Winning a class at Drag Challenge is no easy feat, let alone on your first crack with a freshly built, unproven car. But much to even his surprise, that’s what Emanuel ‘Manny’ Debrincat managed to do at Drag Challenge 2023.
First published in Street Machine Yearbook 2023
Manny had never embarked on a drag-and-drive event before, and his VL Calais was the result of a mad seven-week thrash from a rolling shell to a seven-second-capable machine. He was happy just to finish the damn thing, but he ended up winning the Speed Pro Six-Cylinder class – something he didn’t even think about going into the week. “Honestly, I would’ve just been happy to do the first day’s racing and drive, so I can’t believe we did what we did,” he says.
The Calais was already being built with the intention of taking on Drag Challenge by previous owner John Ricca. It had been ’caged and mini-tubbed when Manny acquired it, and he also commandeered a billet RB long block and M&M Turbo 400 as part of the deal. “I wanted to do Drag Challenge and get back into streetable drag cars, so the VL was perfect,” Manny explains.
He enlisted the help of good mate Andrew Micallef from AutoMotion Performance to piece the VL together, which was to be no easy task. “I’m a Ford man, so I had to learn all about the RB and VL platform,” says Manny. “We had to dress the engine, fit the driveline, sort the fab work, wiring, plumbing – it was a bloody big job in the timeframe.”
One thing that was already sorted was the engine, and it’s a cracker. Built by Peter McDonald, it uses a Bullet RB30 block with a Nitto 3.2-litre stroker crank and rods, teamed with custom pistons. The RB26 head rocks twin Kelford cams, with a Hypertune manifold hanging off the cold side and a 6boost manifold on the other. The turbo is a 98mm Garrett behemoth, with brains from an Emtron ECU.
The boys crammed in some dyno time right before DC, and the package laid out a lazy 1700rwhp on very low boost. “That’s all we had time for before packing it up to go to Tailem Bend [for the start of DC], so we had to figure the rest out as we went,” says Manny.
Day One of Drag Challenge 2023 on the brand-new Dragway at The Bend surface saw the VL’s first-ever passes, and the team got off to a slow start. “We did a 12 and a 10 or something, and I was happy to pack it up there and hit the road,” says Manny. “But Andy wasn’t having it, so we went out again and got that eight.” An 8.50@168mph gave Manny the lead in the Speed Pro Six-Cylinder class after the first day’s racing, and he managed to stay ahead of nearest rival Warick Meldrum’s Barra-powered VF Valiant all week. “It wasn’t until the final day I actually thought about the win,” he says. “We were just so focused on ourselves and making the car survive the week.”
The VL made it through the minimum 1700km route through Mildura, Heathcote, Portland and back to Tailem Bend without a fuss, running a PB of 8.25@174mph on the last day to take the top chocolates in class.
“It’s a testament to Andy; he really was the backbone to all this, constantly tuning and pushing to get the car to work as well as it did, so I can’t think him enough,” says Manny. “The event has me hooked 100 per cent; it has completely changed my outlook on drag racing – and I’ll definitely be back for all of them!”
Since DC, the VL has significantly lowered its PB, with Manny scoring a 7.73@184mph at a Heathcote test day. “There’s still more in it,” he declares. “I’m hoping we can get as low as the 7.20s by the time we’re done.”
Manny has also flagged that more RB-swung VLs should be joining him at the next DC, so watch this space!
killing it on their first attempt at DC – and in a brand-new car to boot!
1988 HOLDEN VL CALAIS
|3.2L RB30, Bullet block
|Nitto 3.2 stroker
|M&M Turbo 400
|9in, 40-spline, 3.8:1 gears
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Weld AlumaStar; 17×4 (f), 15×10 (r)
|Moroso D2 (f), Mickey Thompson Radial Pro 275/60R15 (r)
Andrew Micallef at AutoMotion Performance; John Ricca and Michael Lynan at Race Parts Melbourne; the Burns family at SCF Race Cars; Dom at TRP for the dyno; Andy at Specialised Power Porting; the guys at Body Clinic; all the boys at Vic Wide Mobile Diesel Repairs.