I’ve driven a lot of laps on the Summit Point Circuit. A lot. I have data on 700 or 800 laps, and have probably driven another 1000 more, but I never managed to drive anything under 1:26.6 before. For the last five years or so, I’m usually performing CI duties, working the grid, or banished to the skidpad most of the time and don’t spend much time concentrating on my own driving. This past July, I had the opportunity to coach with NJ CCA and had lots of track time to myself.
I’ve been selling the Garmin Catalyst system for a few years now and so I thought I’d listen to the Coach and see what I could learn. The data gave me the confidence to brake later, harder, and less, carrying more speed at the apex and thus more speed until the next corner. My best lap came at the end of the session and I was close to the predicted optimal time, even with a late pass into turn 10.
Even after more than 12 years of teaching this stuff, I’m continually amazed how much of this game is mental. Once I broke through the 1:26 barrier, I was able to consistently beat it most of the time.
It’s not often that you get to drive a new circuit at your home track. But for our recent HPDE at the Summit Point Shenandoah Circuit, we got to do just that by driving counter race for a session.
The Shenandoah Circuit has a couple of different configurations in the normal (counter clockwise) race direction. Most of these involve adding chicanes or extra corners in the Pistol Grip section which just make an already busy track even busier. If you don’t want to drive the Karussel, there’s the inner apron, or the outer apron available to you. You can also cut off the Karussel entirely by taking the bus-stop cut over to the Corkscrew under the Bridge. I wanted to try something completely different. So for the first session on Friday, I had the instructors drive the track clockwise with the corkscrew to bus-stop cut over. As you can see from the video it was a very different track.
I have a greater appreciation for the elevation changes in various parts of the circuit, and also a sense of just how many of the turn entries and exits are off camber. And on a predominately right handed circuit with off camber entries, I realized I sit too low in the car now and cannot see the majority of the right hand apexes. Given that no one in the group really knew the line, it was a great learning experience and will be repeated in the future. I think next time, I’ll have the instructors and advanced students drive this direction for a half-day on Friday.
I’ve seen this happen in a couple of cars now and I’m not sure why. Perhaps someone who is unfamiliar with how they work gets in the car and tries to set the clock by spinning the knob, or a previous owner took the cluster apart and broke the tabs? Usually both knobs are affected though only one side is supposed to twist. Here’s how to take out the cluster and assess what’s wrong. As per usual disclaimer, the following is provided for information use only — no wagering. Disconnect the battery before working on any electrical system in your car.
It helps to have the steering wheel lowered and pulled forward as far as possible to get as much space as possible to work, or in this case, remove the steering wheel. The cluster is held in place with two T-20 Torx screws.
Remove them, and gently pull the cluster forward until you can reach the electrical connectors on the rear. The connectors have lock-levers. Gently depress the lock, and slide the lever forward to remove the connector. They are different sizes so you don’t have to remember which is which. Remove the cluster and set it on a cloth.
Press down on the white wedge and pull the black arm toward the top of the cluster to release
Gently pull off the two rubber outer buttons.
Gently pull away from the face to remove
Flip the cluster over and you will see a series of T-10 Torx screws (mine was missing a few of them). Remove the screws and gently lift the back off the cluster. The plastic button plungers should stay with the instrument cluster. Avoid touching any of the circuits or the circuit board and gently lift the board from the front housing.
Remove the screens which have the icons for the various warning lights along the bottom of the cluster. (More on these later.)
Now is a good time to clean the inside of the glass on the front half of the cluster. Use a clean micro-fiber cloth and a screw driver to reach all of the areas inside the cluster. Turn our attention to the reset mechanisms.
Circle shows broken spike.
They are delicate plastic plungers with a plastic spring on one end and a T section in the middle and should have a spike which activates a small button recessed in the instrument face. When you look at the instrument face, you can see how they work. The one on the left does not twist. The T is held in place so the only action is the plunger. The one on the right is used to reset the clock. It too has a plunger action, but also twists left or right about 45 degrees to move the time forward or back. It does not spin. If the plungers are in good nick, then chances are they just came out of their slots and careful reassembly should get you working again. More than likely, however, one or both plungers have lost their spikes. You can’t buy new ones, and if you buy a used cluster for parts, chances are they will also be missing their spikes as well. Fortunately, the internet has an answer. See this post on e46fanatics. We used it to fabricate new spikes.
Following the instructions, we wrapped a paperclip around a 1/8 in drill bit, then trimmed and bent it to match the photos. (I decided to paint the windings black to better hide them when reassembled.) Slide it on the plunger (tight fit), position, and glue in place. The one on the right side needs a larger surface area to activate the recessed button from various degrees of twist.
Use some glue to secure the winding to the plunger and then paint. Before you reassemble the cluster, you may also want to use black electrical tape to block out any annoying lights from systems you may have disabled such as the low washer fluid light if you removed the reservoir, or the seat belt light because you’re using different buckle receptacles (in my case, those from an E30 M3.)
Before reattaching the screws on the back, check that the plunger has seated in the slot.
If you installed brake ducts in your E46 M3 track car, chances are you also removed the windshield washer reservoir (aka, “windshield cleaning container” part number 61 67 7 895 571). The container wraps around the AC dryer and sits in the path of the Hardmotorsport bumper duct inlet. If you no longer drive your car on the street, this probably makes sense. After all, a track build is all about adding lightness and removing complexity. If you still drive it on the street, it can also be about bugs. Lots of bugs. Bugs smeared on your windshield. Since I still drive this car on the street, I decided I wanted to find a way to retrofit a smaller container in the smuggler’s hold.
The compartment already has mounting points you can attach to. All you need to do is fabricate a bracket and get a small container. I got this 2 quart one from US Plastic.
Once you locate the container, then all you need is power, ground, and the hose to the spray nozzles. (I just hooked up the windshield nozzles, not the headlight washers.) Ground is easy as there are multiple grounding points close-by. For power, I ran a wire along the existing wiring harness and picked up the positive connection in the wiring loom that I disconnected from the factory container. To get to the hose, I just had to measure the run I needed, then unwrap it from the wiring harness and cut to length. All in, it’s a very clean install.
After a long break, we finally got back to the track in September. The weekend of 11-13 September saw the National Capital Chapter of BMW CCA back on the extended Jefferson Circuit at Summit Point. The format was a bit different with all lead-follow instruction, but the instructor run group was still a blast.
I’m still getting used to the M3 and have to remember three key differences from the MINI:
You have to actually steer OUT of corners as you get back on the power.
When the back steps out, MORE GAS is not the answer.
I also need to get used the pedals to improve my heal-toe downshifts. If I can remember that I don’t have to square every corner, I think I’ll get to be pretty quick in this car. My best lap was already 3 seconds faster on the same tires.
Remember that bit about the car being wider? Here’s a small clip from my second track session in the car and I was finally getting up to speed.
There are a few lessons to be learned here. I’m driving an unfamiliar car that’s about a foot wider than what I’m used to driving. I finally got the apex right at the previous corner and as a result, arrive at the braking zone here about 2 MPH faster than usual. I come off the brakes too soon, and as a result don’t get far enough around T13 when I have to brake again. I run out of track at the entry to turn 14. I come off the brakes as I leave the track, but still have enough brake force on the front left that I spin around the front left when 3 wheels are off. I straighten the wheel and almost pull off the 360 before heading into Pit-In. So next time, be more aware when making a step increase in speed. Adjust the brake point so I apex T13 at the same speed. And keep the last 18 inches of apron as a buffer. Oh, and know how wide your car is.