Experts reveal how to make a first-gen BRZ faster

J.A.
By J.A. Ackley
Dec 5, 2022 | Scion, Subaru, Toyota, FR-S, BRZ, 86, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, Toyota 86 | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Perry Bennett

Whether you know it as a Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S or Toyota 86, the little coupe has become a favorite in the paddock, with more people discovering it all the time. 

What’s needed to take one from the street to the track? Fortunately, that’s not an untraveled road. Here’s some practical advice from three people with experience: Dan Hurwitz of Subaru tuning house Mach V Motorsports, aero expert Johnny Cichowski of Nine Lives Racing, and three-time Solo national champ Steven Duckworth. 

Beef Up the Rubber

To start off, Dan recommends upgrading the tires. It’s an easy, relatively inexpensive mod that’ll shave time off your laps.

“The BRZ came with tires that were oriented toward fun, which meant low grip so the car would move around and require more driver involvement at lower speeds,” he says. “Many BRZ models were equipped with Michelin Primacy tires, famous for also being an OEM tire on the Toyota Prius. Changing out for a higher-grip, track-oriented tire compound is going to be one of the most effective ways to reduce lap times.

“A 245mm tread width is an easy fit, and 255 to 265 can work with more aggressive camber settings and maybe some fender modifications.”

Work the Arms

Next, Dan would look at suspension. “Most people who track the car will install coil-overs,” he notes. “There are many options available. Racecomp Engineering has a KW-made coil-over called Tarmac 2. It has a double-adjustable, remote-reservoir damper that works really well. I run that setup on my own personal BRZ.”

All the components of the BRZ rear suspension interchange with the WRX.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

“Do keep in mind that if you lower the car very far, you’re going to need to correct the rear camber with adjustable rear lower control arms,” Dan says. “There are several options out there. Whiteline makes a decent and affordable stamped part that works well.”

Steven is running the suspension kit mandated by the SCCA Solo Spec Coupe rules on his Scion FR-S. The package simply pairs adjustable Koni Sport dampers with stiffer Eibach springs and an SPC alignment kit. Then add in adjustable anti-roll bar end links. Tire Rack sells the entire kit for about $2000. While the setup is aimed at the autocross market, Steven reports that it also works well on the track. 

Pull Out All the Stops

As you go faster, you’ll need to improve the brakes, another relatively easy mod. The BRZ used brakes from the Subaru WRX: dual-piston, sliding calipers paired with 294mm discs on the front and single-piston sliding calipers paired with 290mm discs on the rear.

“The factory brakes are perfectly fine for a factory setup,” Dan says. “Once you get stickier tires and go around the corners faster, you’ll just wear through your brake pads. The feel of those factory brakes is not too great, either, because of that sliding caliper design.”

BRZ suspension upgrades don’t have to be complicated. The SCCA Solo Spec Coupe setup–shown at top and on Steven Duckworth’s car at Charlotte–uses single-adjustable Konis along with Eibach lowering springs. Brake upgrades come from the aftermarket as well as the Subaru parts bin. Photography Credit: Wayne Presley

One exception to the factory brakes rule: If you have a BRZ with the Performance Pack (starting in 2017), it had beefier Brembo brakes from a WRX STI, four-piston fixed calipers paired with 326mm discs on the front and two-piston fixed calipers paired with 316mm discs on the rear. Dan calls these “excellent,” adding that the stiffer calipers provide better brake feel.

“If you’re on a budget, back in 2006 the Subaru WRX came with a four-piston front caliper setup,” Dan explains. “It uses the same front rotor size as the BRZ rotors, but it’s a rigid fixed caliper and has a matching two-piston rear caliper setup.” Dan can source these Subaru factory setups for you.

Add Some Aero

Want to go faster? Dan says to look at your car’s aero. Nine Lives Racing’s Johnny Cichowski recommends starting off with an aftermarket rear wing:

“By bolting on a rear wing kit–for that car we have one for about $950–you will lose 3 to 5 seconds a lap. Any other part that nets you that much time is going to be $4000 to $5000. You’re going to notice a wing. If you bolt a wing on and you don’t notice it, we’ll give your money back.”

But what about the factory wing found on the Subaru BRZ tS? You can purchase one for around $4000, Dan says. 

Photography Credit: Derrick Wooten

Johnny C. adds that the OEM piece isn’t as effective. “A lot of times, OEM wings are fairly small,” he explains. “The shapes of the wings the OEMs don’t really care about. You get a lot of curved trailing edges, which make it easier to produce but not necessarily the greatest for making downforce. Most of the time, automakers just want the wing to make it look like a race car.”

Next, add a splitter to refine your car’s aerodynamic profile. “A lot of times, with a splitter, you won’t lose much time,” Johnny C. continues. “Your front tires will last a lot longer, but other than that, you won’t notice it as dramatically as with a wing.”

Steven runs just the Nine Lives Racing rear wing on his FR-S. On his first outing with the new aero, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he dropped his lap times by about a second and a half. He could also go flat into NASCAR Turn 3 where before he had to lift a bit to settle the car into the banking. 

Power Up

At this point you should feel fairly good about your BRZ on the track–except on long straights. The BRZ’s flat-four only delivers 200 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. Manual models got a modest bump in 2017, nudging the numbers to 205 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft.

“It’s underwhelming,” Dan quips. “You get on the gas 50% or 100% throttle and it doesn’t feel much different.”

“I’m ambivalent about forced induction,” he continues. “On the one hand, you just can’t get much more power from the stock motor with bolt-ons, which leads you to turbocharging or supercharging. But those options cost a lot, and with that extra power comes reduced reliability, which can be problematic for a track car.”

Don’t stop reading. Here’s the good stuff on forced induction. “I supercharged my BRZ and it did remedy the power problems,” Dan says. “It turned it from an underpowered disappointment to a sporty-feeling sports car.”

We added a Treadstone Performance Engineering turbo setup to the black FR-S, and you can find the details in the Project Cars section of this site. Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

Dan says you can expect to gain about 30 to 100 horsepower. Consider this a big-ticket item, with the cost easily surpassing $5000 for a setup. We spent about that much to add a Treadstone Performance Engineering turbo setup to an FR-S, boosting performance at the wheels to 243 horsepower along with 230lb.-ft. Thanks to the smaller BorgWarner 6258 turbo, the engine didn’t feel laggy. 

[Project FR-S: Adding a Turbo to Our Salvage Auction Find]

Whether you’re adding forced induction or not, what about an oil cooler? “It helped a ton,” Steven notes. “I was seeing like 280 Fahrenheit oil temps at VIR a few years ago. After I put on the oil cooler, it’s like 200 tops.”

Not Done Yet

Additional power means your clutch has to work harder. “With the car I have–which has light supercharging that gained 30 to 40 horsepower and 30 lb.-ft.–the clutch would slip when it was cold,” Dan says. “You might need to upgrade the clutch if you increase the torque. To change the clutch on the car is very easy. The gearbox is relatively light and easy to get out of the car.”

You can also find some speed by playing with the final drive. “Cusco makes a 4.56:1 final drive kit,” Dan says. “Stock final drive was 4.1:1 through 2016, and then 4.3:1 for 2017-’21 manual-transmission cars.”

Photography Credit: Perry Bennett

Keep an eye on the coil packs, Dan adds. “Coil pack failure is common on cars that see a lot of track time,” he explains. “Cylinder 1, the right-front, is the most troublesome, but any cylinder can develop problems. Plan to check and replace coil packs as needed.”

But, as Steven notes, this chassis makes a good partner. So far, his has covered more than 92,000 miles. 

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Comments
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z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
9/6/22 8:56 a.m.

That covers most of it. Oil cooler is a MUST for track work. 

Enkei made a specific RPF1 for the 1st Gen. 18x9.5 ET38 with 255/35 200TW tires will fit without having to do anything to the fenders. That's what I ran on my BRZ with Star Specs. So anything around that size and offset fits without a problem. Some guys ran 18x10s with 265s, just have to trim the rear bumper area a tad. 

A catless header and E85 will get you 25-30whp and a fix most of the midrange dip. 

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/6/22 8:59 a.m.

The coil pack overheating issue seems to have been fixed with the revised coil packs on the 2017+ models, swapping them onto earlier models is one option for a fix but you need to get the connectors from a junkyard. If getting into reliability mods, your top priorities with this car need to be oil supply and oil cooling though, see also: https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/forum/grm/how-to-get-started-modifying-a/192574/page1/

Interesting that aero mods are recommended before power mods, I already have some power mods so maybe it's time for aero wink

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/6/22 11:33 a.m.

The only time I've driven a BRZ was at DirtFish, so I was disappointed not to see Hoosier rally tires on the list. :)

 

Fair
Fair New Reader
9/6/22 6:10 p.m.

When you find that the turbo or super chargers don't really work on track, then there's always a V8 swap. The LS aluminum V8 looks at home between the enormously wide 86 front frame horns!

We came out with a swap kit in 2015, but there are cheaper alternatives to Vorshlag for this swap (but they all have issues - hey, what do you expect me to say!). We build our 86 LS swap kit around the Tremec T56 Magnum XL, which tends to weed out the budget minded swappers straight away.

There's a lot of reasons why we use this transmission - and it ain't because its cheap. This direct shifted, 700 ft-lb of torque rated 6 speed manual is bulletproof and fits the 86 chassis perfectly. Shifter pops up right where the stock one goes (see below). We've seen the monkey-motion remote shifted messes that other V8 swap kits use - nothing shifts like a direct shfited T56.

Of course this V8 swap is not for the faint of heart or weak of wallet, but if you want real RELIABLE track usable power in the 86 chassis, there's no cheaper way - dollar for hp. Adding boost to a high compression 2.0L Subaru FA20 engine only adds massive problems. devil

rustomatic
rustomatic HalfDork
11/20/22 12:23 p.m.

I was gonna say Vorshlag fixed this already, but . . .

93gsxturbo
93gsxturbo UltraDork
11/20/22 7:59 p.m.

Sell it and buy a C5?  That would certainly be a step in all the right directions.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/20/22 8:16 p.m.
93gsxturbo said:

Sell it and buy a C5?  That would certainly be a step in all the right directions.

If you want to V8-swap a Toyobaru that would make a whole lot of sense, but if you want something with more Miata-like running costs and accept that this comes with power limitations then there's a lot of money to be saved vs. a C5 and its running costs.

Edit: To get into detail, there are a lot of mistakes that could be made with a turbo setup, or a failure to address the oiling issues the engine came with before you even get into boosting it, but regardless of how you increase the engine's power, the FA20's bottom end will lunch itself at about 300ft-lbs (that's at the crank, not the wheels, and I suspect the FA24D will be the same), so consider that a hard ceiling for a stock-bottom-end Toyobaru. You can throw cubic dollars at the bottom end to increase its torque capacity, but at that point you're getting into the budget range for parts and consumables...consumption where a V8 swap or just getting a Corvette instead would make sense.

93gsxturbo
93gsxturbo UltraDork
11/20/22 9:40 p.m.
GameboyRMH said:
93gsxturbo said:

Sell it and buy a C5?  That would certainly be a step in all the right directions.

If you want to V8-swap a Toyobaru that would make a whole lot of sense, but if you want something with more Miata-like running costs and accept that this comes with power limitations then there's a lot of money to be saved vs. a C5 and its running costs.

Edit: To get into detail, there are a lot of mistakes that could be made with a turbo setup, or a failure to address the oiling issues the engine came with before you even get into boosting it, but regardless of how you increase the engine's power, the FA20's bottom end will lunch itself at about 300ft-lbs (that's at the crank, not the wheels, and I suspect the FA24D will be the same), so consider that a hard ceiling for a stock-bottom-end Toyobaru. You can throw cubic dollars at the bottom end to increase its torque capacity, but at that point you're getting into the budget range for parts and consumables...consumption where a V8 swap or just getting a Corvette instead would make sense.

Are the differences in running costs really that significant?  Gas mileage is similar, C5 brake pads and rotors are readily available and not crazy expensive, tires are a bit more but not double or anything like that.  And you don't have to deal with things like oiling issues.  For other spares, Corvettes outsold  BRZs between 7:1 and 10:1 depending on the year, so logic would dictate that there are 10x more Corvettes getting salvaged out.

Seems to be the smiles per dollar would definitely favor a C5.  Sorry not sorry the BRZ FRS is a turd.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/20/22 10:02 p.m.

Yeah they're significant...any parts that don't need to come from a junkyard are more expensive for the Corvette, on highway MPG the C5 may actually have an advantage but the city and track MPG are much lower, the tires and brakes are going to disappear a lot faster due to the much higher power and higher weight, and you're trading oiling issues for wheel bearing and cooling system issues (and if you get a base C5, still some oiling issues).

It's hard for me to imagine by what metric the Toyobaru is a turd. If you want something like an ND that's more practical, put a grand of oiling fixes into a Toyobaru and you're good to go.

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
11/20/22 11:11 p.m.

If we wanted a Corvette,  we would have bought a C5. But we wanted an 86, so we bought an 86. If your only goal is track use, there are many cars that are light years ahead on consumables and or power delivery. 

My biggest concern with a V8 swap would be emissions compliance. While it might not be 100% EO compliant, I would absolutely have to have my V8 FRS pass Illinois' test.

dps214
dps214 Dork
11/20/22 11:16 p.m.
93gsxturbo said:

Sell it and buy a C5?  That would certainly be a step in all the right directions.

I'm not sure a c5 is a step in the right direction from much of anything. Sell it and buy a new gr86 is probably the right answer. Maybe a c6z06.

Vracer111
Vracer111 HalfDork
12/5/22 9:23 p.m.

In reply to 93gsxturbo :

FRS will have better power to weight with same motor being about 400lbs less than C5 and has better aerodynamics (smaller cross sectional area + better flow over body...) along with a beautiful chassis setup that is much stiffer. Stock FA20 & transmisson is fairly heavy, not too much of weight increase going to a SBC swap setup.

The one motor setup I think is most ideal for the 86 chassis is the Synergy 3.0L V8... double the stock power, drops noticeable weight, lowers CG, and revs to ~11k QUICK because of low MOI of the motor... Very expensive though, and high maintenance requirement because its a track/race motor...

A custom motor setup I've seen put in an 86 which I think is really cool is a race built Nissan Titan VK 56 that revs to 9k, makes ~ 4x stock power, and sounds better than any LS I've heard...

 

The 4L UZ-FE line of Lexus motors are pretty popular budget V8 swaps as well for the 86. Sound absolutely sweet when race built to rev to 9k rpm.

I think just about every modern engine has been swapped into an 86.... It's an absolute stellar chassis that can take any motor.

One thing I'd add for tracking an 86 is getting the heat out of the VERY sealed engine bay... venting the hood is a very important thing you can do for it, right up there with getting an oil cooler installed.

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