Spec E30 is a category that isn’t easy to master. The cars are underpowered, lively at the rear axle, and not the grippiest cars in existence. They’re not scalpel-sharp, but at a mere 2,700 pounds, they’re fairly responsive. With the right drivers, they can be made to drift around in close quarters. Therefore, they put on a show, demand the driver put everything on the table, and, thankfully, these resilient Beemers are happy to take a beating.
That robustness, in part, is why they’re such popular cars for amateur racers and weekend warriors, though the mechanical parity is another appealing factor. Their simple layout is kept mostly stock, though the series does allow for a few critical improvements. Tire widths are square and limited to 205-sections, with sticky Toyo RRs the accepted tire currently—therefore, the cars tend to border on a slight level of oversteer. When combined with the mandated Bilstein shocks, H&R springs, and Suspension Techniques front swaybar kit, the boxy BMWs turns quite well!
Tuning helps, but it’s not a deciding factor, necessarily. There is some room for camber and toe adjustment to improve upon some of the benign handling traits the street car was designed with, and while the rear sway bar can be adjusted, the front must remain fixed. Essentially, the suspension setup is kept simple to place an emphasis on driver involvement; not chassis tweaking. That strict approach applies to the engine, too.
Where the class is limited somewhat is the engine; the M20 motor doesn’t provide much more than 120 horsepower on a good day, and the mandated stock gear ratios only worsen its straight-line speed. Without much aid in the propulsion department, Mike Skeen needs to avoid too much manhandling to keep the car from breaking away; its rear suspension design has some issues in the toe department, and so the Spec E30 is prone to snap-oversteer at speed. Skeen’s subtle touch keeps his car planted, and only over certain curbs does the rear begin to yaw.
By keeping a healthy gap between himself and the group ahead, he’s never forced to compromise his entry speeds, and can drive at his own pace. It’s a smart way to go about setting a quick lap; Skeen recorded the then-record time on that smooth, unflustered, and relatively composed trip around Virginia International Raceway. Since then, his sparring partner Robert Grace beat his record by a couple seconds—though some of that can be attributed to tire changes in the last few years. They’re both talented drivers and this battle between these two young lions shows they’re very, very close in outright speed.
Nevertheless, it shows that sometimes the quickest laps are the most subtle. Understated, economical and very precise, Skeen never once had to manhandle his Spec E30 to glean the record lap. It seems that, even in a car known for being a little on the nervous side, smooth truly is fast!