Performance Mods: Beginners Edition

You finally bought an enthusiast car and probably done your first track day in its stock form. Since you’re here it is likely rather slow, and you have already mastered its potential; which to be fair is not a lot. Going faster by modding your car is very exciting but also very daunting. Amongst so many ideas from people far and wide, we’re here to guide you straight through the basics of greatness.

Lightness is key

Heavy objects do not move well and require a greater force to get them in motion. They’re also tougher to keep going in the direction you want. Similarly your engine has to work harder to get you moving, wasting fuel and power carrying extra mass. This is where weight reduction kicks in!
Most cars can be lightened to quite an extent, even more so if the car in question is meant to be luxurious. Start with the interior: Rear seats, carpet lining and door trims are not a necessity in the race car, so out they go, saving around 15 kg’s or more.
Assuming we’re building a track-only car and possess enough mechanical knowledge, ditch creature comforts and electricals: Heater matrix, airconditioning, fans and the relevant wiring and piping should bring the numbers down by another 20 kg’s. Swapping out the front seats for good bucket seats is always a good idea, but this one costs money.

A partially stripped car interior

Before Power, add Grip and Braking

Power is of no use if you can not put it down right, and once you go fast, you need to slow down as well. Cars also need to turn and that is what we need to do better. Faster cornering will make a lot more difference than going faster in a straight line.

Photo by serjan milidi on unsplash

Hence buying the right tires is important, especially if you happen to be a newbie. Summer Tires are better at traction but happen to loose all grip and spin out instantly as opposed to all seasons; which maintain a predictable pattern of loosing grip. If you happen to have a good pair of all-season tires, keeping them might be helpful. With that out of the way, there are two major factors: Width and sidewall.

  • Width: As a general rule of thumb, wider wheel and tire combination gives more grip since there’s more contact area. Having too wide of a setup may prove harder to turn, and might understeer with the wrong setup. Here what matters is the ratio of width of front to the rears. The same size wheel and tire combo on all corners will balance out the car. On a RWD vehicle, skinnier fronts and thicker rears (ie. 245 vs 285) in comparison will end up more understeer-y than generally similar sized tires (ie. 285 vs 305), which gives more chance of oversteer. The idea conversely fits to FWD cars. There are more factors, of course, such as suspension setup, but we’ll let the pro’s tinker with that for now.

  • Sidewall: Sidewall is the visual wall on the side that makes for the “height” of the tire above the rim. The more sidewall there is, the more the tire can be squished on bumps and jumps. A lower profile tire (ie. less sidewall) gives sharper handling, but tend to snap out of traction. Depending on your race category and track, either can be advantageous. Rally cars tend to use a high profile, small rim combination while cars racing on smooth track tend to run low profile tires. Achieving a middle ground would work better than setting up in a specific manner.
Photo by Julian Hochgesan on Unsplash

Engine Mods: Everyone’s favorite

Now this is where the fun begins. It is also the most complicated part of what we’ve discussed so far. Sticking to the basics, there’s three steps in an engine, just like every other task. Input, process, output.

  • Input: How much and how easily does the engine suck in air and fuel
  • Process: How does the engine burn and turn
  • Output: How easily do the gases escape.
Photo by Asyrafunk RKTW on Unsplash

Just like humans, engines breathe in and push out. And a better flow always helps. It may not show significant numerical gains on power, but it free’s up the engine and helps with other mods. Thus upgrading the air intake, headers, and part of the exhaust should be on your list.

  • Air Intake: While everyone and their mum attaches some branded air intake and filter setup, they are actually useful. Depending on how it has been done, a wider intake pipe and cone-filter let’s the engine suck in more air to burn. A Short Ram intake is shorter hence reduces the time taken, and stress on engine gulping in air. A cold air intake on the other hand is of greater length but is meant to distance the entrance of air from the engine block; so the air that goes in is colder. Depending on your engine bay, either of the two can be better.
  • Exhaust: Well, no, do not straight pipe it. Not only does that often sound bad, it also looses all back pressure. Deleting your muffler, and in some cases the resonator is a good idea, for both sound and minor improvement in flow of witchcraft gases; just like the intake.
  • Headers: These are the twisty pipes that reside on the lower sides of your engines, taking all combusted stuff from the engine block to the exhaust setup. The stock setup on most cars is a manifold; one sturdy iron block for all the cylinders joining into the exhaust setup.
    Aftermarket headers on the other hand, have one tube per cylinder, They usually do not look symmetrical but cover the same distance. This is to make sure that the distance gases from each cylinder have to cover is the same; this ensures that all the gasses exit at the same time for more efficient release of back pressure at once. Now theres two types of equal length headers: Long-Tube and Shorty’s. It is quite an extensive topic in its own, but to put it short: if you have a turbocharged car, or plan on doing that soon, Shorty’s are the way to go(theyre much direct, and shorter). Long tubes on the other hand are used mostly with NA setups. Although either can be used with an NA car as it just shifts the power band across RPMs.
Photo By Trevor Buntin on Unsplash

Aaand it was that easy! pssst. just reading this was easy. working on cars can be absolute hell”. Now you have gone through the first few steps into the endless hole of modding your car. It’s time to go out there and start wreching. See you at the racetrack!

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