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Is a Strut Brace Worth It?

When it comes to car modifications, strut tower braces have been the topic of many a great debate on the Internet. Whether for street use, track use, or additional chassis reinforcement on an already stiff and caged race car, the question always comes up: Is a strut brace worth it?

Yes, you need a strut brace!
“Yes! You need a strut brace. Trust me! You’ll feel it working!”

There are those who will argue to the e-death that they can feel a noticeable improvement in chassis stiffness and suspension control with a strut tower brace installed, and there are those who refuse to even look at strut bars because they believe they’re nothing more than engine bay bling and eye candy. There’s plenty of conjecture, but it’s extremely hard to find any actual facts to back up claims from either side. Since we love to have actual data to make an informed decision or recommendation, we turned off the proverbial butt dyno and decided to measure the actual amount of strut tower deflection on a BMW. What can we say? We like to go the extra mile – and we like learning just as much as we like sharing knowledge.

No, strut braces don't do anything!
“No! A strut brace is a worthless piece of eye candy. I couldn’t feel anything!”

 

When in doubt, test!

Spec E46 testing
Our Spec E46 330i was the test subject

While plenty of people like to run strut tower braces on street cars, we wanted to get measurements on something that would see much more severe duty, so our test car was our BimmerWorld Spec E46 BMW 330i, and we used both Lime Rock Park and the full course at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). VIR gave us the most usable data since it has elevation change and some significant high-loading features that really put a chassis through a workout. Plus, it’s our home track, and we’re intimately familiar with the layout.

Strut-tower-deflection-data-setup

Testing was conducted without a strut bar in place to determine “the problem” that a strut bar would otherwise solve. Nick Large, BimmerWorld’s Product Development Engineer, configured the onboard AiM MXL2 data system to include linear potentiometers in several locations/configurations to measure distance changes between points. After recording on-track data, we filtered out some level of noise with an exponentially weighted moving average, or for those of us who aren’t engineers, that means data smoothing, which gives us a cleaner look at the data. You can see the results in the graph below.

BimmerWorld SE46 Strut Tower Deflection Data from VIR
(Click image to view the full-size graph)

The Delta Distance on the graph measures the change in distance between the tops of the strut towers, so a positive number means the towers are spreading apart while a negative number means the towers are getting closer together. Note that the measurements are in millimeters, or more specifically tenths of millimeters. As a rule of thumb, the distance increases during cornering because the load on the tire is twisting the top of the inside tower away from the vehicle center line, and the distance decreases under braking and over bumps because the towers twist simultaneously and in opposite directions. If you know the layout of VIR well enough, the annotations allow you to understand the trends and see how they correlate to certain sections on the track.

The data was gathered over many laps, with every lap showing incredibly consistent deflection numbers, and as you can see, the movement in this measurement location is minimal on this particular car. A strut bar, or any other structural member, provides strength almost exclusively in this tension/compression range, and most E30/E36/E46 BMWs exhibit movement purely laterally across the strut towers, as our measurements reflect. Further testing of additional locations showed similar minimal movement, although those locations wouldn’t typically be affected by an aftermarket strut bar regardless.

 

So, is a strut brace worth it?

That brings us back to the main question: Is a strut brace worth it? The scientific answer is, “It depends!” Based on the data from our specific Spec E46, this car didn’t need one on this particular test day.

But that isn’t the comprehensive answer, and from experience, we know there is a need in some cars. Why is that? BMW is iterative in their chassis design, and part of the added weight of each new chassis is the added stiffness. The older, lighter, and more flexible E30 definitely needs a strut brace, which we know from the high number of racers with collapsing strut towers that are actually pushing together with age; a strut tower brace solves this! And one hard concept to accept is that everything wears out over time, including the metal chassis of a car, so even newer models will likely head down this path eventually with enough mileage, age, and pounding on the street or track.

We’ve also seen other E46 cars bend strut tower braces, which was the catalyst for this experiment, so there is clearly something moving. But remember, standard strut braces help in tension and compression, not bending, so while there is movement, a strut brace really didn’t help much in the cars where we saw damage. And why was there movement? The example cars we saw had been hit previously in the front, weakening the spot welds or sheet metal. If our test car were older, in worse shape, or if it had any broken spot welds in the strut tower, then a strut brace would help.

People ask why we don’t recommend strut braces for all cars. Easy answer – not every car requires one, and we don’t believe in pushing products you don’t actually need. But there are certainly situations where BMWs benefit from having a brace.

E46 strut tower brace

So, what about installing a high-quality, single-piece strut brace like the Rogue Engineering Race Brace to simply add reinforcement to the strut towers – the prevent a problem before it happens approach? That could certainly be a benefit, as it may very well help to disperse the energy from potholes, bumps, and severe cornering loads (especially when running camber plates). Anything you can do to help distribute loads and avoid deformation of the strut towers is a plus, but there are less expensive ways to do that if you don’t need a strut brace – BMW’s factory strut tower reinforcement plates being a prime example. The minimal movement shown in our test graph proves to us that a strut brace would be most beneficial if you have an older car or tired chassis with noticeable flex and/or pre-existing issues. Then you may get the intended benefits of the brace with the added insurance against strut tower deformation.

Ultimately, we’d like to perform this same test after five years of racing with this car. While the movement in our graph is minimal, it may certainly be enough to have a fatigue effect over time. According to James Clay, who once had his finger stuck between the main hoop of a cage and the B-pillar for part of a lap by accident (ouch!), this would likely be no more fatigue than the entire metal chassis of the car would suffer from. So it becomes a question of the added weight from an extra part (weight is normally considered the enemy) versus the potential long-term benefits. That’s not as easy to answer.

Hyperfest 2016 VIR BMW

HyperFest at VIR 2016

Something for Everyone

HyperFest at VIR has been the East Coast event for motorsports enthusiasts for 15 years, and this year’s event was no different. Whether you like road racing, drifting, HPDEs, karting or off-road racing, or even if you prefer car shows, camping, lawn mower racing or just spectating while celebrating your love of cars, HyperFest has something for everyone.

With VIRginia International Raceway being in our own backyard, and with our lust for all things fast, our participation goes without saying.

 

Friday – Testing & Practice Repairs

The HyperFest weekend officially starts on Friday. While most attendees who are set to compete through the weekend are  there to test and practice for the racing events, this is also the big day for the Tire Rack Ultimate Track Car Challenge (UTCC) presented by Grassroots Motorsports. Since this is an all-out battle with a wide variety of cars showing up to fight for the title of Ultimate Track Car, multiple awards get handed out at the end of the day. BimmerWorld was proud to present the Fastest BMW award to Joey Atterbury in his incredibly quick widebody 135i that put down a 1:50.486, making it the third fastest car in that event.
BimmerWorld Porsche GT2
James Clay had the honor of piloting the “Widow Maker” GT2 with 800Hp of high-strung Porsche power. 

James drove Alex May’s 800Hp Porsche GT2 in Friday’s UTCC, and he was also the head of our small BimmerWorld team intending to use Friday to test and practice in the No. 46 BimmerWorld Spec E46. Unfortunately, we got sidelined with a transmission that needed replacing, but because BMW racers are such an incredibly generous and helpful group, we were able to find a transmission to borrow for the weekend… Only to find out the borrowed transmission would need replacement, too. That’s racer’s luck, but thanks to John Kopp from RaceWerkz in Virgina Beach and one of his very kind customers, we were able to get another transmission delivered by Friday night. Brandon and Q were able to dig in and get the working transmission installed successfully by Saturday morning.

 

Saturday – Let the Motorsports Mayhem Begin!

Saturday was off to a great start with the new-to-us transmission installed and ready to go. Well, it was almost off to a great start. If Friday’s events weren’t enough proof of how great our group of racer friends is, Saturday sure was. We quickly realized we had a bad shifter, selector rod, and selector rod joint, but we were able to borrow some parts from Sri Haputantri of Sri Racing, LLC to help get us sorted, and we were lucky to have Chad Morehead of Morehead Motor Works parked next to us in the paddock, as he was happy to lend a helping hand to get the repairs completed in time.

Cameron Evans had to miss out on Saturday’s qualifying session due to the repairs, but he did manage to slip in a quick test lap in order to make sure everything on the Spec E46 BMW 330i was working properly. Maybe that was just the pressure he needed, as Cameron started in 15th but managed to work his way up to 5th place before the checkered flag came out. James continued with Cameron’s momentum by taking a 1st-place finish later that day in the PTB class with the SE46 car.

One of the many great things about HyperFest is that there’s plenty to see and do when you’re not on track, so we managed to get a few friends together to explore the HyperFest party. We caught some of the drifting action on the Patriot Course and between turns 3, 4, and 5a when they moved to the Full Course later in the day. Plenty of tire smoke and good times.

Hyperfest 2016 drifting

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

BimmerWorld Spec E46 SE46
No. 46 BimmerWorld SE46 all shined up and ready to race!

Any day you don’t have to rush to replace parts on your race car is a good one, so Sunday was a great day. The weather was constantly changing from warm and sunny to cold and overcast and back again, so we were chasing down a good setup to get us the quickest lap times we could find. With James racing in SE46 and Cameron in PTB, both drivers started in P3 for the respective races. James fought his way to the front and had an incredibly tight battle with Ali Salih who squeezed in a photo-finish first place by just 0.004 of a second! Cameron fought hard in PTB, too, and was able to hold on to his starting position with a 3rd-place finish. There was plenty of on-track excitement, and it all worked out for some great racing and exciting finishes across the board.

Between all the racing, spectating, and promoting of our BimmerWorld contingency programs, we somehow managed to slip in enough time to connect with several of our customers and racer friends. Okay, maybe it was the racing that was slipped in with the socializing, but either way… We found plenty of time to do everything we love, and while there were some huge downpours of rain, the track stayed dry for all the “HyperFestivities,” so it was a great weekend all around with plenty of good times on track and off.

 

Event Gallery by James Clay

Awesome iPhone Gallery by Brandon Marshall

IMG_5725

BimmerWorld Club Racing School at VIR – 2016

It’s no secret that we love BMWs, especially when it comes to enhancing their performance. Before you can truly appreciate a BMW on track, you have to learn to fully exploit driver performance. That’s where HPDE addiction begins, and, for many BMW drivers, that often evolves into club racing. And we love being involved through every step of the process to the sport and community that has given us so much enjoyment over the past couple of decades!

The BMW CCA Club Racing Schools are the next step for an experienced driver to learn advanced skills, even if racing isn’t immediately (or at all) on your horizon.  BimmerWorld became the title sponsor of this program near it’s inception in 2008 – having learned to race in the years before this existed, and largely through the school of hard knocks, BimmerWorld owner James Clay found that the school gave drivers a tremendous amount of knowledge and provided a much higher level of safety for our friends and customers – both to the participants and those that they would grow to race against as a well-trained rookie.  With 27 students at the VIR event, many of whom went on to race that very same weekend, the school was a great success.

VIR Thursday night race school party
Nothing beats some good grub and tasty beverages with friends while enjoying the Thursday night race school party at VIR.

VIR CR School graduate and racer Bill Schachat
VIR Club Racing School graduate Bill Schachat, proving to his friends that he not only took the school, he also went on  to race that same weekend along along with 8 other graduates.

It was a great weekend for all involved, and we were very happy by the number of students who participated, let alone the great number who turned around and made this their first club racing weekend with BMW CCA.  For more information on the BimmerWorld Club Racing Schools, visit the CR school page of the BMW CCA Club Racing site. For more information on how to transform your street car into a weekend track warrior or to set your track car up as a championship winning race car, contact us by phone or email.


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