Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Calvin Chan (CAR) / Sergio Mordo (@teampartout)
Published: September 19, 2016
CAYUGA, Ontario - The enthusiast community is a tough community and we face a lot of hardships, particularly in Canada where soaring exchange rates and shipping costs kill almost any deal south of the border. Moreover, these high costs make it hard on businesses who want to cater to the aftermarket community – it’s hard to find a good installer you can trust, and even harder to find a store that carries the aftermarket parts you want. How do I know? Because I’ve been salivating over parts for Project 1 all through the summer.
But hardships bring people closer together, and few communities are quite as tight knit as the enthusiast crowd. During hot summer nights, local meets permeate the city. Owners spend all weekend pouring over every nook and cranny of their car with a microfiber cloth. As Mr. Miyagi says, it’s all about “wax on, wax off” for that extra clean look at the Thursday night spot where gearheads gather each other’s cars and builds.
Alpha Motorsports, an aftermarket company located in Markham, Ontario, takes the best of both worlds and blurs the line between vendor and community member. Though I’ve never bought anything from them, the owner Mohammad (or Mo) has done a tremendous job answering my inquiries and surprising me with the breadth of parts that they can get their hands on. But he’s always imagined Alpha Motorsports to be more than just a place for enthusiasts to get their parts from. To prove it, he invited us out to a private track event at Toronto Motorsports Park.
Meeting bright and early at Alpha’s HQ in Markham – 7:15AM on a Friday no less – I pulled into the lot expecting to see a hodgepodge collection of Civics, Miatas, and E36’s (popular choices for track toys). What greeted me was a far more serious clientele. A handful of kitted out FRS/BRZs, 911 GT3s, Cayman GT4s, and a serious set of BMW M3/4s.
Suddenly, Project 1 looked as out of place as Donald Trump in a Hillary Clinton rally. Nevertheless, we were eager to test out the car on the circuit with its new brake and coilover set up – that’s right, shortly after our bouncy track day around Canadian Tire Mosport park, we ripped out the Neo Motorsports in lieu of a set of KW Street Comforts. For brakes, we swapped out the stock rotors for a set of slotted StopTech rotors and Centric brake pads (admittedly, the pads were aimed for the street).
With the ride height dialed in, the car felt much comfier on the pot hole ridden streets of Toronto, and felt sportier too as it hunkered down in the corners. Taking it around the track wasn’t in the books, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see some real track rats put their cars to the test – and get a ride in some of them.
The ride to Cayuga, Ontario passed surprisingly quickly despite the morning rush hour traffic. It was looking to be one of the hottest days of the summer as temperatures soared past 30 degrees Celsius as we reached the track. Within seconds of parking, drivers began shedding extra cabin weight. Motor cowls, seats, trim, spare tires littered the pits and the sound of power tools filled the air as others began to swap their wheels for ones with grippier R-compound tires.
Meanwhile, Calvin and I watched the pandemonium and wondered what we were going to do for lunch…or even a drink of water for that matter.
After a quick driver’s meeting where Mo briefed us on safety, the cars began attacking the track at full force. Easing Project 1 on the track, I took my time during the first two laps getting familiar with the course, spotting the apexes and learning the braking zones.
By lap three, the drawbacks of the street oriented modifications were evident. The brakes were toast, and the smell was slowly suffusing the cabin. I gently nursed the car into the pits and was just about to park when another member of the cohort told me to take the car through a cool-down lap or two before parking it. Enthusiasts helping enthusiasts, that’s what I love about this community.
I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to give the car a rest and check out what the other folks had brought. The Cayman GT4 – owned by Alpha’s co-founder Ivan – caught my eye in particular. Equipped with a set of BBS E88 racing wheels the car looked right at home on the track. Mo’s Nissan R35 GT-R did too with a Voltex wing that put every single STI owner to shame.
We had the track booked from 9AM until 5PM. That’s a full day of high octane fun. It’s rare that you get an entire race track to a small crowd. It was the perfect opportunity to really put the 135i through its paces and see what needed to be done.
Let’s begin with the suspension: Through the slower section of the track (particularly turns 2-5) the car really wants to understeer. The front end just keeps on pushing and the dampers are far too soft for the circuit. Body roll feels almost like a ship pitching and yawing. To curb this, we think a set of M3 control arms, M3 front sway bar, and a set of camber plates will help reduce the understeer. A fresh set of R-compounds will help reduce that further.
The drivetrain felt solid and withstood the beating the car took all day in the 30+ degree heat. If track days become a regular thing for Project 1, we’ll have to consider an upgraded oil cooler as the gauge did tip past 120 degrees a few times during the day.
Finally, a short shift kit is a must on the car. Down shifts felt incredibly vague and the travel was longer than a flight to Hong Kong. More concerning was the lack of clarity between gates making you second guess what gear (if you were even in one) you were in.
Ivan was kind enough to give me a couple of laps around the track in the GT4 just as the GT-R decided to step on the track. Things got heated rather quickly and before I knew it, some excellent driving was going on between Mo and Ivan. It was the perfect opportunity to experience first hand how a proper track car should behave. Barely any body roll through the corners and the brakes stopped you so quickly you’d swear the Recaro seats were going to come off its rails and throw you out the window.
While that’s not the goal of Project 1, it certainly puts things into perspective of what we’d like to see from our little project. Mo, Ivan, and the rest of the Alpha Motorsports crew were gracious hosts and gave us first hand experience that they aren’t just here for a simple transaction of money for parts. Rather, the entire company is here to celebrate the enthusiast community simply because they are members of the community too. And that’s a good feeling when you buy parts from folks who really know what they are doing.