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540i Sport - Track questions

Discussion in 'E39 (1997-2003)' started by dmmai, Dec 20, 2010.

    • Member

    dmmai

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    Hey gang ...
    . . .
    I've been driving a 2002 540iA Sport for the last 6 years as one of my regular street cars. The car hasn't been run on track days (except for a couple of noon/lunch moderate speed touring lap sessions). I haven't taken part in a "track day" event ... yet ... but now I'm considering it for next year.

    First question: Is this porky creature at all appropriate for such activities (HPDE) ?
    The car has the Sport suspension/gearing/tires but with the Steptronic automatic transmission. It's quite fast, but I would imagine that braking will be a considerable challenge for the 3800 lb car. What brake pads would be the best compromise for street/track use?

    2nd question: What preparation/maintenance items should I be looking at? The car is bone stock, having only had routine maintenance/upkeep. All suspension components are original.

    3rd question: It's shod with staggered Yoko ADVAN ultra-performance all-season tires. A relatively good compromise street tire for the midwest. What kind of life might I expect from these tires with occasional track day use? I'll not be trying to turn the world backwards on it's axis with my speed, but I want to have a little fun.

    4th question: What haven't I thought of ?

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts and help.

    D
    • Member

    MGarrison

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    Yes, no problem. It will have to pass a thorough tech inspection before the event. Budget time & money for any needed work in advance of your driver's school.

    Search bimmerworld.com and turnermotorsport.com, no need to start off with a full bore race pad compound - but not a bad idea to go for something more than just stock. You might want to opt for a brake fluid with a higher boiling point. ATE Super Blue is popular.

    Stainless steel brake lines are a relatively inexpensive upgrade, the rears are more time-consuming to install than the fronts.

    Depending on your mileage, you could need a variety of things, including replacing various suspension bushings and so on. That has the potential to get expensive. The tech form for whatever event you plan on attending will address some basics, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a good indy shop familiar with BMW schools do your tech and prep work.
    A good shop should have experience with additional things to consider for driver's schools.


    I don't know, but your first events are more about learning than pushing things hard, so I doubt you'd have a significant issue. You just want to make sure you don't prematurely wear them from having inadequate air pressure. Depends in part on the track you attend - some surfaces are more abrasive than others.

    Here's a couple of threads with some additional info -
    http://bmwcca.org/forum/showthread.php?t=748
    http://bmwcca.org/forum/showthread.php?t=1450
    • Member

    dmmai

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    Thanks for your words of wisdom.

    The car has ~72,000 miles on it. Mostly normal street/highway driving with a few long weekends in the Ozarks enjoying the marvelous twisty roads in NorthWest Arkansas. I've been wondering about bushings, etc anyway.

    I've been looking into a new helmet, your links were helpful. My antique helmets from back in the dark ages are a little out of date (AMA in the 60's and 70's, NHRA in the 70's and SCCA autocross in the late 70's & 80's).

    My first event/s will likely be here in the midwest. I played (unofficially) at Hallett back in the 80's and did some noon laps at Heartland Park more recently. Neither track is particularly abrasive ( I don't think ... ? ). Well, I guess the carousel at Heartland is a bit of a grinder. The noon laps with BimmerFest this year (our first O'Fest - Road America) in my wife's 335 got my old bones stirred up. We are thinking about going to Birmingham in October and would like to have an event or two under my belt before then.

    D
    • Member

    MGarrison

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    You might want to hit-up some other E39 afficionados for car-specific issues. In recently considering a really attractive 540i/6pd with sub-100k mileage, the long-term maintenance issues related to the engine were off-putting. Exploring the links from the sticky in this forum for various fixes, it appears that there have been potentially critical issues with things like radiators failing without warning, grenading fan blades, grenading water pumps with subsequent engine failure (with the suggestion, apparently that water pumps and radiators should be replaced at 60k intervals), replacing MAF's (2?) every 100k, or having to go through a tedious cleaning procedure with risk of damaging them, replacing cats at 100k, engine damage due to top-end gasket leaks or something like that... and if the links are any indication, a near endless litany of potential things to fail or needing care to take the car up to 200k or more.

    Please don't take any of that as criticism, it would just seem that there are a variety of common issues that didn't seem to plague the earlier generations of BMW's - and as such, I would guess you'd be well advised to get the best insight you can about them. Obviously you wouldn't want to get stuck midway between home and O'fest (or wherever) because you had no idea the radiator was destined to blow without forewarning.

    I would think other long-time E39 owners would have worthwhile insight and experience to share. Check it out for yourself, I'm just relaying generally a few things I found cruising the listed E39 DIY links over on bf.c

    And none of that is to imply a lack of track-worthiness; I think it's simply the case that the later generation BMW's are more complicated machines, and therefore, potentially more maintenance-intensive.

    IF you look into all that and for instance, decide you want to replace your radiator, Zionsville Autosport, for one, looks like they have some really nice all-aluminum radiators. Pricey though - you can judge if it's worthwhile for your purposes.
    http://www.zionsvilleautosport.com/store/screen/prod/store_code/6134/product_code/E39SDCKII.htm

    I'm still hemming & hawing about liking the idea of a 300hp V8 & six-speed vs. the presumed maintenance expense and hassle. :p Pretty car, though.
    • Member

    dmmai

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    540i - Track use - Pros and Cons

    To be sure, track use opens up a whole can of worms in terms of maintenance and costs. The 540i is one of my favorite models, in terms of appearance and driving. I've really enjoyed it in the hill country and plan to keep it for a while. We can easily pack for a two week vacation in it. The V8 has delightful torque, both for easy pulling out of corners and for downshifting into them. It even gets reasonable gas mileage (24-26 mpg). Our 335xi is slightly quicker but isn't actually quite as fun to drive in the twisties, at least in my hands. Of course, that's street/highway use I'm talking about ... not track use. I'm just not sure if it's going to be money well spent over the long haul serving double duty in the 540. By the way, we can't use her 335 since it's a lease car.

    I've considered getting a more dedicated track toy (E36 M3 or the like) but there is a whole long list of things to deal with there when you turn down that road. I played that game with drag racing an eon ago and again, later with autocross. Really don't need that again...

    Any way, thanks for your thoughts.

    D
    • Member

    Dmarque

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    E39 Track Car...

    D:

    Resounding late but the 2011 driving season hasn't started yet so I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in.

    Been driving 5 series Bimmers steadily since 1980 and currently own a 2003 540 M-Sport 6 Spd. I attended a driving school presentation dinner last week as I am exploring the same things you are in taking my Msport to the track. While these first sessions will likely be just about technique and driving hard is unlikely there are a few things that need to be addressed. The previous respondent was cautioning you about the radiator. I highly second that point. I have made a number of corrections in the last year on my own car and the radiator was surely one of those. Evidently most of the E39 series will have a major radiator repair before 90,000 miles. If you have been lucky so far...don't assume that you'll get through a track day without risking a radiator event. If you are going to take the e39 to more than one track event then I have been advised upgrading my brakes to larger pads is the most important addition. Another issue that I was advised to consider is heavier sway bars. While this car of mine is incredible as a driving vehicle the smaller series cars are probably better for track use. Personally, I just want to see what I might learn about improving my driving technique. If I want to actually spend more time at the track on this then I will have to decide if I wish to acquire yet another car for that purpose. For now I am still pleased to own and care for this incredible M-Sport......I just want to be sure that she has a driver worthy of her impressive credentials. The driver school is that first step. Beyond that I will see what inspirations are generated from this first and long overdue track session.
    • Member

    brucembergeron

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    D.

    My recommendation is sign up for an Advanced Driving course, and then, as soon as possible, sign up for a High Performance Driving School. You will learn how capable your E39 is right out of the box. It won't be the fastest, and it will not corner as flat as the other cars, but you will have a great time, and your car can handle it (assuming it has been properly maintained). If you really enjoy it you can spend some money on the suspension and tires. After that maybe some higher quality brake pads.

    I have a E39 touring and enjoy a few track days each year. My car has a Dinan suspension kit and engine upgrade, and Michelin Pilot Sports. It works surprising well.

    Good luck.
    • Member

    AJWhite

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    Good luck at the track guys. I hope you will let us know how things progress with the 540's.

    That is some good information re: brakes.

    My 540 has been through one set of cooling system replacement(s), before I took possession (60k mi), and I replaced the valley pan gasket at 90k. I am about to turn 100k and am almost afraid to drive. The Zionsville change out is looking like the LT plan.
    • Member

    MGarrison

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    A clarification - the only way you'd fit _larger_ brake pads would be replacing whatever you have with different calipers and rotors that would use larger pads. For anyone just trying their first track event, I'd say the most important thing is to have the vehicle properly tech-ed and prepped for the weekend. Brake fluid flushed, and a new set of brake pads front and rear, but on in enough time to get them bedded in before hitting the track. 100-200 miles of driving should do that.

    For a beginning event, I don't know that I'd suggest doing anything more than using a higher-performance brake fluid, such as ATE Super Blue, or Motul, which have a high boiling point. I wouldn't suggest race pads, but if one wanted something other than stock pads, then perhaps just the next step up, something like a Metal Master or Hawk HPS, for instance (always carry an extra set of pads for a track weekend, just in case - no point in going home early just 'cause you started to run out of pad). After that, I'd consider stainless brake lines.

    Unless suspension pieces needed replacing as a matter of course, I'd suggest get the first few track events under your belt with the car in fairly stock form, and with some experience in hand after that, start considering upgrades, or decide if that's the path you want to take with the car (you may decide you want to track something other than your daily-driver fiver, for instance).

    If you do opt for upgrades, after brakes, consider wheels/tires, and then suspension or engine mods. In other words, don't just jump on the upgrade bandwagon without getting some time in with the car 'as-is', and then you'll have a better sense of what you want to do, and why.

    Most importantly, have a safe & fun time at whatever events you get to! :)
    • Member

    dmmai

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    540i Sport - Track questions

    Wow, such timing ...

    I was at Heartland Park this weekend for the Porsche Club races and DE. Just a spectator and stand-by wrench this time. I talked with several people about the 540 and got many of the same recommendations posted by you folks.

    I haven't done any work on the car over the winter. Some family and business issues kept me out of the garage until just recently.

    Dmarque, thanks for your reply. I echo your thoughts on motives for the occassional track day with my 540. I got my share of racing in another age. I just would like to keep some of the natural skills up and I think a track day every now and then would help do that. Not to mention, putting a great big smile on my face.

    Bruce and MGarrison both touched upon getting my feet wet before jumping into a lot of upgrades. Sound advice. That's how I approached racing earlier in life. From what you and AJ said however, I think the radiator upgrade might be a smart move (short term and long term). And, stopping this porker is still a concern. Brakes will definately receive attention (flush / pads) before a track day.

    The car still feels tight and handles quite well. I don't think bushings, etc. will be needed beforehand, but the tech inspection will ultimately determine that. We'll be in the Ozarks in a little over a week for a much needed get-away, touring with some friends in BMWs through the hill country. The 5er is in it's element there. Such fun.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience.
    • Member

    Dmarque

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    MGarrison: Thanks for the cautionary remarks. Yes, I wasn't planning on a pad only change but a full Bemco replacement and only after I've had the initial comparative stock experience. The last year this car has been gone over with a fine tooth comb by a track oriented mechanic. I'm certain that she is ready....time to tune the driver!!

    I'm just not sure that an expensive Bemco modification along with the added beefed up sway bars etc is smart money spent when ultimately an M-Coup or M-3 is a better initial platform. I'd like to save this 540 M-Sport for it's original intended usage. After all they made so few of them. For now I just want to wet my whistle and see things at a closer vantage point. I'll meet some people who are up to their necks in it and decide if an initial training session is enough to temporarily satisfy...... or if it might become a longer term passion. Appreciate the knowledgeable input....
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    AJWhite

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    Hey guys! Any updates on your track experiences so far this summer? Hopefully everyone has been safe and sound. Good luck if you are still getting ready for the events. Otherwise, lets hear about it. Please.

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