Oftentimes credited with the creation of the sports sedan, BMW has long produced cars popular with enthusiasts for their communicative nature and willingness to run when presented with open road. Nowhere are these characteristics better enjoyed than at the race track, but while Bimmers leave the factory as capable cars, there are still some things you can do to make your track day the best it can be.
Whether your Bimmer is of the vintage variety or a later model, these cars provide an excellent canvas for modification. That doesn’t mean, however, that you’ve got to spend a lot of money or make your car intolerable on the street. Read on to find out how we’d optimize a BMW for track and road use.
It’s the Little Things
No one can deny the fun of uncorking a new power-adder at the track. If you’ve got the funds to add boost or make major motor upgrades, have at it, but there are small things you can do that will transform your stock car into a much more competent track machine without ever popping the hood.
One of these is replacing soft suspension components that wear out over time. On an older car, replacing your suspension bushings will go further to restore the taut suspension feel you get from the factory than just about anything.
Also be sure to check your tires. Running old, cracked rubber at the track, even if your tires were sticky when new, is a surefire way to lose speed in corners. You’re going to have the chance to corner at speeds you realistically shouldn’t achieve on public roads, so reclaiming every ounce of grip is a must.
Brakes and Cooling
If you own a late-model M car, you probably have the benefit of excellent stopping power and a burly cooling system, but for the rest of us these are problem areas that can be exacerbated by track use.
Check your brake pads and rotors before a track visit. You want plenty of material on both. Racing pads can be had fairly cheap and will give a little extra grip after many brutal stops, but be careful to buy track/road use pads. Racing pads won’t stop until warm, which means you’ll be driving a deathtrap for the morning commute. BMW rotors are designed to be replaced, rather than surfaced, so if you have a high-miles car consult your mechanic.
Lastly, E46 M3 owners will relate to the way some earlier models can get toasty when pushed hard on the track. It’s a more costly upgrade, but spending the coin to restore or upgrade your cooling system will allow you to run harder and longer, particularly in warm climates. The alternative is a blown head gasket, so it’s an attractive upgrade, really.
Get to Know Your Car All Over Again
You will never feel more in-tune with your car than when on the track, but approach the experience with respect. Your prerogative is entirely different than during the morning commute, and as such, you can find yourself at your personal limits, or your car’s limits, more quickly than you know.
Follow instruction from the staff, and remember to work up to full-speed lapping. To this day, you can still flip on a Le Mans series or Formula One race and watch Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and company suss out their lines at low speed. That’s how crucial it is to do your homework. A few virtual laps in Gran Turismo don’t hurt either. We’re not kidding — the pros do that too.