Last month, my friend Taylor was working his way through competition school at Virginia International Raceway. His green BMW 325i was suffering from severe power loss, and to finish out his day and pass the school, I tossed him the keys to my purple E36 BMW M3. He took the M3 out for the final “fun race” of the day, a race that all competition school students must run to pass the day and earn their racing license. A few laps in, an experienced Honda Challenge racer suffered from parts failure, sending his Acura Integra off in the grass before it regained traction and impacted Taylor and the purple BMW.
The impact was hard enough to put the BMW up on two wheels, and while the passenger compartment of the car was entirely undamaged thanks to safety gear – including a well-built roll cage – the car was undrivable for the rest of the weekend. I dropped it back off at FlimFlamSpeed and Custom Tuning, my friend’s shop, on the way home from the track so everything bent or broken could be mended.
Kevin, my mechanic, has done a fast and diligent job of tearing the BMW apart, identifying everything that’s wrong, and getting it fixed. I’m leaving in just a few hours for our next race weekend with NASA Mid-Atlantic, though, and I’m heading there with no purple BMW in the trailer behind me.
Fixing The Initial Damage
The initial damage assessment wasn’t all bad. Both of the control arms on the left rear corner had bent in the impact, which they’re designed to do. They are made from relatively-soft metal, which bends first to help dissipate energy and avoid affecting the unibody of the car. Kevin replaced the control arms with new parts, and the before-and-after photos he sent are quite telling. It’s easy to see how the bigger upper control arm, where the rear spring also sits, folded in the impact.
Kevin also replaced the wheel studs on that hub, as they’d bent. The Apex wheel that was installed on that corner had been broken, and I worked with Apex and their 360° Replacement Program to get a replacement ARC-8 wheel in exchange for the damaged one. The old BFGoodrich R1S tire that was installed on the bad wheel ended up in the recycling, which was fine as it was due for retirement in short order anyway. I have another set of tires to be installed on this set of wheels.
After Kevin got the new suspension pieces installed, he verified that my Motion Control Suspension shock absorber was in working shape and set about examining everything else. His assistant had to weld the inner fender back to the outer fender and quarter panel, as the spot welds had separated in the impact, and the inner metal would pierce the tire if not repaired.
This is the one time I’ve found myself wishing for everything to be as straight as possible. I got the bad news from Kevin earlier in the week – even with all of the new parts, the left rear wheel is not aligning correctly. It’s got 3/8 of an inch of toe out, which is excessive. And it’s odd considering it was pushed inward.
Regardless, Kevin is examining additional parts, parts that he measured early on and believed were straight and true. The trailing arm, which appeared okay, may be bent slightly. It’s a curved design that is pretty tough to measure exactly.
Or, in a worse case, the pocket in the unibody where the trailing arm mounts may have been moved slightly. He reported the sheet metal looks totally fine near that pocket, but it’s still a possibility.
In The Meantime…
So I’m not bringing the purple 404 to Summit Point this weekend. It’s disappointing, although I’d rather have the car fixed fully with a careful eye than have it slapped back together as “good enough.” Taylor and I will be sharing his green 325i, instead, and while he’ll race it in the Spec3 class as intended, I’ll take it out to compete in Time Trials, with the goal of setting the best lap time possible on both Saturday and Sunday.
It’s not the competition I’d hoped for this weekend, but I’ll still have a ton of fun. Even an off weekend at the racetrack is better than a good weekend many other places.
We’ve got plenty of time before our next weekend in May, and Kevin expects to have the 404 all ready to go for that event. Whether I can get it to the body shop for a fresh coat of purple paint before then is another story – so it may show up looking a little patchy. But it’s all just metal. It’ll be fixed, and it’ll be painted. We’ll be back.