Every year, Car and Driver does its Lightning Lap group test, where they take all of the year’s new performance machines and put them around VIR (Virginia International Raceway). The idea is to not only see which cars are fastest around the famous track but also to see how they handle at the limit, what their handling tendencies are and, more importantly, which cars are the most fun. While there, C&D brought some help from Michelin, who not only supplied tires but also drivers. But the folks at Michelin also brought along an E36 BMW M3 Lightweight.
The E36 BMW M3 Lightweight is owned by Michelin and is likely the most used and abused Lightweight in history. Not that Michelin abuses the car but it’s certainly been put through its paces over the years. Michelin uses it as a test bench for tires and it has quite a few miles on it.
After doing some tire testing and learning how the new Michelin Pilot Sport tires adjust to heat, C&D and Michelin decided to send the E36 BMW M3 Lightweight through the Lightning Lap to see how it performed and where it placed in the history of Lightning Lap’s results.
Despite being made in 1995 and being a 240 hp North American-spec model, the little M3 Lightweight, with modern Michelin Pilot Sports, ran a 3:11.16. That’s a very respectable time for such an old car and it shows how modern tires have improved. In fact, it was actually a tenth of a second quicker than the 2007 BMW Z4 M Coupe, with 330 hp, that C&D tested back in its own day. If it were among the cars tested at this year’s Lightning Lap, it would have placed 19th and ahead of three other cars, even if they would be the Toyota Camry XSE, Mazda MX-5 RF Club and Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Considering the car is 24 years old, that’s still pretty good.[Source: Car and Driver]