Although it's been a couple of months since we've featured Project M3, that doesn't mean the car has been laying low--in fact, a lot has happened since Part 18.
First, tech geek Dan Barnes and I spent 6 hours dyno tuning it to dial in the water injection one last time, as well as try a slightly more advanced chip from Active Autowerke. After talking with Brad Schaffer of Aquamist, I discovered that lowering the pressure from the pressure switch was not the way to go. Instead, he suggested that I maintain the factory 75-psi pressure and switch the nozzle sizes so that droplet size making it into the combustion chamber is optimized. This made sense, so after we double-checked the air/fuel ratio of the new chip at every boost level--air/fuel in the high 11s--we tried different nozzle combinations with 0.7-, 0.8- and 0.9mm setups.
After 53 pulls (polluting the entire Primedia Tech Center with carbon monoxide), we came to the conclusion that at 8 to 14 psi of boost, the horsepower numbers were more consistent with the 0.7mm nozzles. I keep both nozzles hooked up for hot weather or track days and only use one when the weather is cooler. The LEDs on the Aquamist DDS2 display system register about 200ml/min. when one nozzle is spraying and about 400ml/min. with both together.
We didn't encounter any detonation--even though nearly every dyno pull was at 13 to 14 psi levels with output reading 380 whp--thanks to the fuel I had ordered from KRS Distributing. Based in Orange County, Calif., KRS is basically a one-stop place for your Sunoco, Unocal 76, Trick and Velocity race fuel needs. KRS' fuel inventory ranges from street-legal 100 octane to Pro Stock 118+ octane. It carries a full line of Chevron, Mobile, Torco and Redline products as well. A big fan of Sunoco race fuels, I ordered several 5-gal. pails of 110 octane. A few gallons mixed with 91 octane yielded about 95 octane, which is what we used during our dyno testing to ensure ping-free runs at these power levels. I also ordered enough to last me through the lapping sessions I'll be talking about shortly.
When it comes to my Ground Control and Eibach suspension system, everything is still basically "bolt on and go," meaning no real tuning has been done, and it's been displaying an extraordinary amount of understeer. Until now, the car had Eibach ERS springs rated at 550 lb in the front and 475 lb in the rear, with the anti-roll bar settings at soft for the front and soft for the rear--that's right, lots of understeer. I decided to fix it and had Eibach Springs swap out the front 550-lb springs for 450-lb springs and stiffen up the rear anti-roll bar. And what a difference it has made. The car still understeers a little--which I prefer over being on the "loose" side--but it's a night-and-day comparison from before.
To test out the car with the new spring setup, as well as try out the effectiveness of the new Fluidyne radiator, I signed up to run a Driving Concepts event held at California Speedway. You've heard me talk about this group before; expect to see me at more of its events in the future. Its weekday events offer more track time than most take advantage of, consisting of only two groups heading out to the track one after the other in 30-min. intervals. Because the day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., that amounts to a lot of track time! Its instructor-to-student ratio at these types of events is 1:1, and although most of the participants drive BMWs and Porsches, any car is invited. By about 3:30 p.m., it's usually open lapping, because some participants have already gone home.
If you have teenage kids, DC offers a driving clinic for young adults who need to learn the basics of car control and gain that extra bit of confidence and safety on the street. Among a variety of skills, these clinics teach participants all the basics of front-wheel- and rear-wheel drive, ABS versus non-ABS, and what to do during emergency situations.
At the speedway (we used the infield part only) the car performed admirably with the new springs. Low-speed turns used to cause trouble with the previous setup, but this time around Project M3 was much more precise through the curves. I'll need a few more track days to fully tune the shocks and camber, but so far I liked what I was feeling.
What excited me the most was the combination of the Fluidyne radiator and the Aquamist water-injection (ec 03/03) system. Because of the Fluidyne radiator, by the end of the day my SPA digital gauges never registered more than 180*F for oil and 190*F for water! Keep in mind this is still without the oil cooler installed.
At one point I was able to see what would happen had I not had the water-injection system installed, because I blew the fuse protecting the pump. I knew this because my DDS2 display system wasn't registering any water getting to the jets. I looked at the AutoMeter intake temperature gauge when I rocketed down the front straight, which was registering up to 150*F at 10 psi boost! I brought the car back into the pits, changed the fuse and went back out. I was relieved to see the intake manifold temperature drop right back down to the ambient temperature of 80*F.
Hotchkis Media Challenge
Project M3 almost never made it
The call to action rang through the office and caused as much excitement as if editors Brown and Bidrawn announced they were squaring off for a few rounds of boxing. John Hotchkis, founder of the Hotchkis Suspension company, sent E-mails to a number of publications for a project car shootout called the First Annual Hotchkis Media Challenge. The theme of the challenge was, "The BS stops here!" The event was comprised of the average of two 60-to-0-mph stops, four timed slalom runs and the fastest of two quarter-mile runs. The competition then closed with a time trial, using the average of just two timed laps around Buttonwillow's 3.0-mile road course (configuration #13), which meant if you screwed up the last turn of the first lap, you screwed up your entire road course time.
Although it would have been nice to have Project 911 and Project Maxed Out MINI representing european car as well, both cars were unavailable that day, and so it was left up to Project M3 to do the talking and the walking.
The event took place on a Friday, which left me an entire week to get the car corner-weighted and aligned for maximum handling performance. I'm sure I've altered the balance of the car significantly because of the way I've had parts slapped on it left and right. Unfortunately, on the Sunday before the event I found a hole in the transmission housing. Apparently something inside let loose and blew a hole out the back--this was not what I needed. Needless to say, no corner-weighting or alignment.
I towed the car to evosport early the next morning and they pulled off the transmission, giving us an opportunity to look at the clutch as well. Surprisingly enough, the O.E. disc was in fine shape after 20k pretty hard miles, 90% of that with a turbo. This indicated two things: One, when you don't drag race much, your clutch lasts longer; and two, the pressure plate I procured from Active Autowerke apparently holds power really well.
Just to buy us some time, I ordered a new clutch disc from BMP Design. The firm carries nearly everything to satisfy your aftermarket and O.E. needs at discounted prices. The clutch disc is only about $120, so I figured I'd put in a new one in while the transmission was off the car.
I purchased a used M3 transmission from Harout's, a BMW junkyard in Los Angeles with more used M3 parts than I could dream up. They sell used M3 transmissions for $750 for pick-up only. I took the transmission back to evosport. By Wednesday the clutch disc from BMP arrived and the technicians were able to get to work on it. They had the car ready for me by Thursday so that I could get to Buttonwillow for the Media Challenge the night before--good job, guys!
While the car was at evosport I decided I needed some new tires on my Forgeline track wheels for the event, since the last 245/35-18 Pirelli P Zero Cs were nearly worn-out. This year Pirelli released its new P Zero Corsa tire, which was said to be a dramatic improvement over the previous C tire. Since Pirelli didn't offer the ideal 245/35-18 size, I had to go with 235/40-18 all around. This particular tire in a 255/35-18 was just too wide to clear the front fenders. I didn't know what to expect, but I was excited nonetheless. Once again Big O Tires (Colton, Calif.) mounted these tires problem-free.
On the way to evosport I dropped by Brembo to pick up a set of front pads, as the ones on the car were almost done. Brembo supplied me with Pagid Blue pads, which are a great compromise between street and track. I knew I'd have a hard time fading these with 14-in. Brembo rotors on the track. I arrived at evosport, loaded the car on a trailer and was on my way to Buttonwillow to spend the evening at a motel.
The 20-plus competing cars there represented a wide variety of publications, including Sport Compact Car, Popular Hot Rodding, eurotuner magazine, Turbo Magazine, european car, Super Street, Sport Truck, Fastest Street Car, Pontiac Enthusiast, Hot Rod, Super Chevy, Chevy High Performance, 5.0 & Super Fords and Car Craft. The rules were "everything goes" except for nitrous, non-D.O.T. tires, plus the driver had to be a journalist with the magazine represented--no hired drivers. The points awarded in each event were 20 points for first, 19 for second, 18 for third and so on.
Some of the cars had intimidating power, and others had surgical-precision balancing for fast corners and slalom speeds. Popular Hot Rodding's Mustang was blisteringly fast in the road course, and I think we were lucky this car didn't have a blower on it yet. It finished sixth overall with 56 points. The 2002 Mustang from 5.0 & Super Fords was consistently in the top 7 in every event, finishing fifth overall with 57 points. Sport Compact Car's Project Nissan Silvia--a 2,600-lb car putting down 290 whp--was looking like the favorite until its lack of ABS brakes cost it several points in the braking event, and a blown intercooler hose cost it a few seconds in the second road course lap, dropping another point. It finished fourth overall with 59 points. Super Street's Skunk-tuned 2002 Civic Si, which came out with its own little pit crew, was probably the most well-balanced car there--it kicked serious ass in the slalom. It also got a very respectable road course time and braking distance, but it gave a few points to some of the more potent rwd cars in the quarter-mile. It easily won the fwd class and finished third overall with 61 points. The '65 Chevelle from Car Craft was by far the fastest in the quarter mile and braking (a 60-to-0-mph stop of just 101 ft!), and it did well in the road course. Although several points were lost to the other cars in the slalom, the Chevelle finished second overall, also with 61 points.
Project M3 finished fifth in the slalom, second in braking, third in the quarter mile and first in the road course. When all the points were tallied up, Project M3 was the rwd Modified as well as the Overall winner of the 1st Annual Hotchkis Media Challenge with 73 points.
Author's note: Special thanks to evosport for getting the tranny swap done in time so that Project M3 could be entered in the event. Without evosport this project pretty much wouldn't exist.