Saturday, March 28, 2020

[M3] Little changes, 16" wheel and tire woes

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred] 

[also note: I have condensed multiple forum posts into this entry, please forgive awkward transitions]

I installed a few small bits and bobs here and there. First was the e30ig (innovative goods) one-touch window module. This slick component goes in-line between the vehicle harness and your window switches, and converts them to 1-touch function. It took nearly 2 months for them to arrive from Eastern Europe but it was worth the wait. They work perfectly and while it's a small thing, I love the convenience. Apparently I didn't take any photos showing them fitted but you can check the website.

The next thing, another small one, was the passenger side mirror glass. The magnification was strong, too strong, so I bought a $14 wider angle piece from Latvia via eBay. You can see the difference in field of view in these images. Way better.

The new mirror glass is TYC part number 303-0071-1. It says it doesn't fit M3, but it does. I'm not sure if it's getting hung up on a heated mirror option or something but it fits the same as any E30.

My car's got a fair few rock chips on the front end and the wipers have not been spared. I pulled them off to refinish them, that is still work in progress. It's rainy so I can't paint them, it's rainy so I need to use them on the car. Lose-lose.

So it's just been maintenance and projects at home over the past couple of weeks. I haven't been crazy about the feel of my brake pedal - good stopping power when you get there, but too much pedal travel required to get to it - so I bled the brakes. Side note, I am really enjoying my new QuickJack setup I bought earlier this year, I was on the fence for 3 years about spending the money but it's so great.

In fact, I like it so much I used it on my Focus to do the brakes...

...and on my wife's car to rotate the tires.

Speaking of invaluable tools: pressure brake bleeder. If you do brakes with any frequency, get one. I'm lucky that the same cap fits my E30 reservoir and my Focus RS. Makes flushing the fluid an absolute breeze.

My car runs quite a bit of rear camber with the H&R spring setup and I found that my right-rear was shot. Oof. Outboard channel of the tire was at 6/32", inboard at 2/32", and you can see that they need to be replaced pronto. After this post I'm off to shop for 16" tires, I suspect it will be slim pickings. It has been my master plan to have the wheels refurbished in Sport Evo style with Nogaro centers when new tires were needed, but I'm not sure now is a great time to do that. The good news is that I have a set of stock 15s with good tires that can swap in to keep the car on the road. Do I have any options to adjust the camber in the rear to not keep destroying tires?

In any case, the brake bleed produced some tired-looking fluid and I've got a better pedal feel now. Previously it was so low that I couldn't heel-toe and that's no good... that ability has been restored. I am doing my best to avoid human contact but every now and then I slip out for a little Point-A-to-Point-A drive and enjoy the empty roads. Stay safe everybody!

I've got 15mm spring pads in the mail. Since that tweaks ride height, and I have no idea where the alignment on this car is, I will have it aligned when I get new tires fitted.

When I took the Model 3 to the tire shop for new rubber I took my 16s and had the tires pulled off so the wheels can be refinished. I thought wheel refurb was a pretty easy thing but apparently there aren't tons of places in the area that can be trusted to do a good job. It seems like every place has 9 good reviews and 1 horror show review, and that's enough to give me pause. This reminds me of my ordeal trying to find someone to do the bodywork on my last Lachs car, a search I eventually abandoned. With all of the automotive shops out there these days, it amazes me that it is nigh impossible to find someone who does good work, stands behind it, communicates well, and charges fairly. To me that is the most basic of operating requirements to run a business. In the Bay Area it is the exception, and those few shops suffer from their own popularity and you need to wait months for an appointment. Or they charge $175 an hour. Sorry, went off on a tangent there.

I called up one that seems to be of good repute and the guy shot me down immediately when I described painting the wheels two-tone with Nogaro centers. "We only spray one color, we don't do any masking or anything like that. I think you want a body shop!" Well... to me it's not supremely difficult - one tape line, and there is physical step in the lip to guide you, not on the basketweave part, OEM colors. I did get in touch with one local paint shop and he's mulling it over.

One thing I need help on: the inside of the Sport Evo rim is Nogaro, which is BMW paint code 243. I am not sure of the paint code for the 'normal' silver bit that goes on the lip. Google tells me it is BMW code 144 "wheel silver" but it seems that color is applied on E46, E90, etc. If anyone can offer paint code insight, or wheel refinishing guidance, it is greatly appreciated. The FB crowd already told me to just buy Sport Evo wheels, but from where I'm sitting they're backordered, the center caps who knows, and they're $2500 anyway. I can pay a fair amount on this refinishing and still come out ahead.

When it comes times for tires - it's well-known that there is not much at all in 225/45R16. It's funny to search the forums and see that it's been dire for a decade at least... there are 2010 threads where people are complaining about the same. So if you're searching this in the future, hello! Did we recover from COVID? Did we solve automotive autonomy? Is this the point where China overtook the US as the world's leading superpower? Did we send humans to Mars? Do the 2022 F1 cars ACTUALLY solve the dirty air problems and improve passing? Sorry, shelter-in-place is getting to me.

For posterity, these are the 225/45/16 tire choices as of 3/28/20 in the US from TireRack:
Dunlop Direzza ZIII - $160.36 
Toyo Proxes R1R - $150.36
Yokohama Advan A052 - $210.74
Toyo Proxes R888R - $148.99

I know that opinions will vary on this, but I am disappointed that all of the options are high-grip, high-performance tires. On my last car I went from the Kumho all-season whatevers that came on the stock 15s to Dunlop Direzza Z2 Star Specs on 17s and it really changed the feel of the car. Ultimate grip is cool but with this low-power RWD configuration it's sad when you can't chuck the back end out now and then. Too much grip is a real thing. If you've been on high performance tires for a long time with your car, throw your neglected 15s back on for an afternoon and you might be surprised at how different the whole car feels.

But beggars can't be choosers, and I am set on the 16s, so at this stage I believe I will go with the Toyo R1Rs. From the reading I've done it seems that they perform well in the wet. I don't go out for fun drives in the wet, but I do go on fun drives up on Skyline boulevard, which is misty and foggy most mornings and there can be a fair amount of water on the road.

Monday, March 23, 2020

[Event] Cars and Coffee before the time of Covid-19

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred] 

Obviously life around the world has screeched to a halt due to COVID-19. A week and a half ago I was sent home and have been working remotely. We are doing fine and I am using the stay-at-home time to catch up on car projects across the fleet. Here are the recent happenings before the lockdown arrived.

The days got longer, the weather a bit nicer, and I was adding miles nicely with friends.

I visited the Driving While Awesome morning meet in Santa Cruz - great gathering and variety of cars. The M3 was a big hit, people love the red interior. Me too!

After the DWA meet, I looped down to Laguna Seca to support a friend running his refurbished Chevron for the first time.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

[Focus] Back to Laguna

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred]  

Tame Impala show was called off due to Covid-19, but the track day continued as scheduled.

Things got off to a soggy start with a wet track and some drizzling for the first session and change. I started off slowly, taking the beginning of the session to bed my new pads (at the back of the grid of course) and feeling out the new tires in the wet. That session was cut short when I was meatballed for blowing sound. 93.4 dB versus the limit of 90dB. This was a surprise, because the last two days I did here were 92dB and 90dB and I had no issues. I didn't blow sound again for the rest of the day so I think it was probably humid/dense air combined with an inopportune exhaust pop close to the sound booth.

Pace increased as things dried up by the end of session 2. Traffic was fairly thick so it wasn't until session 3 that I ran a complete session at full pace. The new brake setup felt strong, the tires as well, but it was with dismay that I noticed the brake pedal grow long after 4-5 laps. In that dry, fast third session I cooked my brakes yet again. The DBA discs come with color-changing paint witness marks and all three of mine had changed, indicating rotor temps at or beyond 630C. The wheel rims were uncomfortably hot to the touch for quite a while after the end of the session. At least my brake pads still existed, more than I can say for the Mountune UK parts last time...

With a couple sessions left on the day I figured I would test the theory that the brake vectoring is taxing the system beyond my braking inputs. Having run the first three sessions of the day in Sport, I ran the next session in Sport with ESC disabled. I was anxious about turning off the aids because... well, then you're on the hook for your driving. I was ready for a slice of humble pie, to see where the magic Ford traction system had been pulling the strings in the background, cleaning up my mess. So I went out gingerly at first, increasing pace, until I was back to driving essentially the exact same lines in the exact same way. I noticed a bit more controllable rotation out of the slower corners (out of 2 and 11) but otherwise I was running just as fast with just the same grip. Little to no perceived difference with ESC off! The brakes seemed to go an extra lap or two before fading away but even fully cooled the pedal had become long. I'd cooked the fluid for good early in the day so a direct comparison was not going to be possible. Bummer.

In the sixth and final session of the day I tried Track mode (ESC off by default) but dropped the dampers back to the less stiff setting. Again I didn't feel much of a difference. In these later sessions I ran somewhere in the 1:51s, which is faster than my previous outings where I did 1:53s. This may be due to the new tires, the brakes, or my developing experience on this track. It is interesting to note that even though brake feel (and affiliated confidence) deteriorate through the sessions, my times are pretty constant throughout. It is worth noting that the Ventus R-S4s also started to feel a bit greasy by the last 2-3 laps of the sessions, still stable and with good grip but not as fresh as the start of each session.

So now I'm looking for the next step to help these brakes. I see, I guess, four options.

  1. Replace the factory brake ducting. Found the AAF kit today, $400 and replaces the factory system. I emailed them to see if I can get a copy of the instructions to see how it all goes together.
  1. Essex/AP Racing complete front brake kit. $2725 with pads. "Nuclear option." Expensive and might put me in a weird spot in terms of how to use it on the street. Requires some grinding of the RS suspension hub. Instructions explicitly say not to use ducting. Might not fit with my wheels. Not cool Nitrous Blue like OE.
  1. Two-piece rotors from Girodisc. $900. 1/3 the cost of the complete AP system but doesn't seem like a particularly promising fix on its own.
  1. Racing Brake ceramic discs (calipers too?). $7200. Too expensive.

I will have to spend some time thinking about the situation. Option 4 isn't on the table, and between the other three there are dependencies that make it challenging. The ducting and two-piece rotors, if they don't solve my problems, will become paperweights when I buy the complete Essex/AP kit because they are not compatible. It's not fun to spend a ton of money (option #2) but it's mighty tempting to just put the issue to bed and stop worrying about it. But what am I really gaining? This is a fun daily car that I like to take to the track, but I'm not building a race car. Is 3-4 laps of faded brakes at the end of a session worth the cost and complication of these added parts? Based on my lap times it doesn't really even seem to impact my pace.

Enough of that, here's something different. There must be a media day coming up because Porsche had a whole posse of brand new 992 Turbos tucked in a corner of the paddock behind a fence. A few GT2RS to boot. Cool to see Porsche's "S GO" license plates in the flesh.

Blue for me, please.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

[Focus] New track brake loadout

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred] 


Track day is Saturday, so this past weekend I installed the track brake setup:

DBA 4000-series rotors

Ferodo DS1.11 pads

Castrol SRF unicorn blood brake fluid

(I am stock otherwise, except for Mountune braided lines)

I've got a good feeling about this brake setup. I was so interested in the Kangaroo Paw (R) technology that I went down there over Thanksgiving to check the grip.

Yeah, that's good.

This was my first job on the new 5000lb Quick Jacks I bought a month ago. I have wanted these for years but always found a way to talk myself out of the expense, but I'm so glad I finally took the plunge. Setup was easy and so far it's been great. I prefer this way of doing things:

Brakes went on without much fuss.

I did a quick test drive to make sure everything felt OK before parking the car. I plan to bed the pads in my first session at the track, per the instructions, so I don't want to do more street miles than necessary before then. Perhaps I'm over-cautious, but after the last brake issue... that's the way I want to play it. Interestingly the brakes had strong bite straight out of the driveway, usually the first few stops are weak but these didn't waste any time.

To put a cap on this partially Australia-themed post, I will be seeing Tame Impala Friday night and then hating life waking up at 5:15a the next morning to get down to Laguna Seca. Hopefully I return with good news.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

[Focus] More brakes, track wheels and tires

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred] 

[also note: I have condensed multiple forum posts into this entry, please forgive awkward transitions]

I recently read on the forum that our factory calipers are $130/each. I didn't think this could possibly be the case, but... here it is.

Brembo calipers, specific to our cars and painted nitrous blue, are $130 each plus $50 core charge. Free shipping. Whaaaaaat?

My factory calipers have already started to discolor from heat, and are a little chipped from rocks, pad changes, and fluid contact. For $180/ea I am happy to keep these nice new ones on the shelf. For this money I have to wonder, where are all the Focus RS-based big brake kits?

Small brake and tire update. I've not heard from Mountune UK since 10/11, so I have no idea if they shipped me the street pads they promised. My car is off the road while I wait, and I'm tired of waiting. It also cost me $35 to ship the pads (more accurately, backing plates) back to the UK and I asked to be reimbursed, haven't heard anything. Will update with new information as it becomes available.

I started investigating how I can swap between a street pad and track pad using the same rotors. It appears to be a lot of hassle. There is a lot of hearsay and low-confidence information about which compounds can be mixed on the same rotor, 'scrubbing' the rotors with an almost bedding-like procedure to clean up the disc face before swapping the pads back and forth, re-bedding every time you swap to re-establish a friction surface on the rotor, all kinds of stuff. It seems like a lot of hassle, so I've decided to just use a dedicated set of pads and rotors for street and for track. If you're in there for the pads it's not much more effort to swap the rotors at the same time. I have had zero issues with the OE parts on the road, and the prices are good, so here's the plan going forward:


Rotors: OE

Pads: OE

Wheels:  Fifteen52 Podium 19x8.5 et45

Tires: 245/35 Michelin Sport 4S


Rotors: DBA 4000-series

Pads: Ferodo DS1.11

Wheels: Konig Freeform 18x8.5 et43

Tires: 245/40 Hankook Ventus R-S4


Fluid: TBD (Castrol SRF if I could find it)

The Focus soldiers on as my reliable daily. There wasn't much going on over the holidays but now that 2020 has rolled in I've signed up for two track days, one in March and one in April, both at Laguna Seca.

Since the last update, I've installed Mountune UK's 'fast road' pads that they sent me with stock brake discs. They work fine but they squeal intermittently at normal driving speeds, and I don't see any performance difference in street driving conditions compared to the stock pads, so I will not be going with Mountune again.

I purchased the Konig wheels when they were on sale last year, and now with a track day on the horizon I ordered up some tires. I had a scare when Tire Rack showed that the Ventus R-S4 is out of stock until 3/20, a week after my track day. Thankfully they had a few "2017 production" tires left over that were nicely discounted. The first step before tire fitting was to ceramic coat the wheels using the same Gyeon stuff I've used before with success. These wheels will theoretically be constantly coated in brake dust so anything to simplify cleaning is a win.

The Freeforms are a nice bright silver color. I prefer dark colors on NB but I think these will look pretty slick.

My right-rear tire starting losing ~10psi/day this week, so while I was at the tire shop I had them repair the tire. This is no doubt the result of all the local construction around my office.

I didn't snag a photo but AutohausAZ got the Castrol SRF unicorn blood in stock and I purchased some. Next step is to install the track brake setup and make sure everything is ready to go. In theory this is as far as I can go with the stock braking hardware - braided lines, fanciest fluid, endurance track compound brake pads. If they still overheat the next options are more drastic - 2-piece rotors, aggressive brake ducting, or completely different calipers.

Track day is on the horizon so I installed the track wheel/tire setup for a couple days of street driving just to make sure everything fits and clears and works.

Konig Freeform 18x8.5 et43 with Hankook Ventus RS-4 tires in 245/40. For comparison, my street setup is 19x8.5 et45 with 245/35 tires.

I think it looks great! No issues with fit-up and the offsets are perfect with the stock suspension. No issues in street driving so far with rubbing or funny business, not that I expect any. Barely any time on the tires but I first impressions are that of a less-sharp turn-in, a little more steering effort, and slightly improved ride, which all make sense with the larger sidewall of the 18.

This weekend I install my track brake setup (pads, rotors, new fluid) and park the car until the track day on 3/14.