If you’ve been keeping up with our ongoing Racewagen series on YouTube, you’ve probably seen our most recent episode. In the last installment, the E46 hit the road for Gingerman Raceway up in South Haven, Michigan. This season, Ellen has given up the reigns for Chris Chatfield and Jay Summers, who have taken over as co-drivers of the ECS E46 330ci. This season is all about seat time and taking a good platform through the evolutionary steps it needs to be competitive on the track with Chris and Jay behind the wheel. 

In the last episode, we gain some background on Chris, who has considerable experience behind the wheel. From Karts to AutoX and just about everything in between, Chris has some good seat time coming into this season. While there is certainly room for Chris to go as he learns the platform and the course layouts, Jay is coming in with very little technical training. In some ways, this might create an unexpected rivalry. Without any previous habits, Jay is open to learning from Chris Armbruster, our in-house racing driver and instructor, in a fresh way that can be challenging for someone with previous experience. For this friendly competition to develop, we’re going to have to watch the season and see their lap times close in together. 

As far as the car goes, though, things are about as predictable as they come. In a previous article highlighting Racewagen, we discussed the buying process and history of our particular E46. With a few glaringly obvious maintenance items and some initial upgrades, the high-mileage E46 hit the track for some old-fashioned torture testing. Since those first few episodes, many of the improvements and new parts showed how quickly a tired old BMW can come back to life. It also gave us the opportunity to identify what it needs in the immediate future. 

Namely, the clutch has also shown to be a weak point. With a need to slam the throttle on quickly and shift down for corner entries, the clutch can’t slip on us. Unfortunately, this one is seeing the last bit of its life and definitely needs to go. In the next episode, you’ll see the boys toss in a fresh new clutch to hold power consistently on the track. While they’re in there, a new DSSR (double-shear selector rod) and shifter setup will help keep things sturdy and precise for accurate gear changes. Our Turner Motorsport DSSR has been an extremely successful addition to the parts catalog and found its way into many of our personal cars. The engaging, crisp, and sturdy shift feeling is fantastic on the street, but on the track is where it will really shine. With the E46 getting a new clutch and living its years out on the track, this is the perfect opportunity to really put the DSSR to the test in the environment it was designed to love. 

In the rear of the car, our new adjustable sway bar needs some tweaking, too. Sway bars tie the left and right suspension on the same axle together, acting like a torsion spring, to resist body roll and increase (or decrease) traction. Adjustable sway bars allow you to orient the links in mounting points on the sway bar itself to increase or decrease the “firmness” of the sway, which lets you tune in or out under or oversteer, depending on the settings and whether it is the front or rear bar. In rear-wheel drive cars, like our E46, the tendency is to oversteer or have the back end slide out before the front end does. This creates fun when wanted, but otherwise can add time to your cornering if you’re fighting for traction. Adjusting the settings to increase traction by decreasing the stiffness of the bar will help keep the rear planted, striking a nice balance between traction control and body roll control. With some seat time at the basic setting and a feel for what the car wants to do, now it’s time to fine-tune that sway bar for the best setting that will help Chris and Jay maximize their amount of time on the throttle without breaking traction and losing time to wheel spin. 

Finally, the ABS module has proven to be faulty. While ordinarily, ABS tends to be a setting that racing drivers loathe, it can be a handy feature. ABS, or anti-lock braking systems, help prevent brake lockup under hard braking by pulsing the pistons in the calipers. This means you can hit the brakes hard without locking the wheels, losing traction, and sliding. Naturally, they can be a bit premature, which can make braking feel inconsistent or difficult for a driver trying to perfectly late-brake without any interference from a nanny system like ABS. However, what’s worse is an ABS system that works intermittently or not at all. For us, that means we should replace it and have a functioning ABS with a brand-new module. ABS failure isn’t exactly typical, but it isn’t unheard of, either. If you have that dreaded ABS light on (like I do in my X3), it doesn’t always mean you need a new module, which is expensive and not fun to replace. Usually, it’s a wheel speed sensor or the reluctor wheel on the axle that the sensor reads. Sometimes its a brake pad sensor, low fluid, or traction control related. In our case, the E46 needs a module after ruling all of the above out. With a new ABS module, our system should work as designed and provide a much-needed service for our drivers as they brake hard into corners. 

When I said “finally” in that last paragraph, I meant for the E46. Did you forget we’re running the previous Racewagen, the GTI? That’s ok, we’re focused on the E46. But the old GTI has shown some needs for improvement, too. Mostly, those needs are in the temperature control department. Cooling on the track is about longevity. If you’re losing power to heat soak, you’re not having fun or staying competitive. More importantly, you’re risking damage to engine components with critical temperatures. So, we’re doing the racecar thing and cutting holes in our hood! Well, installing hood vents. But cutting holes sounds so much more fun!

On top of chopping up the hood, we’re also adding an oil cooler. Some cars come with these lovely little radiators for oil, but unfortunately, the GTI isn’t one of them. This cooler will both add oil volume and improve cooling efficiency that, when paired with the hood vents, should help us manage temperatures on track all day in the hot sun. 

To see all this happen, you’ll need to tune in next week to the new episode of Racewagen! In the meantime, check out our YouTube channel for tons of awesome content like the Racewagen, Winter Beater, Summer Drift, and Built by Mike series. Otherwise, get your but in a seat and go do some driving! See you next week, folks.