The Dawn of a New Dragon
Ultra4 Racing has evolved greatly since its inception. From expanding overseas to adding more long-distance races, the field of competitors and vehicles continues to adjust to the hardcore off-road racing circuit. At the top of Ultra4 Racing, you’ll find the most competitive and extremely built 4x4s in the premier 4400 class. It is here that you’ll see the biggest advancements in racing technology and find a dedicated field of professional drivers who run a national circuit.
As one of the most accomplished drivers in all of Ultra4 Racing, Loren Healy is constantly looking for a competitive advantage. For the past few years, Healy’s famed Red Dragon car has given the two-time King of the Hammers champion incredible success. In fact, as of writing this, the Red Dragon is the 4400 car with the most wins in Ultra4 history. However, to stay competitive with the progression of the sport, Healy is building an all-new car for the 2018 season.
Teaming up, once again, with the incredibly talented fabricators at Jimmy’s 4x4 in Cortez, Colorado, Healy is going back to a two seat, mid-engine car that’s bigger, more powerful and extremely different from the Red Dragon of old. We caught up with Healy as the build was just wrapping up. Here, we learn the what, why and how of the next-generation car.
DL: With so much success out of the Red Dragon, what spurred the want for a new race car?
LH: A couple of things. The sport has evolved a little, making a single seat car a bit of a disadvantage. With tire balls going away, having someone to help change tires is huge. Also, our regional races are going to less short course and more long distance desert style races. This makes a co-driver a huge help. The Dragon is still very competitive though, so it’s still possible you will see me race it again.
DL: How fundamentally different is the new car from the old one?
LH: The biggest thing is the new car is mid-engine versus front engine. For a two-seat IFS Ultra4 car, it just makes for better packaging to put the motor in the back. It helps keep the center of gravity low, visibility high and heat behind the driver.
DL: There are a few out-of-the-box build approaches on this rig, such as the upper-mounted trailing arms. Can you talk a little about build strategy on this rig?
LH: The upper trailing arms aren’t new to the team at Jimmy’s 4x4. My old two-seat IFS car was designed that way back in 2013. Jimmy’s probably has at least 10 Ultra4 cars running upper trailing arms—this one is just a little more refined. The cool new thing to us on this car is moving the seats forward 12 inches and putting the fuel in the cab with us, allowing the weight to be lower and centered better.
DL: Moving to a two-seat, mid-engine chassis likely added a bit of weight; did you up the horsepower or make powertrain adjustments to offset the change?
LH: It did add about 500 pounds, so JGRE racing out of California built a new tall-deck, 454ci LS motor that should be right around 800hp at the crank. The old car was closer to 720hp.
DL: Obviously, KOH is brutal on equipment, with tires taking the lion’s share of abuse. What combo are you running on the new car?
LH: We will be running the same wheel and tire combo that we have had since 2012, which is forged 17-inch KMC beadlock wheel and 40x13.50R17 Nitto Trail Grappler. Nitto did a bunch of testing at the end of the 2017 season to help strengthen the sidewall of its already amazing tire, which should give me a great advantage over everyone else.
DL: What kind of testing are you hoping to get in before KOH?
LH: I’ll go spend a few days in Barstow [California] with King Shocks dialing in the suspension and making sure the car is ready for KOH. I’ll probably also run out to the Hammers trails for some seat time there as well.
DL: Since you now have a spot for a co-pilot, have you picked who that’s going to be?
LH: Casey Trujillo, who was my co-driver in 2014 before I went to a single-seat car, will be jumping back in with me.
DL: We know you broke out of the Ultra4 series and raced the Baja 1000 last year. Do you have any race aspirations for 2018 outside of the normal U4 race circuit?
LH: I’m hooked on Baja! I have three bucket-list races planned for 2018: the Mint 400, Crandon, and the Baja 1000—all in my new Ultra4 car.
DL: What’s the best way for fans to follow along on your racing adventures?
The Original Red Dragon
Few 4400 Ultra4 cars have seen as many checkered-flag finishes as the single-seat car No. 67, aka the Red Dragon. Built in 2013 at Jimmy's 4x4, the inspiration for the design came from the Pro 4 trucks used in the Lucas Off Road Racing Series. With so many of the Ultra4 races at the time sharing the same short-course challenges that the Pro 4 trucks faced, it was a bold but calculated move.
The idea on the Red Dragon was to achieve an extremely low center of gravity, which is partly accomplished by moving the powertrain quite literally next to the driver in the cockpit. This made for a great weight balance overall, but eliminated the possibility of a co-driver.
Both the new and old Dragon retain an independent front suspension. The old car netted 18 inches of vertical wheel travel, making it ideal on high-speed and short-course tracks. Though it may require a different driving approach in the rocks, Healy feels the benefits of the long-travel system far outweighs the slight rockcrawling disadvantage.
Out back, the new car will retain a solid rear axle, but will have upper trailing arms securing the King coilover and bypass shock. This trailing-arm setup still accounts for a tremendous amount of wheel travel and uses triangulated lowers to negate the need for a rear track bar.
Before the first piece of tubing was cut, the new chassis was rendered on the computer. You may notice there are limited pieces of bent tubing on the car. This results in an incredibly strong chassis that can be more easily repaired if a section was to get damaged.
The new car will also have a more recognizable shape. Going with a fiberglass grille and hood that’s very Jeep Wrangler-esque in appearance, the new car will more easily stand out in the more function-over-form 4400 class. There is also an assortment of aluminum panels that will finish out the look.