In the past, BMW has held M Festivals in Europe to celebrate its famous motorsport-derived performance division. This time, though, BMW decided to bring its M Festival, and M Town, to North America — more specifically, Canada — for the very first time.
Thankfully, BMW Canada was kind enough to fly me out to the fantastic Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nicknamed “Mosport”) to check North America’s first-ever M Festival. I was given great food, allowed to drive on the track and was even blitzed around the track as a passenger at wonderfully frightening speeds by proper racing drivers.
During my time with BMW Canada, I had the privilege of actually experiencing the BMW M Festival twice. The first time was the day before the festival actually began. Along with several Canadian journalists, I was able to sample all of the events that M Fest customers would get to experience the following day.
The day started off with some breakfast, which was lovely and in the fantastic VIP lounge of Mosport. The lounge had a wonderful balcony view of the entire track and facility, which made breakfast much better.
After we put some croissants and coffee in our stomachs, we headed out to the track to begin our round of events. Oddly enough, my first event was actually off the track. In fact, it wasn’t on any sort of pavement at all, as we were off-roading in BMW X4s. The X4 might not seem like the obvious choice to take into the woods but that was actually the point. The event is to show customers, and I guess us journalists as well, that all of BMW’s SUVs can handle some rugged terrain.
So off into the woods we went. I was a passenger first but then had the chance to drive the X4, with an instructor riding shotgun, through the woods and some surprisingly difficult trails. Obviously, a Land Rover would handle the trail I sampled with its eyes closed and half asleep. But it was still quite tricky and far more treacherous than almost any BMW ‘X’ model owner would ever try.
There were big undulations, steep uphill sections on very loose sand and a ton of downhill descents. Yet, the BMW X4 handled it all with ease, using its xDrive all-wheel drive system to get itself out of almost any situation and also using its hill descent control to manage its speed downhill.
After the surprisingly fun off-road section, it was off to the autocross event. I have a love/hate relationship with autocross, as I find it incredibly fun but I’m also not very good at it. Once in the parking lot, with the autocross course laid out in cones, we had three cars to sample; the BMW Z4 M40i, BMW M340i and the BMW X2 M35i; and two laps with each car.
Unfortunately for me, I was told to start in the Z4, then the M340i and finish in the X2 M35i. I say that’s unfortunate because it always takes me a lap or two to get acclimated to tight, technical autocross courses and by the time I was comfortable with it, I was in a top-heavy, front-wheel drive-based crossover. The BMW Z4 M40i was the most fun car to drive but I just wish I had the chance to drive it again at the end, when I was finally good at the course. The M340i was surprisingly fun as well but honestly felt like a bus after the low, delicate Z4. While the BMW X2 M35i might be fun on the road, this event marked the second time I’ve driven it on some sort of track and it’s just not meant for that; it’s too top-heavy and front-biased.
Once we finished our autocross, it was time for the drag race event. There, two BMW M850i Coupes were set up side-by-side with long runways ahead. Journalists were then put in each, with instructors sitting shotgun, and sent off to drag race each other. With identical cars and easy-to-use automatic transmission, winning the drag race came down to individual technique.
We weren’t allowed to use launch control, because it require too long of a cool down period after each use, so we had to launch each car ourselves. Which is better, to be honest, as it allows some differentiation between drivers, whereas launch control would be identical every time. We each were given three runs, best two out of three, to beat the journalist next to us.
On my first run, I tried shifting gears myself with the paddles. Bad idea. I bogged my second-to-third upshift, as the rev-limiter comes down like an anvil far earlier than I anticipated. So I lost my first run. On my second run, I learned my lesson and kept it in Sport automatic, letting the car’s brain handle shifts. I also decided to left-foot the brake pedal and hold the revs at about 2,500 rpm before dumping the brake pedal for the launch. That worked like a treat and fired the M850i out of the hole with absurd thrust. I won the second run. On the third run, I did the same thing but so did my friendly opponent and he got a quicker jump off the brake pedal, so he beat me in the third run and outright. Still, it was fun.
For the fourth event, it was time to hit the actual Mosport track with some M2 Competitions. All of our cars were equipped with DCT gearboxes, as mostly casual driving customers were going to be using them the next day, but no one was complaining about an M2 Comp on an incredible track. And the track is indeed incredible.
It’s fast, it’s tight and it’s technical, with some genuinely great turns, blind crests and fast sweepers. Though, it was my first time ever on that track, so I spent the first few laps learning it and getting a feel for it. After a few laps, we hit the pits for a quick chat with our lead/follow instructors and then we hit the track again. On the second go-around, I was much more confident in the car and my ability on the track, which allowed me to really open the car up and have some fun. The BMW M2 Comp is one of the more fun track cars I’ve ever driven, constantly wanting to squirm its rear end on corner exit. Brilliant fun.
While I’d rather drive a manual on track, as I’m not putting food on the table with race winnings so I have no need for the ultra-fast DCT shifts, I’m glad I had the dual-clutch ‘box. The M2 Comp is a handful and the DCT lent me a bit of a safety net to lean on while learning both it and the track. Plus, it was really just a third and fourth gear track, so not much shifting anyway.
When we finished up flogging the M2 Comps as hard as we dared, it was time for the pros to show us how it’s done. BMW Factory Works drivers Jesse Krohn and Tom Blomqvist were on hand to take us around the F1 track in BMW M5 Competitions. I rode shotgun with Krohn and his absurdly calm demeanor as he chucked the M5 Comp into corners at triple-digit speeds was both frightening and hilarious.
Tom Blomqvist (Left) and Jesse Krohn (Right)
Not only was he mind-warping fast but, as he was frightening the journalists in the car, he was actually explaining how he differs his approach for each corner in his M8 GTE race car, compared to the M5. So he was actually thinking about driving two different cars, while driving at insane speeds, with a six-figure super sedan loaded with passengers. I asked him how he does it and he said that those speeds, which would terrify mere mortals, felt like slow motion compared to his M8 GTE. Sheesh.
After that, our day was done. We had a closed-room viewing of some upcoming M cars and some lunch. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Markus Flasch, the newly appointed CEO of BMW M. But after that we went back to our hotels for some much-needed rest.
BMW M CEO Markus Flasch
The following morning, I had the chance to actually attend the M Festival, as a customer would (only with free VIP access, of course). If you ever have a chance to attend an M Festival in the future, do so. It was awesome. Customers had the chance to not only see these incredible cars up close but drive them in ways that they’d never be able to elsewhere. Normal folks — customers of 3 Series lease-specials, X3s and 5 Series’ — were able to flog M2 Comps on track, drag race M850is against one another and take X4s off road. It’s a ton of fun. Hell, there was even a kids area, with RC M4 racing, BMW electric scooter drag racing and a bounce house.
Best of all, though, customers had the chance to ride shotgun with Jesse Krohn and Tom Blomqvist, just as we did. I asked a man how he liked riding shotgun at those speeds and, I swear on my life, he said he’d “never gone that fast before”. That’s wasn’t a shocking revelation, if I’m honest. However, when he said “I felt like I was gonna poo my pants” in his thick unknown accent, I felt as if my journalistic duty was done.