White Hot: Mike Essa's 2004 BMW M3 E46

Mike Essa has played out a real life version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears when it comes to his BMW Formula Drift cars. His first E92 chassis had a very long 108-inch wheel base, was very heavy, and had a suspension geometry that wasn’t very optimal for drifting. Moving to a smaller and lighter Z4 chassis reduced 10 inches from the wheel base and several hundred pounds from the chassis, but the nearly-square chassis design made the car snappy in transitions. Essa hopes that this E46 will be the best of both worlds; with the wheelbase an inch shorter than the E92, the suspension of the Z4 and the weight somewhere in the middle. Baby Bear would be proud!

Under the hood, this car is very similar to the Z4 from the last few seasons. The familiar S54 motor is right at home in the E46 M3, reinforced with Carillo rods and CP Pistons, but is otherwise mostly stock. The Garrett GTX3582R turbocharger hangs off of a top-mount Doc Race twin-scroll turbo manifold (new this season) for more accurate throttle response compared to last years low-mount, single-scroll setup. A Synapse blow-off valve clears the air between each shift, while a CSF radiator keeps the motor cool.
White Hot: Mike Essa's 2004 BMW M3 E46

White Hot: Mike Essa's 2004 BMW M3 E46 White Hot: Mike Essa's 2004 BMW M3 E46

The true magic of drifting happens in the wheel and suspension components. Essa partnered with Bilstein this season to gain technical assistance from the renowned suspension provider, pairing the Bilstein motorsports dampeners with Wisefab suspension arms to gain nearly 70 degrees of steering angle. This allows Essa to enter corners almost backwards, particularly at tracks like Road Atlanta, where Essa is known for his crazy, physics-defying drifts.

“Since the suspension geometry on the E46 is essentially the same as the Z4, a lot of the notes we have from the past two seasons of drifting in the Z4 still carry over” Essa says. This will make the learning curve much easier for the new chassis.

Power is pushed to the rear wheels through a Clutchmasters twin-disc clutch and four-speed NASCAR-style dog box transmission, Thorough Concepts aluminum driveshaft, quick-change rear end, and Driveshaft Shop axles. Forgestar CF5 wheels powder coated in GSR Autosports orange and Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 tires connect the car to the tarmac.

As with all competition drift cars, a hefty, custom-built roll cage keeps the driver safe. Essa uses Sparco EVO seats and Sparco five-point harnesses, with a suede OMP steering wheel for responsive steering input. Hydraulic Wilwood pedals control the Wilwood brakes at each corner, with a custom E-brake handle for the rear hydraulic calipers for fine adjustments mid-drift. All engine controls are displayed on the same Pectel Pi Omega dash display that Essa has used on all three of his BMW drift cars.
White Hot: Mike Essa's 2004 BMW M3 E46
Essa is off to a hot start for the 2013 season. A strong qualifying effort and Top 16 finish in Long Beach was capped with a win at the Motegi Super Drift challenge at the Long Beach Grand Prix a week later, and a career-tying best fourth place finish in Atlanta. Essa may have chosen a less-common chassis to drift, but there’s no doubting that this car is fully-capable of competing with the best drivers in Formula Drift.

White Hot: Mike Essa's 2004 BMW M3 E46

ESSENTIALS // Vehicle: 2004 BMW E46 M3, Driver: Michael Essa, Team: GSR Autosport/ Yokohama Tire, Built by: GSR Autosport. Engine: M3 (E46) S54 V6, Horsepower: 750 hp, Torque: 600 lb-ft

ENGINE // Built by GSR Autosport, CP Pistons, Carrillo Rods, ARP studs, Doc Race (twin-scroll exhaust manifold, sheet metal intake manifold), Garrett GTX3582R turbocharger, Synapse (waste gate, BOV), CSF radiator

EXHAUST // Litespeed Racing 3.5-in. exhaust

DRIVETRAIN // Tex Racing four-speed dog box transmission, Clutchmasters FX950 twin-disc clutch with aluminum flywheel, TCR PARTS aluminum lightweight driveshaft, Driveshaft Shop pro axles, OS Giken LSD, Quick-change differential

CHASSIS / SUSPENSION // GSR Autosport custom TIG-welded roll cage, Wisefab (control arms, sub-frame bushings, angle kit), Bilstein MDS coilovers , Whiteline sway bars

WHEELS / TIRES / BRAKES // Forgestar CF5 wheels - 18x8.5 (f), 18x9 (r), Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 tires - 235/40R18 (f), 255/40R18 (r), Wilwood brakes (calipers, rotors, pedal assembly, E-brake)

EXTERIOR // DTM Fiber Werkz body kit, G1 Design wrap

INTERIOR // OMP steering wheel, Sparco (EVO seats and five-point harnesses), MoTeC CDL3 dash display

SPONSORS // GSR Autosport, Yokohama Tire, Bilstein Suspension, Wisefab, OS Giken, DOC Race, Ignite Fuel, Clutchmasters, Litespeed Racing Exhaust, DTM Fiberwerkz, Turbo by Garrett, Forgestar, Radium, TCR PARTS, CSF, Valor Collective, CP Carillo, Synapse Engineering, Wilwood, Whiteline, Shift S3ctor, G1 Design

More Vehicle Features

Retirement Plan: Mark Buffington's Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII

Some folks have 401k plans, money in the bank from years of hard work, and IRA accounts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some people, like magazine editors, have little more than that which is created by their overly vivid…
Read More

Last Call

As part of our rolling Scion showcase, our project received a number of upgrades and tweaks. Whether it’s the design of the project, the prototype wheels or the new audio system, the Project Scion is barely recognizable from last year.…
Read More


Some say it looks like a shoe, some say it looks like a bathtub. I doubt Infiniti designers were discussing the profile of a Ronald McDonald shoe or the merits of taking a bubble bath while this car was being…
Read More

Street Rebel: 2004 Subaru Sti

Do you think Subaru knew what they had on their hands when they decided to bring the WRX to North America in 2001? Sure, the car had won numerous World Rally Championships and had solid tuner followings in Asia, Australia…
Read More

The Adrenaline Project: Sony Canada's 2011 Scion tC

Written by Dave MacKinnon / Photography by BP ImagingScion has been in Canada for about a year, and as a brand that is closely tied to the aftermarket, it was an easy and logical decision to choose one of their…
Read More