prodrift series championship before Team Falken Tire gave him a full-time seat here in the USA driving his personally built Toyota AE86 Corolla with Nissan SR20 motor. Today, he drives this beast they call a Saturn Sky, and also co-runs the McNSport aftermarket parts label back in Ireland.

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

D-Mac’s Saturn Sky has been revamped this year with an all-new chassis and aerodynamic package. Although the car is factory sponsored by Falken, the build was handled by Autosport Dynamics (ASD). In 2010, the Sky was one of the few roadsters on the Formula Drift grid, but ASD has switched it over to a hard top coupe for 2011. Saturn never offered the Sky with a metal roof from the factory, so the sloping rear line that the team has chosen bears close resemblance to the sister Pontiac Solstice Coupe that sold briefly as a 2009 model. Other panels such as the hood, fenders, front and rear bumpers are made out of dry carbon fiber to keep the overall weight down. The front splitter is made specially by APR for this application. On the rear bumper, a triangular deflector sits behind the wheel arches for some additional downforce when the car is getting sideways. Also, on the rear deck lid, a flush-mounted spoiler has been attached for even more aerodynamic stability at high speed. It all adds up to one wicked machine that is unmistakable out on the track.

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

The Falken Azenis RT-615K rubber is staggered with 255mm tires up front, and 275mm tires in the rear. HRE Competition Series C90 wheels are used to keep all four corners light, providing plenty of strength under load. Team Falken used to run SSR wheels on the Saturn Sky, but for 2011 they switched over to HRE wheels for all of the ASD-built factory cars. The white spokes with polished lip look totally killer on the blue and green Falken paint scheme.

In any drift car, you don’t just need good tires, you also need good brakes to add friction and pull away the rear end. D-Mac’s car has a textbook set of brakes provided by Wilwood. Up front, large 6-piston calipers sit over drilled rotors. In the rear, two sets of 4-piston calipers are mounted over equally sized rotors. Having a large rear rotor adds additional brake force in the rear, and the second caliper separates the hand brake from the foot brake. When only one of the two is engaged, to the driver, there is no difference from a single caliper setup. However, when the driver is already yanking hard on the hand brake, applying the foot brake does not unsettle the car because each act independently.

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

Under the hood sits what can only be described as a Frankenstein-like monster of an engine. Although it began its life from Chevrolet, this is no “LS” series swap. It is a 6.7-liter Sprint car V8 with an all-aluminum block, tuned by ASD to put out 790 hp and 719 lb-ft of torque. The engine is controlled by a MoTeC M800 ECU which allows for fine tuning of the camshaft timing and drive by wire throttle among other things. The transmission is a 4-speed dogbox that connects up to a Winters quick-change rear end. Race cars rarely get over 100 mph in Formula Drift, so this 4-speed box offers just the right gear ratios without the excess weight of a 5th or 6th gear holding it back.

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

With all of that power at D-Mac’s command, the suspension must be ready to react whenever the steering wheel is turned. TEIN coilovers were selected to keep everything in line, and the damping force is controlled using TEIN’s own Electronic Damping Force Controller (EDFC). It is mounted directly inside the cockpit so that the team can make micro-adjustments between each lap if D-Mac has any feedback about the car’s performance.

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

Inside the cabin, a Sparco Evo bucket seat and full racing harness were fitted, holding D-Mac firmly in place while he twists the Sparco quick-connect steering wheel back and forth. The steering column and driver’s seat were swapped over to the right-hand side of the car so it would be an easier fit for the Irish native. Instead of traditional gauges, a racing data acquisition system sits behind the wheel, giving readouts of speed, rpm, engine temperature, oil pressure, and much more.

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

Behind the seating area, a full roll cage mounts up with the independent fuel tank. This tank is set as far inboard as possible to avoid any deformation in a crash. The more protected the fuel is, the less chance there will be of a fire. The position is a bit awkward when it comes time to pull up to the gas pump - his name is Deane Steele. The whole rear window has to be removed and the mechanic must reach over the rear of the car to load it up with gas. D-Mac has a great crew backing him who are more than happy to go through these paces many times in a race weekend. It’s all part of what makes a winning formula in the high stakes world of Formula Drift.

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

Over three years of development have gone into this finished product, and D-Mac himself characterizes this as the “best modern RWD platform available for a drift car.” As of this writing he sits in third place in the 2011 Pro Championship standings behind Falken Tire teammates Justin Pawlak and Daijiro Yoshihara. He already has two podiums from Road Atlanta and Palm Beach, and will be sure to keep the pressure on the rest of the field as he fights for more in the remaining three competitions. Stay tuned to see what other trophies this short-wheelbase coupe will bring home in the coming months!

ESSENTIALS // Owner: Darren McNamara • Vehicle 2009 Saturn Sky • power 790hp/719 ft. lbs tq • Engine 6.7L Aluminum V8

INTERIOR // Sparco safety equipment

EXTERIOR // Dry carbon body panels, Splitter

WHEELS / TIRES // Falken Azenis RT615k • HRE Competition Series C90

BRAKES / SUSPENSION // TEIN coilovers w/EDFC • Wilwood

Drift Junkie: Darren McNamara's 2009 Saturn Sky

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