Initially, all Tony Colicchio and his brother Joe wanted from the 1996 BMW M3 was the S52 engine. But when they went to get it, they found that the car was in better shape than advertised, so they bought it, too, and decided to make it their racecar.

They brought it back to their shop, TC Design in Milpitas, Calif., stripped it down to the bare shell and got to work. TC Design makes its living in part by installing cages in all types of cars, and for their own car, they put it on a rotisserie, stripped off the paint, removed all the undercoating and seam-welded the whole car.

The car

“Over the years, especially since all these cars have been street cars for the most part, all of those welds have already been fatigued,” he said. “So basically we’re just going through and adding more joints to the whole system, because all of the jigsaw of sheet metal is creating a big stressed member, so the more connections we can have, the stiffer the overall structure is going to be.”

He then went to work fabricating the roll cage. Colicchio mimicked what BMW did on its E46 ALMS cars, with large gussets to strengthen the A pillar and add structural rigidity. The gussets alone took 18 hours to make, Colicchio said. He used thinner tubing where he could to save weight and used the appropriate thicknesses where rules and a healthy sense of mortality dictate.

Nats41 copy

NASA’s German Touring Series allows for creativity within its rule structure and Colicchio put that freedom to good use. He and his brother learned that many racers on the East Coast were using the S54 engine from an E46 BMW, which, when unrestricted, makes 320 to 340 horsepower at the wheels. Colicchio installed the engine and had Epic Motorsports detune it to 250 horsepower to stay within the 11:1 power-to-weight ratio in GTS3.

“I prefer a lighter car with less horsepower,” he said. “And I would say a lot of the guys with the E46 cars are probably in the 275 horsepower range and right about 3,000 pounds.”

P1000163

But shedding weight from the E36 M3 took some doing. For example, the hood, front fascia, fenders and rear deck lid are made of fiberglass. The doors are OEM steel, but gutted extensively. The rear and quarter windows are Lexan. That helps keep the weight down to a feathery 2,750 pounds with the driver on board.

The next part of the package was aero, and Colicchio used driver feedback, data and manufacturer involvement to help create the most downforce with the least amount of drag.

The front fascia and fenders started out as old PPG ALMS wide-body pieces. Then from the top of the fender down in the rear, they made their own pieces. According to Colicchio, it kind of mimics what the newer ALMS cars are doing in trying to pull air from the fender well. He also added holes in the hood just forward of the strut towers to extract air from the engine compartment.

Nats40 copy

TC Design even reworked the front fascia so much that it’s now a proprietary design that works in conjunction with the splitter, which extends from about 6 inches forward of the fascia to behind the front subframe under the car. Here again, Colicchio used data to develop the part.

“We just started picking some of the higher-speed corners, so like at Thunderhill, Turn 8 and Turn 1, and just started picking up what the minimum speeds were without making any other changes,” he said.

That left the rear aero to be dealt with. Colicchio turned to Aeromotions in New Jersey for the rear wing and engineering expertise. He added the rear wing and found that a small “gurney flap” at the trailing edge of the deck lid helped rear downforce even more.

“That was in conjunction with the engineers with Aeromotion,” he said. “That took a few iterations as far as height, its location fore and aft on the deck lid, but with their help, we were able to optimize that with the wing.”

However, probably the most remarkable aerodynamic aid on the car is not on it, but under it. TC Design built the rear diffuser, which starts at the center of the car and extends past the rear bumper. Nearly 8 feet long, the diffuser is two pieces, which can be removed individually. Here again, Colicchio used his connections to get pointed in the right direction.

The dash

“We took a lot of measurements off of ALMS cars,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of friends that work in the industry that would unofficially give me measurements off of cars, and took a pretty good guess with it, and it seems to work pretty well. We were able to take off about 4 degrees of angle of attack on the rear wing.”

Despite the car’s low curb weight, Colicchio went big on the brakes, with Brembo 355 mm rotors, PFC pads and TC Design custom cooling duct work up front, and a Brembo GT rear brake kit in the back. He was able to optimize master cylinder sizes and pedal feel with Tilton pedal assemblies, which also let him remove the brake booster, so he could put more strength into the chassis with the roll cage design. In addition, he was able to use an E46 M3 ABS system.

“You can see in the Nationals video that our brake system works awesome, and that’s where I got the last three guys down into Turn 5,” Colicchio said. “The combination of the Brembo brakes, the Tilton pedal assembly and the ABS system works really well.”

Because his budget was not unlimited, Colicchio used every resource available to him and his experience as a driver and fabricator to build a complete package of different components that all work in harmony. In addition to winning the 2013 GTS3 National Championship, Colicchio has won every race he’s entered with this car, including sprints and enduros. He also holds track records at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Thunderhill, Miller Motorsports Park and Buttonwillow. That’s every track they have raced.

“That was our goal,” he said, adding that Hoosier really helped with his testing efforts. “We didn’t want to just win the National Championship. We wanted to dominate it. All of our focus between myself and Joe was to get the car as fast as we could on our budget.

“We have a lot of time. We have a lot of expertise, but we couldn’t throw a sequential transmission in the car,” he continued. “We couldn’t go and buy a newer shell to run. We had to do everything we could with our car. Yes, there are a lot of good parts on the car, but a lot of the focus was whether this part was going to work with the next part, so that all the parts work together.”

Nats34 copy

Owner:

Joe and Tony Colicchio’s 1996 BMW M3

Year:

1996

Make:

BMW

Model:

M3

Weight:

2,750 lbs.

Engine:

BMW S54, 250 horsepower, detuned by EPIC Motorsports

Suspension:

Front: MCS three-way adjustable struts, Ground Control front sway bar, TC Design roll center kit, TC Design Bump Steer kit, Ground Control lower control arm bearings.

Rear: MCS three-way adjustable shocks in coil-over, Ground Control rear sway bar, TC Design rear subframe, Ground Control trailing arm bearings, Ground Control lower rear camber arm.

Tires:

285/30/18 Hoosier A6/R6

Brakes:

Front: Brembo GT 355mm front brake kit, PFC 01 brake pads, TC Design ducting kit

Rear: Brembo GT rear brake kit, PFC 01 brake pads

Data system:

AIM MXL Pista

Sponsors:

TC Design, Hoosier, Motion Control Suspension, Pro Racing Simulators, Wolf Vinyl, EPIC Motorsports, Aeromotions

 

Watch as Tony Colicchio runs away from everyone at the start of the GTS race at the 2013 National Championships at Miller Motorsports Park last September.

Comments
Image courtesy of Brett Becker