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Halloween Track Day Hullabaloo: Chasing 2:03 at Buttonwillow Raceway Park

Have you ever wanted something? Let me amend that: have you ever wanted something that was very close, but just outside of your grasp? Something that was clearly obtainable, yet it still eluded you?

Whenever the 1’er hit the track, it was always with a caveat. “I could have went faster if it weren’t for the car overheating” or “My hot lap got interrupted by traffic.” Whatever it may be, leaving things hanging on a caveat is infuriating. 2015 is rapidly coming to a close, yet my lap times were still not yet rapid enough to reach my goal of a 2:03 hot lap at Buttonwillow Raceway Park’s popular 13CW configuration.

During my last outing at Button, I managed a high 2:04 hot lap.

Close, but not close enough.

The caveats reared their ugly heads. It was hot, the car running hot, and pulling power, and the driver was inexplicably off that day (usually, he’s pretty much infallible, like all track day drivers).

Caveats be damned, I’m throwing more firepower into the mix this time. October is when the weather finally begins to offer a reprieve of sub-100* temperatures. In addition to that was my new wheel and tire setup. Slightly more aggressive than the last, but every millimeter helps.

For the fitment nerds out there, peep the specs, yo.

Previously:

Front: 17x8.5 ET35 with 255/40 Hankook RS3; Rear: 18x8.5 ET52 with 255/35 RS3.

Current:

Front: 17x9 ET35 with 255/40 RS3; Rear: 18x9.5 ET62 with 255/35 RS3.

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Same tire spec, but with wider wheels. This gave a small increase in footprint, but offered much sharper response due to the tires being slightly more stretched onto the wider wheels.

Oh, and I nearly forgot (I was about five paragraphs past this when I remembereD) that I had wrapped the mirrors red for some GT3-style cred, and added some mad JDM anime stickers. The both of which added an appreciable amount of downforce to the car. It felt really planted when I was cruising on the highway at 65mph to the track. Wow.

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With the basics laid out, it’s time to jump into the scene.

The date: October 31st, Halloween. The place: Buttonwillow. The mood: excitable. The crew: A gathering of friends, new and old, best described as the European Invasion.

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Oh yeah, and there was a Corvette (Hi Dennis!).

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Our motley crew consisted of a 135i, 1M, 335i, Z4M, Cayman S and Corvette. The (Mostly) European Invasion, indeed.

The first session was interesting.

A refresher session, full speed ahead. This was the first time running the new wheel setup on track, and it felt good. It felt good, right up until the moment I started bouncing over the curbs and heard the sad, sad sound of tire rub. I knew the front wheel setup was very aggressive for a narrow-body 135i, but it had been rub-free on the street. It wasn’t bad enough for me to stop, but it was present throughout the session. Ick, the sound sends chills down the collective spines of car enthusiasts world wide. Looking beyond that, the car was noticeably freer handling, and much better at transitions with the new setup.

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Lap times don’t lie:

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2:03.6 the first time out on a cold track, now that’s what I’m talking about! My expectations for the day were high. With the warm, fuzzy feeling of quicker lap times aiding me, I brought the car into the pit garage, hoisted the front end up and raised the TC Kline coilovers about 1/4” to their maximum ride height to eliminate the nasty rubbing. I also took the time to tweak tire pressures a bit. I hate to generalize, but it seems like by-and-large, the Hankook RS3 tires are in their happy place around 35psi hot. This usually means about 30psi cold up front, and about 32psi cold in the rear. Individually, none of these tweaks took much time, but things did seem to speed by as I got into the rhythm of the day.

Just like that, the loud speakers in the paddock were blaring, the pits were live, and we were ready to rock the grid as about half of our crew idled up to the pit wall.

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Session Two was about to begin.

By now, the track surface had been sufficiently cleaned, and the track temperatures had risen. Equally risen were the talents of the driver. Things were slotting into place nicely. The car’s performance felt predictable, and although still running warm, the little Straight-6 that could was still pulling hard and fighting the good fight. My fastest lap was the last lap of the session, and half of it was catching up to and then getting stuck behind a frisky little Spec Miata. I had to brake coming out the Esses to not rear end him, and lifted on the back straight to leave a safe margin for braking into Sunset before freight training him on the front straight.

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This did result in a pretty sweet picture by my friend Daud.

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It also resulted in a great lap time.

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2:02.989. Just cracked 2:03, and my goal for 2015. Happy did not begin to describe how I felt. I knocked seven tenths off the previous session, which was already my hottest lap to date. The baby Bimmer was finally setting the lap times it deserved to be setting. No excuses, no caveats, just hot laps.

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I was excited to get back out there. I had cracked 2:03, how much more time could I find today? Session three awaited.

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Session three was a blast.

After some swift negotiation with traffic, I managed to catch up my two stablemates, Richard in his Z4M Coupe, and Sung in his new Cayman S. What ensued was a fun little battle between three similar, yet dissimilar white, German cars.

I managed to eek out a 2:02.4 from the Bavarian Blizzard on Buttonwillow. Dropping an additional five tenths from the last session. May as well call me Forest, because if I was stoked before, than the fire within had become a blaze, burning down the trees and...Well, I forgot where this ridiculous metaphor was going, but yes, very exciting!

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Before beginning session four, shout out to Selfie Stick, for gaining sentience and attending a track day!

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Sure, your lap times were pretty slow. I mean, you’re just a stick, you can’t be expected to be great at doing people things you’re first time out. Keep at it, Selfie Stick, hopefully you one day rise to track day prominence!

Session Four

I didn’t think there was much room to grow from the 2:02.4 lap. Session four seemed pretty traffic intensive, and some drivers had no idea what was going on, and that other people were on the track at the same time. That said....

Spec Boxsters sound really fast. I could discern this from when I caught up to one, got stuck behind it for a third of a lap and sailed past it on the front straight. Might is right and the boost prevailed. Tailing the Boxster, I still managed a high 2:02 lap. With him disposed of, and the day nearing it’s end, I was on full attack. I was so tuned in to Maximum Attack mode that I completely overshot Off-Ramp.

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Coming through Cotton, Grapevine and Club, the car felt great. I actually could have pushed a touch harder through there and used more of the track.

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A rogue cone had been spat out at the exit of the infamous Bus Stop, so I overslowed a touch there, but it was pretty tidy. From the third session onward, I was carrying way more speed through Riverside, about 95-100mph? A quick hop up and over Phil Hill, before ultimately catching some traffic. What happened to no caveats?!? Fortunately, these guys were no scrubs and while an S2K and my car make up time at Button very differently, I didn’t lose too much time lifting in the back straight, and the fellow was very sporting in letting me pass on the front straight.

All of this resulted in a hail mary lap time of 2:01.4.

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Ecstatic. Some not-so-humble bragging commenced, along with a subtle victory dance that would shame most of the big timers in the NFL, BUT THAT IS BESIDE THE POINT. THE 1ER RAN A 2:01 LAP AT BUTTONWILLOW! Wooooooo.

Here’s a cut of the 2:01.4 hot lap:


The day was over, and I began to pack the car up and relax as the day had come to a close.

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Wait. What is that feeling?

Uh oh.

Oh no.

Oh God, now I need to go sub-2.

That’s a story that will have to wait for another day.


Jake Stumph is a car-crazed nutjob, based in Southern California. His collective stories, ramblings and experiences are lumped under the name of Jake Stumph Racing. If you want to know more, or read up on the JSR-spec 135i, and the new Project Civic, being prepped for SCCA Autocross, then you can follow him on Facebook.

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