Mark Barber’s 10-second, RB30-powered LJ Torana at Drag Challenge Weekend 2022

Drag Challenge regular Mark swapped the 202 combo in his LJ Torana for a turbo RB30 before taking on our first Victorina Drag Challenge Weekend

Photographers: Chris Thorogood, Michelle Porobic

MARK Barber’s LJ Torana coupe is a familiar sight at most southern drag strips, so it was no surprise to see it cutting laps at the recent Tuff Mounts Holden Nationals at Victoria’s Heathcote Park Raceway. The surprise came when Mark lifted the bonnet.

One of the standout parts of the Torana was the old-school turbocharged 202ci Holden six-pot, which Mark wrestled with for quite a few years, including a number of stabs at our five-day Drag Challenge marathon. But last year he opted to simplify things by dumping the Holden six in favour of the legendary Nissan RB30 3.0-litre straight-six.

“I just decided enough was enough and that it was time for a change, and I modernised some of the other gear in the car as well when we did the swap,” he said.

The RB was pinched from an R31 Skyline and is still a SBE package, with Mark simply adding an upgraded head gasket, head studs and camshaft to the internals. Determined to spend money where it counted, the outside copped a pretty decent makeover. The RB now has a PRP trigger kit to replace the distributor – one of the real Achilles’ heels of the RB30 – with a set of R32 coils. Feeding the Pulsar GTX3484 turbo is a 6Boost manifold, which sends its charge through a FMIC and a Proflow forward-facing plenum.

Other than the engine, the other major change Mark made was ditching the old Delco brains from the Holden-six for a Haltech Elite 2500.

“The funny thing now is that knowing what the Haltech can do, I probably could’ve made the 202 live if I’d put it on that instead,” he laughs. “But the results from the RB with the instant PBs is hard to argue with.”

The Jatco ‘box and reinforced BorgWarner diff were carried over from the old 202 set-up for the RB conversion, making the process relatively simple.

Mark does most of the tuning on the fly, as opposed to spending copious amounts of time on a dyno, so he doesn’t have an exact power figure for the RB combo. “I’d say it’s making somewhere between 300 to 350rwkW, depending on what boost we put into it,” he said. “Right now we’re at around 25psi.”

He managed a best of 6.95 @99mph with the force-fed 202 at Portland’s eighth-mile, but never fully managed a noteworthy pass over the quarter. “I never really had a good run with it (the 202) over the quarter, but at Drag Challenge I did run around a 12.1,” he said.

During all the closures and circumstances last year, Mark did manage to get a road trip in up to Alice Springs for Red CentreNATS, where the car jumped straight into the low 11s. “I drove it up there full Drag Challenge style with the trailer on and the wife and kids aboard, which is why I took it a bit easy on the track,” he said.

He then went on to have an absolute field day at the Holden Nationals, dropping the Torry’s PB dramatically to a 10.1 @131mph during the course of the weekend, and going on to win in the Holden Power Adder class. “It was awesome to get that PB and the class win as well, which I wasn’t expecting at all,” he said.

Mark won the final against Mark Woodbridge’s HQ One Tonner, but what happened just after they crossed the finish line had the potential to put a big damper on the weekend. Mere seconds after the two crossed the line, the tailshaft on the HQ let go at full noise, taking out the rear driver’s side tyre and sending the car into two spins at over 130mph.

“I got him at the line and then he powered on a bit, so he was just in front of me,” said Mark Barber. “We were doing 135mph when he started to spin, and he came across the front of me. We were within metres of each other at one point.”

Even though the spins took air out of two more tyres on the Tonner, Woodbridge somehow managed to keep his car off of the wall and both drivers emerged unscathed.

Heading home with a class win and some cash in hand, Mark set his sights on getting the LJ ready to run a nine at Drag Challenge Weekend later that month after doing some final testing at the Top Fuelers event at Mildura.

“I’ll head up to Mildura next weekend to dial in the Enemies Racing anti-roll bar, and then hopefully get that nine at DCW,” he said to use at Holden Nats. “I can’t wait for it. When we go all out, I’ll put 30psi in the thing and hope it holds together, so fingers crossed.”

Fast forward to Drag Challenge Weekend and for the first time ever, Mark managed to get through a full DC event without any issues.

“All we’ve done this weekend is empty the catch can and play around with the tune, it’s been great!” he said to us in the final day of DCW. “I ran a few 10.0s on Friday, so hopefully we can go one better today.”

Unfortunately the 10.0 bug continued to hamper Mark, and he didn’t quite manage to get his elusive nine. “We missed our chance in the morning and then the track got away from us a bit,” he said. “But we still finished strong which is better than any other Drag Challenge I’ve done,” he laughed.

While he missed out on a nine, Mark still drove the little Torana all the way over from South Australia his trailer in tow, booked another 1000km on the road over the weekend going to Mildura and back and ran 10.0s all weekend. Solid effort!

“We’ll come back (to Heathcote) for a night time test and tune soon and try and get that nine with a cooler track and better air and chase that nine,” said Mark.