This article is a continuation of our experience at the BMW Performance School posted by Horatiu two weeks ago. I would like to share my own experience from a BMW enthusiast point of view.
I’m secured and seated perfectly in the heavily bolstered Fox Red Novillo Leather seat waiting. I roll down the windows and cut back the air conditioner, the humid South Carolina quickly flows in and fills the cabin of the Jerez Black M3 sedan while a wait. Just then, the walkie talkie clipped to the storage compartment of the door by my left leg crackles to life: ” OK, Annnnndreeew, Car number 5, Go!”
I lift my right foot from the brake and apply it quickly but evenly to the throttle, heading off for the first corner, the tires chirp slightly outside of the windows, protesting, as the 4.0 liter V8 screams towards the 8,400 RPM redline.
Slam into second gear before the first line of cones delineating the turn, past it and then leveling off on the throttle slightly I make it through the slalom of cones. Foot back on the power for the slightly banked, long right turn I hit third gear and brake as late as I can for the sharp 90 degree right-hander, dropping back to second gear. I throw the car over to the right, get on the power again and feel the rear tires lose grip slightly as I ask too much of them. I regain composure over the car and throttle up over the crest and through the chicane of cones, braking only slightly before, then powering out on towards “the box.” I arrive in the “box” of cones in a dead stop, something the ABS system didn’t appreciate, and I immediately throw my eyes onto the scoreboard to my right, propped up by an X3, when the radio crackles “Twenty-three-thirty-eight!” I managed a time of 23.38 seconds around the M3 circuit, setting the fastest time of our group.
That was my favorite moment of the One Day BMW M Performance Driving School. For those that don’t know, BMW offers many different driving schools at their Spartanburg, SC-based Performance Center for both novice and expert drivers that teach better driving practices thru both classroom lessons as well as in-car experience. To allay fears, you spend the vast majority of your time at BMW’s schools in the car practicing the theories taught in the classroom, giving you the best understanding of how to correctly manage a car in adverse conditions.
Horatiu and myself were lucky enough to attend the one day M School which teaches, above all, car control coupled with efficient, high performance driving. Our day started at 8:30AM sharp in the classroom for a seminar on balancing a car properly, setting up the proper, most efficient line through a corner and how to correctly brake for a turn so as to set yourself up for the proper line. One of our instructors, Matt, then took some time to describe under and oversteer and how best to deal with each in order to recover the car from one of those two forces. The in-class lesson session only lasted 45 minutes to an hour and, after some coffee and bottled waters, we headed out to break off into groups to work on different elements of what we’d just heard in the classrooms. Our team of 6 people stepped up and we were loaded up into 6 M3’s after being taught the proper seating position, left foot planted on the dead pedal and the seat as upright as possible with arms slightly bent to give you optimum driving position.
And we were off to do some laps in an M3 to learn about proper turn-in and braking points! This was my first time behind an E90 M3 with DCT so it seemed a bit daunting at first but the calm yet always professional and fun instructors help you by working through some practice laps before setting out on your own to explore the course. One thing must be said, the instructors really make this course what it is. When you first meet the group of instructors they strike you more as a bunch of old friends rather than co-workers, all of whom exude the confidence you’ll need when you start to set out on a flying lap in an M5! They all come from former professional racing backgrounds so they more know what they’re doing, hence, when they give you a little constructive criticism after a lap or even during via the walkie talkies, you best listen, because they know every time you’re off line or change gears too early!
After the confidence building with the M3, we took a breather before taking the M5’s out onto the skid pad to learn about how a powerful car will behave in wet conditions. Lesson here: leave DSC on, especially in the wet! I managed to only powerslide the M5 once or twice, the remainder of the time spinning out due to my inability to catch the car’s steering fast enough. After that, it was time for another exercise on braking and turn-in with the M6’s on the middle of the course.
After that it was time for a delicious lunch and a little more time in the classroom to go through more discussion of car control and efficient driving. That said, it was also at this point the instructors provided a very thoughtful, cool souvenir to remember your time at M School, it’s very clever and a wonderful surprise so I’ll leave it at that, but those who attend M School surely won’t forget it! After that, it was time for a little competitive car control skills with an M6 with no DSC on a wet course followed by a long lapping sessions in the M5 that allowed you to practice all of the skills imparted by the instructors up to this point. I particularly enjoyed this lapping session as you get a mix of high speed down the back straight of the course before braking into a hard left-hander and onto the soaked skid pad and then back to a dry easy turn – certainly a mix of everything we’d done to that point.
After another small breather, our group jumped back into the M3’s and headed back for the timed circuit and the North end of the Performance Center track. This proved to be incredible fun as we all tried to best both our on personal best times as well as each others. I got into a particularly good fight with classmates Doug and his son Jarod, two of the fastest in our group before barely eeking out a lead on the last lap of the M3 circuit. After our timed laps of the mixed slalom and braking circuit, we headed back for a few fast laps in the hands of the instructors in the M5’s – laps which made you realize that their confidence coupled with experience made powersliding at M5 at high speeds look like it was easy as parking a car in an empty parking lot.
The end of the day wrapped up with the instructors, Andy, Matt, Larry, Jim, and Mike, if I forgot someone else I apologize – it was a whirlwind day! looked on at us almost as if they were proud parents looking on at all their children. After reviewing lap times on the M3 circuit, I was sad to find I’d placed fourth overall in the M3 times – second, third and fourth were all less than 4/10th’s of a second apart but the first place was nearly 1.2 seconds faster, taken by an experienced BMW CCA racer who definitely earned first place!
After discussing the day with one of our instructors, Matt Mullins, we talked about the 2 Day M School available which is held at the Virginia International Raceway – something we’re excited about attending as soon as we get the chance. The 2 day school takes the skills taught in the 1 day school and continues to build on them while also building the confidence of the driver at higher speeds. While some might say those two classes are a bit pricey, especially given the state of the economy, however, after experiencing just the 1 day course, I have to disagree, now knowing that the classes are actually the bargain of the century. It must be added, whether you own a BMW or not, an M Car or 1 Series – this class bars none in providing top-tier performance driving training. The class, coupled with the superb facility and world-class staff means that you can see where every dime of your fee goes and that’s something you just don’t find much of these days. All in all, if you love cars and are looking for a cool yet unique vacation or just want to brush up on better driving techniques, you cannot go wrong with the programs BMW has set up in Spartanburg with first class staff, cars and a facility, it’s something any diehard BMW fan shouldn’t pass up!