For the first time in well over a year, and only second time since buying my B7 S4, I hit the track again this past weekend at Streets of Willow (Willow Springs Raceway) for some serious fun with Extreme Speed Track Events. I was especially excited to really put to test a lot of the “go fast” parts I had installed over the past year or so, including front & rear big brake kits, a JHM tune, STaSIS exhaust, and much else. It’s always great to see where your car can perform when pushed to the limits!
Streets of Willow is a very technical track – it is in the side of a hill and features a lot of elevation changes, banked turns, and a bowl, among other challenges such as some uneven parts of the track where the surface gets a little bumpy. There are really only two major straightaways, neither of which is particularly long, so the track definitely favors smaller, lighter cars (e.g. Miatas, FRS/BRZ, etc.) as the majority of your driving will be turn after turn with limited to no time in-between to allow the car to “settle.” All of this ads up to a very challenging yet enjoyable track that pushes the limits of the car and driver – it took multiple sessions before I really felt comfortable with my lines and approach, and to be honest I never felt truly confident in the bowl section of the track…but the challenge adds to the experience, and I’d love to drive here again.
I ran Carbotech XP10 pads up front and XP8s in the rear, and the brakes were absolutely fantastic on the track. I never experienced fade and had tons of confidence in my ability to late brake. As I grew more and more confident around the track, I found myself braking later and harder and holding more speed in the straights, which was great. My STaSIS Ohlins SL coilovers were great as well, although perhaps a little too stiff for this track – the track is built in a modular fashion and in some of the seams of the concrete the track had become rough – most notably around T3/T4. If I had STaSIS Motorsports I would have definitely adjusted the dampening to something stiffer, but alas this was not an option with the Ohlins SLs. A small tradeoff and one that a more experienced/skilled driver could compensate for just fine, but since this section is dedicated to notes about the performance of the car it is worth noting.
The tune and power adders (exhaust, piggies, etc.) were great on the track and the car pulled great and had plenty of power. I was in third gear nearly the entire track except for the two straights where I’d climb up to fourth before entering the braking zone, and anyone who has ever driven a 4.2L V8 S4 knows that the third gear is the sweet spot of this car.
The only thing I really would have changed on the car was having track tires rather than Falken FK453 street tires. I’ve been pretty unimpressed with the FK453s both on the track and off. I think something like the Nitto NT05 might be a better choice for an aggressive street tire that can also withstand occasional track use. The Michelin Pilot Sport also stands out as something that might work nicely, although the higher price point of the Michelin worries me a bit…
My fastest time was a 1:38, which isn’t really that impressive given what the car is capable of, but something I’m happy with as it showed considerable improvement over the course of the day. Given the track was very technical, there is a steep learning curve to it. Watching my GoPro videos of early on in the day I’m a bit horrified at my lines, and sadly my GoPro batteries died towards the end of the day when I was finally nailing turns and cranking out smoother laps, so all video evidence I have of this day is of driving I’m almost too embarassed to share. Streets of Willow is definitely a track where you want to opt for an instructor and start a class down from where you usually do until you learn the lines. The beginner group did the first session in a “follow the leader” format which was great for getting acquainted with the track. I wish I had spent more time studying lines on YouTube as well, as it would have helped. Regardless I don’t normally time my laps as I’m more interested in enjoying the drive rather than who wins/loses (it’s not a race in my book) but it was kinda neat to see my times improve and the lap timing was free…
Once the track starts to “click” it is incredibly fun – especially T1-T6 which all link together really nicely into one fluid motion once you get the hang of it. My biggest weakness was the bowl where I over-braked and took at a much slower speed than I could have, but due to a combination of low confidence and my S4 being my daily driver and car I had absolutely zero interest in risking damage to, I took the bowl turn very cautiously and carefully. If I return I hope to get a little more aggressive here with the help of an instructor…