Ever since I was a kid, running in one of those mystical events was my dream. Sadly, as Pike Peaks goes, I’ve only learned about that through the amazing runs Ari Vatanen performed over there, but not so much about the history, dedication and difficulty it held. Years later, I can confidently say that missing out on the whole Pikes Peak thing back when I was a kid was a mistake I’ve made. A rectifiable one, but still a mistake.
Turning the page towards the present and we have come to a day in age where we value the zeal, the grunt work and the dedication of individuals more than any big money factory team doing a run at a historical event venue. Each time you see a guy doing an overnight build in his garage for an event he shouldn’t be in, with a car that should have visited the boneyard years ago, it just makes us even more excited about the unique race.
As a brand, BMW usually strays away from the shoe-string budget, but there are always exceptions to that rule. Wil Kicthens’ BMW E36 M3 Pikes Peak Race Race is a perfect example than an individual can always achieve his goals even without loads of funding. Just the local town hero we need in today’s world!
Pikes Peak (originally Pike’s Peak) is a mountain in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains within Pike National Forest, 10 mi (16 km) west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, in El Paso County in the United States of America. At 14,115 feet (4,302 m), it is one of Colorado’s 53 fourteeners, mountains that rise more than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) above mean sea level, and rises 8,000 ft (2,400 m) above downtown Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is a designated National Historic Landmark. It is higher than any point in the United States east of its longitude. And it is also a home to one of the most exciting races held in the world!
The race is self sanctioned and has taken place since 1916, making it the second oldest motorsport event in the Western Hemisphere behind the Indianapolis 500 for example. The pure allure of the safety-less driving roads to the fact that the entire track runs on grades averaging 7% it does represent a real test of man and machine. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is also known, appropriately enough, as “The Race to the Clouds.”
This E36 M3 was bought for $600 on Craigslist in Houston, Texas, where it was immediately taken to a local shop for modifications. This is exactly what Wil paid for a salvage-titled M3 that was soon going to find its fate under a crusher. But as life turns out, this M3 was headed for something much, much greater.
First stop was the IDB Racing shop. The goal was simple: create the most aggressive styling that follows form through function allowing him to stand out in the crowd at the starting grid. Naturally, the most aggressive setup that provides better structural rigidity was needed. This was, in part, done by utilizing pretty much every BMW E36 part available from Ground Control such as: race coilovers, progressive bump stops, rear strut mounts, trailing arm bearings, weight jacks, race rear lower control arms, front lower control arm bearings, camber/caster plates, roll center correction balljoints, rie rod bumpsteer adjusters and a race front anti-roll bar.
Furthermore, the team doing the build sourced a few parts from Turner Motorsports; these include solid aluminum rear subframe bushings, monoball upper-inner control arm bearings and aluminum/Delrin differential mounts. After this, his team fitted the BMW E36 M3 with Meyle HD outer upper/lower control arm bushings and an AKG Motorsport solid steering wheel flex discs. Next, they welded the front and rear subframes for further reinforcement of the vehicle.
The build was continued by rebuilding the S52B32US engine which was done by IDB as well. They wanted to increase the horsepower but also maintain reliability. Parts like the M50 intake manifold, Bosch 24lb injector and a mass air flow meter sourced from a Porsche 911, a Mishimoto radiator and SPAL slim fan were installed to allow the engine to breathe better, be more reliable and cool better too. The car was then taken to Eurocharged Performance in Houston who tuned the engine to perfection!
“If we run into some extra money before the race, I’ll be doing major internal work and a big turbo to try and make 800 hp,” Kitchens told Bimmer Mag. “Otherwise, that’s the plan for next year.”
The engine was back in the body chassis thanks to BimmerWorld aluminum mounts, which are also utilized to attach the BMW M3’s stock transmission system through a RevShift solid guibo. To eliminate the sloppy shifting, sometimes experienced with the S5D 320Z, an AKG Motorsport Stage II solid shifter was installed.
Pikes Peak requires a lot of acceleration and braking during the race, therefore an upgrade was needed. The rear brakes were left stock, while the front received a set of 345mm brake rotors from the BMW E46 M3 CSL to increase the braking performance. These are clamped by a set of four-piston brake calipers from a Porsche 996 Turbo. A set of RallyRoad brackets are used to hold the calipers in place, while stainless steel brake lines are used to carry the braking fluid, again, from the same manufacturer as the earlier part. Brake pads used for this racing car are Hawk DTC60 pads on all four corners, where a Hard Motorsport’s brake duct and backing plate curtail the fade and provide the cooling for the brakes themselves overall.
For the wheels, Wil opted for BBS LP replica wheels. These are sized 18×10 inches front and rear. A set of Motorsport-tech wheel adapters is utilized to widened the stance of the car by 2.0 inches in the front and 3.0 inches in the rear, allowing for more stability. A set of sticky BF Goodrich G-Force R1 tires sized 275/35/18 is used for better grip and more speed around the corners.
The safety of this vehicle was paramount, as the race is rather a difficult one considering the conditions – no safety guardrails and a dozen feet drop on every corner.
This E36 M3 is equipped with a Kirk Racing six-point roll cage, allowing for the driver to have a better chance of coming out injury-free if the car rolls over in a corner. Furthermore, a set of ACW Motorsport Lexan windows was added, offering a lighter solution that improves safety at the same time for the driver. An Ultra Shield full containment racing seat with a five-point harness mounted on Macht Schnell seat plates was used to keep the driver in the same place during heavy cornering.
To allow for a speedier exit in case of emergency, there is an NRG steering wheel, hub and quick release used to replace the original steering wheel. The driver was also protected by Ultra Shield Race Products and a HANS device during the racing – which unfortunately, he really needed. But more on that later on!
After the engine and performance builds were done and safety issues handled, it was time to make this BMW E36 M3 look like a Pikes Peak racer altogether!
Kitchens contacted Sarto Racing of Japan for the exterior aero panels and modifications for his vehicle. Sarto actually makes a widebody aero kit for the two-door E36 that was originally designed for a non-M coupe. This was reworked by Sarto Racing, all in order to fit to the Kitchen’s sedan, which meant closing the rear doors permanently. By doing this, it also helped with rigidity of the vehicle, provided by the additional structural integrity of the rear section.
A set of 6666 Customs fender flares were added, which look entirely outrageous, and give the impression of a proper racing car. A Harrison Motorsport front splitter and a gigantous Brooks Motorsport Composites carbon fiber rear spoiler were also added to further improve its looks. All the parts installed provide additional stability, downforce and increase the car’s performance. And they look great also!
“When we first took it out to the track, we left the wing off so that we could get a sort of baseline as to how the car handled without aero,” Kitchens said. “The only issue we really had was keeping the rear planted—it wanted to step out under power. Once we got the wing and the underbody aero panels on, the car was planted. It doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of power, so it’s really hard to overdrive the car, but it’s like driving a video game.”
Unfortunately, when tackling a better time in the qualifiers, Wil Kitchens hit a patch of wet pavement and skidded off the track. Luckily, the safety implementations worked fine! He was uninjured and only took a blow to his pride, nothing more.
“We started the week off great, and after the first day of practice our times put us sixth place in class, with plenty of room to improve,” Kitchens said. “We came back the next day for qualifying ready to drop our times but hit a damp spot in the pavement in the early morning hours and put the car off the track.”
They were able to repair the vehicle on site, but the aerodynamics parts were badly damaged and they needed to be removed. This proved to have a huge impact on performance: “The vehicle handled substantially poorer sans the aerodynamics,” Kitchens said, “and it put us at a major disadvantage.”
There was another issue with cooling alongside with the aero parts, which further affected the performance on the track.
“Wil got off to a great start on the lower section, but before he reached the Glen Cove checkpoint the car was beginning to overheat badly,” said crew chief Ryan Warren. “Two-thirds of the way up the course, we recorded coolant temperatures as high as 137° Celsius (278°F), and the car barely made enough power to make it all the way up the mountain. We finished the race, though, and we weren’t last!”
After all was said and done, Wil Kitchens managed to pilot the BMW E36 M3 to the finish line with a total time of 12:10.435, placing him 14th of 18 cars in the Time Attack 1 class and 78th overall out of 130 cars to race to the top. Not too bad for a scrap-destined M3 he bought for $600 a few months ago.
We hope Wil gets back to the Pikes Peak race, where we would definitely enjoy seeing him in this driving adventure.
Thanks to 1013MM Photography, a set of images showcasing this entire build and finished project can be checked out in the gallery right below!
Source: Bimmer Mag