Pro-Road Racer Pedal Set

Pros: Great looks, much improved heel-toe
Cons: Some required hardware not supplied
Cost: $159.95, plus options, from BMP Design

A popular after market accessory among Bimmer owners is a racy looking pedal set. Most offer a cosmetic advantage only, but a pedal set I saw in BMP Design’s catalog, called the Pro-Road Racer Pedals, offers real practical benefits to drivers who pride themselves on their expert high-performance driving techniques. Unlike most sets I’ve seen, BMP’s Pro-Road Racer Pedals offer an optional heel-toe extension they call the Fast Track. In addition there is a matching dead pedal, also an option. The Pro-Road Racer set costs a not insignificant $159.95, while the Fast Track heel-toe extension is $69.95 and the dead pedal is $75.95. All are CNC machined billet aluminum, the heel-toe extension black anodized while the other pedals are in brushed finish.

For those not familiar with heel and toeing, a brief explanation. The technique is employed when entering a corner to simultaneously brake and downshift in order to put the car in the optimum gear to accelerate through and out of the corner. Smooth downshifts require raising the revs as the shift is made. With one foot on the brake and one on the clutch, a third foot would be useful to “blip” the accelerator! If you don’t have a third foot then the best you can do is to use the right foot to operate both brake and accelerator. At one time racing cars placed their accelerators between the brake and clutch and it was practical to brake with the toe while pressing the accelerator with the heel, thus the term. Now, a true heel-toe motion would require a clumsy, uncomfortable twist of the ankle. A more workable technique on modern cars is to brake with the left side of the right foot while blipping the accelerator with the right side. Assuming that you can physically span the gap between the brake and accelerator here’s how it goes. Place the left side of the right foot on the brake pedal with the right side poised over the accelerator. Depress the clutch pedal with the left foot and blip the accelerator with the right side of the right foot as you downshift, then release the clutch.

Most cars I’ve driven are almost impossible to heel and toe because the brake and accelerator pedals are too far apart and/or because the relative heights of the two pedals doesn’t permit the necessary gymnastics. Apparently BMW engineers have heel and toeing in mind when they determine pedal placement because I’ve never driven a Bimmer which wasn’t fairly easy to heel-toe. As a matter of fact I learned to heel-toe over 30 years ago on my 2002. Still, it would be helpful if the brake and accelerator on my M Roadster were closer together and if the accelerator were just fractionally closer to the same height as the brake pedal. BMP’s Fast Track heel-toe extension does both jobs.

Installation of the pedal set is straightforward. The BMP pedals are attached using provided machine screws and nuts after removing the rubber brake and clutch pedal covers and drilling the factory pedals. The clutch and accelerator are plastic and easily drilled, while the brake pedal is steel and takes a little more effort. The dead pedal is attached to the car’s plastic dead pedal cover using power-drive screws…no drilling required. It turns out that the machine screws provided with the Fast Track heel-toe extension are not long enough to pass through the Fast Track, aluminum accelerator pedal, and plastic accelerator so a quick trip to the hardware store was required. Note that the Fast Track can be installed without the aluminum pedal, if desired, and then the machine screws would be the right length.

Once installed, the new pedals really do the trick. The aluminum brake and clutch pedals are about the same thickness as the stock rubber pedal covers. At the same time, the combined extra thickness of the accelerator pedal cover and the heel-toe extension raise the height of the accelerator to just the right level for easy heel-toeing without a clumsy twist of the ankle, and the increased width of the Fast Track places the pedal right under the right side of my sole. To my eye, the new pedals add a racy new look to the foot well, though I wouldn’t spend too much time looking down there while driving. Meantime, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the heel-toe technique, honing my lost skills by doing heel-toe downshifting even at low speeds. At first I was pretty clumsy, but after a few weeks practice it’s become second nature. Even if you aren’t planning any racing activities, it’s one of the skills which add greatly to the sports car experience. Let the fun begin!

BMW Ultimate Driving Experience

For those of you with a teenage, or soon to be teenage driver, you can now rest easy. You no longer have to fear that your teen will wreck your Z3. BMW has stepped in and saved the day. Thanks to BMW’s generosity, you can know sign up your young driver for a free driving class called the Student Driver Course. This class is offered at the Ultimate Driving Event, which travels across the United States.

Saturday, December 4, I drove up to the Arlington International Racecourse to participate in the Student Driver Course. At 9:15 in the morning, I arrived amid a parking lot full X5s. There were beautiful Bimmers everywhere. Off in the distance, there was the wild scream of a 750iL speeding out of the AIR parking lot. I have never heard such a sweet sounding engine.

After going through registration, I made my way to the Orientation Room. The instructors, all involved in the field of racing, gave a 30 minute speech in vehicle dynamics. The speech alone was more information than I had received in a semester’s worth of Driver’s Education. The instructors discussed how to control a skid and the definitions of understeer and oversteer. The instructors also explained the various benefits and faults of traction control and ABS brakes.

After being divided into three groups, we finally hit the pavement. There are three different exercises we would complete before the class was over. They are as follows:

Emergency Braking:

This exercise has real world implications. Even if you don’t own a BMW, or don’t allow your teenager to drive your Bimmer, there is a lot to gain from this exercise. To begin, we pulled up to the starting line. When instructed, we floored the gas pedal and accelerated to approximately 45 mph. When the instructor’s fingernails were sufficiently dug into the center arm rest, he would tell us to brake.

On my first try, the instructor had me brake 3/4 the way down the straight. On my second try, the instructor had me brake through the turn. I was really impressed by the stability of the car. My mind told me it was impossible to brake hard and turn. But, the 328i stayed right on course. It took a conscious effort not to let off the brake when the ABS engaged. Like most drivers, I knew not to let off the brake, but my mind told me otherwise.

The Skid Mat:

For those of you who live in the Snow Belt, the Skid Mat holds a wealth of knowledge. The Skid Mat is essentially a giant tarp covered in soapy water. To begin, we pulled up to the edge of the mat and then gave the steering wheel 1/4 of a turn. Then we floored the gas pedal and tried to make a full right turn without losing control.

On both tries, I successfully negotiated the Skid Mat. The traction control was flawless, and smoothly back down the throttle. On both tries, I had to counter-steer a bit, although I never felt like the car was going to spin out of control. After my turn was done, I took my position in the back seat. To have some fun with the other driver, the instructor turned off the traction control. Instead of taking the turn, we spun out.

Accident Avoidance

Many drivers, when confronted with an accident ahead, instinctively slam on the brakes. A better solution would be to avoid the accident all together. Often, there isn’t enough time and space to brake. To prove this point, the instructors had us do our own emergence lane changes. To start, we accelerated full-throttle down the straight-away to about 40 mph. Then when we approached the lane change, we swerved quickly, and then braked to a stop.

On my first try, I anticipated too much. Instead of quickly swerving through the cones, I merely “carved” my way through them. The second time around, tried to act as surprised as possible. Another driver was attempting the same exercise. But, he braked as he was swerving to the other lane and really lost it. No harm was done though. In fact, that is the great thing about the Student Driver Course; you can exceed your limits and not do any harm.

Being 17 years old, I am a relatively new driver. I found the Student Driver Course to be an excellent resource. Don’t allow your teenage driver to drive you BMW unless they agree to take this course. Being a BMW fan, and hopefully a future BMW owner, I found this to be the best 2 hours of my life. Hopefully, those 2 hours will make for a lifetime of enjoyable driving. For more information, call BMW at: 1-800-961-4BMW.

Laguna Seca

The Night Before – Preparation time! I checked and topped off all fluids and set the tires to slightly over track psi because there is not air at the track… it is better to have too much then to little. You will adjust these at the track. If you have been running on the same air filter and oil filter for a while you might want to swap these out. Make sure to bring water and possibly some bananas. Tracking is a very tiring de-hydrating exercise and the getting a leg cramp at the wrong time can be fatal! Luckily a friend warned me of this. Unfortunately I wasn’t warned about the need to bring tools. The tech session described below outlines this problem. Don’t forget the helmet and get lots of sleep.

5:30am Alarm – Ouch! I woke up, drove from beautiful scenic Salinas to Laguna Seca. On the way to the track, I filled up the tank of gas. Don’t forget to do this, because track gas, if available at all, is very very expensive! You will use a full tank at an all day track event.

Doug Peete7:00am Laguna Seca Racing Paddock For Tech Session – Here the cars were checked to make sure they are in good working order. Being a guest of the Miata club made things a bit difficult because they didn’t have the tools required to inspect my car. My recommendation to guests at other car make’s events is to make sure you bring a full set of the appropriate sockets and wrenches, a torque wrench and any manuals required to prove you are using the proper torque settings. Also make sure that all of your car’s fluids are at the proper level (don’t overfill) and are not leaking.

Foggy MThe tech session was also a good time to size up the other cars at the event. I would guess that we had nearly 50 cars at the event. While every form of Miata from stock to supercharged was well represented there were also a few other “oddballs”. Namely we had: a vintage Shelby 350, an early ’90’s Mustang 5.0, a C4 Corvette, three Porsche Boxsters, three Honda S2000s, an e36 M3, an e34 M5 and a Ferrari 355. Woohooo! It is very neat watching and listening to the other cars turn laps.

* Some tips for the beginners at their first track event: Remove the floormats and any loose items from the cockpit. I ditched all of the items in the glovebox, the items in the cargo net, the items in my Leatherz armrest, the mobility kit in the trunk and all of the tools.

* The side windows were required by the track to be down. I also found I preferred the top down and I used the tonneau cover to make sure any “agricultural excursions” didn’t result in a dirty liner.

* Ear plugs are highly recommended (yes, in addition to the helmet) as the wind noise will scare you into driving slower due to the perceived speed from the wind noise. Don’t worry, you can hear the engine, brakes and tires just fine with the ear plugs and the helmet.

* Get the tires to the right pressure. I had the tires at 34 psi from the night before and dropped them to 32 psi at the track. Street use for my setup is 30 psi.

* Dig into a banana and water… it is never too early to start hydrating.

8:00am Class – Class consisted mostly of describing proper track etiquette (hand signals for passing and indicating a lowering of speed as well as thanking the corner workers), the flag system in use for our event (my head hurt from cramming in all of the flag meanings) and a short introduction to the instructors. We also were divided up into three groups ranging from first timers (me) in Group C to the old pros in Group A. The entire day was divided into 20-minute sessions that rotated the Group which was on the track.

* To sum up a few points: Our Flag System (Not the definitive flag system!!!):

o Green – go,go,go

o Standing Yellow – proceed with caution & no passing

o Waving Yellow – danger ahead, proceed with caution & no passing

o Blue with Yellow Stripe – passing is okay

o Red and Yellow Stripes – surface problem on track, slow to a stop and await instructions from track worker

o Red – some sort of major problem, slow to a stop and await instruction

o Black – you did a “no-no”, proceed to the pits for a talking to

o Checkered – final lap, no passing cool down lap

* Always give some waves or thumbs up to the corner workers on the final lap. They spend all day in their boring towers keeping your butt safe, so thank them on your cool down lap!

The Starting Grid

9:00am First Lap – The first session is a very slow “follow the instructor lap”. Speeds are kept to under 50mph. The main goal is to learn the proper lines to take on the track. In 20 minutes we were able to get several laps around the track. Tip: In the starting grid try to get as close to an instructor as possible. Remember the “telephone game” where a large group gets into a circle and someone in the circle whispers a message to the person next to them and that person passes the message to the person next to them and so on until the message returns to the recipient. The message never is the same when it returns to the first person… such is the follow the instructor game – the car behind the instructor takes a slightly sloppier line, the next car is sloppier and the next is sloppier still.

Also, the speeds on the first lap are very slow. At slow speeds the lines demonstrated by the instructor don’t make sense and seem exaggerated – they aren’t! At this point the best thing you can do is turn on your mental tape recorder and record the lines… you will be happy later on when you are at speed and the lines begin to make sense. Not following these lines will result in an “agricultural excursion” for you and your car.

The track initially seems docile until the back set of laps starting with a left turn resulting a quick elevation change up, a flat tight ess turn followed three-story plummet of an ess turn known as the Corkscrew. I never knew that racing consisted of elevation changes as well as the usual left/right turns. Driving along on the flat ess and then watching the road literally disappear from sight is an unnerving feeling!

* Some tips for the beginners at their first track event: Never ever set your parking brake following a session. This can cause warped rotors.

* Always give the car a cool down run after the session. I usually took my checkered flag lap at 8/10ths except for 1 or 2 of the turns which I really wanted to work on and then would follow my lap with a slow run around the parking lot inside the track to get the engine and brake temps down.

* Have some more water and chant the following mantra “I will not cramp, I will not cramp…”

9:40am My First Session In An Instructor Car – Ace driver and tuner, Rick Weldon of PR Motorsports – Hayward gave me a ride inside his race-prepped Miata. The car was an early model Miata stripped of many of the interior parts, outfitted with a tuned suspension, a tuned intake and exhaust and ready to roll at just over 2500 pounds and 140hp. A reasonable power-to-weight ratio, but the beauty was watching Rick drive. While there wasn’t any lap timing going on, it was easy to see that Rick’s performance was several seconds faster than ANY CAR on the track… high performance German and Italian metal included. The old adage that the first nut that needs to be tightened is the one behind the wheel is very true. It was hard to notice actual speeds during the white knuckle ride, but Rick was easily able to pile at least another 5 mph on top of my speeds through the Corkscrew!

It was amazing to be in the car with Rick as he told me how to approach each section of track. Again my brain recorder clicked into the Record Mode so that I could attach his sound bytes to my track visuals I was also mentally recorded. Throughout the rest of the day I replayed Rick’s words over and over to encourage myself to find the same smooth flow that Rick showed me on the track. Rick also provided me with one really neat experience… the final lap of our session he told me to narrate the flow of the lap as he had been doing throughout the previous laps. This really helped cement all of his words permanently into my mind. I am not sure if this is a standard instructor tip, but it was an awesome way to prep me for my next lap. Thank you Rick! Tip: Get an instructor ride ASAP so you can feel the right flow around the track! Just following the line in the first lap didn’t give me the insight in to the track that the ride-along gave me.

10:00am My Second Session – No instructor this time. This session was mostly a get acquainted with the track driving session. My laps were slow as I learned the lines and learned how to get a good “scan” (Rick’s vocabulary) of each section. Proper setting up of a turn starts with looking through the turn, then scanning the corner workers for flags, scanning for other cars, and then sighting through the turn again. The scan took some practice to perform initially but quickly became routine and can keep you out of trouble by respecting the corner worker’s flags.

The Starting Grid

10:40am Rick Drives The ///M – Wow! Rick took the wheel of my car and gave me a ride as the instructor of one of the advanced sessions. It was incredible to feel what the car is capable of in the proper hands. Rick seemed very impressed with the capabilities of the car saying that it is a really solid and balanced vehicle. The current limits of the car were more based on the stock pads (he experienced a bit of fade) and tires (he drives DOT approved racing tires on his Miata) and not mechanical. It looks like I know what my next upgrades will be!

11:20am My Third Session – I finally started to get a better feel for the track and was able to begin picking up speed. It was during this session where I began pushing the car into some drifts around turn 2 and turn 3. Despite the Stage I Dinan suspension, I could still feel the car tending to understeer in the drift, causing me to drift farther to the outside of the turns than I wanted (am I just rationalizing the adjustable roll bars in addition to the new pads and tires Rick recommended? Nah!)

On a related note, the engine in this ///M pulls just as bly as any car in the straight aways. On this lap I spent time with both the GT350 and the Ferrari and neither was able to pull an inch on the ///M. Also when I came off the track, several people commented on the exhaust note the car generated. “Your car is the coolest sounding car on the track!!!” Very cool indeed. Apparently the GT350 was louder, but the Dinan Cold Air Intake made an insane growl for the spectators standing in the pits. All this despite UPS losing my Supersprint (yes, it currently is lost… it scanned into Oakland Airport and never made it out), so I was running the stock pipes. I need to get a video camera so I can tape this next time. Anyway, whether the Dinan Stage II chip/Cold Air Intake make any horsepower is mute when these products make the car sound better then the Porsches and Ferraris with which you share the track.

Straightaway1:00pm My Fourth Session – Following lunch, we get our fourth session. Basically things start coming together on this lap. My times were consistently faster and I start learning how to four-wheel drift in turns. Just as I am starting to feel good about my experience an e34 M5 passes me with a 3 passengers in the car. Luckily it was an instructor driving, so I don’t feel too bad, I think an instructor could pass me with a bicycle! Another good reinforcement that it is the driver and not the car that makes for good laps.

My increased speeds and harder breaking really begin to heat up the stock pads. I began to feel a bit of fade towards the end of my laps. In order to avoid the infamous brake rotor warping, I take my checkered flag laps at a slightly lower pace, so the car can breathe. And hey, it is easier to wave “thank you” to the flag workers this way. Also, I drove the car for a slow victory lap around the inner-parking lot following the last lap to further blow cold air onto the brake rotors and the engine.

2:00pm My Fifth Session – The session was late because the Mustang drops some radiator fluid onto turn 3 which promptly sent an M3 and a Boxster into a spin… luckily into runoff areas without any damage. This was a great reminder that even a perfect driver can and will eventually find themselves venturing off the track. Tracking is full of random occurrences and about the only sure thing is that something strange will happen. Pay attention to flag workers and remember how difficult it is to explain to your “significant other” over the telephone that half of the car is in turn 2 and the other half is in turn 3.

After the track was cleaned (I didn’t see how) we began our fifth session. I couldn’t see any remnants of the cleanup, but we were kept under a standing yellow flag for the first two laps. This was a good time to cruise the track reminding myself of the proper line without worrying about speed and other cars. The next laps were some of my best yet, but still far from the laps Rick had in the ///M. Rick offered to sit in with me for a few laps so I pulled in and took him up on the offer. He was able to quickly identify new areas for me to concentrate on and corrected several bad habits. I should have taken him up on the offer sooner in the day since there was only one last track session for me to apply his recommendations to. The specific advice I received is moot… the instructor will give you the advice you need. Make sure you get an instructor to ride with you at least twice in the day (once in the morning to talk you through the track and then once late in the day so they can correct any bad habits picked up throughout the day.

2:35pm The Witching Hour – Late afternoon at track events is commonly called the witching hour. People are tired from running hard all day and are a little too comfortable with the track for their own good. One of the Miata’s in the Group A class (the top class) pushes it too hard in turn 2 and ends up bending a tie-rod. Apparently something always happens during the witching hours, so don’t let it be you. If you find yourself going through the motions, check yourself. Maybe it is a good time to pull into the pits and get some water and a banana!

2:50pm The Last Session – Best laps of the day by far… I even finally got a good line through the backside including the Corkscrew and turn 9, a weird off-camber turn that looks easy but somehow is quite challenging.

3:15pm The Day Is Over – Time to drive back to the East Bay. What a day!

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