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EQT BRZ Down at Thunderhill - 8/21/15

Posted by Ed Susman on

I have some sad news to report: the EQT BRZ is down for the count and will be down for a little while.

As many of your know, we have been pushing the stock engine very hard through many track days and a lot of testing and abuse with lots of boost. The plan with this car was always to continue to push the stock motor with more power until we saw a failure. We did this as an R&D exercise to find the failure point of the stock FA20 so that we have a good data point to provide our many customers running boost on their FT86's.

We had been running the car at around 350whp (Mustang Dyno Calibration) for a few track events and had exposed it to some unfavorable, very hot conditions. At that level, we had set the fastest lap times for the platform at Sonoma Raceway, Thunderhill, and Buttonwillow. We had pushed through high oil and water temps and low oil pressure conditions at Buttonwillow and somehow the little engine survived and the car was actually driven back from the track. At that event, we also managed to set the fastest lap time for the FT86 cup exhibition class by a wide margin. 

At that point we knew that the engine was on its last legs, but since it was still running, we decided to continue on with the torture test. We had been helping SBD design and test the new larger turbo option for their kit, so we decided to run it for the next event. We tuned the car up to about 400whp on the GT3076 turbo and crossed our fingers. Please note that until now, the car had always been driven to and from the track with no trailer in sight. However, this time an engine failure seemed much more likely, so we actually trailered the car to Thunderhill.

I took the car out on the first session and soon after the warm-up lap, I started playing with the new power while monitoring engine parameters. Unfortunately, as soon as I started getting comfortable, the inevitable happened. I was running up the front straight and as I shifted from 3rd to 4th gear, I lost all power. I saw a little smoke from my rear-view, but nothing major. I coasted off the track and into a safe spot. I tried to re-start the motor, but no luck. At that point I waited patiently for a tow truck, though since I was out of the way, I was prepared to wait the rest of the session. After about 10-15 minutes waiting in the car, I started noticing a little steam coming from under the hood but didn't think much of it at that point. Then about 5 more minutes later, I noticed some smoke and started smelling some burning from the vents. Soon after, I noticed the vinyl on the hood starting to bubble. At this point, I quickly jumped out of the car and signaled for a fire truck. It took about another 10 minutes for the fire truck to arrive. By this point, some small flames were visible under the hood. The fire truck finally started spraying and put out the flames and smoldering plastic and then the car got towed off track. 

As soon as the car was in a safe area, the guys started inspecting to see what happened. Sure enough, we found that a rod had snapped and punched a hole in the top of the block. The rods are the weak point in these motors (especially with boost), so this was the expected point of failure. The surprise, however, was that the rod went through an oil galley and a breather port, and with the right combination of oil, fuel vapor, and heat from the combustion chamber, a small, slow fire developed right around the hole in the block. We know this because the fire damage is significantly worse in that area and clearly spread slowly from there. Remember, this was a very slow burn as it was nearly 30 minutes before it got put out. 

While we fully expected the engine failure to occur in exactly the way it did, we did not expect the resulting fire and that is the really unfortunate part. It is especially unfortunate that it took so long to put it out since no one actually noticed it for so long. The fire ended up melting most of the components under the hood (intake manifold, fluid reservoirs, lines, wiring, windshield cowl, etc), but surprisingly, the turbo components were barely touched. Even the flex fuel sensor is actually still in decent shape.

When we got the car back to the shop, I reviewed all the gauges and log data. All parameters were well within norm, no excess heat, zero knock, etc. It was just too much power for the stock rods to handle, especially after the abuse they had seen previously. We then started breaking down the car and assessing the damage further. Although it looks pretty bad in the pictures, thankfully there is no real damage to the chassis. We already had another engine in the works for the car, so that part is taken care of. That engine also came with all the major accessories, manifolds, etc, so that will help a lot. Of course now we have to source all the other bits that got charred and melted in the process and get the car back together. The plan at this point is to complete the new engine, source the remaining parts, and take our time rebuilding the car to fight another day. We are not in a huge hurry for this, as our shop schedule is really booked up and our personal/shop projects always take a back seat to the work we do for our customers. But we will continue to plug away at it as we have time and make our BRZ stronger than ever before. This will also give us time to get a much needed roll cage in the car!

As many of you know, we do this mainly for fun and to find the weak points of the platform so we can give solid advice to our customers. This kind of thing is inevitable when pushing the limits, and I'm thankful that no one was hurt and that the damage is totally repairable. Huge thanks to all of our supporters and everyone urging us to get the car back on the track. You guys know I can't stay away from the track for long, so the car will definitely be back up and running as soon as our schedule allows. 

Here are a couple pictures from the day this happened. We will continue with updates and pictures as we rebuild this little beast!


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2 comments

  • The 2015 WRX has much stronger rods which seem to be good to about 400whp. The FA20 in the BRZ uses much lighter, weaker rods because its not built for boost.

    Ed Susman on
  • So for the 2015 wrx what wheel HP would you decided to stop adding power and procede to install better rods if even available? Can you explain what would need to happen/need?

    Andrew Thomson on

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