Stage 3 Tuning

"All you need to know: Tuning your car to Stage 3"

What is a stage 3 tune?

When a car is tuned to stage 3, most people think about a  track day car. You'll find that most cars in this category are not road legal.

Often catalysts/DPF Filters and other pollution controls are removed. This is most areas will fail a car inspection and can result in a ticket/citation or even confiscation of your vehicle in some regions.

Further reading: To clarify what we and most people mean by tuning stages, then read about stage 1 mods in detail and stage 2 tuning options.

We have a video about the differences between tuning stages with a simple explanation of each stage.

Stage 3 Engine Tuning Mods

Typically a car setup for stage 3 will be optimized to live in the upper third of the RPM range, where most of the power is.

Your typical Stage 3 mods include...

  1. Lighter Flywheel
  2. Stronger Internal Engine Components & Competition Cam
  3. Big Turbo conversion
  4. Slick Tires
  5. Straight through exhaust & Catalyst/DPF removal
  6. Fuel Upgrades (pump & injectors)
  7. Hard & Low Suspension
  8. Race Spec Brakes
  9. Weight reduction
  10. Setup for Race Fuel (injectors & fuel pump)

This can lead to the car needing a very high tick over to avoid stalling.

On 12 May we are releasing our video guide to stage 3 tuning, so be sure to bookmark the premiere and don't miss out.

Stage 3 Flywheel

Flywheels are usually replaced with lighter units, this means the car engine RPM's will change much more quickly, allowing rev-matching through gear changes, and better acceleration.

Depending on the other mods you've done and your choice of engine management you can go pretty light with a motorsport flywheel, but there are some circuits and tracks with hills and long straights that will benefit from a more substantial flywheel.

Tick over will generally need to be set higher to avoid stalling and keep the engine rotating smoothly at lower rpm ranges.

The drop in weight is also a bonus with the car physically having to do less work to get the car moving.

Stage 3 Internal Engine mods

Engines will be stripped down and rebuilt with stronger components and tolerances will be tightened up. Taking F1 cars as an example, you'll see that engines need to be prewarmed to expand the metals and unseize the engine due to the very tight tolerances.

Balancing the engine components and altering the crank, rods and pistons can help raise the RPM limits helping you to make more power at the top end.

Depending on your strategy you may want to increase or drop the compression ratio. Fitting forged pistons and crank and getting these balanced will all help improve reliability with the extra stresses a stage 3 tune puts on your engine. See our guide to pistons and crankshafts for more information on this topic.

Another bonus of having a balanced engine is that you can raise the RPM redline safely. You'll notice than many performance engines have rpm limits raised far above that for a stock engine, and this is primarily down to the quality and balance of the components used in the engine.

Manufacturing tolerances will also be much tighter with stage 3 parts and you'll notice this can add quite dramatically to the cost.

You can also fit a motorsport cam which has an aggressive cam profile. This will cause lumpy tickover idling and poor running at low rpm's but if you want to raise the RPM range and get more top end power the cam profile is generally the key to unlocking this extra power.

Stage 3 Turbo Upgrades

Turbo upgrades are quite popular thanks to the massive power gains on offer. With a road car you need the turbo to flow well at low RPM's which reduces it's top end potential, so when looking for a stage 3 setup you can go with a larger turbo.

The low RPM lag will not be an issue as the car will rarely be in this part of the rev-range, and you can make a lot more top end power.

Because you will be burning more fuel it is quite common to see raised emission levels on a stage 3 tuned car. This would be a problem on a road car, but is not usually a consideration for a track car in most regions.

Stage 3 Tires

You also have access to track-only components, like slick tires, to give you the maximum cornering grip.

Softer tire compounds give better grip but will wear very quickly so will need to be replaced regularly.

The tread design is usually optimised for track cornering, and will not provide much comfort and road noise can often be a problem with some designs.

Stage 3 Exhaust mods

Sound levels are often much higher, although many tracks have limits in place so you'll need to check these. Straight through exhaust pipes can be used in some areas, but there are many exhaust upgrades around that will help your stage 3 tune to shine.

Often catalysts/DPF Filters and other pollution controls are removed to aid flow, and as you tend to run rich mixtures you won't want a catalyst anyway. This in most areas will fail a car inspection and can result in a ticket/citation or even confiscation of your vehicle in some regions hence why we've labelled it as stage 3.

A stage 3 race modified car will also need to be regularly overhauled and serviced. It also makes sense to specify a very high-quality synthetic oil as cheaper and low-quality oils will start to shear, and fail to protect the engine when it is working hard.

Stage 3 Fuel Upgrades

To run race fuel you'll need a higher capacity fuel pump and better injectors. It is always recommended to over specify your injectors to ensure they can keep up even when they become worn or degrade, or you have lower quality fuel.

Typically you need a lot more fuel if it is of race grade and then you'll need to match this with enough air. See the section below on the power gains available if you switch to a race fuel, but bear in mind you may have to dramatically increase your fuel delivery.

We have heard of fuel pumps failing to grab fuel on heavy cornering, or fuel flow problems due to the G forces a car experiences on a track. Thankfully there are solutions to these problems, which are relatively easy to install.

Stage 3 Handling Modifications

Because most track surfaces are quite well maintained and you need to maximize your cornering speeds you will typically drop the car more than you would for a road setup, and using firmer springs and anti roll bars will reduce body roll.

Very firm setups and big drops will only work on a well maintained smooth track surface, and you won't have to worry about driver or passenger comfort.

Read more about suspension setup and suspension mods.

Stage 3 Brake Mods

Brakes will run extremely hot and must be upgraded as part of your stage 3 tune. We would recommend race pads, designed to operate at higher temperatures than OEM or road pads.

Brake operation will often be much more heavy and can seem almost on or off in some cases.

Likewise the clutch will be a heavy duty clutch and will require a much firmer push to engage it.

Some controls will also be relocated, a handbrake is usually replaced with a lever and will often have a locking button attached to it for a quick set and forget operation.

Stage 3 Weight Reduction.

Weight reduction can be quite extreme in stage 3, with body panels being replaced with carbon fibre or fibreglass.

As the car is set up for racing it will often be stripped out. Comfy seats will be replaced with racing seats and harnesses. Carpets/dashboard radio and other unnecessary parts are removed to maximize the weight reduction.

Even the glass in windows can be quite heavy, not to mention dangerous if it gets broken, so often drivers will choose, even in they are not required, to replace the glass with a heavy-duty plastic alternative, such as polycarbonate units like Lexan. But avoid flammable options, such as plexiglass as these present an obvious hazard.

To read more about this see our article on weight reduction.

You won't need many of the lights, and indicators in some motorsports, so in this case, they will be removed.

Most tracks will also require a roll cage and fire extinguisher set up before you begin. Although you want the peak performance from your car it really pays to ensure the car is safe for yourself and those around you.

Race Fuel up to to 250% more power!

E85 is a fuel made from Bio Ethanol and has a lower fuel to air ratio than gasoline and higher knock resistance, and in most cases the stock fuel system you have done with your stage 3 mods will allow this to work well. Bear in mind fuel economy will be compromised and the car will have more trouble with cold starts.

By switching fuel types to Nitromethane, you can potentially increase your power by a factor of 250%! The air to fuel ratio for Nitromethane is 1.7:1 which is about 8 times less than required for standard fuel.

This will require much more fuel supply so you'll need to uprate the fuel injectors and fuel pump to cope with this.

Other options include Nitrous Oxide, which releases oxygen and nitrogen as it burns and is a fairly simple way to have a dramatic power gain.

Even Methanol will produce around 60% more power than pump gasolene and thanks to it's higher octane rating its less prone to detonation and pre ignition.

Care of a stage 3 Tuned Car

The extra strain put on the car's engine will result in premature engine wear and if a car is used on a daily basis it will become very unreliable. So to summarize stage 3 mods are the most aggressive and not the sort of thing you want to do on a road car.

The car will need to be stripped down and checked over regularly and most parts will be working very hard so need replacing more often than they would in a daily driven car.

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