Balls deep with Joe Kukutai and his D1 Pro-Am R32

The first time that I had met Joe was, I guess August last year, at a Drift MotorSportNZ drift day.
Which just so happened to be the apparent coldest day of the year, How cold?
It fucking snowed.

While doing the usual round of the pits, saying Hi and taking photos.. I introduced myself to a couple of pretty nervous people.

Insert Joe and Denny Kutukai.

This was their first drift day in their new car.
Joe, 16, had been saving for a car to build into a drift car, but before the purchase
Joe and Denny had gone to a local drift day before to check out the action to see what drifting was all about.
They had instantly fell in love with the sport and Denny helped Joe pay for his very first drift car.
As their first car, it wasn’t meant to be pretty,as you can see.
There is panel damage and what not..
What they Had done was fit it with a set of STD adjustable coilovers,
shimmed the stock viscous LSD and took it out on their first day.
As the car you see as the first image.

Coming into their second drift outing,
they’d done a few simple modifications to keep the car slippery.
That is Denny in the pilot seat.
As DMNZ goes, there is classes for the skill of the driver,
Neither were very experienced but they were driving the same car.

So, Joe ended up driving in the D3 class of DMNZ and Denny was in D2,
and in the respective classes for Garage H Advance drift days.

As you can see, there’s been some modifying done to the car,
Taking advice from the helpful and friendly drift community..
they’ve upgraded the car with basic and cost effective things like,
an intercooler, 3″ exhaust and some sway bars to pull it all together.
Making around 220hp, which he reckons is just fine for learning in,
out of the RB20DE+t

In that same month, following them down to Taupo led to some insanely early morning starts once a month for a awhile..
Waking up at sometimes between 2-3am in all kinds of different states of consciousnesses
to follow drifting around, sometimes had its perks..
Unlike my last trip to Taupo… =\

Here you see, Denny and Joe still having turns and swapping the car around,
Having fun and making some mistakes all while learning the different tracks,
(That’s Denny BTW 😉 coming in to hot of the initiation of turn one of the drift course
of Taupo track two)

Wondering around the pits later on during the day, I spot some shenanigans going on at the Kukutai area,
Checking it all out…
They’re rolling the car back and forward while Denny held an extension under the arches…
Doing a track day roll on the guards to fix a bit of a rubbing issue.
All pretty common when you’re developing a car..

With everything getting all under control and sorted, some of this happened towards the end of the day,
All while running a fairly stock setup.

Now, a few months later here’s Joe hitting up Taupo track two, really starting to get a feel of the car
and learning how to throw it into corners consistently.
Even mixing it up with some the coolest drift day cars around from Adam of C’s garage and Mel from Team Blink!!

Slowly during this time, Denny was driving less and less and Joe was getting better and better,
which is always exciting to watch someone come from a stock car,
and driver with no experience to an obviously still amateur but experience driver and a more advanced car.

Mid December I had been invited to a drift test day at Meremere with Joe,
So we took a drive down from the shore to hang out, and it pissed down.
Although the rain, it didn’t stop Joe from putting on a good show.

This time, Joes car was fitted with a vertex style front, rear and sides kit from Ryan at Luxury Sports
So we had a bit of play and had taken some photo of its new guise..

This is when I also got my first ride in his car..
Running down the return way of the dragstrip, into a 180 degree drift to a manji back up the dragstip,
Many times, was pretty awesome..

And mid December was when I stopped taking photos for a while…

Until nearly 10 months later…

When this happened.

In the past ten months Joe has, at the D1NZ awards had received ‘Best up and Comer’ by Hori Dori
and also ‘Going to the Top’ from DMNZ.

Since the last time I had seen Team Kukutai, Joe had managed to destroy 4 gearboxes and two engines…
The first engine was after a tune to 300hp and it had leaned out and had popped.
The second time was when they had rebuilt the First blown engine,
getting it ready for DMNZs DComp, without running it in properly and, during competition blowing again…
During this day of shooting at DMNZ Taupo drift day, Joe had blown his Fifth gearbox.

So they had one of the crew drive to Rotorua to pick up another one to replace it with…

It had a been pretty long wait, from early morning, to early afternoon getting the new gearbox.
Joe had been staying cool all day about it, considering how hot it was that day,
only a couple of weeks ago…. not showing To much worry.

Finally the new box arrives and they fit it pretty quickly to get Joe out for the last session of the day,
As you can see, he is Defiantly not afraid of shredding tyres.


All of this brings us back to what happened only two weeks earlier….

It’s had a make over.

Coming from a competition weekend, then getting invited to the V8 SuperTourers drift demo,
the week after..
AK Auto Customs came on in quite the big way..
Helping the team to completely strip the car, give it a freshen up and paint it ready for the demo.

As you can see the car has gone through a complete transformation..
From a totally stock car, to the machine you see here.

Luxury Sports has provided the GTR front bumper, Vertex sides and rear bumper, also the widened fiberglass front and rear guards.

For the really fitting Wolf SP1 in 18×10 all round with 235/45 HiFly tyres keeping it gripped up front,
and what ever is cheapest out back, for the odd wheels he has lying about…

Obviously you’ll notice the front end rake..
That would be because the front wheel / tyre combo is a bit to big for the guards / wheel wells
and it is rubbing and binding all over the place if it was any lower..

Getting to sit the R32 like it does, comes by the way of Luxury sport front castor arms
and Luxury sport front and rear camber arms,
all the while still running the STD adjustable coilovers from the year before!

Out back, the car still runs a shimmed viscous LSD,
Driven by a R25 Neo 5 speed gearbox and a 4 puck heavy duty clutch from NZAD.

The office of the R32 is, as you would expect…
Pretty simple as it’s drift car, using fixed back seats from NZKW
and the standard deep dished wheel, wrapped with a bit of multi-coloured tape to make it his own..
“Ready for War” is reminding Joe what he’s out there to do,
and the angry bird to remind him that it’s cool to smash into things..

As always, we had some rain, because it’s Joe and I..

What makes this R32 pump out the amount of smoke that is does is..
A .50 A/R with an unknown exhaust housing, T3/T4 turbo from Redline..

Pumping the air through a Luxury Sport intercooler to a cut and welded stock intake manifold..
Fueled by RX7 450cc injectors and making spark with a Mitsubishi waste spark setup.
All of this explosive energy makes it way through a stock exhaust manifold and external wastegate,
that’s plumbed into a straight through three inch exhaust all the way to the rear.
With all of that, this current engine is happily making around 385hp at the flywheel..

With the start of D1NZ Pro-Am less then two weeks away..
Joe has made quite the impression in the national drifting scene…
Coming from his quiet start, only a year earlier in a stock car to where he is today.
Competing in the 4 and Rotary Nationals Jamboree and finishing in second place
amongst some of the pro drifters of the country is a pretty excellent feat for a rookie driver.

And Being invited to the NZ V8 SuperTourers round in Taupo on Father Day,
and put on a pretty impressive demo for the crowd, hanging signs out the window, pulling super sixes..

To recently being invited to the NAC NZ Drift Nationals, but unfortunately knocking himself
out of the competition in the top 16 because of…. ‘cold tyres’ he says..

Again, with the first round of D1NZ Pro-Am at Manfield less then two weeks away,
I think Joe Kukutai, this year in Pro-Am is going to spill blood.
He’s going to go all out and do his best to make podium,
against some pretty tough competition, and make some upsets.
Either going to do extremely well or crash and burn,
which either way is going to be pretty exciting to watch.

I hope only for the best for Joe Kukutai and the team,
as I follow them around the country this D1NZ season covering what goes one behind the scenes.
in the pits and at the tracks.

Follow Joe Kukutai and his trip on the road to Pro-Am Victory Here! to be up to date of most of what goes on around the place.



Filed under DMNZ, Drifting, Features, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Balls deep with Joe Kukutai and his D1 Pro-Am R32

  1. Denny

    Awesome Brett thanks alot man

  2. Dianne Robinson

    What a great article! Good to read about Joe’s journey. thanks.

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