Into 2016 – New year, new circuits!

After a short winter laid up, it was time for the car to meet its new stablemate – gone is the red E46 328i, and in its place a much bigger and much more V8-powered 645Ci. Apparently shocked by this development, the E36 wouldn’t start, but it was purely a battery issue and a quick jump from the big Six was plenty to get it running.

I dropped the oil out, for no real reason other than I felt it deserved it after 18 months and just over a thousand track miles.. Came out still golden and feeling as smooth as new, which impressed me and justified the choice of Mobil 1 0W/40 quite nicely. Then it was time to sample a new circuit, and a new car at the same time:

Oulton Park, with Adam’s RX-8. I like this photo, because we have two ubiqitous bargain track-day cars next to each other, with very 90s German styling next to very 00s manga. We also have 228,000 miles in the shot – four-fifths of them on my car!

Oulton is a glorious circuit, and if you’ve never been I really recommend it. The elevation and camber changes, the bumps and dips in inopportune places, and the views out of the side window all add so much to the experience. It demands respect and I’ve seen many a well-driven race car end up in the wall here, but it’s fabulous.

We split the day, driving the Mazda in the morning and the E36 in the afternoon. For a standard road car, I was very impressed with the RX-8. It felt nicely balanced, the pedal layout and weighting was decent, the gearshift good and the engine constantly begging to be revved out. It needed more serious brake pads in it and the chassis felt a touch too soft when you started pushing really hard, but a very pleasant thing to drive on track and certainly a good starting point. It did feel a little gutless, mind – despite an alleged 40bhp advantage and very similar weight and gearing, the E36 outpaced it down the straights. It was only later I found out that even a very strong “231bhp” engine in one of these is lucky to produce 200.

Getting back into the E36 felt strange, by comparison it’s actually a bit of a nightmare ergonomically, but it all made sense again once I started to drive it properly. The car felt great and ran without fault for 45 laps in the afternoon. This was the first chance I’d had to do sustained sessions in the dry with my Mintex 1155 front and 1144 rear pads, and I was impressed to find no fade whatsoever. The rears were shot by the end, but the total of 740 track miles they managed is pretty good for £58!

The last run of the day brought me one of the best driving experiences I’d had so far.  I went out behind acquaintances in a K-series Elise, a Toyota-engined Elise and an N/A VX220 and chased them down – the car felt brilliant, and being able to drive it right to the limits of performance on a beautiful circuit was a real pleasure.

I’d happily relive this run every day!

My fastest lap around Oulton’s Island layout was a 1’49.3. For reference, the best we could get out of the RX-8 was a 2’01.6, but with a passenger and a couple of seconds lost behind an Elise at the end of the lap. A clean solo run might have seen a 1’57 or so. That’s a far bigger performance gap than it feels from the driver’s seat, and speaks volumes about the E36’s potential.

A fantastic start to the year. Next up would be yet more brakes, Bedford again, and another sprint…