Air Suspension on The Track. Does it Work or Did I Ruin my Car?

The Myth of Air Suspension Being Bad on Track

Since its conception and introduction into the car scene we know and love, air suspension has been one of those modifications that seems to split some hairs of car enthusiasts. Whether it’s because you have the “Static as f*#k” crowd complaining that you took the easy way out, or your fellow track friend that is constantly telling you that you ruined the performance and handling of your car by installing bags instead of coilovers.

Essentially the general consensus is if you install air suspension on your car, you have completely ruined it’s handling performance and can no longer have fun with the car outside of hard parking it at your local car meet/show. 

So what if we put that to the test? What if we brought a car that was specifically built to be a show car, and threw it on a track to see how it did? That would be weird right? 

So here’s how it did…

Putting Air Lift 3P to The Test

In early October we took the MartiniWorks crew up to beautiful USAir to see how my wide wheel, stretched tire, overfender, bagged Mazda RX-8 would hold up to an autocross environment. 

Leading up to this I did no preparation for the car other than adding some more pressure to the bags with a few button clicks. If I’m being honest I was a little concerned at first. Mostly because I have never driven the RX-8 on a track and there were cameras rolling. 

After a few warm up laps I really started to get the feel of the car and pushed it harder and harder each lap. The sound of the high revving 13b, the bit of slipping of the rear tires on the cold autumn track, and the occasional fireball shooting from the exhaust had me grinning from ear to ear as I ran my tank down to damn near empty. 

How Did my Bagged Show Car do on The Track?

I had an absolute blast taking this car on the track and ripping it around. And as I expected, it handled amazingly well. The main arguments against air suspension is that it is either unreliable or makes the car feel soft and sloshy.

When it comes to the reliability of your air suspension system it truly comes down to you as the owner of the vehicle and how it was installed. I know people who have run air suspension for over a decade and have had zero issues and complaints. I also know people who have run it for less than a year and have had blown lines, worn bags, and electrical issues. And the difference has always come down to the installation of the system and how it has been maintained. If you take care of your air suspension, it will take care of you.

For the argument of how air suspension makes a car feel soft and sloshy, it once again comes down to you as the owner of the vehicle and how you have it set up. Since you are replacing a standard coil spring with a bag of air, the amount of pressure in the bag is going to determine how the car feels. Lower pressure=softer feel. Higher pressure=stiffer feel. Similar to a lower and higher spring rate. In the case of my RX-8 my “Ride Height” is set to 80 PSI in the front and 70PSI in the rear. This took me a bit to dial in with different pressures and shock length adjustment to get the right height and feel that I wanted out of the car. For me personally I wanted to make sure that the car still felt solid and I wasn’t getting a ton of travel in the suspension over bumps so my wheels didn’t slam into my over fenders. By adding a few more PSI into the bags I was able to stiffen up the car even more and it felt great.

The Conclusion of Running Air Suspension on The Track

So what did we prove? That you can 100% still have fun with your car no matter if you are running coilovers or air suspension. Now, would I suggest that everyone out there go swap out your custom built coilovers on your track car for the latest and greatest air suspension kit? Absolutely not. Even though I still had a blast with the RX-8 and showed that air suspension doesn’t “Ruin” a car like a lot of people think it does. It also doesn’t really provide any benefit over a standard coilover setup when it comes to the track. If you are building a car that is going to spend the majority of its time at the track, coilovers just make more sense to have on your car. 

If you enjoyed this topic and want to see/learn more about it, we just dropped a brand new video on the MartiniWorks YouTube channel that shows our day at the track and my initial thoughts and reaction to how the RX-8 did.

Author: Alex Gelina – @aka.gels 

Alexander Gelina

Alex Gelina "Also Known as Gels"