Q: How can I get started in SpecE30 Racing?
A: Step 1 is to join NASA and get on the track! You start your adventure by participating in NASA High Performance Driving Event (HPDE). NASA’s HPDE program provides you with an experienced racer to help guide you through the event, one on one, as you learn how to handle your car at the limit. You set your own goals and go as fast as you feel comfortable going. You can progress as far as you want, even get a competition license. Basically, all you need is a safe car and a helmet. The car does not have to be fancy or fast. Students bring everything from a Hyundai to a Ferrari. Read the requirements for the other miscellaneous items required. Other pathways to racing would be attending a Skip Barber or Jim Russell competition course, acquiring a Novice Race license through the SCCA or getting a BMW Club Racing License through the BMW Club. For more info about the NASA Competition license process go here.
Q. What’s it take to get my competition license?
A. Unless you have a license with another organization, you will have to participate in a region’s licensing program to obtain a Provisional License. Contact your Regional Director for more information about programs in your home region. NASA requires you to work your way through it’s HPDE program before you can apply to test for you competition license. HPDE has four run group levels; Group 1 through Group 4. Group 1 is for novice drivers while Group 4 offers unlimited passing for seasoned drivers. Success in Group 4 allows you to apply for you Competition license. A general rule-of-thumb is to plan for a solid year of HPDE events before applying for your NASA competition license.
Q. Should I buy a built car or build my own?
A. There are pros and cons to both. Building an already built car will be the cheapest and quickest way to get into spec e30 racing and most would recommend this is the best way to go. Check the classifieds on www.specE30.com for cars for sale. You should also post and ask what cars are for sale because there are often cars for sale that are not in the classifieds or guys are thinking about selling. The cons to buying an already built car is that maybe it’s not quite what you want. The main thing will be the cage. It’s hard to go back on a cage once it’s been done. There is also a lot of satisfaction to slowly building the car up yourself over time. It spreads out the cost and you will learn a lot about the car. However it will more than likely be the more expensive route especially if you can’t do the work yourself, you also have no idea what kind of problems you might run into building your own car. These are after all 20 year old cars and hidden rust and other problems (fuel tanks) can be a problem.
Q. Where can I find a car for SpecE30?
A. SpecE30 uses the E30 3-series BMW built between the years 1984 and 1991. Only the 6 cylinder M20 engined E30’s are eligible. So you will want to look for a 5 spd 325i or 325is. 325e is not eligible but see below because it can make a decent donor car. 2 or 4 door is fine, neither is better than the other. Some guys like the 4 door for the easy access to the rear of the car, it makes changing the fuel pump a lot easier. 325is is a little more desirable as it for sure has a 3.73 lsd. The 3.73 limited slip diff was an option on the 325i so it might or might not have the correct diff. You can check the diff one of two ways: 1) there is a metal tag on the right side of the diff cover, if it starts with the letter S it is an lsd. the next # is the ratio ex: S3.73. 2) jack up the rear of the car so both wheels are off the ground, spin the rear wheel with your hand if both wheels turn the same direction it is an open diff if they spin in opposite directions it is lsd. The older bigger bumper (diving board) cars are a little more durable when it comes to bump drafting and small taps even though they might not be quite as pretty. The best place I have found to find cars is craigslist. You will want to use a search that can scan multiple craigslists and look for a car that way. I use craigshelper.
You can also use places like www.autotrader.com but for the most part you won’t find too much there, ebay is also an option as well as your local classifieds. Depending on where you are in the country expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $3000. The most important thing is getting a mechanically rust free car. Getting a cheap donor is great but don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with a rust bucket that might be more of a project than a good starting point. Look for rust behind the wheel wells especially in the rear and the floor boards by the foot area.
Q. Can I use a 325e as a donor?
Yes the 325e can make a good donor because they are so cheap. You want to make sure it is an 86 or later so that it is has the correct engine connector (round not square). You also want to make sure it has ABS. Once you have a 325e that meets this requirement you will still need an M20 Motor, ECU and diff. You probably don’t want to spend more than $500 on the car if you are going this route. Again if you can’t do the work yourself I wouldn’t bother.
Q. What do I need to prep the car for racing?
A. The first and most important thing is getting the cage done. Ask for recommendations here because it is probably the most important step in preparing your car for racing. You should be able to get a custom cage done for around $2000-$3500 (it does vary for different parts of the country). Also plan ahead for your right side net, most cages will have a dash bar that runs behind the dash the right side net will need to attach to that somehow. You will want to remove all the interiors bits of the car, refer to the rule book and follow it closely as to what you can remove. One tip is don’t remove the sound deadening under the rear seat or in the trunk until the car is finished and you have had it weighed. In general the car will usually be underweight if you remove everything and this sound deadening is pretty good weight in a good spot. I’d also recommend leaving the glass windows and electric window switches in the car for convience. This is especially true if you have an open trailer. It is very nice to have the option of just putting up your windows with a press of a button instead of messing around with window inserts.
Q. Do I need to do anything special to the mechanicals before I race?
A. You will want to run good synthetic oils in the diff, tranny and engine. The brand is a personal preference. If the engine has an unknown history, I would just replace the timing belt, get a valve adjustment and put in new plugs. Don’t do anything beyond that until you get it on the track or dyno, it might be perfectly strong even with very high mileage. The M20 does suffer from oil starvation so you will want to run at least a crank scraper to help keep the oil in the pan during hard cornering.
The stock cooling system will be plenty for racing. Aftermarket radiators are allowed but probably unnecessary. With a good synthetic oil I have never seen oil temps over 220, usually it is around 210 unless I’m doing a lot of drafting. Check the hoses for cracks. Remove the A/C condenser. The trannies do tend to push out fluid, some do and some don’t but in my experience I tend to lose quite a bit of tranny fluid so keep an eye on it. You should consider running an overflow tube to a catch can that is higher up than the tranny. Cap and rotor are usually good candidates for replacement also on an old engine. You should check the attachment of the ignition coil in the engine bay, it is tack welded to the side, this can fail and then you have an ignition coil bouncing around your engine bay. Ultimately you should drill this out and put a proper nut and bolt through it. Remove the mechanical fan.
Q. What makes a SpecE30 race car?
A. The rules for SpecE30 are very simple and straightforward. Basically the engines and drive trains remain stock. Suspensions are upgraded for racing conditions using spec parts; race springs, shocks, camber plates and aftermarket sway bars. All SpecE30 race cars use the new Toyo R888 DOT competition tire. SpecE30 race cars are required to meet a minimum weight and all are required to have NASA approved safety upgrades such as roll cages, window nets, race seats and harnesses. See NASA Club Codes and Regulations for minimum safety requirements. The intent of SpecE30 is to provide a highly competitive, affordable, fun, and safe racing series that showcases driver’s skills as well as the spec component manufacturers, distributors and dealers.
Q. What should I know about the Spec tire - Toyo R888?
A. The toyo R888 is the spec tire for Spec E30. It comes pre molded to 6/32nds. You will want to get it shaved for dry competition. I would get it shaved to 4/32nds for maximum durability and 3/32nds if you want a little more initial performance and less life. You will want a full tread set for wet competition, but if you’re on a budget a brand new 4/32nd shaved tire will have enough tread for the wet unless it is monsoon like conditions. The R888 still has decent channels even when shaved unlike the RA1. Toyo recommended hot pressures are in the 38-40 range. Respected racers in California have had good success running 48 hot. You will want to experiment for yourself and see what works for you. The jury is still out on the tire and we are still learning. A couple of notes on taking tire pressures. Always use the same high quality air pressure gauge. Different gauges can have different readings. Try to take them hot off the track but failing that take them in the paddock knowing that they have probably dropped a few psi from their high on the track. A basic setup would be to have the same hot pressure at all 4 corners. You can also use a pyrometer to get further information on temp of the tire.
Q. What should I know about the suspension & alignment setup?
A. There really isn’t a whole lot to adjust on the suspension, which is great. Basic setup is run as much front camber as you can in the front, the max is -3.5 but you probably won’t be able to get that much. The rear will probably have around -2 to -2.8. For the sway bar settings most people run the rear bar at full soft. For the alignment a basic setup would be to run zero to slight toe out in the front. Zero toe in the front provides the best straight line speed and a little toe out will improve initial corner turn in, most street cars will have a little toe in to help straight line stability but is not the best track setup. In the rear which is not adjustable you should have zero to slight toe in. If you have toe out in the rear the car or trailing arm is probably bent. You don’t want toe out in the rear as it will make the car very loose. Unsual tire wear might also indicate a strange alignment setting. You can run eccentric bushings in the rear but as you adjust camber it also adjusts toe, so it is not ideal. It is also something that could get out of adjustment over time and for that reason I prefer not to use them.
A. Q. How much does it cost to build a SpecE30 race car?
A. Depending on the original condition and cost of your donor car and your mechanical skills, SpecE30 race cars can be built for around $10,000, depending on how much you replace. If you go all out replacing parts you could spend over $15000 (including extra sets of wheels etc). For a pre-built SpecE30 race car expect to pay anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 depending on the quality of the build and the race history of the car.
Q. What does a season of racing cost?
A. Race entry fees are roughly $350. This gets you two days of racing and typically includes two practice sessions, two qualifying sessions and two sprint races. Each sprint race is typically 30 minutes long. Add to this the cost of gas, lodging, food and other consumables and you’re looking at about $500-$1000 per race weekend. This equates to approximately $4,000 to $8,000 per year for a full season not counting major repairs or maintenance on your race car. To cut costs even further two racers can share their SpecE30 and compete as a team. With NASA’s racing format of two races per weekend, one driver races on Saturday the other on Sunday.
Q. What other things do I need to race?
A. You’ll need a full compliment of personal safety gear; helmet, Nomex suit, Nomex underwear, gloves, shoes, and a SFI 38.1 approved head & neck restraint. Plan on spending at least $1,500 and up for your gear. You will also need a timing transponder and all the required decals. There is a decals faq that will tell you what you need.