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Riccardo Pontonio's 1600hp Holden VK Commodore

By Kian Heagney, 13 Apr 2020 Drag Challenge

Riccardo Pontonio's 1600hp Holden VK Commodore

Riccardo Pontonio's 1600hp VK Commodore made a stonking debut at Drag Challenge 2019

YOU’RE looking at one of the latest builds to roll out of the MPW Performance stable: Riccardo Pontonio’s VK Commodore, which copped a complete makeover just in time for Drag Challenge 2019.

This article was first published in the March 2020 issue of Street Machine

Holden VK Commodore

The car was no slouch to begin with, having previously run Drag Challenge sporting a tickled LSA that propelled the car to a PB of 9.21@151mph. But for DC 2019, Ric decided to take the thing to the next level. “A lot needed to be changed on the car; it needed a ’cage and so on, so I figured I may as well go all out this time and build it to run serious numbers,” he said.

Watch the video: Riccardo prepares for Drag Challenge 2019

Holden VK Commodore

What resulted was a plan to ditch the old LSA mill in favour of a twin-turbo 427ci Dart LS Next combo. “Ric’s new goals for the car were 1000kW [1340hp] at the hubs and seven-second timeslips,” said MPW’s Adam Rogash. “It’s so much easier to keep pushing a turbo set-up like this than with the old LSA.”

Holden VK Commodore side

Ric’s VK was an original one-owner car when he got it, and although virtually nothing under the skin has been left untouched, the exterior remains largely the same. “The paint and body are all original; all I had painted was the bonnet and spoiler,” he said. “I like it like that – I don’t want a perfect show car; I want to use it”

The new Dart LS was taken care of by Powerhouse Engines, and it sports all the fruit. A custom Kelford camshaft, JE pistons, Wiseco rods, Dart CCW crank, Plazmaman intake manifold and a pair of 72mm BorgWarner turbos from GCG provide the neddies. A new Powerglide was sourced from Transmission Specialities with a TCE converter, while the Strange nine-inch rear end transfers the power to the ground through 275 radials.

Holden VK Commodore boot

A full ANDRA-spec rollcage was also custom fabricated in-house at MPW, and the car was turned around in less than nine weeks, hitting the hub dyno just a week out from Drag Challenge. Controlled by a Haltech Elite 2500, the VK comfortably pumped out 1127kW (1511hp) at the hubs, well and truly smashing Ric’s expectations. “Adam took me for a drive in it and I was shitting myself; I didn’t know how the hell I was going to get it down the track!” he said.

Read next: Drag Challenge 2019 full results

Adam Rogash

MPW’s Adam Rogash traded in the racing boots at Drag Challenge last year to run support for several customer cars, including Ric’s. With bucketloads of knowledge both on and off the track, Adam was constantly developing the freshly completed VK to keep Ric battling at the top of his class all week

With only a day’s worth of street miles in hand and no track testing, Ric dove head-first into Drag Challenge ’19. “The first pass for the car was on DayOne at Calder, and even on wastegate pressure – which is around 10psi – we still couldn’t get it to run slower than an 8.9,” Ric said.

Holden VK Commodore fuel cap

After the first hit, Ric was hooked and any fears about controlling the thing evaporated. “It drove so differently to the blown car, even though it was only three-tenths quicker,” he said. “I just wanted to go all out after that!”

Holden VK Commodore

Being the voice of reason, Adam eased Ric and the car into the week with a bit more speed, leaving Calder on Day One with a score of 8.24@155mph. “That pass was actually a bit of a dud because the car cut out at 1000 feet due to an EGT warning,” said Ric.

But other than a dodgy shifter cable giving them trouble on Day Two at Mildura, Ric and the MPW crew got the VK through the rest of the week unscathed. With eighth-mile bests of 5.24@137mph on Day Three at Mildura and a 5.28@137mph in challenging conditions on Day Four at Portland, Ric returned to Calder for the last day with intentions of capping off the week with a seven-second slip, but got cut short.

Holden VK Commodore interior

In keeping with Ric’s desire for the car to retain a semi-original appearance, he went to the effort of colour-matching the rollcage, and even found the original Holden material to cover the Kirkey race seat

“We were ready to turn it up and chase that seven, but the rain stopped us before we could have a real crack,” Ric said. He still pushed out a PB of 8.10@174mph before the rain, giving him fourth place in the hotly contested Haltech Radial Blown class and sixth overall – an incredible performance for a car that was completely untested and finished just a week out from the event.

“I’m super happy with the car,” Ric said. “I take it out to the gym and to do the shopping and stuff; it’s so awesome.”

Holden VK Commodore seat

Other than tidying up a few minor details, Ric plans to enjoy the car as-is. “We’re going up to Sydney soon to see what we can do. I’d love a 7.80 or somewhere around there, but we’ll see,” he said. “I just want one of those red [Seven-Second Club] hats, so that’s my goal for Drag Challenge this year.”


RIC started off his 2020 with a bang at Street Machine Summernats 33, winning the Forced-Induction V8 class in the Haltech Horsepower Heroes dyno competition in a three-way shootout between him and fellow MPW combatants Luke Foley and Chris Cutajar. “I didn’t really have any expectations going into it, so I’m pretty stoked with the win,” said Ric.

Riccardo Pontonio

The VK upped its peak power number to 1651rwhp on the Mainline hub dyno, but there’s still more in it. “That was on 28psi; Adam says we can probably push it as far as 40psi,” Rick said.


Class: Haltech Radial Blown

Engine: 427ci LS Next Dart 2
Turbos: GCG 72mm BorgWarner
ECU: Haltech Elite 2500
Transmission: Powerglide
Converter: TCE
Diff: Strange 9in, 3.25:1 gears
Power: 1651rwhp

Previous PB: 9.21@151mph
Best DC 2019 Pass: 8.10@174mph