Project Car Diaries: Preparing my BMW 128i for the GridLife track at Laguna Seca

A few weeks ago I blogged about my dear 2011 BMW 128i that I would be participating in the GridLife Track Battle taking place at Laguna Seca October 20-22. Fast forward to the beginning of the true fall season – appropriate soundtrack and all – and I only have a few weeks to prepare. Fortunately, there is not much of it Down to prepare, thanks in part to the class I’ll be running in.

This will also be an epic event. Called GridLife Laguna, it will be much more than just a time attack – the schedule will be filled with car shows, drifting, GridLife Touring Cup wheel-to-wheel racing, an e-sports arcade, live music and more. If you’re looking for an engaging weekend of motorsports on one of the best and most beautiful tracks in our country, come have a great time! Tickets are on sale, you can camp at the track, and nearby hotels are quite inexpensive at this time of year.

You may even see me wandering around and hopefully not in the paddock trying to fix a disastrous problem – come say hello! To avoid something terrifying, good preparation gives you peace of mind: that’s my plan of attack for competing on the freshly resurfaced Laguna Seca asphalt.

The big aluminum-magnesium N52 in all its glory. Peter Nelson


After some consideration, I decided that the 128i would be most competitive in ClubTR RWD, a mild preparation class that runs on a special tire: Falken’s Azenis RT660 or RT615. Displacement is limited to 2.5 liters, but there is an exception covering non-M BMW engines. That makes my N52-equipped 3.0-liter steed a solid candidate.

I won’t have to worry about turbocharged cars in the competition, although I expect any number of Miatas, Honda S2000s and Toyobaruses. They all improved my weight and I don’t have any aftermarket aero upgrades, but at least my N52 in its current state is very dynamic. Combined with a good rear differential, strong brakes, good enough suspension and a fresh track setup, the 128i has a fighting chance. Oh, and then there it is I aspect – I have only ridden the Laguna once and that was a few years ago when I was in driving school – I will have the Garmin Catalyst Driving Performance Optimizer to help me get as many tenths down as possible.

Peter Nelson

Better now than later

Between daily duties, tugging and track work, I’ve gotten to know my BMW 128i quite well. So when 1er started showing strange symptoms, I listened carefully and tried to take care of his health.

Occasionally, especially when driving on a particularly hot day, I would start to hear a slight whirring noise. It wasn’t related to rotation, but rather it sounded like the CD drive was spinning – remember that? Then, whenever I released the clutch during this phenomenon, I felt a slight stumble, as if I was a novice at stick control.

Determined not to appear incompetent to passersby, but more to simply know what was going on, I took out my Autel and scanned the codes. Two of them stood out: They didn’t cause the check engine light to come on, but they had to do with the water pump and specifically the speed deviation. I’m pretty sure that meant the rotor speed was different than what the DME (that’s ECU in BMW parlance) was telling it to spin. A quick examination showed that the electric water pump was dying very slowly – it was like the 1er was telling me something was wrong before it went into limp mode, or something much, much worse. So a visit to FCP Euro to purchase a complete water pump and thermostat kit (might as well replace both at the same time) and two to three hours under the front bumper and all was well again – no more noise or slight stumble. In fact, the car seemed to run slightly better than before.

Getting rid of this job was a relief. While I had no service history showing it had been done, nearly 100,000 miles is a long way for a BMW electric water pump to go. They usually die between 60,000 and 80,000 miles, sometimes sooner – I figured they were already worn out at some point.

With peace of mind guaranteed, a few weeks later I changed the oil, bled fresh Castrol SRF brake fluid and installed new Ferodo DS2500 front brake pads. The DS2500 is a great all-rounder; gentle on discs, not too noisy on the street, great life after about six days on the track and plenty of stopping power in sessions.

I then resolved the problem of a broken pin where the front wishbone attaches to the subframe, as I mentioned in my previous blog. It was a quick job and the nearby inner and outer tie rods were then replaced. This was not only for greater peace of mind, but also to try to eliminate the slight squeak in the front that I was trying to pick out. Joy for joy, that seemed to be enough – no more squeaking!

I’m still in the process of assembling the Falkens and setting the new alignment, but I plan to tackle the latter a few days before I leave for Laguna.

Let’s see what this massive BMW can do. Peter Nelson

A type of legacy

I have always really appreciated GridLife. In the summer of 2017, I attended the GridLife Midwest Festival at Gingerman Raceway as a spectator and it was not only an incredibly fun time, but also a great introduction to time attacking.

It’s been great to see the series grow and expand across the country over the years. This year our Andrew Collins and Maddox Kay attended the GridLife Circuit Legends a few months ago at Lime Rock Park and had a great time. Then fellow writer Chris Rosales took part in Streets of Willow as part of GridLife’s Streets Special event this past weekend and scored some gear in his Honda Civic Type R in Street Class.

I’m excited to be competing in this series for the first time at Laguna Seca, representing more Drive and my colleagues on the N52 BMW track, but also six years of consistent tracking. There’s a good chance I won’t be the fastest and I’ll probably be overtaken in terms of vehicle weight, but I’m up for the challenge and I’ll give it my all.

And with that, I set out to watch, re-watch, and continue to watch footage of drivers with more skill than me taking on a fun series of turns reminiscent of the Laguna Seca roller coaster. Come spend the weekend of October 20-22, it will surely be a great time.

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