How Road Racing And Data Logging Transformed This BMW M3 Track Car

Photography: David Glessner

  • The 2011 BMW M3 came equipped with a 4.0-liter V8 that produced 414hp at 8300rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3900rpm.
  • Justin Johnson transformed his M3 Competition ZCP into a dedicated track car by learning from all the data he collected by road racing.
  • Key functional upgrades include JRZ Pro 3-ways with a true rear coilover conversion, StopTech brakes, and track-proven aero.

Over the last decade, the number of BMW 3-Series on Volk Racing TE37s has skyrocketed. Almost every Honda guy and JDM car fanatic that shifted to German engineering couldn’t leave their roots behind altogether. Slapping on a set of TE37s just so happened to be the easiest thing that crossed over to the Euro scene. Don’t get us wrong, the wheels look absolutely stunning on Bimmers; however, they have become a bit conventional over the years, which is why the story about this 2011 M3 Competition isn’t about the wheels or its styling at all. The TEs on Justin Johnson’s ZCP M3 are simply a minor enhancement to a greater good – a project car build that has a proper upbringing with the data and experience to back it up.

Like many of us, Justin comes from a long history of tinkering with and romping on modified cars, but his M3 project evolved in a way that several aspiring car builders lose sight of today. It is through hours of hot lapping, data logging, and testing of parts that sculpted this E92 into the legitimate track car it is now, with style coming second, and the Internet’s opinions of him not even a slight worry.

INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN JOHNSON

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
I am a father to two girls, 22 and 23, neither of whom have caught the car obsession bug. I work as a systems engineering technical lead supporting global data center infrastructure at a large Metaverse company. In April of 2021, I relocated back to Colorado after being in the Bay Area for four years for work. I’m into the typical Colorado stuff, snowboarding, hiking, camping. And I have a thing for German automobiles.

No, not the Metaverse… Just kidding. So, how’d you get into cars?
It’s hard to say how. I feel like it was just always a part of me. I was modifying my first car (not very tastefully) before I had a driver’s license. I’ve always been a bit of an introvert. Cars were a way for me to express myself and also a means to connect with people. My first car was a diesel VW Rabbit with a 0-60 time of about 13 minutes. Even in that car, in those early days, I was trying to find the limits and ultimately drifted that car into a curb to total it. After that, I had a $1,000 1968 Mustang barn find that saw me through the rest of high school. I played around with some mini trucks for a bit, then went the import tuner route with Hondas. Then got really sucked into DSMs — building a few of those — one of which was a fully caged dedicated racecar that I was running Solo Trials at the time.

Never expected you to be a Mustang, DSM, or Honda guy. That’s changed now, obviously…
Germans are definitely my jam. The current fleet includes three BMWs, an Audi, and a Porsche. My first BMW was a 1994 325i 5-speed. If I’m being completely honest, I initially bought it for the status. Even though it wasn’t the greatest specimen, I thought it said something about my accomplishments, which were fairly limited at the time. However, the driving experience is really what pulled me in. That car got me into autocross, which eventually paved the way to road racing.

Let’s talk about the M3. How did you end up with this beauty?
When I relocated to the Bay in ’18, I felt a little out of place with my Subaru Outback with all terrains [tires] and a roof rack, seemingly always parked in a sea of Euros and exotics at work every day. I started shopping for an E46 M3 but ultimately landed on the E92. I bought the car in completely stock form. It is a glorious car right from the factory, and I loved the comfort, styling, handling, and especially the sounds it makes at 8,000 RPM.

What mods came first?
Even though it was a Competition, I felt the wheels and tires needed to be upgraded, and I wanted to hear a bit more of the S65 symphony, so I went with some ARC-8s 18×10-inch squared, PS4S tires, and a Megan Racing cat-back. Knowing I would want to track the car “occasionally”, I also did stainless brake lines and upgraded fluid.

First track day in the M3?
Thunderhill. I was amazed at how well the car handled, how well it communicated and controlled slip, and just how fun it was to drive. There was one problem, though. At the end of the day, the outsides of my knees were covered in bruises from trying to hold myself in the slippery leather seat. And thus started the transformation and path of compromises from daily driver to a dedicated track car. After that first track day, the objective was to firmly plant the driver. Seats led to harnesses; harnesses led to a bolt-in RSR roll bar (no longer in the car). Then I wanted all the data. In my work, I rely heavily on data to make decisions, improve processes, etc. I wanted the same for the car, so the next mod was the AiM MXG dash logger and integrated SmartyCam. Telemetry and being able to look at every aspect of the engine, transmission, driver inputs, g-forces, track position, etc., in both real-time and after the fact is an often-overlooked mod.

Sounds like it all snowballed into place. Noticed the true rear coilover conversion, which you don’t see on many E90/E92 M3s…
As I evaluated options at this point, I was pretty much where I knew this car would be a track car. The divorced coilover setup from the factory has some issues running high rear spring rates, and increased spring rates put additional stress on the subframe. Switching to a true coilover improves the motion ratio allowing more effective spring rate and reduces these stresses on the subframe. However, with the expense of more stress on the shock towers. I opted to enlist Tony Colicchio at TC Design to perform the shock tower reinforcement and a weld-in half cage to address that concern.

Love the wheels, by the way! Tell us about your choice in style.
TE37s are an awesome wheel, and I came across these used at a pretty good price. Probably a bit of my JDM past creeping in a bit, too. All of the exterior upgrades are functional aero, with the exception of the hood. The hood, although vented and a bit lighter, was probably the one cosmetic upgrade on the car. I’ve just always loved the look of an exposed carbon fiber hood, and with the factory carbon fiber roof, I thought it matched the car very well.

Do you have a favorite part on the car?
The APR rear airfoil and HARD Motorsport chassis mount uprights are probably my favorite part. It’s a pretty unique setup that I haven’t seen too many other E92s with. I have some good memories of working with my brother to get it installed the night before leaving to drive down to Bimmerfest. It is super divisive, though. People love it or hate it.

Haters are going to hate, which brings me to my next question… Any words of wisdom for other car builders out there?
My first advice would be to never say, “I’m going to keep this one stock,” unless you really enjoy lying to yourself and others. If I were to do it all over again, I don’t think there is a lot I would have done much differently. I would have just done it more slowly with more seat time between mods. The other thing I would advise would be to make sure that you are building it for yourself and not making choices based on what other people might say or think.

And advice for those considering tracking their cars?
For anybody considering getting into it, I would say, “stop thinking about it and start doing it.” There are so many great options to get involved at any level these days that have not always been available, and you can have a ton of fun in a 20-year-old stock Miata.


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