Article by Richard Daugherty
What a short but fun trip to Austin Texas! I was notified of the BMW M Track Days event in Austin, Texas by email from having done an M School and other events. It would be the debut of the M6 Gran Coupe as well. I had done the Lime Rock M5 Experience just last fall but thought it would be cool to drive the M6 Gran Coupe on the Circuit of Americas Racetrack, and be able to compare the two cars. They offered a choice of 3-days within their two week schedule of events at the track. I chose to fly in Wednesday for the Thursday track day.
Registration was effortless but I decided to add a few days to my stay and worked up my travel plans accordingly. The flight in was uneventful and I turned down the provided ride to the hotel and picked up a rental for my extended stay instead.
The event hotel was the W Austin, a top rated establishment. The service, room, and everything was first rate. My first stop was the bar for a cold one and I happened to meet a few attendees doing the same. It was soon time for the main event. I met some old friends and made new ones as well. Appetizers and an open bar were provided first and then a nice meal. Of course Texas style brisket was served. They called us together and announced the M6 Gran Coupe. A wall opened up to reveal the car in Frozen Silver, bathed in orange spot lights for a great effect. The interior was the individual Canyon Brown, resulting in a very sharp combination. It had the carbon ceramic brakes with gold calipers. Everyone had time to sit in and savor the car. The evening was quite enjoyable.
After a nice buffet breakfast we rode in a bus to the track. The group was pre-divided in to morning and afternoon groups and further divided into 3 groups of 6 to organize the day. My group did the morning scenic drive and afternoon track sessions. A concern of an afternoon rain during the track time proved unfounded. We paired up and went to our cars. I chose a San Marino Blue M6 GC with Black interior and the DCT. 6-Speed equipped cars were available too.
After a brief moment to adjust the seats, etc, we were off. The route took us on an 80 mph toll road. It was absolutely quiet and effortless to cruise at that speed and beyond. I began to play with all of the settings. The Comfort settings were great for a cruise or around town driving. One can still quickly get on the power when needed or just for fun. Unfortunately the route took us through all too much traffic to play with the sport settings but I knew that I’d see plenty of speed on the track. We reached our mid-point on the drive and took a short coffee break overlooking the hill country west of Austin. We switched drivers and returned to the track through even more traffic. As a passenger, I could better enjoy the stylish luxury provided by the M6 Gran Coupe. Although, space would be tight for rear passengers, especially with the front seats back at all. We arrived back at the track in time for a nice buffet lunch.
In the staging area held in a pit lane bay, BMW had several nice displays including an Individual 650i Convertible in Ruby Black. They also had displays of the ///M Active Differential, twin-turbo V8, and the carbon ceramic brakes. Impressive engineering went into this car and the M5 to provide usable and controllable power. Furthermore, an M1 was parked outside!
Now it was time for the track sessions. First up for my group was the M6 GC. It was lead-follow with a BMW Performance Center instructor and 3 cars, 2 drivers each. I rode first. That did help orient myself to the many amazing aspects of the track. First, it’s the big hill leading up to turn one. You turn hard left and dive over the top like a roller coaster but have to set up for a very technical series of S-like corners, finally sweeping into a short straight before the big U-turn 11. Get the car turned and get back on the gas for a ¾ mile straight before braking long and hard for turn 12 followed by a series of sharp turns. You then have a big sweeping right before a couple of lefts put you back on the front straight. Whew! After each lap, the car just behind the instructor would fall to the back of the line, giving each driver a chance to be second in line. The pace was as fast as the group could maintain while being safe and controlled.
After about 5 laps, we switched drivers and I was up. A press of the M buttons transforms the car to an impressive instrument for track duty. It is no go-kart but the size and weight are masked extremely well. The car just dives into S curves without complaint and has unending power down a long straight. Of course like any car on the track, it takes time and effort to learn the proper inputs to achieve the best balance and smoothest, fastest laps. The carbon ceramic brakes are also VERY impressive. They have a smooth progressive pedal feel that firms up with heat, along with incredible stopping power from high speeds. I saw speeds up to 146 mph on the back straight and could slow to 40 mph for the tight turn 12 without drama lap after lap. Unfortunately many of us experienced a limp mode of sorts. An over temp warning would kick the car into D1 and a much taller gear. This was usually after high RPM stints or at the end of a long straight. The 95 degree air temp, even hotter track, high RPMs, and disturbed air flow when following at speed may all have been to blame. But after a few seconds you could kick the car back into a lower gear and get another lap in. All too soon the session was over.
Next up was the M5. Immediately it felt softer than the M6 Gran Coupe. I would seriously consider the Competition Package if planning to track the car just to see if it’s tightened up to the level of the M6 Gran Coupe or more. But you quickly get used to the car and can enjoy it just as much. We also experienced the limp mode in the M5. Plus our car had an unsettling pulse to the brakes when hard on them from speed. That was probably from the several days of track abuse or someone accidentally setting the parking brake after a session. Plus these were M School cars with some miles on them. The carbon ceramics were butter smooth in comparison. I just hope they offer the full free maintenance warranty on them.
Next up was a timed autocross in M3 Coupes. This was a fun little exercise but nowhere near the thrill of fast laps on the COTA circuit. We were then given a hot lap in the M6 GC to end the day. I sat in the back. With my helmet on, feet tucked under the front seat, and my knees alongside of it, we were off. I tried to video the experience with my iPhone and had minimal success keeping it steady through all the turns. Obviously the instructors were able to get much more out of the cars than us amateurs with every S curve probably seeing 1G or more. Towards the end of the lap, turns 16, 17, & 18 form one long high speed arc. The car in front did a massive power slide throughout the arc as did we, following though solid tire smoke, all on video!
We then were gathered for announcement of the fastest M3 autocross times, our certificates, and a big thanks from the instructors for participating. All too soon, the day was over and we were shuttled to the airport or back to the hotel.
Overall, it was a great experience, to be part of the M6 Gran Coupe unveiling, to drive it on such a great track like Circuit of the Americas, and to experience the M Brand and drive them as they are meant to be. Now I just have to decide which one would I want, the understated M5 or the stylish M6 Gran Coupe?