These days when it comes to a custom build or a project car, the choices are absolutely limitless. There are so many directions you can go it’s almost overwhelming. Stock naturally-aspirated engine bored .040 over? Turbocharged? Why not twin-turbocharged? Old-school blower? Those are just a few powerplant choices. But there’s more! Automatic, dual-clutch, or simple manual transmissions? Your imagination and your wallet are the only boundaries holding you back when building a hot rod in 2022.
However, there is one component that isn’t up for a ton of debate: wheels. Until we see Doc Brown and Marty McFly hover down in the DeLorean from Back To The Future, our project cars are still going to need wheels. If you’re ever planning on taking your project car to the track then you really need to consider installing a lightweight and strong wheel designed for racing…not just for the performance, but also for safety.
Good news, Forgeline Motorsports makes exactly this product.
Project Apex, our 2001 Cobra, was at the point in the build where a final decision on a wheel choice had to be made. We tested the car at the track in stock form. Next, we added a Maximum Motorsports suspension to the car, which meant things were starting to get very serious in the grip department. The more grip you add to a vehicle means the more force is acting on the wheels of that vehicle. Wheels are not indestructible items, though, and we were searching for a set that offered performance and safety in one scoop.
However, the disasters we were trying to avoid are not affiliated with the high school parking job that gashed your wheel lip, but rather, one that could cause a catastrophic wheel failure. These disastrous circumstances can result in your car ending up with the shiny side down. To be clear, shiny side down is a bad thing. Because of this, serious racing teams consider wheels wear items, just like brake pads and rotors. Most teams only keep road racing wheels in rotation for three years and then they are replaced.
Anyone who has spent a lot of time churning laps around twisty road courses can tell you the importance of lightweight, strong wheels. This magic combination of strong and light comes at a special price, though. Sure you can get an inexpensive lightweight wheel, but it won’t be strong. If you understand how these inexpensive and light wheels are made, then you will realize how brittle that porous metal at the hub can be and could possibly break after a few bumps over some apex curbing or after rubbing wheel-to-wheel with a fellow competitor. Like we already discussed, when wheels break it is really hard (read impossible) to cross underneath the checkered flag first. We understand this concept, which is why we made the decision to go with the top-of-the-line wheel with a set of Forgeline’s GS1R.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into a Forgeline wheel, we went directly to the source: Dave Schardt, president of Forgeline. One of the first things Schardt mentioned was the fact that Forgeline wheels are made 100-percent in the United States, with the highest quality 6061 T-6 aluminum. Schardt helped us understand the amount of material and work that goes into manufacturing a single wheel.
“To make an 18-pound racing wheel, we start with 110 pounds of 6061-T6 aluminum. To forge this aluminum and ensure there is no porosity — which means there are no empty pockets or grain in the metal to leave it weak — we forge it by smashing the wheel with a 10,000-pound press over and over again. This forces the atoms of the metal to get in line, to get strong,” Schardt explains. “We CNC-machine the forged block of aluminum into the 19-pound wheel you see on race cars at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
The same process that is used for the wheels on GT4 race cars is the same process for every Forgeline wheel that is sold to customers for their street cars that see track duty on the weekends.
“The difference in the forces acting on the wheel between a wheel wearing a 200-treadware performance tire and a wheel wearing a dedicated track tire isn’t twice the amount of force, it is more like ten times the force,” explains Schardt
This was important information to have, as we have plans to push Project Apex on the track with even grippier tires; those new grippy tires could cause a failure of a cast wheel, possibly resulting in a bad off at a track and ending the life of the Cobra, or worse, injuring our driver, Ivan. Like investing in a good quality helmet for safety, we knew it was crucial to invest the money to purchase a high-quality race wheel that would keep us and our project safe on track.
When you purchase a Forgeline or any fully forged wheel you are going to invest 2-3 times more on the front end. However, these wheels are not going to have an on-track failure as we continue to add much more grip, with our goal of running a racing slick tire this season. We predict over the life of the project the investment will likely be a wash and we aren’t taking a unnecessary safety risk on track. Since the Forgeline wheels are lighter than our OE wheel the end result of reducing the unsprung, rotating mass at each corner is better acceleration and braking.
“Everything on a car flexes, that is just physics and metallurgy. You can’t get around it. Just like a suspension system with rubber bushings versus urethane bushings, the vehicle’s alignment changes when the suspension flexes on the rubber,” says Schardt. “Those alignment changes don’t help the car get through a corner better. When a wheel flexes — and they do flex— it also changes the geometry of the suspension, and not for the better. A stronger wheel, like a forged wheel, will flex much, much less, providing a car that is more predictable and quick around the track.”
Not only are Forgeline wheels light and strong, they are also designed for clearance with larger and more efficient brake rotors. Currently Project Apex is still using the front OEM Cobra brake calipers, but as this project moves along, speeds will get higher and better brakes will be needed. There is certainly plenty of room inside the Forgeline wheel to upgrade the brake system.
“This tire provides so much confidence, even with temperatures dropping into to 40 degree Fahrenheit,” Ivan explains. “I could brake later, throw the car into the corner harder, and be on the accelerator way sooner. Its grip was always there. The tire is very predictable and easy to drive on the limit. We did not make any other changes aside from installing the Forgeline wheels with Falken Azenis RT660 tires and we picked up almost 4 seconds a lap!”
The total improvement was 3.55 seconds based on the good laps that Ivan could put together, but we are confident that there is another second left on the table based on the optimal lap prediction that the Garmin device showed. Project Apex is coming along one piece at a time, and the wheel upgrade was a proper move in the right direction to create a fast, safe, and great-handling track weapon.