Event 1 of 2018 had finally arrived! It was a beautiful dry day (though fairly cloudy) and my BMW E36 was running perfectly. My car has received a lot of upgrades and weight reduction over the winter, as seen in my previous posts, so this was the day to prove that it was all worth it. As you’ll soon read, my car definitely lived up to expectations!
The course setup had a few high speed sections but also a good number of transitions and technical features. The track was nearly completely dry. I was working first, and stationed at the section 5, so that gave me the advantage to see what worked (and didn’t work) for the first group of cars. I could see that there were some tricky sections but also sections that could be taken flat out and faster than most people were daring to do. I saw a few places where I could gain an advantage by having a narrow and relatively lightweight E36.
With my work session done, it was time to stage the car and take some initial guesses on my car settings. I set the tire pressures to 28psi at all four corners. I also set the Koni dampers at 3/4 firm at all around. The driver of the other E36 (green M3) happened to have his Koni’s set to the same firmness as well.
The cars in the first run group were all over the map with times. The lesser experienced drivers, even in fast cars, were running in the 60+ second range. The fastest drivers were running around 55 seconds so that’s what I was targeting for my first run.
A great clean first run! Almost missed the finishing gate but still came in at 55.663 seconds. I was right where I wanted to be from the get-go. I lowered the air pressure on the rears to 26psi as I still had a little more room on the sidewall. I kept the dampers at the same firmness setting as they seemed to work well.
The car just felt so fast through the corners that I had to readjust my expectations for possible cornering speeds. It just turns with such immediacy and brakes incredibly quickly. The stock brakes are very good and now they’re dealing with a weight reduced by hundreds of pounds.
My final run was very fast with no much left to improve on! Another clean run but this one was down to 53.041 seconds. I used runs 2 and 3, which were progressively faster, to push the limits through certain transitions. The primary differences between this final run and the first run were the higher slalom speeds and keeping it nearly flat out through the triple ladder section near the middle of the track. I topped out at 65 mph through that section, with the engine spinning to 7,000 rpm! That’s a key section where a relatively narrow car, like my E36, can go through the middle of the ladders with little side movement. Wider cars like Camaros, Mustangs, Corvettes or even newer M2s, have to slow down and steer around the cones in the ladders.
This really felt like a great event and the final results showed that as well. I ended up with the 11th fastest run out of 128 total entrants! Here are the top 11 cars:
- 2006 Subaru WRX STI – Fully built out, AWD with slicks
- 2006 Honda S2000 – Greatly modified, turbocharged, with near slicks
- 2012 VW Golf R – Greatly modified and AWD, similar tires to my E36
- 1999 BMW E36 M3 – Same suspension and tires as my E36, club champion driver
- 2006 Mazda Miata – Fully built out, turbocharged, slicks
- 2014 Ford Fiesta ST – Great suspension but a great driver in a surprising car, same tires as my E36
- 2006 Infiniti G35 – Fully built out, turbocharged with near slicks
- 2015 Subaru BRZ – Greatly modified, turbocharged with same tires as my E36
- 2016 Mazda Miata – Full suspension modification, slight power bump, lightened with similar tires to my E36
- 2016 Mazda Miata – Full suspension modification, lightened with similar tires to my E36
- 1994 BMW E36 – My car
As you can see, most of the faster cars have power adders and pretty aggressive tires (with very experienced drivers). Some of you that haven’t really looked into autocross might be surprised to see all the Miata’s in the top 10. They’re so lightweight and narrow that they work really well in these relatively low speed events.
Here are some notable cars that finished further down in the running order (fun to watch these guys):
- 2016 Tesla Model S P100D
- 2017 Ford Focus RS (several)
- 2014 – 2018 Ford Mustang GT’s (several)
- 2018 Chevy Camaro SS 1LE
- 2014 Chevy Corvette Z51
- 2018 Chevy Corvette Stingray
- 2013 – 2017 FRS/BRZ Coupes (several)
- 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT
- 2007 Porsche 997 GT3
- 2008 Porsche Cayman
- 2018 BMW M2
- 2012 BMW 135i
- 2003 Mitsubishi Evolution (fully built monster)
This event really proved to me that a lightweight car, with well a built suspension, and not a lot of power (only ~190hp) can perform better in autocross than larger cars with much higher horsepower (even over 400hp). A great way to start the year!
Still, adding some more low end torque could really help things out. Maybe a future project??