Racing the Red Shark
By David Lightfoot
Most BMW race cars are based on the 3 Series. There are even a few 2002 racers still around. A few teams did race the E24 6 Series back in the day, but not many. But how many are racing, or ever raced, an E24 M6? At least one person is currently: Erik Brannfors. He calls his machine the Red Shark.
Red Shark is an apt name given the color and the fact that the E24 is affectionately known as “the shark.” Sharks are predators with voracious appetites, always hunting. Always looking for smaller fish to consume. Yes, Red Shark, indeed.
Erik got into this hobby the usual way. First there was high performance driving schools with the Puget Sound Region. The first needle is (almost) free. Then a competition school as the drugs took hold. Then he became an instructor with the chapter. His wife, Jennifer, followed the same path, so there was little chance she was going to be the voice of reason here. In fact she has been supportive. Supportive! Wife-of-the-year material here, guys.
Then there were the cars. First an E21, a gateway BMW if there ever was one. Next came the 1988 M6, a 1990 E30 M3 and a 1991 E34 M5. The Brannfors fleet still includes all three M cars and all are red, seemingly the family fleet color.
When Erik and Jen became high performance driving instructors, well, where was there to go from there but modifying the cars to make them faster? Most of us might start with a ratty POS (technical term) as a basis for building a race car. But Erik’s daily driver at the time was the M6, so that was where his attention was focused. This despite the M6 being a beautiful example of a beautiful car.
The building of this race car is a story many Roundel readers will be familiar with: the Slippery Slope. One performance enhancement begs for another: if the engine is more powerful then we really need to upgrade the brakes, and then the suspension should really be brought up to the level as the rest of the car and since we’re already doing this we might as well do that…. You know the story.
(Aside: The SIGs serve their purpose but I’m thinking we may need to start some SISGs: Special Interest Support Groups. These would be along the lines of AA for those with BMW-related afflictions. For example, for those who have innocently started modifying and “improving” a street car for track use and then found it wasn’t much good on the street any more so why not just go make it a full-on race car… Perhaps a Slippery Slope Special Interest Support Group:
Hello, I’m new to the group and my name is Erik. It all started so innocently. I had this nice M6 that I used as a daily driver. Then I made a few modifications and before I knew it I had a totally gutted and stripped racecar. You understand don’t you? Don’t you? But I digress.)
The M6 had been purchased in 1995 with 135,000 original miles on it, some more original than others. The stock motor blew up, appropriately at the track, with 210,000 miles on the clock. So the engine had to be rebuilt anyway….The start of the slippery slope.
While I may joke at Erik and Jen’s expense about the process, in the end what we have here is one of the most beautiful and fast BMW race cars ever seen. It is fabulous to watch Erik power slide the 400+ horsepower red monster through turns, breaking loose the Ten-Inch Wide Hoosiers with just a dab of the throttle! In third and fourth gears! I’ve watched Erik race as a spectator. But then I was in the same race group as Erik, and while running my own race, noticed this great, well, Red Shark in my mirrors. It was at the most alarming angle in the corner, in fourth gear, and, well, coming up like the predator it is, about to devour the little E30 I was driving. Actually, it looked like more of a drift exhibition. Erik claims the Red Shark is actually very neutral and easily controlled, albeit with lots of throttle steer and trail braking at some times.
So, the techies are all wondering, “What’s he got in that thing?” The Red Shark CV from 2005 can be found at:
and summarized below. Much of the work was done by San Diego BMW wizard Frank Fahey. The engine is a Fahey 4.0-liter (3997cc), S38 stroker with a 92mm SCAT crankshaft. The pistons are 11.0:1, custom made, with Pauter rods. Schrick 280/280 cams are used with E30 Evo M3 valve springs to reduce valve float seeing that this S38 turns ~8000rpm on a regular basis. Air is supplied via a custom airbox and a K&N cone filter. The exhaust features ceramic-coated Euro S38 headers with the collectors cut at two and a half inches which eventually merge into a single three inch main. The rest of the exhaust is stainless with a Super Turbo muffler for when noise restrictions apply. Otherwise a custom straight pipe is used
(Recently, the RedShark was placed on a dyno in Redmond, Wa to allow a certain large local software company to record it for an upcoming auto racing game release. The video of the car, sporting the straight-through exhaust system, can be found here: http://www.brannfors.com/redsharkracing/videos )
Cooling the beast are a three-inch core Griffin radiator and a three-inch core Griffin oil cooler. The transmission is a performance rebuilt G280 with a stock gear set. An eight-pound aluminum JB Racing flywheel is mated to lightweight Sachs racing pressure plate. A six-puck S.P.E.C. clutch disk is used. The guibo was borrowed from an E34 M5. The driveshaft and shifter console have been shortened as the engine and transmission had to be moved rearward by ~2 inches to allow the larger radiator the needed clearance. The suspension is from Ground Control with Eibach springs (950F/750R) and Advance Design shocks. Lower control arms were sourced from and E31 8 Series. The sway bars are Suspension Techniques units; 25mm front and 19mm rear; both adjustable, of course.
The front brakes are from Rob Levinson at UUC Motorwerks. They are 6 Piston Wilwood Superlites with 348x30 rotors. The rears are 4 piston Wilwood Dynalites with 328x20 rotors. The pads are an aggressive Wilwood compound and the fluid is Motul RBF600. A 22-gallon fuel cell is used with twin fuel pumps for the 105 octane race gas.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Red Shark from an appearance standpoint is the wheels and tires. Erik uses 17-inch diameter wheels which are eight and a half inches wide in the front and a full ten inches wide in the rear! Two sets of Rondell #58’s and one set of BBS LM’s. The dry tires are 245/45 and 275/40 Hoosier GrandAm Cup slicks. The rain tire rims are BBS RC302 8.5x17’s with 255/40 Toyo RA-1’s. And remember, he can break those tires loose in most any gear!
To keep things safe, an AFFF fire system is installed with six nozzles. Cascade Autosport built the eight-point, zero clearance cage of chrome moly, gusseted and triangulated and tied into the A-pillars and B-pillars for rigidity.
The impressive end result is a car weighing 2900 pounds fueled and ready to race while having 387 horsepower. At the rear wheels. That’s why I can safely call it a “400+ horsepower monster”. At Spokane Raceway, which has the longest straight in the area, Erik has seen over 175 mph! Not for the faint of heart, as the saying goes. Is this the fastest, most modified 6 Series in the world? I don’t know but there can’t be many that could compete with it.
What more could one possibly do to an M6? Well, too much is never enough. Erik’s future plans include a MoTeC engine management system, higher duration cams, higher compression pistons, a dry-sump oil system, replacing the transmission with a Tremec T56 unit, adding transmission and differential fluid cooling systems. Oh, yeah, and then Erik would like to fit custom carbon fiber or fiberglass lightweight body panels ( A CF hood is on order with Chris Gregor of Gregor Performance). The remaining front glass window would also be replaced with Lexan.
As it is, the Red Shark has to race against some very fast machines. It holds its own against much newer and very exotic cars. Erik drives and wrenches but Jennifer also is invaluable to making the racing weekends possible, as she manages the changing of tires, setting up the paddock, recording lap times, and keeping Erik on schedule.
When will all these improvements get made to make the Red Shark even faster? Well, an addition to the Brannfors household is due in December (no not another BMW, but rather a daughter!) so other priorities will certainly arise.
For the Editor to review/include:
More details and pictures of Erik’s race car can be found posted on his website:
He is also the main contact in the Puget Sound region for E24 owners as the current keeper of the LandSharks Yahoo group:
Most recent race picture from August 6th, sliding through the exit of T8 at Pacific Raceways (taken by Miki Haraguchi):