If you had an opportunity to race at a world famous race track, would you do it? I sure did. Bucket list checked off. I gained a lot of knowledge from it and was able to really stretch the legs of the M3 in a safe manner. Yeah autocross kinda same (another type of auto racing) but its nothing like racing a legitimate track.
This was my first track experience and I was excited. I even counted down the days for the big event, like when you look forward going to vacation. I think any car person would be just as excited as me. The Circuit of the Americas is located in Austin, Tx and host many racing events including Formula One and Le Mans. The track is very technical with 20 turns and late apex. The corners are “rhythmic,” where if you get one corner wrong then you wont be able to properly set for the following corners. It’s a track you cannot master in one track day, but fun to race in.
The event was hosted by Edge Addicts. The price to race at COTA is well worth the money. I paid $745 for one track day at COTA. This included a garage in the pit lane, 5 track sessions lasting 20mins, and a driving instructor, which a must for novice drivers. I also rented a truck and car trailer too. I didn’t have to do that, since my car is street legal and registered, but I wanted to have space were I can load my spares and tools.
I was talking to some people who often do track racing and they said this is one of the longest tracks they have been to. The track is very demanding with long high-speed corners to long 140mph plus straight that goes to a sharp 2nd gear corners. Faster cars can reach 200mph plus. It place where you can find the limits of your car and driving skills.
The two things I noticed that was kind of the weak link of my M3 was first: The OEM seats are nice but it didn’t hold me snugly like a full bucket seat would. I would have to fight against gravity when going through the long high-speed corners.
The second weak link was the factory brakes. I did change the pads to Akebono carbon ceramic pads, with SS brake lines and Motul dot 5.1 brake fluid. But even with those changes I was starting to feel the brakes get mushy after 15mins on the track during each session. I would have to tap my brakes a bit on the 140 plus mph straight before a sharp left corner to get my brakes to bite harder. The stock single piston caliper is massive (my VOLK TE37RT barely fits) and is more than adequate on the street but if you plan on going to the track frequently, then would recommend upgrading to the 4-6 piston big brake kits. Other than that the M3 is a great track car that is perfectly balanced. The chassis is so well-balanced that all you need to do is turn the steering wheel into the apex and it will hit the apex. If you haven’t really driven a M3, you are missing out on one of the best driving cars out there. No wonder automotive reviews give this car high praise. The M3, all generations are really great driving machines. You could daily this car and take it to the track on the weekends.
On my first run I ran without M mode on, just to get a baseline. In my opinion, the car felt great and capable on the track without M mode. The remainder of the sessions I ran with M mode because it was like icing on the cake. The car felt more planted and responsive on the track. The M3 has MDM mode, which is a more relaxed stability control. But the US MDM mode doesn’t give you much leeway like the Euro MDM mode. I always felt like the traction control kicks in way too early even in MDM mode. I was told the Euro MDM is 80% less intrusive than the US MDM mode. I guess BMW thinks US drivers can’t drive. But you can always fully turn off traction control to exploit the M3 capabilities. Just be careful, because if you get it wrong you don’t have electronics to save you.
I did end up getting track insurance for a piece of mind, but there are loop holes and not everything is covered. With that in mind, I didn’t push the car too hard. I came to understand the limits of my car in a closed course and learn proper driving techniques. I mainly used 3rd through 6th gear. Some of the corners are 2nd gear corners but I didn’t want to push the motor too hard. Don’t get wrong though, the S65 motor has plenty of power in the power band to get me out the corners using 3rd gear.
The S65 engine is soo well made from the factory, I didn’t feel the need for more power. The upgrades done to the m3 was minimal and mainly focusing on the handling. So far I did was a wheel stud conversion, VOLK TE37RT, Akebono pads, SS lines and Swift Spec R springs. Oh and you can’t forget about the tires… Nitto NT-05 rears and Michelin Pilot Super Sports in the front. My cold tire pressure was at 32 psi, but after one session the pressure went up to 38-40psi with hot tires. I would say that is the sweet spot for maximum grip, anything higher and the tires would get greasy. After each track session the tires stayed at a constant 38-40 psi. Which told me I had some good brand tires and they where able to take the abuse even in the 100 degree weather. They held up very well, and only had 2,000 miles put on them before my track day. These tires could probably do 3 more track sessions at COTA before I have to replace the tires. Nitto and Michelins have the same grip characteristics but if I had to choose… Then I would get the Nitto NT-05 over the Michelin Pilot Super Sports just because it’s a cheaper tire and a higher grip rating.
The M3 really exceeded my expectation and no hick ups in the hot Texas heat. I was just having fun. I was catching up to 911 GT3, and Ferraris 458 Itallas. It’s not about horsepower but balance.
Racing at COTA is really something any car guy should do at least once. This track is addicting and has many great features. If I could do this for a living I would in a heart beat. Racing has always been my passion and I’m thankful I was able to do this at a young age. Till next time…
For my 11 min video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMcXnDjVE0U