Honda S2000: Four Steps To Prep It for the Track
Unsurprisingly, the S2000 doesn’t require much. But here’s what you need to know.
The Honda S2000 is a truly legendary sports car. It possesses a driver-centric interior and a light curb weight, as well as a naturally aspirated, high-revving inline-four engine that made 237 horsepower (at an astronomical 8,300 RPM) and between 153 and 162 lb-ft of torque from the factory. It was only available with a manual transmission and rear-wheel-drive, and all of this adds up to a car that was legitimately engineered for the track.
All that's required to start attending track days with one is to make sure it's in good non-leaking condition with functioning brakes and some tread left on the tires. However, whether you're tracking an AP1 or AP2 S2000, there are a couple of extra steps to consider that will ensure you'll get the most out of it. With a little preparation, this RWD legend can be riotous fun in the twisties for any level of driver skill.
A Thorough Service
The Honda S2000 was produced between 1999 and 2009, and even low-mileage garage queens can't escape Father Time's influence, despite what some insanely priced auctions might indicate. Rubber bushings rot, seals harden, tires are undrivable after five years, coolant loses its effectiveness, brake fluid sucks up moisture, and more.
No matter the condition, any car that's heading to the track should be given a good service, including fixing any fluid leaks, replacing worn-out wheel bearings and tie rods, doing a comprehensive oil change (engine, transmission, and differential), flushing the coolant, replacing any perished bushings, as well as replacing any worn-out suspension components. Most crucially, the brakes should be in perfect condition—no leaks, the brake lines should be in good shape, and the pads/rotors should show plenty of thickness. A lot of track day organizations offer tech sheets that can act as a checklist to ensure everything's tip-top.
Improved Stopping Power
Maintaining confidence in one's brakes is an important part of driving on track. Flushing out common DOT3 brake fluid for more focused DOT4 racing brake fluid helps ensure an S2000's braking system will stand up better to increased fluid temperatures on track from hard, repeated braking. Castrol SRF, Motul RBF660, and Endless RF-650 are popular options, and considering the S2000 only needs one liter for a flush, it could cost no more than $100 if you do it yourself. Additionally, having good street performance brake pads is a good idea, as they'll have stronger clamping force and deal with heat better. Hawk's HPS 5.0 is a good street/track option, as is the Project Mu HC+800 and Ferodo DS2500.
One brake component that requires special attention on the S2000 are its rotors.
"Rotors crack, and they don't crack when you're on track, Kevin Burke, a SoCal-based S2000 time attack competitor and driving instructor for Fast Toys Racing Club, said. “They crack when you come off the track, so it's a rapid cooling type of crack. I think it has to do with heat dissipation, and then when they cool down to normal temperature, something about them just gives. All stock rotors do it—OEM, Centric blanks, all of them."
According to Burke, there's no real upgrade to prevent cracking in the future besides a full aftermarket big brake kit. Until then, keep a spare set of rotors in your track day supplies just in case.
A Good Alignment
I've written extensively about this with my own BMW 128i, as has my colleague Chris Rosales. A performance-oriented alignment does wonders for handling and grip. It's amazing how much of a difference pointing the top of the wheels inwards, which is adding negative camber, or lining them up pointed straight down the road, which is zeroing out the toe, transforms any car.
"Stock, you can only get 1.5 to 2.5 degrees of negative camber up front," Burke said. "J's Racing makes a lower ball joint camber mod so you can get at least three degrees in the front."
Any amount of negative camber up front does wonders for turn-in and cornering grip. However, the AP1 S2000's rear end is known for being a bit lively when driven at the edge, meaning snap oversteer can occur. This is when the back end loses traction instantly and causes the driver to have to react quickly and accordingly. This could be a bit scary to people who aren't familiar with such a sensation, as they might not have experience in catching the rear end and powering out of oversteer in different scenarios.
"The AP1 has dynamic toe change under load," Burke said. "You can buy a toe bar to reduce that, but I've had two fail on me on track. If someone tells me the rear end feels weird, I just tell them to add more toe-in with the alignment."
Toe-in aids rear end stability, so this is effectively preloading the rear alignment to change more stably under load. When it comes to alignments, your tire life and mileage may vary depending on how many miles you put on the car. As far as caster is concerned, Burke reports that whatever it's at when the camber is set is fine. Though, it's a good idea to have it aligned at a dedicated shop that's not only familiar with racing alignments, but the S2000 chassis as well.
A common trait amongst a lot of performance cars on track is drinking oil at high RPMs, and even puffing out blue smoke during hard cornering. For the S2000, this often happens after hard left-to-right transitions on track, especially if the right-hander is a long sweeper.
This is caused by oil sloshing around right underneath the valve cover, and then getting sucked up by the PCV system, which then sprays it into the intake manifold, and finally gets burned up in each combustion chamber. This video by DIYguys on YouTube thoroughly covers the subject:
This results in the car puffing out blue smoke. This also greatly increases oil consumption, which can be quite alarming, as the S2000's F20C engine won't last long on track when it's low on oil (or any car, for that matter). There are a couple paths an owner can take to remedy this issue.
"A catch can is a good thing to have," Burke said about installing an aftermarket remedy. "It gets worse with G forces, but even with 280 treadwear tires, I definitely recommend that."
The above video shares another method, which is to have the valve cover modified so that oil can easily drain and won’t pool up. Catch cans are easy to install, though have some downsides (they require draining, can create noxious odors, etc.) and might not be kosher in the eyes of emissions regulations.
At the end of the day, the S2000 was engineered for performance, which means it needs less done to it for track duty than a lot of other cars. Some cars, especially ones with similarly high-strung engines, need upgraded radiators and possibly oil coolers to stay in good shape on track, but the S2000 doesn't really, as long as the factory equipment is in good working order. An aftermarket roll bar is worth considering as well, but at least it has roll hoops from the factory. A good service is all that's truly required, and just a couple of minor reliability and alignment mods will ensure the mighty S2K will provide plenty of reliable fun, lap after lap, all day long.
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