Searching frantically to find track time for a car review, BMWBLOG stumbled upon one of Canada’s best-kept secrets: BMW Club Canada is a fantastic driving school.
Beyond a school, I have found BMW Club Canada to be a sort of automotive utopia – a place for real enthusiasts, drivers, gear heads and fans to convene upon all things BMW and all things ‘driving.’
My first experience with the school came on a bright Sunday morning. Having never driven on track before, I was naturally very excited and intrigued. How would the weekend unfold? Will I learn a lot? How qualified are the instructors? What does a BMW feel like on an unrestricted racetrack?
I went on to find the answers to all of the above questions very quickly; read on to see what I’ve learned about the club.
This is no fly-by-night driver’s school. Established in 1973, the club has gone on to grow across the country, sub-dividing into 14 chapters centered around Canada’s greatest racetracks. The Trillium Chapter is Toronto’s branch of the club and the chapter I’ve been associated with. Track days are highly structured and organized to a near military level (in a fun way, no push ups) and this boot camp of a drivers’ school turns your brain into a sponge.
One of the first things our charismatic school director told us was to, “leave your egos at the door.” I did one better and locked mine in the trunk (it took a beating through those corners). Everything you think you know about driving is likely quite incorrect if you’ve never had formal instruction. The way to properly drive a car quickly is counter intuitive to human nature; it is principled, patient and structured. Adrenaline is the arch nemesis of these virtues. Suppressing your adrenaline and progressively stepping up your driving is part of the instruction, you never feel “over your head” or feel as though you’re out of control. As your skill and experience increases, so does your confidence and speed. Gradually you become more and more comfortable, having more and more fun. I have not smiled so hard in many years – my face hurt by the end of the weekend. Don’t forget to brush your teeth if you attend this school.
And the instructors? I have had two so far; allow me to introduce you to Scott and Francois (the French can drive, so this ought to be good).
Scott was my first instructor with the club, he is a man’s man, a true gentleman. Mindful of my in-experience, we started at the very basics, laying the foundations progressively through the morning. As the day progressed, my skill and Scott’s teaching advanced until I was at a level far beyond my expectations. Scott’s disciplined approach, friendly demeanor and passion for driving pervaded our entire time together and I could not have started off from a better place. By day’s end we were having an absolute blast – the most fun I had ever had behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Francois was a more experienced driver, having disciplined his driving on-track for more than 10 years. Francois was passionate about driving and very descriptive as he explained new skill sets and concepts. Again, my skill and confidence gradually increased throughout our time together and I really enjoyed every moment driving with Francois. I learned that every instructor will bring something unique to the table in terms of their instruction and style of driving, thus benefiting you, the student, as you develop your own skills and driving style.
“Experience counts” – nowhere is that more true than on the racetrack. I suppose the collective 600 years of instructor experience counts for something at BMW Club Canada, Trillium Chapter. The eldest active instructor with the club is Jacques Day at the ripe age of 79. I’m not aware of any other school or organization that puts you shoulder to shoulder with some of the most experienced and talented drivers in the Country.
Allow me to illustrate how advanced BMW Club Canada’s driver training program really is. Before I recount this story, please bear in mind that I recite this with total humility, mindful that I have everything to learn and remain a relatively inexperienced driver (Oh darn, I think I forgot to let my ego out of the trunk).
After completing two full driving schools with the club, I went on to compete in a driver challenge hosted by BMW Group at a recent Press event. All attending journalists (around 70 in total) were invited to complete their fastest timed lap around an autocross course while driving a Mini Clubman. Journalists from the likes of Road&Track, Car&Driver and other legendary journals were present at the event. Jumping into the Mini, I felt intimidated, knowing the prowess of my adversaries behind the wheel. My first timed lap put me within 2 seconds of the competition. An acceptable time for a warm-up lap to learn the track. My second lap closed the gap by a second. The Mini people seemed to think I was on to something, and made a few suggestions. Shortly thereafter, I completed a lap within 2.5 tenths of the leading time. A photo-shoot elsewhere at the event interrupted my efforts to top the time charts, and I was later pushed from 2nd place, to 3rd place on the podium. Not bad for my first ever autocross – and I owe every ounce of that success to what I learned a few weeks prior with BMW Club Canada; they taught me how to drive, and quickly.
So what does a BMW feel like on an open track? Simply amazing. Like a pent up stallion finally set free in open pastures – eagerly running faster and faster, for the first time embracing what it was destined to do. Speed is in every BMW’s DNA, and it is somewhat cruel to own one and never let it run to its full potential. I would even go so far as to say that until you’ve unleashed your BMW on a proper racetrack with professional instruction, you really haven’t ‘owned’ a BMW, merely learned about one. Most BMW owners experience a small percentage of their car’s ability through their entire ownership; BMW Club members learn to enjoy the full potential of their cars several weekends through the year. Experiencing an unleashed BMW on the racetrack really substantiates the purchase of “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” You will never look at the Roundel the same way.
Of course, there are many benefits to completing a course with BMW Club Canada beyond the thrill of the experience. Learning the subtleties of car control makes you a much safer, more prepared driver on public roads. Swerving to avoid a collision, for example, will become second nature, reflex, a no-brainer. The driver schools are not-for-profit so you are receiving one-on-one in-car instruction, ample track time and the full amenities of the racetrack at a bargain price. Because the driving school is registered as an educational entity, all costs of attending the school are tax deductable. Attending a driving school is much cheaper than increased insurance premiums, body work and car rentals after an avoidable accident. Any reasons you can think of to boycott this school would best be described as excuses.
I eagerly await BMW Club Canada’s next track event in my area and I encourage anyone who has a passion for driving fine cars to attend one of the club’s events held locally.
For now I will try to ensure that my writing is sharper than my driving.
Please visit www.bmwclub.ca for more information about how to attend events and explore your car’s full potential!
Photo Credit: Shawn Molnar / Alan Martin, www.refractionarts.ca