Photography by Jacob Leveton
When Tanner Foust walked away from drifting in early 2011, he made it very clear he wasn’t permanently retiring from the sport that he himself acknowledges catapulted his career. It’s been a long wait, but the popular driver has finally found a way back for three of his favorite Formula Drift events.
This season, he is piloting a Volkswagen Passat, but this particular build is a far cry from the family sedan you can drive off of your local VW dealer’s lot. It is heavily modified for a sport with a rulebook that encourages high horsepower and plenty of creativity.
For this Tanner Foust Racing build, the driver called upon his old friends at Papadakis Racing for support, involving some of the same fabricators and mechanics that built both of Foust’s Scions, as well as his previous Nissan 350Z that won back-to-back Formula Drift championships in 2007 and 2008.
With only an abbreviated three-event schedule for drifting, Foust didn’t have time to develop a new engine package, so the team looked for a reliable option that could safely put down 700 horsepower to keep up with the rest of the Formula Drift competitors. A high horsepower trend in Formula Drift has led to many leading competitors powering their builds with V8 motors – a trend many attribute to Foust’s former Scion tC drift car, which ran a TRD NASCAR motor.
There are 15 cars on the Formula Drift grid this year using LS-based motors. Only three of them also wear the matching bowtie on the front grill.
For this outrageous Volkswagen, which Foust sometimes refers to as “Frankenstein," the team chose to fit an LS7 engine with a nitrous setup into the car. It pushes about
700 ponies to the rear wheels, even before the 200-shot of nitrous is flipped on. It’s the most powerful car Foust has driven sideways in competition, but it is only around the median power level of the field.
As the car is developed in the future, Foust says he’s hoping to run a Volkswagen four- cylinder, similar to the motor that powers his Rockstar Energy Drink Volkswagen Beetle rallycross car.
For the Formula Drift car, the Tanner Foust Racing crew stripped down the 2015 Passat chassis, cut the sheet metal, fitted a competition-compliant roll cage made of 1.5- inch 4130 chromoly steel, and set to work on transforming the rest of the package.
It’s all business under the hood. The LS7 engine uses a FAST intake manifold and 102-mm throttle body backed by a ZEX nitrous plate just behind the throttle body to feed the nitrous directly into the motor. The engine bay is snaked by the massive eight-into-one ceramic-coated exhaust header that collects in sequential order. This is said to improve exhaust flow and possibly even save a few ponies in efficiency. Most notably, it gives the car a distinct exhaust note that makes it stand out from the other, similar V8s in the field.
With the radiator relocated to the trunk, the custom AEM intake is routed to the front bumper to suck in cool air. Power is pushed through the Tilton Engineering triple-disc clutch, G-Force GSR four-speed dog box transmission, and Driveshaft Shop aluminum driveshaft to the Toyota Supra rear diff. While many teams on the Formula Drift grid run a quick-change rear end, this build features a beefed-up OEM Toyota Supra differential – a proven component the team says doesn’t need to be over-engineered.
Outwardly, the car looks mean – some of the body panels are mildly modified from the OEM state – with a Rocket Bunny body kit that’s been tailored to fit the Passat chassis.
There are no off-the-shelf options for Passat over-fenders, and the widened track of KMC wheels look better with the over fenders sitting flush with the edges of the wheel lips. Combine the Nitto NT05 tires sized 255/40 R17 in the front and 295/40 R18 in the rear with matching 17x8- and 18x10-inch wheels with custom RS-R coilovers that lower the ride height and allow for full adjustability, and you’ve got a pretty sick setup.
Spin Imaging has wrapped the car with a custom Rockstar livery displaying the traditional yellow and black colors, and giving the team options for easier replacement in the event of on-track carnage. Apart from the windshield, all OEM glass has been swapped for Lexan. Aside from a front splitter and a pair of carbon fiber hood vents for increased heat ventilation, the Passat still uses more OEM bodywork than not.
In the passenger cabin, the HANS- compliant Recaro Pro racing seats have been moved several inches back to help with weight distribution and overall driver feel. Normally, moving the driving position back would be a headache, but since the car is outfitted with a Tilton Engineering 600 series pedal set to operate the drive-by-wire throttle, moving the pedal set back only took a small amount of effort.
Safety is handled by Schroth harnesses, while the Sparco steering wheel is connected via quick-release to the elongated steering column. Instead of the traditional switch panel that controls all engine and chassis functions, a RaceGrade switch panel connected to a pair of MoTeC PDMs (power distribution modules) and the AEM Infinity 10 ECU handle engine start, lights, nitrous controls and all other chassis functionality. Foust monitors the real-time details on a Plex SDM-500 dash display affixed to the steering column, a trick way to monitor the race car details without hacking apart the OEM dash.
Behind the main roll cage, a relocated Odyssey PC915 battery sits behind the driver's seat, while a dry sump tank and FD-mandated Firesafe fire safety bottle sits behind the passenger seat. The area where the back seats would normally be is now a metal firewall, behind which is a radiator and two high-velocity fans, fed by ducting in the rear quarter panel of the car. Two AEM 320-liter fuel pumps sit inside the Fuelsafe fuel cell that takes up the majority of the area that was formerly a trunk. The APR Performance swan- mount rear spoiler is also connected to the chassis in the trunk, providing needed rear downforce.
Overall, the car is designed for reliability. The Passat benefits from the experience and lessons learned from previous builds in the Tanner Foust Racing and Papadakis Racing stables – an impressive pedigree. Foust drove the car a few times prior to the season starting but, after five years away from the sport, he is adjusting to the current style of driving that gets podiums on today’s Formula Drift circuit. The car has operated at 100 percent since the first time it turned over in late March, and development will continue.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see Foust back on the podium in short order, especially with a bespoke build as competitive as this Rockstar Passat.
DRIVER: Tanner Foust
VEHICLE: 2015 Volkswagen Passat
BUILT BY: Tanner Foust Racing
ENGINE: Chevrolet LS7 7.0L V8 HORSEPOWER: 700 hp (900 hp w/ nitrous)
- Papadakis Racing 8-to-1 exhaust header with sequential firing order collector
- AEM (custom air intake, 320L fuel pumps (2)
- Infinity-10 ECU)
- FAST (intake manifold,102 mm throttle body)
- Injector Dynamics ID 850 cc fuel injectors
- Rear metal firewall
- Rear-mounted radiator
- Odyssey PC915 battery
- MoTeC PDM 15 (2)
- GP Motorsports Mil Spec wiring
- ZEX 200-shot nitrous system
- Rear-wheel-drive conversion
- G-Force GSR 4-speed dog box transmission
- Tilton Engineering triple-disc clutch, bell housing
- DriveShaft Shop 4-in. aluminum axles
- Toyota Supra differential
CHASSIS / SUSPENSION
- Chromoly 4130 steel roll cage
- RS-R custom
WHEELS / TIRES / BRAKES
- KMC wheels -17x8 (f), 18x10 (r)
- Nitto NT05 tires - 255/40-17 (f), 295/40-18 (r)
- Modified body panels
- Rocket Bunny custom body kit
- APR Performance swan mount wing
- Spin Imaging vinyl graphics
- Lexan windows
- Carbon fiber front splitter, hood vents
- Plex SDM-500 dash display
- RaceGrade keypad / switch panel
- Sparco steering wheel
- Recaro Pro seats
- Schroth harnesses
- Tilton Engineering 600 series pedals
- Firesafe fire safety bottle
- Rockstar Energy Drink
- Volkswagen of America
- Nitto Tire
- Forza Motorsport
- NAPA Chassis
- ODYSSEY Battery
- KMC Wheels