Turning a Vintage Datsun 280Z into a Time Attack Race Car
Drivers Spotlight Edition #8: Ben Cort & His 1977 Datsun 280Z Race Car
LapMeta Drivers Spotlight: Ben Cort
Time Attack has slowly been on a recent rise. Although not a new form of motorsport, Global Time Attack here in the U.S. has been gaining momentum in the past decade. With so many wild builds and cars competing, one would assume you have to start with something modern to be competitive. Well Ben Cort is sticking to his old school cool roots.
Photo Credit: Motolyric
He has had his 280Z since 2012. We asked him why a Z? His answer, “They’re rad! In 2012 you could still find them for really cheap, and compared to other cars that were on my radar, they were just the coolest option. I had seen a few on Motor Mavens and Stanceworks back in the day and really liked the body lines, but them being affordable was huge. They weren’t as popular as they are now, but they had a large following and a lot of resources for information and parts. I knew nothing about them, so looking for one was a bit of a crapshoot. In hindsight, they are a great platform. Very light, small wheelbase and brutally simple to work on. It was a great first project, and it continues to be a lot of fun!”
We agree. They are rad. The long bonnet and short abrupt tail makes these cars look good from nearly angle when lowered with some proper wheels.
Photo Credit: NWR SCCA Solo
Ben first competed with his Z for many years in SCCA Solo and Auto-X competing at 7x national tours and one Solo Nationals. “I’ve taken this car to more Auto-x’s then I can count,” he tells us. That’s where he got his start in motorsports. “When I was in school back in western NY, there was a FSAE team who would test in the parking lot across from the buildings where I spent a lot of time. Chatting with one of the guys one night after school, he mentioned that weekend there was a SCCA novice school. It was full, but I should keep an eye out for it next year. I signed up, and took my bone stock 2005 WRX wagon to a couple events in NY before moving to Portland later that year. There is a really good SCCA scene here, and I got really involved with that. Auto-X was competitive, fast and fun. Low barrier to entry and it was great. Once I got the Z, my desire to tinker took over and I couldn’t leave enough alone. I was always changing something and I climbed through the classes to wind up at a pretty high level there. Not that I was particularly fast, but the prep level of the car was high. I realized if I wanted to keep pushing the engineering side of the car, the open rule set in Time Attack was much more accommodating to the projects I had in mind moving forward.”
“The previous iteration was powered by a L28 running 14:1 compression, a big cam, fuel injection and ITBs, making 248whp on E85,” Ben says. But after suffering catastrophic engine failure this past season, he is now in the process of an engine swap to make the car even faster for the ‘23 season.
Photo Credit: Ben Cort
“The L33 swap was born out of sadness. At Global Time Attack at the Ridge last year the L28 sheared the oil pump gears and the entire top end ate itself. I let the car sit for a few months before deciding on the L33. It was apparent that the cost of rebuilding the L28 to the next level was going to be wildly expensive. There are some really cool projects out there, but we’re talking deep 5 figure bills for maybe 300hp. I thought about a K swap, VQ’s, Ecotecs, but the LSx platform is just too obvious on a bang for buck level. There is a ton of support for those motors, and all the hard things to sort out, mounts, transmission etc, were things I could easily sort out. The Jerico trans is designed to fit the GM motors, so that was easy. Swap headers exist so those were good, and Apex Engineered, who I work with quite a bit, makes a front subframe/motor mount kit. Life gets in the way to slow something like this down, but it’s been fairly straight forward in the grand scheme! No idea on cost effective, I’m not good at budgeting for the car, but you can get deals on used parts.”
Photo Credit: Blueyed.media
Current mods include:
-Custom suspension with adjustable front and rear tubular subframes from Apex Engineering
-Hand built front uprights with Nissan S13 struts, 350Z wheel bearings + ABS Sensor
-Wilwood big brake kit
-Jerico WC-4 Dog Box
-Electric power steering
-Bosh MK60 ABS system
The new L33 will be bolstered with:
-Aluminum Head Rebuilders head with a Texas Speed spring kit.
-All new valvetrain complete with trunion upgrade, LS7 lifters, and a BTR Stage 3 camshaft.
“On E85, I’m aiming for ~400whp”, Ben tells us. That will certainly be an upgrade over the previous L28.
Photo Credit: Ken Todd
Having spent so much time in the auto-x discipline Ben had a great chance to identify the Datsun’s handling weaknesses telling us that, “Z cars really suffer suspension wise, particularly when you lower them. With a car that is 5” lower than stock, your geometry is a nightmare. The single biggest mod I did was re-drilling the front subframe to get my roll centers back. I remember doing that the week before the SCCA National Tour stop in Packwood Washington. I aligned the car after getting to the site, and took it out on the practice course. Prior, turn in was sluggish. You would turn the wheel and the car would take a beat then you’d feel it set and go. I got to a slalom on the practice course and the car was dancing. It felt more alive than ever, and not in the tail happy, sketchy way. This was on the nose, sharp and precise in a way I’ve never experienced.” Nimble is certainly the name of the game in auto-x.
Taking his knowledge to full road courses, Ben has relied on video analysis to improve the driver mod. Ben says the “best resource for me has been mentors and friends who can help guide changes. Video has been huge, it’s a great reflection point and combined with data allows you to separate what you think happened from what actually happened. But without people to look at that and say “hey man, try this instead” there’s not a lot of utility.”
Photo Credit: Ken Todd
When asked what his favorite part of the track community is, his response was simple. “It’s always the people. There’s always a group that you connect with on some level and the time attack community is great for a lot of reasons. From tech support to hanging out after an event, I feel like it’s a community that sees and respects people who are involved and give back. It’s been exciting to watch the time attack scene grow, I’m hoping more people get bit by the bug!
So what’s next once his L33 swap is completed? Ben tells us that “a new, more capable ECU is high on the list along with a fully built motor. A new rear gear / differential is on there too. I’d like to get at least one full season of Time Attack done without a major issue on the car! I’m Hoping to get to some of the California tracks this fall, and a stretch goal would be Super Lap Battle at COTA in 2024. That’s a tough event since it’s so early in the year. I was hoping to make it this year with the L series, but that wasn’t meant to be.”
Photo Credit: Motolyric
Ben leans toward The Ridge Motorsports Park as his favorite track to drive. “I’ve been there enough now to know the track fairly well, and it’s a place where I’ve been able to track progress the most effectively. I am really excited to be able to explore more tracks, I’m hoping to get up to Canada later this spring to drive at Area27, with Thunderhill also on the to-do list."
We'll certainly be keeping tabs on how this neat old Z contninues to surprise peeople at future Time Attack events.
Watch an onboard lap with Ben from The Ridge running a 1:50.5 on LapMeta HERE.
Follow Ben and his 280Z build on Instagram at: @brokenjawracing