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CarVerse Tech: Building a Budget Track Day Racer

CarVerse Tech: Building a Budget Track Day Racer

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Building a budget track day car is not for everyone.  First of all, the whole process should result in a car that is supposed to provide you with some reasonably safe entertainment several times a month.  Overall, the building should also be fun.  If you are not into the whole process, you should save up more money and go for a ready track day car.  However, if you are into it, just building a capable track day car may provide lots of fun.



OK, first we need to choose a car.  The safest bet always seems to be the Miata.  They are RWD, very lightweight, there are many of them out there and the parts are usually cheap.  Light weight and perfect balance make the Miata a very interesting car to drive. On the other hand, even though there are many Miatas out there, they are usually not in very good condition and even if they are, they are either not for sale or simply too expensive. Moreover, getting more power is not such an easy task.  The easiest way to increase output is a simple engine swap and/or addition of forced induction.  If you are about increasing power, the Miata might not be the best for you.



Track day racers also like older BMW models, namely the E30 and E36.  They are also RWD, relatively lightweight and very easy to work on.  Moreover, you can still find a decent BMW three series for less than a fortune.



OK then;  So the E30 or the E36?  Surprisingly enough, the older E30 often proves to be more expensive to acquire.  This car is becoming legendary, so the prices have increased.  Although it might be tempting to drive a legendary car, remember that we are aiming for a track day racer.  You will be making modifications and abusing this car. The E36 might be even easier to work on, and it has better suspension. Even the standard model E36 can use a bunch of M3 parts, which makes it a lot more capable (the M3 brakes, for example). A V8 swap is easy, and weight reduction provides significant results.



Fine, the E36 it is. However, we will use the E36 just as a practical example; while most of the advice you will read here can be applied to almost any car. So, what should we do next?  There are several ways to increase your car’s performance.  The easiest would be to put in a huge V8 and a turbocharger, and this is remarkably easy with the E36.  If this is too expensive for you; try to buy a BMW with a more capable engine, such as 328, for example, and focus on other aspects of improving the performance.  Regardless of the option you choose, you will have to get good tires, improved brakes, reduced weight, and stiffen the ride.  These things do not have to be very expensive, and should the budget get tight; you can even find used parts on Ebay or other sources.


Getting sturdier and more reliable suspension is paramount.  Regardless of whether you choose to increase the power significantly you will need better suspension than stock.  Even heavy-duty parts do not have to be very expensive, and you will improve the suspension’s performance and durability which is very important.  You do not want to be changing parts after each abuse. The suspension is a no-brainer.  If you can afford it, you should go with coilovers.  Additionally, it would be a good idea to strengthen all joints. Good coilovers will also provide you with loads of adjustments including ride height, damping and rebound.  A good setup will further decrease body roll.



Getting a roll cage is also a good idea.  It will stiffen the ride significantly; it will not add much weight; it does not cost a fortune, and you can even make it yourself and it will make the car safer.  Speaking of weight reduction, the E36 was produced as a compact executive car which means there were loads of comfort perks in it,  so take them out.  You do not need large and comfortable or rear seats on the track.  Lightweight wheels are also a good idea.



Going for more capable brakes is the first thing you should do.  They will increase stopping power, give you more confidence and they will wear better.  Of course, you should change the brake fluid as well. Tires and brakes go together;  if your tires are bad, stronger brakes will make them squeal and slide a lot more and thus increase understeer, which is terrible for fast driving.  You should increase the diameter and width and decrease the profile to improve stability and steering response.  For the E36, you can go as high up as 17” wheels.  Once you have dealt with the wheels and tires you will see the full scope of improvements that the brakes provide as well. Additionally, for top performance and grip, you can go with high-performance tires.



When it comes to performance improvements, you probably know that improving any aspect of the powerplant’s operation increases power. However, as you go higher, so does the bill, so talking about a budget track day car might lose its purpose. The E36 328 provides a fine punch as is, but any improvement is welcome. If you are not swapping the engine for a V8, you should go with cheaper improvements such as exhaust, air intake and ECU.


Most people do not build a track day car in one take. They usually keep improving it over time; this is why you should know what to do next. The weight reduction is usually the easiest way to improve your car and also the cheapest; then you should deal with tires and breaks. Only when this is done, should you improve suspension and add more stiffness to your car. The big HP improvements come last, although minor ones can be performed at any time. However, adding horsepower to a car that rolls and corners terribly is definitely not a good idea.

Branislav SjeranBy: Branislav Sjeran

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