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February 26, 2013

VRPerformance Open Track at Grattan

Our 8th annual open track day is set for 2013. We'll be heading to Grattan Raceway May 10th.

As every year, we gather experienced track drivers (those with some club or professional performance driving instruction under their seatbelts) for 8 or so hours of open track fun. And we rely heavily on personal responsibility to make the event safe for everyone.

Date: Friday, May 10th, 2013 rain or shine
Time: Short driver's meeting at 08:30, open track from 09:00 to 17:00, lunch around 12:00
Early registration $225 via check, $235 via credit
Late registration (after April 1st) $245/$255
Grattan Raceway, Belding, Michigan

If you're not on the email list, contact us today.

Online registration at MotorSportReg.com

February 21, 2013

E36 323i suspension rebuild

Do not do this at home, trained professionals at work! Joking aside, a quick lesson for potential DIYers: think long and hard before tackling suspension work. We just completed a full suspension rebuild on a well worn, 182k mile E36 323i at the shop. This included all new dampers and springs, front control arms, tie-rod ends, and most importantly a complete set of bushings at all suspension points. It’s this last part that is tricky for shade tree mechanics.

If you don’t have the right tools, extracting and then pressing in the new bushes is nearly impossible without potentially damaging something or hurting yourself. Not only do we use a hydraulic press, we also have specially designed bushing tools and dies for the job. And despite all that, issues arise (especially on older cars where the bushings have welded themselves into position).

Also, count on having to replace most of the old hardware—nuts, bolts, clips and so on. And occasionally, as in this last case, be prepared to weld or replace suspension arms. At the end of the day, this was a $3500+ job and we didn’t even charge all the hours we spent making things absolutely perfect. (Click on images to enlarge)

The relatively easy part, the front suspension.

Out with the old front struts, including strut mounts and bearings (the top mount/bearing is something most people forget but is essential to replace when upgrading):

And in with the new strut assembly, in this case a heavy duty damper with H&R lowering springs:

The front lower control arms should be replaced on a regular basis, especially if you go to the track. The only way to replace the pressed in ball joints is to replace the entire arm (joints are not sold seperately). We also replaced the control arm's rear bushing mounts. While we were at the front, we replaced the inner and out tie-rod ends that connect the steering rack to the front hubs:

On to the back and the rear sub-frame

In order to remove the rear subframe you must first remove the exhaust system, heat shields and drive shaft; disconnect the parking brake lines and hydraulic brake lines. Next remove the dampers and springs. Finally the four bolts that hold the sub-frame to the car can be loosened and the entire assembly lowered onto a specially contructed carrier. With the car on a lift, we raise the body and slide out the rear sub-frame and suspension assembly.

When the assembly is out of the car, we can remove the differential and then take off the upper wishbones (where the springs sit) and the lower control arms. Once the arms are removed we can press out the old bushings and press in the new ones. The outer bushings for these arms are located in the rear hub assembly; we use special BMW OEM tools to remove and then install these bushings.

A close up of a 182,000 mile 14 year old bushing:

The new ones:

Next up are the four sub-frame bushings and the one differential bushing, all on the sub-frame and all removed and installed with a special BMW tool (a $1500 tool to be exact).

Unfortunately, sometimes you run into parts that have failed and either need to be fixed or replaced. The left side wishbone on this particualr car was cracked in two places:

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After some prep work at the mounting points of the sub-frame to the body (clean, sand and paint):

Sub-frame and rear suspension is reassembled and mounted back onto the car:

Disassembling, replacing, fixing and reassembling all takes time and money. But the end result is transformative; you end up with not only a car that handles like it is new, but one that is safe again. If you plan on keeping your car or turning it into a track star, this upgrade is essential.

February 05, 2013

Targa: The Videos

42 competitive stages and 1375 miles and VRPerformance finished its first Targa Newfoundland as overall winners in category 7, second in modern class and third overall. BMW won the manufacturers prize, with the most points scored by teams driving BMWs. The professional team of Andrew “ACP” Comrie-Picard and Brian O’Kane in a Mitsubishi Evolution IX came in first in modern class (they were in a different category).

The party in St. John’s and on George Street that night was one for the record books. Together with our new friends we danced and drank and laughed like only those with a shared experience could. It was, indeed, epic.

Four days, 2000 miles and a ferry ride later we were back at VRPerformance in Michigan. Bill Caswell finished packing his gear and was ready to head back to San Diego, to his home and fiancé when he said something that will stick with me for a very long time. “You will never be the same,” he said. Truer words could not have been spoken.


In the months since competing in the Targa Newfoundland, Bill has been compiling, editing and posting short stage videos of our effort. We had 3 to 4 GoPro cameras mounted on and in the car to capture the as much of the action as possible.

The following is one of the earlier stages of the event through Marystown. Horst is still learning how to co-drive at this point; remember this is his first time ever in a tarmac rally sitting in the right seat barking out directions and pace notes.

Another one of the early stages, this time through Clarenville.

The event has two basic types of competitive stages— short town stages that are very technical and more rural stages that are long and high speed. The most infamous town stage is a wild, balls out race through a neighborhood in Gander. We saw people sitting on their porches, kid's playing on lawns, while cars raced down their street and around the block. Super technical, we studied the route book carefully the night before and ended up nailing this stage. Adding to the excitement, heavy rain blew through town just before the teams lined up at the start line.

This final video (for now, keep checking back) is a convoluted romp through Carbonear and it highlights Bill's fancy foot work. All week Bill’s fast reflexes and amazing ability to read the road kept us on track. His experience with inexperienced co-drivers sharpened his skills as a driver. He’s always looking far down the road, beyond the next corner. He drives with a good safety margin, hardly ever using the entire road, should that road or the inexplicable utterances of his freshman co-driver surprise him. He reads beyond just the road by looking where the telephone lines, for example, are going in urban stages or how the tree line changes over the next crest on rural stages. This allows him to anticipate the topography and direction of the route. His left foot hovering over the brake pedal, always at the ready to settle the car or scrub speed... NOW!

Targa: The Road Trip

After two weeks of 20 hour days and late nights, Bill Caswell and I were sitting at the local watering hole around the corner from VRPerformance wrapping our heads around what we got ourselves into. Despite all the late work, we were not 100% done with the car.

But, before we could even get to Newfoundland for the race, there were two thousand miles of Canadian highway and one very long ferry to tackle. There was still plenty ahead of us before we started the race. So we drank beer until the bar closed.

There is something wonderfully old school about a team towing a race car they built across country. We think of the days when race car driver’s drove themselves to events, slept in motel rooms near the race track, sharing the rooms with their mechanics or other drivers, smoked and drank all night and competed during the day. And there we were, team VRPerformance, ready to drive into the bowels of a seagoing ferry—with an almost finished race car in tow—doing just that. And we were not alone.

View image

While in the ferry staging lanes we met several other race teams from across Canada and the US; two teams in particular would become fast friends. Tony Piscitelli and Chris Fitzgerald from Massachusetts pulled in behind us with their highly modified, over boosted Volvo 245 Turbo GLT. Together with Tony’s brother, Phil, they made up team Skidmore Racing. Porsche club racers Rodrigo Herrera and longtime friend John Bilikas, both from Quebec, came with a nicely prepared Porsche 911 SC.

We secured the Touareg and M3 on the ship, checked into our stateroom and then headed to the outdoor deck where we met more Targa competitors. Once the ship was underway all of us headed to the garish, multi colored lounge for some drinks and heavy duty bench racing.

Targa: The Build

It's been far too long since we last spoke. Much has been going on at the shop the last few months, so the time to post simply wasn't there. To kick things off for 2013, we thought we'd take a quick step back and bring everyone up to speed on "Target Targa", our 2012 Targa Newfoundland adventure. And because everyone loves a good video, we'll have a few of those in the next several entries...

First things first, the build. We started with the owner's pristine 2003 Alpine White M3. To convert the car to Targa duty, we took the track day set-up, which already included:

• Stock drivetrain with aFe Stage I cold air intake, Bimmerworld exhaust, Bimmerworld lightweight flywheel and street performance clutch.
• Stock brakes with BMW motorsport cross drilled rotors and Performance Friction PF08 pads.
• 9.5 x 18 inch Apex ARC-8 Wheels with Dunlop Dirrezza Star Spec tires, 275/35 R18.
• TC Kline Racing double adjustable coil-over suspension, front adjustable camber plates and rear adjustable camber arms.

And then added proper safety equipment:

• Gutted interior to make room for a VRPerformance designed 6-point welded in cage
• Recaro race seats mounted to VAC plates
• Schroth 6-point harnesses
• Fire suppression system

While the suspension was not designed to handle tarmac rally conditions, the components held up against Newfoundland’s four-wheels-off-the-ground abuse. Compared to the track set-up VRPerformance raised the ride height, softened both compression and rebound settings, took out some camber at all four corners and zeroed the toe. When the suspension was originally installed, we kept all the bump stops in place—a good thing, since we bumped into them more often than we care to remember.

Here's a short timelpase video of the build crew from VRPerformance in action:

Next up: race action from Newfoundland.