A Racing Team is Born

Soon to be at its new home with our new yet-to-be-named race team.

Soon to be at its new home with our yet-to-be-named race team.

What happens when you want to go racing and you’ve been on a 7-year break from your favorite pastime because of real-life responsibilities, but you happen to have a handful of local race-loving friends in the same situation? Well, that’s how a racing team is born!

Owned since new in 1999, this was the car that got me truly hooked, and eventually became a race car... once it reached over 180K miles on the chassis.

This was the car that got me truly hooked, and eventually became a race car… Once I put over 180K miles on the chassis.

The last time I went racing it was in my own street-car-turned-race-car, and while I got the car new in 1999 with the intention of never modifying it, that quickly changed after my first on-track driving event in 2000. I started instructing at HPDEs in 2001, coaching for race-licensing programs in 2002, and then started my own endurance-racing adventures in 2003 at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Addiction had fully set in, and I knew that my street car would eventually become a race car so that I wouldn’t have rent rides anymore. Long story short, that day did come, and it quickly flew by after a single season of sprint racing with BMW CCA. My wife and I decided we wanted a family, so I traded in my racing dream for the dream family – the biggest win of my life!

Of course, that addiction and desire never really dies, but the idea of hemorrhaging money on a regular basis isn’t appealing when you’ve got a whole lot of real life going on around you. Back in 2008, there wasn’t much in the way of endurance race series, at least not to the extent that there is now, let alone the more enjoyable grassroots approach that’s developed over the years. LeMons became a hit for the fun-loving guys, then ChumpCar, and now WRL (World Racing League) among others. The choices are plentiful, the racing is fun, and the driving stints are long. Perfect! And now Project M3 will have a cousin in the garage.

SpecE36 waiting for a ride to its new home

All prepped up by its previous owner and waiting for its ride across half the country to its new home.

As our team of six anxiously awaits the arrival of our SpecE36-prepared BMW 325i, we’ll be coming up with a team name and planning our assault on the 2015 race season. One thing we all know is that we’ll have huge smiles on our faces, and plenty of stories to share. Full driver bios and a team page are on the horizon, as well as stories filled with our fun times on and off track, and most of the stories will even be true.

 

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PowerflexUSA: Audi/VW Suspension

Powerflex is known for their extensive experience in automotive suspension and chassis systems, and they’ve combined these skills with advanced polyurethane manufacturing techniques to bring some of the best aftermarket solutions to the automotive industry.

PowerflexUSA recently announced the latest innovations from their product engineers designed specifically for the incredibly-popular Volkswagen and Audi PQ35 platform vehicles: VW Golf Mk5/Mk6, Passat, Scirocco, Audi A3, S3, and TT. On top of the usual high-performance and longevity benefits of the Powerflex product line, these latest offerings also provide suspension geometry adjustability.

85-501G fitted web-600

 

The Powerflex Front Wishbone Front Bush Camber Adjustable (PFF85-501G) features a CNC-machined stainless steel sleeve with an offset bore that can be rotated using the supplied Powerflex tool. The adjustability offers +/- 0.5 degrees of on-car camber adjustment, and it’s designed to complement the new Front Wishbone Rear Bush Anti-Lift & Caster Adjust that fits into the rear position of the same arm to provide anti-lift and caster adjustability.

85-502Gfittedline_zps079fa9de-600

The Powerflex Front Wishbone Rear Bush Anti-Lift & Caster Adjust (PFF85-502G) is Powerflex’s complete bracket and new polyurethane bushing that fits into the rear position of the front arm. This bushing setup increases the stiffness of the bushing by 120% at a load of 4000N, and it allows for caster adjustment of 1 degree and 7.5mm of additional anti-lift properties.

The Street option durometer provides the ideal balance of performance with minimal changes in NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness). For drivers with dedicated track cars and race cars looking for optimal performance without any concerns with NVH, their Black Series part increases stiffness by another 43%, to give a 214% increase in stiffness over the original part.

Assem bush and bracket coloured 2

The full bracket kit comes with Powerflex bushing pre-installed and is ready to be installed straight onto the car using brand-new corrosion-resistant bolts.!

On top of the increased performance and longer life of quality polyurethane versus stock rubber, all PowerflexUSA bushings come with a Lifetime Warranty. This means you essentially never have to buy replacement bushings again.

PFF85-502G from Powerflex on Vimeo.

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King of the Lawn: LX176 Project

John Deere LX176

John Deere LX176 on loan to us from a neighbor in exchange for the work to get it running.

There are many things we love about our new life in the great Midwest. We’ve got real seasons, a great environment for raising our son, great neighbors, and we’ve got the giant yard we always wanted. It turns out that yard part of the equation has really come to haunt us, though… Or at least it’s come to haunt me.

When we lived in Southern California, a decent backyard was hard to come by. One of the biggest reasons we moved to the Midwest was because of the amount of property you could have for a fraction of the cost. Of course, as long as I’ve yearned for a huge yard for my family, I never really thought about caring for it.  And there’s the rub!

To make a long story short, it’s been taking over 2 hours to mow the lawn with our non-assisted push mower and its little 21-inch blade. To top it off, I broke a toe a few days ago, and the lawn was about due for some cutting. Great neighbors to the rescue…

As luck would have it, one of our neighbors just a couple houses down has started to pay someone to do her lawn, so her John Deere LX176 riding mower hasn’t been used in quite some time. Of course, one of the reasons she opted for paid gardeners is because the tractor wasn’t running. I happen to have tools, and I enjoy tinkering a bit, so it was my civic duty to offer some help—in exchange for the use of the mower for the rest of the season. Done deal!

The only problem she was aware of was the flat tire, but walking down the street with our air compressor solved that temporarily. As it turns out, the battery was dead, too, but attaching my trickle charger would solve that problem. Or would it? Once we rolled it home, it was obvious that filling the tire with air was the least of my worries…

John Deere LX176 Corroded Battery Terminal

The battery wasn’t just dead, it was already decomposing. That was easily the worst bit of battery corrosion I’ve ever seen.

As I propped open the hood to charge the likely-dead battery, I found myself staring at the most corroded battery terminal I’d every seen.  Charging was obviously not an option, so out to the hardware store I went to pick up a replacement.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to remove the battery first.  Not only was I unaware of the core charge/refund with the old unit, but I didn’t realize just how extensive the damage to the terminal was…

John Deere Corroded Battery

Much of that crumbled up mess isn’t just corrosion, it’s the remains of what used to be the end of a bolt and a nut on the other end.

Where once there was a nut and bolt to remove the battery cable, there was no more.  The acid had completely eaten through the ends, so it all crumbled off like hard dirt as I tried to clean it, and all that was left was a corroded stud holding everything together. Luckily, there was a simple option for removing the positive battery cable from the other end.

LX176 Battery Cable

Much cleaner at this end, so the positive battery cable off and ready to be replaced.

Off the cable came, and back out to the hardware store I went.  My 4-year old son proved to be not only a great help in the garage, but he’s the perfect road companion for shop trips, and he likes to help carry stuff.  Excellent!

New LX176 Battery Cable

The Lowes nearby didn’t have the specific cable, but we’re lucky enough to have a lawn care store nearby where they specialize in all things John Deere.

No good DIY project is worth anything until you stumble upon other problems, and there were a few of those. As we were at the store, I completely forgot about the disintegrated bolt that held the old cable to the battery terminal. I didn’t want to head back out to the store for such small hardware, and then I flashed back to how my wife never understands why I hang on to all my old car parts. Vindication!

Original and Homemade

Fancy “Euro” custom setup on the left compared to the original version on the right. Works for me!

I just happened to have the perfect-sized bolt left over from the air intake swap on my E36 M3 project, so it was just a matter of hunting and pecking for a washer and nut that would fit, and viola… The perfect match. Or at least good enough for government work.

LX176 Magna Power Battery

Couldn’t find the specs for the original John Deere branded battery, but found something that should do the trick.

With the new battery installed, and a gallon of fresh gas to hopefully dilute the who-knows-how-old fuel that was sitting in the tank, it was time to fire her up.

Of course it didn’t start.  Why would it?  I was just happy to hear it cranking, though, and I figured it was probably just because it had been sitting for at least a year, so whatever fuel was in there was probably bad.  There was less than 1/4-tank of old gas in there when I added a gallon of fresh fuel, and it has a 2.5-gallon tank, so it wasn’t as diluted as I’d hoped.  Like any car project I’ve worked on, I sort of figured it wasn’t going to start on the first try.

LX176 Intake Filter and Instant Starter Fluid

It’s rare that I seem to have random things like this on the shelf in the garage, but here’s to one less trip to the store.

After opening up the air filter housing, it became apparent that I probably should’ve picked up a new filter, but that’ll be a project for another weekend. Maybe even a full open-element performance intake? Maybe not.

LX176 Intake Filter

Gotta love a good action shot of some propellant. This was surprisingly hard to time with a camera phone.

After spraying a bit of Instant Starting Fluid into the air intake, it was time to give it another try…

Success! With half a day of working on the LX176, we now have a surprisingly impressive riding mower to use for the rest of the lawn growing ‘n mowing season. For the cost of a new battery, battery cable, oil (that was also incredibly low) and likely a new tire in the next week or so, I’d have to say it’s pretty darn good deal for us.  Although, it’ll be tough to return it when asked, and I don’t think I can ever get myself to use a push mower on our yard again.

Happy Man Mowing

Sometimes I’m an idiot, and sometimes I’m a manly man. Sometimes I’m both, like when I’m using the LX176 riding mower for the first time.

As much as I hate stupid pictures of myself, I can’t help but laugh at this one my wife took, so it’s got to be shared. That’s the celebratory look of a very happy man who doesn’t have to spend 2 hours a week sweating in the humid Midwest summer heat while pushing a tiny mower. Now I’ll be sitting back, listening to some music, and quite possibly carrying one of my favorite beverages along for company.

It’s good to be king of the lawn.

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Sunday Funday – In the Snow?

I was lucky enough to go to a testing day at Heartland Park a couple of weeks ago, and it was great!  Temperatures started in the mid-teens, and the rose to a balmy 20 degrees as the day went on.

I happened to have just installed brand-new high-performance all-season tires that I was anxious to test, as I’ve always been a summer tire fan – especially because most all-seasons have seemed useless from my experience in the past. The full tread on the new Michelin PSAS3s  added a level of squirm on track, but I was thoroughly impressed with them on despite the sub-freezing temps, or maybe because of them.  Even from the outlap, grip was shockingly good for the conditions.  Driving levels never exceeded 60-70%, however, as this was really just a day to test recent revisions to the track surface. We didn’t have emergency vehicles on hand, and I like to get home to my family at the end of the day, so no one was pushing too hard on the semi-frozen surface.  That said, the tires were extremely impressive!

Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3

Even with patches of snow at the track’s edge and ambient temperatures well below freezing, the PSAS3s offered substantially more grip than expected.

I didn’t expect tire pressures to go up muchbecause of the ambient temps, so I was surprised to have seen an increase of 5 PSI after a few laps.  No doubt that came from heat generated by a combination of tread squirm and longer braking zones—it was 20 degrees after all, but the tires were working hard.  Very good stuff!

As of last night, however, I’m really wishing I had gotten some of the X-Ice 3 snow tires for the real winter weather.  I’ve been a huge proponent of dedicated winter tires since some back-to-back testing I did for European Car Magazine a couple of years ago, but I figured I’d give the PSAS3s a serious shakedown this season.

Last night we had a whole lot of sleet and freezing rain, and I had to zip down to the grocery store.  Okay, maybe I didn’t “have to,” but it was a good excuse to have some slip-sliding fun on the short drive. I had the option of taking out our skinny-tire wearing FWD car, which made more sense, but I’m not always sensible, so a wider footprint and RWD was my only real choice, wasn’t it?

It was downright spooky!  Sure, even real winter tires would’ve struggled somewhat, but the would’ve had a much more progressive nature in the foul stuff.  All was fine at very low speeds, but I did some brake testing and even at 5 mph the ABS system was going crazy with a hard push of the brake pedal.  Not a big deal, as I leave plenty of room and try to plan ahead, but still a little frightening.  The hilarity came from acceleration tests, though.  Again, all was fine at a very mellow pace, but I did some rolling tests at just 20 MPH in 3rd gear which resulted in very impressive wheel spin.

There’s really not a negative thing to be said about the PSAS3s in those conditions, as this isn’t what they were designed for, but that doesn’t make testing any less fun. They did great on the slushy stuff, but with a layer of ice underneath plenty of caution would be mandatory on even the best winter tires.

Michelin PSAS3 tread

You can clearly see the tread of the PSAS3s doing a nice job of finding grip and channeling out the slushy stuff, but the layer of ice underneath was the real concern.

Today we’ve got 3-4″  of snow on the ground, so I think it might be a great day to test the real “light snow” abilities.  I sense a Sunday Funday ahead…

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Lockton Motorsports HPDE Insurance

Porsche 996 GT3There’s a saying when it comes to driving on track, whether it’s racing or an HPDE (High-Performance Driving Event): It’s not a matter of if you’ll wreck, but when. It’s almost inevitable, unfortunately, but the severity can range anywhere from a bent wheel all the way up to completely totaled car, or even death. It’s a fact that many choose to ignore, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

In racing, whether you believe “rubbin’ is racin'” or if you follow vintage 13/13 rules to ensure minimal contact, you’re still left on your own in the end.  The only insurance you have is trust in the other drivers, plus a plethora of always-advancing safety equipment. Sure, there’s the unspoken gentleman’s rule, whereby we all hope that the person at fault will step up to make things right, but it’s certainly not expected, nor is it the norm.  It’s just the nature of the racing beast.

When it comes to HPDEs, however, things are considerably different.  There’s a lot of money to be spent, but not a dime to be won; not even a  cheap plastic trophy.  At best, you want to leave an event with a new level of driving ability and awareness, plus all of your equipment in the same exact condition it was in when you arrived.  Aside from some healthy tire wear, less brake pad material, and a few rock chips and tire boogers stretched across your hood.

Crunched E46 M3

Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes to both ends of a car. Barriers on track are designed to protect others, not to protect a car’s body panels.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, even for the greatest of drivers. Whether fault lies within yourself, someone else, or a mechanical failure, bad things can happen–and quickly. Many years ago, drivers would get lucky and have their regular auto insurance policies cover any on-track mishaps.  After a fair number of those claims, however, as well as an odd number of vehicles being totaled on “access roads” to tracks, the insurance companies decided to protect their bottom ends.  Most, if not all, auto policies now have exclusions for speed events, whether timed or not.  The jig was up!

E36 M3 wreckageDuring this time, however, a new program was being developed at Lockton Affinity. The Lockton Motorsports HPDE insurance program has taken off in a huge way, and has saved countless people from leaving a car behind, and never being able to pick up the pieces, so to speak, because of the associated costs.

Audi TT on track

Thanks to the Lockton Motorsports program, drivers can have one less thing on their minds when they bring their street cars to HPDE events.

 

996 GT3 up the hill

Because sometimes How-the-hell-did-that-happen moments just happen.

 

Alpine White E36 M3 crash

And because sometimes you fall victim to someone else on track suffering from the fabled “Red Mist.”

Yes, it’s even happened to yours truly.  After 11 years without a single on-track incident, I became the victim of the inevitable. Regardless of how well you plan and how aware you are of your surroundings, you might even fall prey to another driver being trapped in their own legendary level of adrenaline-induced Red Mist. I’ll spare you the long story, but if the Lockton Motorsports HPDE Insurance had been available back then, many parts of my own life would have turned out a bit differently.  Not that I’m bitter, of course; “Stuff” happens

See the full story on the Lockton Motorsports program at MotoIQ.com.

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Project E36 M3 – Part 3

The first two parts of the Project E36 M3 articles were about getting some of the basics sorted out, as well as setting some ground work for future changes to the car.  The future officially starts now, with the introduction of Version 1.0 of our suspension upgrade path.  The Hanchey Vehicle Technologies (HVT) 6100i “coilover” suspension you see above is the groundwork for our handling package.  While this is a custom prototype setup at the moment, you’d never guess that by looking at the quality of the components, let alone the actual quality of the internals.

HVT 6100i mountsThe front struts appear almost indestructible in their build quality, and would make for nice pieces of art hanging on the wall of any car guy’s garage or man cave.  The mounting points make those on the original factory parts look like cheap knockoffs in comparison.  HVT took everything they’ve learned from years of experience, including their vast work in GRAND-AM, and poured all that knowledge into this casing design.

BMW E36 M3 rear spring versus 5.5" Hypercoil

It’s always fun to compare a giant (and soft) OE barrel-shaped, progressive rear spring to it’s much shorter and stiffer linear-rate replacement. At just 5.5″ tall for the spring itself, you can still maintain stock ride height with the height adjusters if desired.

 

E36 worn end link

While not that bad considering their 14-years of age, the end links for the front anti-roll bars were in noticeable need of replacement, so it paid to be prepared with our collection of new Bavarian Autosport parts ready to go.

 

BMW M3 HVT 6100i coilover strut body

The newly installed HVT 6100i dampers make everything else on the car look even older. Ride height is easy to adjust with the collars pictured above, and you can see that the bracket for the anti-roll bar end links is adjustable, so there’s no need for adjustable links, and the factory units can work well at just about any ride height.

 

E46 325iT Über Wagon

A fun shot of our previous project car which had a suspension which inspired many of the needed changes on the HVT design. With similar spring rates between the two cars, the ride on our old HPMX ÜberWagon pales in comparison. We absolutely can’t wait to get Project E36 M3 on track to dial everything in.

 

Project E36 M3 "stanced" before ride height adjustment

A shot taken within a few minutes of completing the HVT 6100i installation. The ride height has since been raised to ensure proper suspension travel and to maintain correct suspension geometry, but the Stance crowd should at least appreciate the rear wheel tuck. Yes, the car could go lower, but it would absolutely defeat the purpose of this car.

 We were only able to get the dampers, springs and new end links installed for Part 3, as well as dialing in what should be optimum ride heights for a combination of street and track use.  That height could very well be adjusted depending on the amount of snow we get this winter, as Project M3 has no intention of becoming a snow plow. 

The ride so far is absolutely incredible.  While we opted for a bit of a compromise spring rate, erring more towards comfort and grip, it’s still considerably stiffer than OE springs.  That said, the ride is much better than it was on stock springs, even with relatively new Koni Sport shocks and struts.  The dampers soak up even the harshest of bumps, yet are somehow able to communicate the road surface to the driver with great detail.  Body roll, even with the stock anti-roll bars, is reduced greatly.  Part 4 will include the addition of our new anti-roll bars, which I’ll refer to as sway bars from this point forward out of habit, as well as a few more stock replacement parts and upgrades.

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Project E36 M3 – Part 2

When the “new” M3 came home, it was in dire need of some serious love in the suspension bushing department, so that was taken care of in Part 1.  In the next article, however, it was time to start making life a bit easier while waiting for the go-fast parts to start coming in.  Part 2 of Project E36 M3 allowed some time to resolve a few PITA issues with the E36.

First up was a wheel stud conversion.  BMWs come from the factory with standard wheel studs, which obviously work fine, but leave a bit to be desired in the land  of efficiency.  For the average car owner, it’s not a big deal at all, but if you’ve got seasonal wheels to swap, dedicated track wheels, or if you just happen to use up brake pads a lot, wheel studs can cut your time down significantly, as well as reducing frustration.  Lining up the wheel on the hub is no longer an issue.  Plus, if you’re a racer or track addict, you’re sometimes in need of quick visits to the pits and paddock, and speed & efficiency are often crucial elements.

Cup holders in the E36 BMWS also fall into the PITA category, as they simply don’t hold anything other than a small can of Redbull, or maybe some change. That was also addressed, and the car now has genuine, real-deal cup holders capable of holding… cups!  Even small bottles.  Perfect for road trips to the track, or around town if you’re into that sort of thing. Ha!

P1060883-LWith the PITA files covered, there was still some time to kill whilst waiting for the new prototype HVT suspension to show up.  The quickest and easiest way to start tightening up the chassis and increasing feel was to add the BMW Motorsport Cross Brace, or the less-exciting-to-say “X” brace.  This not only increases steering feel significantly, and adds to an overall crisper feeling in the car, but it also offers a nice level of protection to your oil pan.  It’s a very simple, yet incredibly effective factory part, and it’s just about one of the easiest items to install on an E36 M3.  

 

Follow Project E36 M3 here: 

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Project E36 M3 – Part 1

Project E36 M3 - Part 1

For the full MotoIQ.com article, go here:
Project E36 M3: Part 1 – Taming the Wobbly Beast

I started reading all the hype on the BMW E36 M3 back in 1995, and I was immediately enthralled by what was considered the “Best Handling Car at Any Price” by  many in the automotive press.  In 1997 my obsession got so great that I started stalking the local BMW dealership, and in late-1998 I went on my first test drive.  After a long and painful courtship, my dreams became reality in July of 1999, as I managed to get one of the final production models, and I haven’t looked back since.

Well, that’s not entirely true, as I have had a couple other cars in between, but I keep coming back, and the Cosmos black M3 you see in the photo above is my 4th E36 M3 in the past 14 years, so it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a bit of an addict.  With this one, however, I’ve got the opportunity to take everyone along with me on this project car journey with MotoIQ.com

E36 Rear Trailing Arm Bushing removalWith some new-found strategies for bushing removal, Part 1 – Taming the Wobbly Beast is mostly about the quick and dirty rehab the car needed.  Some much-needed care was given to the bushings of the mostly-stock suspension, as well as upgrading those bushings to something a bit more robust than the regular stock units.  We also got rid of the staggered factory wheel setup and moved to a “square” set of 17×8.5″ factory rear wheels on all four corners, and wrapped them in the ridiculously good Michelin Pilot Super Sports.

Rogue Engineering front control arm bushingsThe Rogue Engineering front control arm bushings (pictured above) and their rear trailing arm bushings helped to put the car back to feeling better than new on the street and on track, but why stop there?  Follow the series of articles to follow the upgrade path.

 

Follow Project E36 M3 here: 

Project E36 M3 on MotoIQ (Full Articles)

Project E36 M3 on Facebook

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Michelin Pilot Super Sport: Review

Pilot Super Sports T8 Rain

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

We’re in the middle of some rather exciting times in the automotive world.  Car manufacturers are having an all-out horsepower war that’s almost frightening—if you have to occasionally ride right seat at subsonic speeds anyway.  Tire manufactures haven’t hesitated to wage war against one another either.

The line between extreme-performance street tires and DOT-R competition tires seems to grow increasingly blurry as time goes on, and there are street tires now which rival some favorite track day tires.  Add in the extended life of the new generation of extreme-performance tires and that line gets all but erased with the prospect of being able have one set of tires for both street and track.  
Note: I’m not referring to those looking for absolute maximum grip and lowest possible lap times, obviously.

Michelin has long been renowned for their line of high-performance tires, and they’ve been standard issue on many high-end sports cars and exotics for about as long as I can remember.  I don’t hide the fact that I’m a BMW fan (most of us being closet Porsche fans), but I recall vividly when the ’95-’99 M3 was popping up in just about every car magazine you can name, and was always lauded for it’s incredible handling right out of the box.  Michelin was supplying their most extreme tire of that era, the Pilot SX MXX3.  A good deal of the crisp turn-in and overhaul handling ability of the E36 M3 in stock form came from the tires. Most new BMW M cars continue to be supplied with latest-generation Michelins.

The Pilot Sport, which came out next, was known to have good wet-weather abilities, but was never much of a favorite among those looking for ultimate handling.  That, of course, was back when you had to compromise between a tires ability in the wet versus dry.  The original MXX3s, for instance, weren’t the most confidence inspiring tires in the rain.  Not that I’d know (he says with guilty eyes).

Then, at some point around 2004-2005 they released the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 (PS2) in which they seemed to magically blend wet-weather abilities with dry-weather grip.  I had a set and was “stuck” driving on my them for a weekend at Sears Point in Sonoma, CA and  also spent a full lapping day at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, CA.  That set of tires turned me into someone who actually enjoyed driving in the rain.  Needless to say, I came away thoroughly impressed.  Not to the point where I’d leave the idea of R-compound tires behind, but impressed nonetheless.

Michelin PSS on E36 M3 - Alignment

“New” car getting a pre-track alignment after some suspension bushing rehab.

Fast forward to 2013.  I find myself once again owning an E36 M3 with a track weekend on the horizon and in need of some tires.  Being a little further into the age of wisdom now (i.e. I’m getting old), I don’t necessarily want to swap wheels around all the time, nor am I on track a few times a month anymore.  It’s more like a few times per year now, and track rubber doesn’t really like to be stored for long periods of time, so an all-around, run-what-you-brung sort of tire sounded appealing.

Michelins have always been high on my list, but I’d lost touch with keeping up on the street tire technology over the years since I started going with less expensive options in order to maximize racing budget.  With my racing “career” on hiatus, I canvased a few friends in motorsports who’d made similar transitions to see what they were driving on.  The big name that kept coming back  was the Michelin Pilot Super Sports (PSS).  Based on my experience with the PS2s back in the mid-2000s, it seemed like a no-brainer.  Even if they just performed identically to the PS2s, I’d be very happy.

Granted, the Pilot Super Sports aren’t exactly brand-new to the tire scene.  They were actually released in 2011, but remember that the PS2 design was around for several years while others were trying to catch up, and is still available now.  The Super Sports bridge the gap that no one knew existed… Between the PS2 and their race-tire sibling, the Pilot Sport Cups (PSC).  Near-PSC levels of grip plus much-hyped abilities in the wet?  Seemed like an easy choice, really.

Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cutaway

Photo courtesy of MichelinMan.com

The Super Sports have a Bi-compound tread design.  The outer  shoulders are inspired by Michelin’s multiple LeMans victories and offer very impressive dry grip in cornering and under braking.  The inner portion of the tread design utilizes the latest generation of their wet-weather elastomers.  As great as these are in the dry, their wet-weather stability deserves a category of it’s own.  Truly incredible.

They also employ their new Twaron belt technology which increases stability at high speeds and keeps the wear even across the tires.  (They have some videos available here.)  I can attest that they are extremely stable at speed, and even with a camber-challenged car at the moment, I didn’t get the amount of wear on the outside shoulders that I was expecting after a few days at Heartland Park of Topeka.  Of course, a good chunk of that time was in wet conditions, so time will tell…

Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tread

Photo courtesty of MichelinMan.com

Most people expect a good wet-weather tire to have some sort of a V-pattern for water evacuation.  Just looking at these Pilot Super Sports you wouldn’t think they were designed for anything more than light rain.  Having tested them on track in heavy downpours with standing water, however, I can honestly say these are easily the best tires I’ve ever experienced in wet weather.  They’ve obviously put some sort of voodoo magic into them.  It’s to the point that I was laughing to myself as I could seemingly break the laws of physics while testing them at Heartland Park of Topeka…

“Test” Weekend – Heartland Park of Topeka

While the car was relatively “new” to me, it’s a chassis I’m incredibly familiar with, so getting in touch with the car itself wasn’t a problem.  Luckily, the first day of this 3-day event provided as much wet-weather driving as one could ask for, so, after a warm-up session to get reacquainted with the track, it was all about getting a feel for the tires and where their limit was in the wet. 

E36 M3 Michelin PSS HPT T8 Rain

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

It was the first day of a non-competition weekend and I was in my daily driver and I forgot to sign up for track insurance in time for the weekend, so 10/10ths was definitely not on my to-do list.  That being said, I wasn’t exactly driving Miss Daisy around either, so try as I did, I was never able to find the absolute limit in the rain.  A couple of other fellow racer/instructors who took rides with me also commented on the prodigious grip in the rain.

E36 M3 Michelin PSS - Wet

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

Later in the day as the rain continued to dump on us, it got to a point where you could drive the car as if it were on dry asphalt.  Sure, you still had to avoid painted surfaces and be comfortable with the car moving around a bit under threshold braking, as well as moving a bit through the one heavy river running across turn 8, one of the faster parts of the track, but the overall performance of the PSSs in the wet was jaw-droppingly good. 

E36 M3 Michelin PSS T4 - Damp

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

What about the dry, where most people really care about performance?  Well, the Super Sports are no slouch at all. I’d go so far as to say that they’re the best street tire I’ve driven on track.  Getting the hot air pressures right takes a bit more patience than with R-compounds, but once dialed in (I found 34-35 hot to be about the sweet spot on these), they felt great.  Even with a car on stock suspension for the time being (only minor negative camber added to the front), I was surprised at how little understeer there was.  And this is on a chassis which is known to push hard in stock form.  

Yes, you give up a little bit of ultimate grip to DOT-R tires, but not as much as you’d expect and their extremely easy to drive at their limit with just enough slip angle to be really enjoyable.  The only places where they give up an edge to real track tires is under heavy braking in the dry and initial turn-in response.  

While turn-in isn’t quite as crisp as R-compounds,it’s still not bad at all.  You simply take a slightly different initial set at turn-in and all is well.  On the street this is actually a good thing, as it means the front end isn’t darting around on the road.  Factor all that in with only needing one set of wheels and tires and not having to change anything at the track, and these become a no-brainer decision.

Another ridiculous plus to these tires is the UTQG Treadware rating.  The old Pilot SX MXX3s were very good in their day, but lacked wet-weather confidence and tended to wear down rather quickly with spirited driving.  They had a treadware rating of 140.  The PS2s I used to love so much were great in the rain, very good in the dry and had a pretty decent life expectancy, though the price made you want to eek just a little more out of them.  They were rated at 220 and had a 20,000-mile warranty.

The Pilot Super Sports, which take after the PS2s but do everything better, have a 30,000-mile warranty and a UTQG rating of 300!  That’s better than some of Michelin’s luxury performance tires, yet you can spend weekends on the race track with these.

Michelin PSS SidewallSome may argue that there are other choices on the market which will edge these out on a dry track or autocross course.  That may be true, but there are really no compromises with these.  With most other choices in this segment, it seems you have to choose 2 out of 3 qualities you want, but here you get fantastic dry performance,  ridiculous wet-weather capabilities and a comfortable and quite ride.  

 

 

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HJC Si-12: Lightweight Brain Bucket

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As the saying goes, “How much is your head worth?” Don’t skimp on the safety equipment.

More often than not, expiration dates on safety gear can be a real pain. Sometimes, however, they can be a blessing in disguise.

“Luckily,” my old Snell 2000 helmet was expired, and not just because of the stench of over 10 years of heavy use. I was forced to find something new, and it wasn’t going to be the same make or model this time around.

My biggest priorities this time were quality and lightness followed by comfort, but the price had to be realistic, too. I came across many carbon fiber helmets in my search, but the prices were often a bit shocking or the quality looked like it might be a bit sub-par.

Then I started finding a constant theme when searching for lightweight helmets… The HJC Motorsports name kept coming up, and specifically the Si-12 model. Surprisingly enough, HJC has a carbon fiber helmet which looks extremely cool, but the Si-12 is actually lighter… Their lightest, in fact, as it features their “Advanced Super Lite Composite Weave Shell,” and I can attest to how light it is.

HJC Si-12

HJC’s super lightweight and extremely comfortable Si-12 helmet.

Holding my old helmet in one hand and the new Si-12 in the other, you quickly notice the Si-12 being much lighter, but it’s not until you put it on your head after wearing something else that you really notice the difference.  When the weight is being supported by your neck, even ounces make a difference.  Compound that with the momentum and inertia of the normal forces on track (cornering loads, acceleration, braking), let alone the amount of force generated if something goes awry on track, and those differences are magnified exponentially.  Fatigue is obviously the most prevalent benefit of a lighter helmet, but neck-snappy safety is the real concern.

The true test for me was three back-to-back days on track after being missing in action for just over a full year. With combined driving of my personal car and instructing/coaching for three out of four sessions on a busy, high-speed track with some long sweepers, I ended up with precisely zero muscle soreness in my neck at the end of the weekend.

It used to be that I’d get sore after just one day with my old helmet if it had been a while since I wore it, and I work out regularly, so it wasn’t a weak neck so much as a ridiculously heavy helmet. It doesn’t hurt that the new helmet just looks so much better than my old one, and it also has actual working ventilation (Advanced Channeling Ventilation System), which seemed non-existent on the old one, despite the slots it had. It’s also pre-drilled for a HANS device and comes with a very nice hemet bag/case.

Of course, aside from just the lightness, comfort and even looks, I’d have to say that new-helmet smell is a pretty big plus at this point.

HJC Deluxe Bag

HJC’s helmets come with their Deluxe Helmet Bag at no additional cost.
Photo courtesy of HJC Motorsports.

HJC Si-12

HJC Si-12, also available in rubbertone black for those who want a well-heated head in the summer and like the matte black look.

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