Car enthusiasts often say that that a good engine oil is "cheap insurance" for their performance motors. Unfortunately for those of us with dedicated track or race cars, this has started to become less and less true. A recent surge in marketing activity across the major performance oil manufacturers has caused the price of my go-to track car oil to jump by 30% in just one year. My "cheap insurance" of choice was starting to cause problems for our modest racing budget.
So when I was flipping through Grassroots Motorsports Magazine and came across an ad for a new brand of racing oil, my interest level spiked through the roof. I had never heard of PTH Racing Oil, but their ad had the right keywords and it came with a most intriguing tagline: "for racers, by racers."
At first glance that might sound like small business cliché, but think about it for a minute. You need hundreds of thousands of dollars of industrial machinery and years of experience to blend your own motor oil. What kind of "racer" has access to the warehouse full of specialized machines required to blend, test, and bottle motor oil? And how did they suddenly pop into existence without anyone noticing?
Who are these guys?
When a quick search of the usual car forums yielded no useful information, I ended up calling the company directly. It turns out that the company really is run by a SCCA racer and that they aren't as new as I thought.
In fact, PTH Racing Oil has been around for the better part of the last decade, quietly producing custom blended racing oils for club racers on the west coast. According to company Principal Rick Lee, he started out with the same objective as all track car owners and drivers - To find the best possible racing engine oil at a reasonable cost for the average enthusiast.
Unlike the average car enthusiast, Rick happens to have 20 years of experience working in the big oil industry and the commercial equipment to test and manufacture and package motor oil. So he did what any curious engineer would do: Analyze and test the living daylights out of the big name racing oils and high performance passenger car oils to see what worked best. When he couldn't find a racing oil that satisfied all of his requirements, he used his years of hands-on experience to create his own. After third party lab testing and on-track tests came back with positive results, he decided to start selling it to racers and track day drivers who might be interested in affordable, quality racing oil.
The company is established and the technical expertise seemed to be there. So I dug a little deeper into the product itself.
Top-Shelf Racing Oil at Club Racer Prices
Because their oils are designed solely for high-performance track and racing use, PTH Racing Oil takes a slightly different approach to the majority of the other big players. Most of the money goes towards using the best Group IV base stock that they can get their hands on. According to Rick, their base stock comes from ExxonMobil's line of PAO base stocks. Apparently, these base stocks are so expensive that even Mobil themselves can't afford to use it in Mobil 1 passenger car oil. I asked around, and this does seem to be true. According to one supplier, you have to shell out for their (significantly) more expensive Mobil 1 Racing in order to get the same base stock in a Mobil branded bottle.
The additives package is also very different from what you would get from most high performance street oils. When the conversation turned towards additives, Rick talked primarily about friction modifiers, friction reducers, antioxidants, base number boosters, anti-foaming agents, and anti-misting agents. He made it pretty clear that the priority was to make sure that this oil would stand up to long-duration loads in a high-stress, high-temperature environment, even if it meant making compromises on emissions and fuel economy.
At the moment, PTH only sells three viscosities: 5w-30, 10w-40, and 20w-50. All three are the same exact price - $140 for a case of twelve 1-quart bottles, which comes out to $11.60 a quart.
***2019 Update: Since this article was written, PTH changed their price to $175 a case, or $14.58 a quart. They also reduced their shipping costs to the lower 48 states to $25. It's still a fair bit cheaper than the competition.
While this might seem like a lot compared to your average street car oil, it's actually a bargain for a fully synthetic racing oil. Joe Gibbs Racing Driven XP3 costs at least $17 per quart, while Motul 300V comes in at $16.50 per quart at the cheapest. That difference adds up really quickly when you consider how often you change your oil in a track car.
Comparing Technical Specifications
Of course, everyone likes seeing cold hard numbers. So here's a quick and dirty chart of key figures that I scraped together from data sheets from the manufacturers (cross checked against third party Virgin Oil Analyses where available):
|PTH Racing Oil 5w30||Joe Gibbs Driven XP3 10w30||Motul 300V 5w30||Brad Penn PennGrade1 Partial Synthetic 5w30||*Mobil 1 Extended Performance 5w30 SN|
|Viscosity @ 40°C||74.2 cSt||70 cSt||64.0 cSt||65.6 cSt||59.8 cSt|
|Viscosity @ 100°C||11.97 cSt||12 cSt||11.0 cSt||11.1 cSt||10.6 cSt|
|HTHS viscosity at 150°C||5.2 mPa.S||3.64 mPa.S||3.5 mPa.S||3.185 mPa.S||3.0 mPa.S|
|TBN (total base number)||10mg KOH/g||1.8mg KOH/g||7.97mg KOH/g||10.6mg KOH/g||9.7mg KOH/g|
|Zinc (Anti-wear)||2033 ppm||~750 ppm||~1110 ppm||1500 ppm||~900 ppm|
|Phosphorus (Anti-wear)||2037 ppm||~800 ppm||~1020 ppm||1400 ppm||~800 ppm|
|Calcium (Detergent)||3163 ppm||~400 ppm||~3140 ppm||2900 ppm||~1200 ppm|
*Mobil1 Extended Performance is an API SN passenger car oil. I added it to show what a typical street car oil looks like.
Right off the bat, there are a few numbers that jump out at you. The unusually high HTHS viscosity confirms that PTH prioritized high-stress performance over everything else. A relatively high TBN number suggests that it will do a good job of protecting the internals of the engine against the metal-eating acids that form in the oil during the natural course of engine combustion, and that it could sit in the crankcase for longer periods of time. The relatively low Viscosity Index says that this oil is designed for use in relatively temperate environments (like racetracks during summer), and less for cold start in sub-zero climates.
The Zinc and Phosphorus levels should bring smiles to owners of flat tappet cam-equipped cars. PTH Racing Oil contains more of each additive than even the near-ubiquitous flat tappet oil, Brad Penn PennGrade1. In fact, 2000 ppm of Zinc and Phosphorus is comparable to some popular break-in oils. The calcium content is also surprisingly high. I'm guessing it's to counteract the ash production that comes as a side effect of certain additives, like the ones use to boost the Total Base Number.
Of course, there are a lot of other additives and agents which I couldn't get reliable numbers for. But based on published data, PTH Racing Oil looks to be an excellent choice for drivers of dedicated track and race cars who run their cars in longer on-track sessions.
I can see this stuff being particularly attractive for drivers running long race sessions (e.g. SCCA Majors races), 6+ hour endurance sessions (e.g. AER Endurance races), or open track days where they give you 6-8 hours of time to do whatever you like. I would also imagine that this would be particularly attractive to drivers of modified Honda VTEC, Toyota VVTL-i, and Porsche Variocam Plus equipped cars, which tend to run at high oil temperatures at higher RPM with higher cam lift than other production car motors. Based on the quality of the base stock, I would also expect that motors wouldn't lose as much power as the oil gets older. All good news for me, with my Honda race cars and my personal preference of 40+ minute sprint race sessions.
Of course all of these good qualities come with a few drawbacks. Like with most racing oils, the high concentration of Phosphorus means that this would not be good for OEM catalytic converters. So don't put this into your daily driver unless you plan on replacing the cat in the near future. Based on the high HTHS numbers, I would also expect fuel economy to suffer compared to most synthetic passenger car oils. Not that it matters much when you're barely doing 8 miles to the gallon when going full throttle on a racetrack.
That said, there are certain street car applications where PTH Racing Oil would probably work well. Classic British cars, vintage Porsches, or high-horsepower, cat-less sports sedans are likely to run very happily with this stuff in its engine.
But how do you know that it's actually good?
Good question. You can look at oil analysis numbers and compare test results all you want, but until you actually use the oil in a real engine in a real racing situation, you won't know whether it's actually any good. So I went out and bought a case from PTH. And as part of a long-term experiment, I will be running PTH Racing Oil in 5w-30 in the StudioVRM Prelude throughout the first part of the 2018 season. I also have some oil analysis kits coming so I can verify PTH's claims about what their oil contains.
Why take the risk? I will admit that cost is a big factor. The reality is that JGR Driven XP3 and Motul 300V are top-shelf oils with top-shelf price tags. It just isn't cost effective for me to use either of them with the change intervals I need to run. PennGrade 1 5w30 was my lower-cost go-to for Regional races, but with the current asking price at $114 per case, it just isn't that cheap any more. Especially so when I have three street cars and a separate endurance racing car that need my attention.
The other big factor is stability in the product recipe. D-A Lubricant Group recently completed their acquisition of Brad Penn, which has some enthusiasts concerned about potential formulation changes to Penn Grade 1. Motul, on the other hand, are making no secret of the fact that they have changed the base stock for 300V to a different, Japanese-sourced base. Not to say that the quality of either oil has gone down. But it does make you wonder if the characteristics of the oils are going to quietly change as time goes on. That's where a small volume manufacturer like PTH has an advantage. I can literally call the company and ask the guys who mixed my oil if anything is different in this batch. It's a luxury that high volume oil manufacturers can't afford to give to us privateer club racers.
The last factor is the vibe I got from talking to the guys at PTH Racing Oil. Despite the high-dollar commercial machinery and slick marketing presentation, these guys gave me the same feeling that companies like Kingpin Machine and Fortune Auto did. These are examples of companies that were founded on the basis of delivering the best possible product for a very specific market, with a secondary objective of "oh, if we make some money that would be good too." I like companies that give me that vibe. They tend to give a crap about their product, and by extension, their customers.
Between the winter weather and some ongoing chassis work, it will be a little while before I'll be able to put real track miles on this oil. In the meantime, here's the contact info for PTH in case you want to ask them any questions:
PTH Racing Oil
P.O. BOX 970754
Orem, UT 84097
Personally, I can't wait for the first test day. See you at the track.
Roger buys, uses, and recommends Joe Gibbs Racing Driven XP3, Brad Penn PennGrade 1, as well as the cheaper JGR Driven XP7. The PTH oil mentioned in this post was purchased at full price out of his own pocket. StudioVRM is not sponsored or supported by any oil companies, which probably explains why we're doing this test on a Prelude instead of a NSX.