Friday, April 10, 2015

Trial by torture... Ardeca Lubricants on the track and street!

It's commonly said that if the "heart" of the car is its engine, the  'lifeblood' of the engine must be the engine oil. This saying definitely highlights how crucial the performance of the engine oil is viewed to impact the overall performance of the car. On a car doing track duty in a super hot track like Sepang Circuit, the level of abuse the engine oil takes in the engine is many times higher and thus the choice of engine oil is very important to both wring out maximum performance whilst ensuring protection for the engine.

When I first got my S2000, I mostly relied on the regular dealers to give me necessary advice on when to change my oils and what oils to use. After a particularly shocking incident, I then began to realize that I would need to do the necessary research if I wanted to ensure my engine oil choice would be optimal for my usage for peak performance at the track. These were the factors I looked out for:

1. The right viscosity

I was taken aback on how many people and experienced mechanics, despite the huge resources available online which were even sometimes provided by the oil principals themselves, seemed to makepoor choices were made in this area. To put things very simply, the engine manufacturers (Honda in my case) had already determined how thick or thin an oil would be in accordance with tolerances in the engine. Challenging that design by using oil of a viscosity significantly higher would be absolutely taking unnecessary risks in my view.

2. The amount of protection

Engine oil manufacturers usually supply a technical data sheet with many specifications informing consumer on how the oil will act at high or low temperatures and even indicators of potentially how long the protection will extend.

 A simple Google search would be able to give you information on how to decipher the technical terms in layman understanding. When you overlay the information you have on the engine oil with what information is provided by the oil manufacturer, its easy to make an informed choice for the oil suiting your needs. Sub optimal engine oil choices exist but why would I want to spend money on an oil that doesn't protect as well or has protection that is half that of peers?

3. Price

This seems like a no brainer but what I did find out was that there were many brands that seemed to demand a premium for performance claims. In some cases, the premium was easily 30-40% more than a similarly well respected peer brand. Why the discrepancy? It seemed plausible that much of the premium came from the aggressive marketing of the premium brand when actually the oil was made by less well regarded brand with a slightly modified additive package then packaged and rebranded as a premium product.

In many cases, these premium products tended to be very skimpy with details (most don't provide technical data sheets which is a big hint) and rely on quoting XYZ celebrity or big money marketing campaigns to cement their repute and thus inference of quality. As a self funded enthusiast, I look clearly for an oil that has good value for money since I do end up changing oil rather regularly so such premium products hold no lustre for me no matter how sexy the advertising is.

For many years, I ran my car on the Motul 300V which has a stellar reputation in all the areas mentioned above except maybe for the price point as it did command a premium. Am I satisfied to pay that premium? Sure! Running my engine for 160,000 kms on Motul, including the punishing track mileage I put the oil through, is the clearest testament to the superb quality of the oil.

Have a look at the technical data sheet for the Motul 300V Power 5W40 here which is a oil principals provide to aid in choosing the right oil spec for each person's ride. These results were garnered from a test of a sample of virgin (unused) oil.

While it may be confusing for those who are not well versed in the technical terms, the following results stood out for me:

Viscosity at 100°C (212°F) ASTM D445 13.6 mm²/s

This points to the thickness of the oil at a specified temperate which gives one an idea of how much protection the engine may have from the oil when the engine is heated up. Having a number too low means the chance of the oil not lubricating enough and allowing friction wear is higher. Having a number too high means the oil is very "thick" and may make the engine feel sluggish.

TBN ASTM D2896 8.25 mg KOH/g

TBN stands for Total Base Number which is a way to measure how much reserve alkalinity is available provided by the additive package since through combustion and other areas, acidity is introduced to the engine. Having a higher number is good since it pretty much means you can keep using this oil (except if the oil is contaminated by say particles of sand which somehow sneaked past your air filter) even beyond your usual rule of thumb oil change intervals.

There is, however, probably no better way to figure out how well the oil performs than by doing a periodic engine oil analysis. This involves taking a sample of the used oil from an oil change and sending it to a lab where it is put through a series of tests. This will then tell us indicatively how much life the oil has and how well the oil has protected. Sending the Motul sample I had used to Blackstone Oil Laboratory, I then came back with results suggesting that even 15,000 km oil change intervals might be appropriate! This, of course, flys in the face of the conventional wisdom to change your engine oil every 5,000 km or be prepared for catastrophe.

After using Motul for so long, I came across a Belgian brand called Ardeca Lubricants. Interestingly, the very specifications that had made me perk up were similarly displayed in the Pure Sport 5W40 product. Best of all, the product was clearly much more reasonably priced.
Here is the technical data sheet of the Pure Sport 5W40 to compare some data

Let's take a look at the same numbers I highlighted for the Motul 300V Power 5W40 versus the Ardeca Lubricants Pure Sports 5W40

Viscosity at 100°C ASTM D445  13.85 mm2/s

The Ardeca oil in fact runs very slightly thicker than the Motul when the engine is hot so in my mind, there isn't much of a significant difference in this department.

Total Base Number ASTM D 2896 7.4 mg KOH/g

The additive package in the Ardeca oil may be slightly less than that of the Motul oil but let's take that into perspective and delve a bit deeper into the analysis. In the interest of ensuring peak performance for the engine oil, the general enthusiast isn't probably looking at comparing 20,000 oil change intervals between the both oils.  10,000 to 15,000 kms is probably the limit that most would consider to be reasonable and in this scenario, the difference in TBN is probably not realistically going to make much of a significance. The savings possible then from a cheaper oil are now apparent.

Virgin oil samples are, however, probably not as convincing as trial by fire on the track so off to the tracks we go! I decided to run the oils for about 10,000 kms and managed to squeeze in some trackdays in that mileage:

9tro'Us 2014 Sepang Trackday

Giving taxi rides was the order of the day (Photo by 9tro)

Giving taxi rides sideways after doing landscaping at Sepang was the Special of the Day (Photo by Raedi Yusof)

PG Trackies Johor Circuit 3rd April Trackday

Which blue would you pick? NA or Turbo?

Late to the line up meant I got stuck way at the back of the pack

Traffic jam at Turn 1!

PG Trackies Johor Circuit 12 Sept Trackday

Lining up for the Normally Aspirated 5 Lap CCT

Caught just before the finish line as I bagged 1st place (Photo by Shot By Royston)

Group pic for the winners of the CCT with the winning NA and Turbo cars

Once I was done with the oils, I changed them out and send the oils off for the good folks at Ardeca Lubricants Singapore to have the oils tested by BlackStone Oils. Why was an oil test necessary? Here is a link by the good people of Blackstone explaining why oil analysis is important and useful but in short, testing the oils in the laboratory is the only objective and data verified way of truly knowing how the oil has performed and how much lifespan we can expect from it.

I was a bit apprehensive about the test numbers as I had unwittingly run too much octane booster over the few events and this caused the oil temperatures to remain much higher than I would liked them to. Would this mistake result in a contamination of the sample such that it would compromise the performance overall additive package and reduce the useable lifespan?A sample of unused or virgin oil was sent along with the sample that had been run in my F22C engine and this was for the purposes of ensuring we know how the oil profile looked like fresh out of the bottle compared to its post usage profile.
Here is the report on the virgin sample of Pure Sport

Here is the report on the used sample of Pure Sport

In brief, the results were truly confidence inspiring with the report stating that I could look forward to try a 15,000 km oil change interval as compared to the current 12,000 km done even with the abuse of 3 track days. Apart from fuel contamination by the overly rich mixture caused by excess octane booster and additives from the octane booster, these are probably the kind of results you can see from premium oil peers. The key results that struck me were that the oil doesn't seem to have sheared down much from the original state which is probably due to its ester core base.

 It is very interesting to note that the traditional wisdom to have oils changed out after 5,000 or 10,000 km is likely to be much too early. This objective testing allows me to use the oil wholly reassured that I'm keeping my engine well protected throughout my track sessions and focus on driving to the limit.

The quality in the Ardeca Lubricants lineup of products extends to the rest of its product range and what better way to showcase this than to do another "torture" test on their range of regular oils. For this test, I used my Honda Jazz family runabout to absolutely try to test the limits of longevity since it would be representative of the typical family runabout and usage environment. The car in question was a 2006 model with a manual gearbox and had already seen more than 200,000 km of mileage of road use. In went Ardeca Syntec 5w40 and 30,000 kms of grocery getting, school runs and ferrying of the family took place before I got the oils changed out for fresh oil.

Here is the virgin sample of Syntec

Here are the results of the 30,000 km run

Daily driving might be considered quite abusive to engine oil since the engine tends to operate a lot of the time not fully warmed up and stop and go traffic with its lack of steady operation combined with higher fuel mixture taking its toll on the lubricant lifestyle. It's often mentioned that oil change intervals should be around 15,000 to 20,000 km for a family car or every half yearly for optimum performance and protection.

In this case, I used a year's worth of 30,000 km of mileage to truly push the limits and yet the oil has performed very well being limited to a large degree by dirt which I believe is the result of a dirty air filter. Owing it to this being a non ester core oil, it was expected that the oil would shear down which is seen in the TBN dropping to about 2.5.  I had expected a recommendation to reduce oil change intervals to 20,000 to 25,000 km but looks like even 30,000 km seems fine for this oil as suggested by the good people of Blackstone.

In conclusion, despite the low profile of the brand, I am absolutely confident to run with Ardeca Lubricants Pure Sport in my S2000 for my 2015 season of racing owing to the superb results of the torture test I ran the oil through. I'm happy to rock the Ardeca Lubricants decals and have embarked on partnering with Ardeca Lubricants Singapore to do further testing on the Pure Sport product which I look to do further updates on while potentially expanding the range of products covered. Thumbs up for a brand that delivers stellar quality which can stand the most rigorous standards of trial!

Shout out to those who made this possible:
Ardeca Lubricants Singapore
Achilles Radial
Wasp Composites
YHI Singapore
Counterspace Garage

Media credits to:
Jerry & Kelvin for their PG Trackies pics
Shot by Royston for his pictures
Rev Magazine for lovely shots

Technical info credits:
Motul & Ardeca Lubricants for their technical data sheets

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Achilles 123S testing... Track racing trial and testing!

The Achilles 123S is a tyre that has gone unnoticed by many in Singapore and Malaysia which is surprising since the older version of Achilles 123 was the official tyre for the Sepang 1000km Race in 2009 and this tyre has even been run by the winning car in the Formula Drift event in Singapore in 2012. This lack of notice is even more surprising since they are currently being run on the leading Formula Drift car piloted by Daigo Saito who dominated Formula Drift US Irwindale in October 2014.

Check out this cinematic clip of Daigo with Achilles Radial team!


Seeing how much promise the tyre has to deliver high performance at a surprisingly affordable price, I decided to try them out to see if they would actually be able to match up to the current top reference tyres in my mind: namely, the Advan Neova AD08 and Hankook Ventus RS3. The Advan AD08 delivered super sharp response with great progressive grip rain or shine with a relatively moderate fall off in grip over the heat cycle while the Hankook RS3, although cheaper, was super sticky when fresh but tended to be a bit lacking in feel, be rather tricky to drive in the wet and had a fairly steep drop off after a few heat cycles. Where would the Achilles 123S end up in comparison to these 2 great tyres?

Here's some shots of the super aggressive tread pattern of the tyre

Although I could not get my hands onto a 255/40/17 Hankook RS3 which has an advertised tread width of 9.6 inches for comparison, I got the next best thing to compare with which was a 255/35/18 AD08 which has an advertised tread width of 9.9 inches so its clear to see the 123S, despite being slightly narrower runs very wide indeed!


When you don't have a ruler on hand, the key comes in handy to measure tread depth! This is about a 5mm tread depth which is optimal for out of the box racing use.

Referring to the Achilles 123S page here, we can see the major benefits touted:

1. Twin Centre Grooves Design
2. Rounded tread design
3. Rim Guard Protection
4. Solid Centre Rib
5. Highly strengthened block and strong tyre shoulder design

The combination of all these attributes are meant to deliver a tyre that excels on the street and track racing performance. Considering the reasonable price and the multi year warranty that is extended on the tyre, most buyers of these tyres should be pretty comfortable knowing that choosing this tyre won't overshoot their budget or compromise on safety. Track enthusiasts like myself, however, would really focus on the both daily driveability and the ability to achieve good track timings when running these tires. So after a few weeks of driving the tyre around on the street, it was off to the track!

Heading down to the 9tro'us Track Day , I got a good feel of how the 123S would perform in the scorching hot weather on that day and even managed to get some data on the performance of the tyre via my RaceLogic Performance Box which gives me the grip numbers via a G force readout. Let's break down the numbers into a performance department comparison versus a currently well regarded tyre for tracking namely the Hankook RS3 Z222 by making reference to the average G forces generated over a series of runs done.

A) Straight line braking on the front and back straights:
In terms of heavy braking from high speed, both RS3 Z222 and 123S perform at a very high level and exceed 1 G of brake force and there is not much gap in terms of grip potential between them both.

B) Low speed corners:
The grip difference seems to favor the RS3 yet the 123S is only separated by a mere 0.1 G meaning this difference is really slight and might only be truly apparently driving when you are seeking that additional couple of tenths of a second.

C) Mid to higher speed corners
Considering that the aerodynamic effects dominate at these speeds compared to mechanical effects, it was relatively more easy to get stable results to spot a difference as spikes in readings tended to be slightly less. Once again, the difference was similarly slight but there was a clear consistent bias to RS3 Z222 having a higher grip.

Overall despite me having mechanical issues which resulted in my lap times being rather below expectation, I was able to get some valuable feel of how the tyre performed. Firstly, the feel and response of the tyre were at a very high level and definitely close to the excellence of the Advan AD08 leading me to be very confident to push the limits as I had very good feedback through the steering. Secondly, the tyres were sticky and maintained their grip well despite the blistering hot conditions during which many tyres would have succumbed to. Thirdly, the outright grip was very close to the super stickiness of the Hankook RS3 as validated from the data generated. Even my friend Gerald Tan who races at a pretty high level commented on how nicely the tyres seemed to perform!

Here is a video link of how exciting the track day was! Can you find my car in there? ;)

In between this and the next track day, I did a fair bit of daily driving which gave me a chance to experience the tyre on day to day driving use. During the dry weather driving, the noise generated from the tyre was on the high side but for an enthusiast driver like myself, the noise was really nothing new and pretty much in line with what most tyres of this category would be like. For the wet weather, due to the shallower tread depth, one had to be cautious not to get into deep puddles as aquaplaning would occur. Even so, the tyre was very communicative throughout and would "remind" me how close to aquaplaning I might be getting close to. Definitely a tyre that I had no problem living with for daily driving use.

The next trackday I attended was the (12 Sept PG) where with the help of the tyres, I managed to snag 1st Place in the Normally Aspirated CCT challenge! I had a leaky exhaust manifold to contend with which slowed me down a little and my settings for alignment and damping were off the mark leading to me being lacking in confidence (the walls are pretty close at Johor Circuit so I'm not afraid to say I have good reason to be really conservative!) but despite that made some improvement to my personal best.

Here are some pictures of all the fun I had at the event! Grassroots motorsports at its finest...



After the track day, the tyre was fairly worn but in a rather even manner as you can see from the pics below:

I did, however, have an issue on the final few laps of the CCT which caused me to have unstable handling when applying or backing of the throttle. I found out that the tyre had developed a bulge which you can see from the pics and video below.

Watching this video u can see where the block bulges as the tyre rotates

These two pics show a close up static shot of the bulge

The development of such bulges does not mean that the tyre is in any way lacking in quality as tracking the tyre with high camber like I do puts huge stress on the car especially since I tend to run about maybe 20 hot laps or more at a go even on a worn set so from time to time, such faults appear. I had used another set of 123S all the way down past the tread marker bars and no such bulge had developed so I'm actually very confident in the tyre quality and construction. 

I've taken pains to deliver a fair and transparent review of what the strengths and weaknesses of the Achilles 123S and I hope this has been informative to those who want to pick a tyre and are presented with this choice. I strongly recommend this tyre to any of my friends especially those who enjoy going to the race track as it's balance of both excellent performance and great affordability make it a powerful proposition so I have no reservations in doing so. Do look forward to see me use this tyre more often at the next track events and maybe even competitions!

Credit to the following for their strong support:
Achilles Radial
Ardeca Lubricants Singapore
Wasp Composites
YHI Singapore
Counterspace Garage
Media credits to:
AutoMoment / Shot by Royston  for the pictures
Rev Magazine for their coverage of the PG Trackie event
Aaron Hia for his pictures
BROOKSFILMS for the video of Daigo
525 Studios and 9tro for the video of the 9tro'us 2014 trackday