The last time I wrote about a race weekend, I’d returned home from Virginia International Raceway with a broken car that had questionable stopping power. Even though my mechanic was able to put the car back together with ease, I didn’t have much faith in the brakes as the car simply didn’t want to stop back in August.
September and October saw NASA Mid-Atlantic return to VIR twice. In September, I focused on identifying precisely why the car didn’t feel like it wanted to stop. In the short weeks between races, some friends helped me replace a few parts and October was all about getting back on the go-fast horse again.
Our September event saw a smaller-than-usual band of GTS2 racers assemble in the paddock. Unfortunately, my friend Scott had some cooling system issues on Saturday and was unable to race. We started as a field of four. Though I was focusing more on extreme caution than outright speed, I moved up a position, ahead of Clayton, and finished third under the checkered flag. Chris was then disqualified after the race – top three are always checked for meeting our declared weight and horsepower – which lead to a second-place finish behind Matt and his gray E36 M3.
Sunday saw Chris meeting his numbers and Scott was back in the game with a borrowed radiator and flushed cooling system. I finished fourth of five starters.
While racing in September, I realized that my brake pedal didn’t have the best pressure between applications. The temporary fix was to use my left foot to tap it lightly, repeatedly, before each braking zone. This built more pressure in the system and allowed a much shorter stopping distance with (some) increased confidence.
Once home, I took the racecar over to my friend Taylor’s house, where he made room for it in the garage among his E21 320i project car and E36 325i track car. We replaced the rear brake pads with a fresh set, and more importantly, replaced the brake master cylinder with a new part. Unfortunately, a new BMW part is not available, which means I’m relying on the Centric aftermarket brand. It’s good enough, theoretically, for Bimmerworld to sell on their website, but I kept the BMW master cylinder so it can be rebuilt at a later date.
With a fresh master cylinder, I went back to VIR last weekend with the goal of getting back on the Bavarian horse, speed-wise. It worked, and while 2:10.xx laps aren’t the fastest in our GTS2 class, I ran them repeatedly all weekend, with laps consistently within a few tenths of each other at most. I do feel like my car could pull off a 2:08.xx with its current setup, requiring a bit more confidence and trust from the driver to get there.
Looking at points for the abbreviated 2020 season, I closed the season with first place in GTS2, finishing 34 points ahead of second place! Though I was never the fastest in our class, my car was generally reliable and I placed high enough most of the time. Season championships reward both speed and consistency, whereas individual sprint races tend to reward very skilled race craft alongside high confidence and the speed that comes with both.
As I begin planning for 2021, braking upgrades are on the table in some capacity. Even with a new master cylinder, fresh Motul RBF 660 brake fluid, and fresh Performance Friction brake pads, my E36 M3’s brake pedal doesn’t feel terribly confidence-inspiring.
My 1997 BMW M3 runs the factory “Mk20” Bosch anti-lock braking system, which was not truly built for motorsport use, never mind the grippy tires and slick brake pads we all use on the cars today. One common, yet costly upgrade is to the Bosch “Mk60” ABS that came on the next-generation E46 M3. It can be run entirely standalone, and offers smarter software that can better handle our usage. The other option is to increase the car’s physical braking ability by upgrading the brake calipers and rotors. Bigger rotors offer a larger “swept size” for the brake pad to use, and a multi-piston brake caliper helps with stopping force. I’m doing my research before clicking “Buy” on anything, though.
COVID-19 put a damper on the 2020 racing season, and it speaks volumes to the National Auto Sport Association that they were able to establish new event protocols that allowed us to get out and enjoy a solo sport together, as we have for years. While the wheel-to-wheel season has ended, I’ll be dragging the purple car back out once more this year for some Time Trial action at Summit Point over Halloween.