Even though the E46 M3 is coming up on its 20th birthday, it still feels like a classic, straightforward driver’s car. It doesn’t muddle the driving experience with forced induction, four-wheel-drive, or anything like that. A well-sorted E46 M3 can, even today, punch above its weight. In an era where 600 horsepower doesn’t strike anyone as strange, the last of the atmospheric-six powered M3s can still hold its own and pass much more powerful machinery — provided the talent is there.
Louis, an avid track rat in his early-twenties, chose this platform and has modified it sensibly over the last few years to make it a real weapon. While not hugely powerful, the M3’s focused character gives it incredible cornering and braking performance — sometimes, that’s enough.
Attention to the Right Areas
Stripped and caged, this build omits everything that has no business being at a track day. Even the dash, doors, mirrors, and roof were replaced with carbon items. Inside, a Sparco Pro ADV seat (later replaced with an OMP seat), an OMP wheel, and a carbon dashboard round out the rest of the modifications to the spartan interior. In total, these weight-saving measures bring the formerly chunky M3’s total weight to just 2,975 pounds.
In addition to a lightweight frame, the sorted footwork is the other half of what makes this car able to run with more powerful machines. Adjustable tie-rods, H&R sway bars, and AST Moto three-way coilovers suspend the vehicle; a set of ducted Porsche 997 GT3 brakes with AP Racing discs stop it — very quickly. Of course, decent tires are a must, so Louis uses 265-section Pirelli DH slicks for the grip needed to out-corner, out-brake, and close the gap to a Porsche 997 Turbo with nearly twice the power.
The BMW’s S54 benefits from nothing more than a remap and a CSF radiator, which yields a respectable but not world-shattering 355 horsepower. In contrast, the Porsche 997 Turbo is a monster. We can see how tentative its owner is when trying to deploy some 600 horsepower at corner exits; it’s enough to get a skilled driver into trouble. Once he musters the courage to floor it, it’s rendered a small black speck on the horizon. Since there are three lengthy straights at Circuit Paul Ricard, it might seem that Louis stands no chance, but courage and talent go a long way there, too.
An Edge in Cornering
The straight-line disparity would separate most drivers in this predicament, but Louis is on a committed charge. By braking late and out-accelerating the four-wheel-drive Porsche at the exit of Ricard’s Turn 9 (where the two cars are side by side), you can see Louis is on top of his car, while the man in the Porsche isn’t quite.
It’s mainly the difference in braking that proves this, as the distances Louis claws back under the binders deserve an award. Considering the admittedly heavier 997 Turbo wears similar brakes to the ones he’s using; it’s fair to say threshold braking makes the difference. Watch as the yellow stripe at the top of his OMP wheel shows minute corrections as the car gently jitters under braking.
Braking is only one of the tricks up Louis’s sleeve. Because the Porsche can carry decent cornering speed in some of the faster sections, Louis drops his outside tires onto the rumble strip before the daunting high-speed Turn 10 (1:24), where guts matter. He maximizes the radius to carry as much speed as possible. Before the Porsche can get back to throttle at the apex, Louis is 30-feet closer. That’s trust in the driver ahead, trust in the car, and the skill needed to balance the Bimmer at higher speeds.
Though both drivers used a similar line up until this point, it’s in Turns 12 and 14 (1:52 and 2:12, respectively) where the Porsche follows an odd defensive line. It’s an awkward move, and even though Louis is clearly quicker through these two corners, the bizarre shape and sequence make it hard to find a way past. Louis prefers to take things more casually here — and it proves wise.
Returning to the final corner on the following lap, it seems the Porsche driver has grown oblivious. As Louis tries to sneak around the outside, he’s pushed off the road. Whether it is intentional or not isn’t certain, but Louis is wiser than his years would suggest for giving the car a wide berth. Had he not, that encounter might’ve ended with a hefty repair bill.