If you've recently dipped your toe into the world of amateur autocross racing, you may be excited at the thought of improving your driving agility while spending time in the company of other supportive racing enthusiasts. Unlike other types of racing, autocross provides a less directly competitive environment, encouraging participants to beat the clock rather than setting up head-to-head action. Succeeding against the clock in an autocross race depends upon making your vehicle as agile and quick to corner as possible. What upgrades can help you compete without breaking the bank? Read on to learn more about some inexpensive ways to improve your car's performance on the autocross track.
Wheels and tires
Going from your daily driver wheels and tires to stronger and more lightweight rims and grippier tires can instantly give you more versatility on the track and help you cut seconds off your total course time. First, you'll want to look for a wheel that is simultaneously strong enough to hold your tire through a variety of maneuvers while lightweight enough to allow you to quickly corner or accelerate to speed without being dragged down by extra weight.
Forged aluminum wheels can provide the strength and stability you need to improve your handling over a lengthy course. These wheels are lightweight and made from warmed (not melted) aluminum that is formed into shape with a heavy-duty hydraulic press. Because the aluminum used to construct the wheels remains solid throughout this process, the final product is significantly stronger and less likely to warp or oxidize over time than aluminum that has been melted and cooled into shape.
Low-pressure cast aluminum wheels carry a number of advantages as well, and are generally cheaper than forged aluminum wheels. These wheels use positive pressure to quickly move molten aluminum into place so it can harden. By decreasing the amount of time the aluminum remains liquid, the process of low-pressure casting can improve the strength of the wheel while minimizing cost.
You'll then want to evaluate the best tires for the courses you're planning to tackle. Many autocross races are performed on a flat, paved surface (like an asphalt parking lot), while certain races may be held on a looser surface like gravel or dirt. For situations in which most of your autocross racing will be on asphalt or concrete, you'll likely benefit from extra-grippy tires with stiff sidewalls and relatively low pressure. This combination of qualities will allow you to quickly get up to speed (even at cold temperatures) while minimizing the pressure on your tires as you brake and corner quickly. Head over to a tire shop for more info.
Once you've upgraded your wheels and tires, you'll need to turn your attention to your vehicle's brakes. Even the highest-quality wheels and tires can't reach their fullest potential if you're operating with spongy or squeaky brake pads.
When shopping for replacement brake pads, pay close attention to the stated amount of grip and the heat tolerance. In general, the grippier your brake pads, the more quickly you can come to a stop without harming your rotors. Brake pads with high heat tolerance are more likely to stand up to the beating they're likely to get on an autocross track. If you choose pads with a lower heat tolerance, you're likely to replace them more frequently.
If you're upgrading from old or worn brake pads to extra-grippy ones, you'll want to spend a few weekends breaking in your new brake pads before you hit the track, as it's likely your vehicle will handle much differently than you're used to. Fortunately, these changes should help you become a contender among other amateur autocross racers.