From SEMA to Hammertown: Testing the Limits of Dai Yoshihara’s Frontier

Photography: Brandon Cody / Sam Du / Mike Maravilla

  • R/T Tuning of Pennsylvania collaborates with Turn 14 Distribution, MBRP, and ENEOS to build a one-off pre-runner-style Nissan Frontier, which debuted at the 2022 SEMA Show.
  • The King of the Hammers is the first large-scale off-road gathering of the year and provided the perfect test bed to shakedown the Frontier.
  • The Baja-ready chassis was dialed in by Eimer Engineering using a combination of a CJD Racing long travel kit, Bilstein coilovers, Eibach springs, Weld beadlock wheels, and Yokohama Geolander M/T tires.
  • On-site assistance from Bilstein, The Fab School, and Brink Fab helped dial in the Frontier successfully, paving the way for further improvements into 2023.

The crux of innovation is staying uncomfortable. Dai Yoshihara’s retirement from Formula Drift, a world he’d been a part of for over a decade, came with opportunities to do exactly that. SEMA 2022 saw him debut several flavors of cars with the help of Turn 14 Distribution — an R33 GT-R, a 2023 Acura Integra, and the real surprise: a Nissan Frontier. The hindmost is certainly the biggest outlier, but truthfully, Dai had been itching to flex his off-road muscle for some time. And as we mentioned in that article, SEMA was only the beginning.

With King of the Hammers right around the corner, the notorious Johnson Valley playground provided the perfect opportunity to test the Frontier’s real-world capabilities once and for all.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Dai’s Frontier has evolved well beyond its factory form. While its underpinnings have been massaged with the likes of a CJD Racing long travel kit, Bilstein coilovers, Eibach springs, and more, R/T Tuning has kept its powertrain and cosmetic enhancements decidedly Nissan. Dai’s Frontier sports a Titan carbon fiber front end conversion, Titan front brakes, and a 600hp Q50/Q60 VR30DDTT engine.

The choice was a conscious one. The goal was to build a “NISMO-spec” Frontier, and if you were none the wiser, you’d swear that this truck could be purchased exactly like this — the fit and finish of the end product is that good.

TEST AND TUNE

As aforementioned, our King of the Hammers visit was strictly singular in focus: use Hammertown’s grounds to put the Frontier through its paces. These public lands boast an impressive array of topography: undulating and rolling terrain complement fast and smooth pathways while punishing, rock-ridden ground contrasts the soft, unexplored sand. All in all, a well-rounded course to test our prerunner’s off-road prowess.

Rather quickly, Vince Hafner (the owner of R/T Tuning) and Chris Eimer from Eimer Engineering started adjusting the Frontier’s suspension, tuning, and tire pressures in response to Dai’s feedback. Unlike other motorsports venues where these adjustments could befit a circuit’s more uniform demands, the sheer variety of “road” surfaces definitely created additional layers of tuning difficulty.

Amidst that process, the Frontier’s lack of rear weight proved detrimental. The thin truck bed cracked from the punishing onslaught. Our battery mounting solution, which also succumbed to excessive bed force, also proved insufficient. Before we really put the truck through its paces, these issues needed to be fixed. The saving grace was that the rest of the Frontier was unfazed by the testing — a testament to the motorsport experience that both R/T Tuning and Eimer Engineering carry.

We surrendered for the day, combing the grounds for the help we desperately needed.

HERE TO SAVE THE DAY

The next morning was certainly a productive one. The Fab School was on-hand to provide support to hundreds of race participants. Despite their workload throughout the week, they were happy to take us in. More than simply repair, their fabricators made quick work of fashioning more robust solutions for our problems. Our battery was now suspended above the bed to spare it from continuous jostling while the bed itself was welded and reinforced at its failure points.

The suspension specialists from Bilstein were also on hand and willing to help us improve upon our setup, provided we were able to find one thing: a chain hoist. Rather than just being able to jack the truck up, our Frontier’s long-travel suspension meant that it’d still be sitting on the ground long after the jack’s adjustment range maxed out. Thankfully, a few laps through the “paddock” proved fruitful. The kind folks at Brink Fab had exactly what we needed. Shortly after sorting the fab work, the Frontier was lifted to make helpful adjustments to the front and rear suspension.

To help the rear of the truck grip/eliminate kick, we strapped down an additional wheel/tire in the truck bed (thank you again, Bilstein). Contrary to most car setups, we focused the weight behind the rear axle. This effectively increases the amount of inertia at the rear, which means more force is required to move the back of the truck around.

The makeover was immediately transformative. The Frontier was able to negotiate Hammertown’s unpredictable landscape and whoops sections with much more predictable ease.

RIDEALONGS WITH DAI

After a successful shakedown, it was finally time to enjoy Hammertown’s delights. We were thrilled to put two of Bilstein’s team members in the passenger seat to experience the Frontier first-hand. With the sun setting, the Turn 14 Distribution and Pit+Paddock staff took turns as well. It was our first opportunity to see what this truck had up its sleeves from the coveted passenger seat. To witness how far this truck had evolved in a matter of days, amidst the challenging landscape, was simply incredible.

THANK YOU

As we mentioned, our success at Hammertown was a team effort. We owe a large portion of gratitude toward Hafner and Eimer — their respective camps have been involved in making this Frontier come to life — but we have to mention all of the build sponsors involved as well. Each component was added to reflect Dai’s judicious requirements. Without the help of ENEOS, MBRP, Yokohama, Mishimoto, AMS Performance, Disc Brakes Australia, JE Pistons, Jon Sibal, Manley Performance, AnzoUSA, Bilstein, KC HiLites, Weld Wheels, and Sparco, the build wouldn’t be complete. Lastly, one last shoutout definitely goes out to our new friends from The Fab School and Brink Fab. Without both, our efforts in Johnson Valley would’ve been cut short.

Although it may have worn the Frontier badge from the factory, its transformation here truly earned that moniker. Dai’s ambitious off-roader had indeed gone to the outer limits and not only come back much stronger than we had ever hoped, thanks to all the help we received, but left us knowing that there was even more left on the table to unlock.


 

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