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Mila Development Diary: Autocross 2

For this week’s post Kev and I wrote about our experiences auto-crossing different cars competing in the same class. My perspective from the driver’s seat of a heavily modified 1990s BMW 318 known as Mila, and Kev’s from the seat of a more technologically advanced 2017 BMW M2.

Matt & Mila

The last two updates on Mila included a disappointing 9th-place finish at the first autocross and a rain-soaked track day. While any day spent playing around with cars is a gift, I’d be lying if I said these first two outings were great from the standpoint of sorting out a car sporting several major changes to the suspension. Heading into the second autocross of the year there were still a lot of unanswered questions. During the first two events of the year, I maybe clocked 25 minutes of driving Mila at speed on a dry track. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself but ended up recycling my goal from the first autocross―a top-5 finish in the most heavily contested class.

Eighteen cars came out to play in Mila’s group- the ‘A’ class. There was no rain in the forecast whatsoever (hooray!), but it was hot. There were no clouds in the sky in the morning and the temperature was rapidly approaching the 90s. The course itself was pretty interesting including several slaloms and a couple longer, flat-out stretches, culminating in a tight finish where it paid dividends to have the car settled and under control.

BMw 318i Sedan "e30"

The morning set included five runs. I typically focus my first attempt on navigating the course correctly and finished in a little over 54 seconds. Then Mila and I began to build in some speed. We completed the second run at 49.9, then down to a 48.9, and down a little further to 48.7 on the fourth attempt. I got a little too wild on my final try of the morning and sort of plateaued with a 48.8. After the morning session, we were sitting in 6th place and were within a half second of the two cars in front of us. The top-5 finish certainly felt within reach.

After the morning session I caught up with my Vintage Ltd. counterpart, Kev, to talk about the course. I mentioned that I kept Mila in first gear through the first section of the course which included a sharp left-hander and a slalom. Dimitre, an autocrosser in the AA class who typically finishes with the fastest time of the day, overheard our conversation. He told us that he tried that method but also tried going into 2nd gear before the slalom and that the latter was faster. His logic was sound. Okay, we’ll give it a go.

The combination of a lunch break and some sage advice from someone at the top of their game can go a long way. The second session included four runs. I took Dimitre’s advice and immediately shaved 0.6 seconds off my fastest time down to a 48.1. My second run was even faster at 47.7 but I clipped a cone and incurred a 2-second penalty. My 3rd run got down to a 47.5 (technically 47.473). On my final run I came in a little hot in the slow section and got 47.7.

Matt's 3rd Place Trophy

To my surprise I found that not only did Mila get us in the top-5, but we managed a podium finish narrowly edging out the 4th place by 41 hundredths of a second! I was pumped! Given where we finished during the first autocross, I wasn’t so sure a podium was within reach. We finished 0.6 seconds behind second place and 1.2 seconds behind the winner. If I had been able to rein in Mila a little bit more on my final run, 2nd place would’ve been a possibility.

Kev “the Cone Crusher” & the M2

While Matt was getting comfortable in Mila, I was starting to pick up speed in my BMW M2. A little background: the M2 is mostly stock but with a couple modifications to help with the handling. It’s equipped with KWs fully adjustable coil overs, lightweight 18’ APEX wheels with 255/40-18. Toyo R888R R-compound tires, Pagid brake pads and a four-point harness.

My first goal is to get the course down. Avoiding an early DNF goes a long way toward putting the whole thing together and giving me the confidence to really start to push. The obvious goal is to get faster with each consecutive run, often easier said than done. The last runs of the day are usually when I’m most confident with the course and really push it. This is always a double-edged sword since pushing the limit can lead to mistakes like hitting cones. It’s a very thin line between hero and zero.

As the day progressed, I got faster but was stuck at 49.941. My last run was my best run, or so it seemed. It felt fast and smooth and I was excited when I saw the 48.957 flash on the timing board, as breaking into the 48s was my goal for the day.

2017 BMW M2
No cones where hurt during this picture

I got back to the paddock, took a swig of Gatorade and started reviewing the standings and my times, but didn’t see my magical sub-49 second run listed. When I looked at my last time, I saw the dreaded “plus two”, four seconds added--two cones punted out of the box--for a final time of 52.957. I went from top-ten to 13th overall --a complete bummer. Oh well, if you can’t stay within the course limits you pay the price

Overall the autocross was a lot of fun, and Matt’s third place finish proved we were finally making some serious progress on dialing in Mila! Next up for our 318 project is another autocross then off to Putnam Park Raceway in Indiana for a couple more days of suspension tweaking.

Stay tuned.

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