M Car fun at the BMW Performance Center
Our Chapter is fortunate to have one of BMW’s premier facilities, the BMW Performance Center, located just 3 hours away. So we have organized a special program there every year since 2015, featuring a program tailored and priced just for BMW CCA members.
On January 26th, over 100 members ventured into the desert to Thermal, CA, location of the Thermal Club and BMW’s Performance Center facility. To provide the maximum driving time to all members, our goal was to be very efficient. We all registered and paid online beginning last September, most participants filled out another online registration and waiver for BMW in advance, and we pre-sorted drivers into 5 equal-sized groups with a sequence of activities to follow. That got us into our buffet lunch early and led right to the driver’s meeting.
The buffet lunch offered a tasty variety of salads and fruits and gourmet sandwiches, giving us a great start to our event. Our Instructor lead for the day was Brian Randall, who was very entertaining as he reviewed driving technique and briefed us on safety measures. “I named my dog Apex to make sure he would never be hit by a car.” Brian also drove us around the Hot Lap course, 3 passengers at a time, showing us how well an M3 can be drifted with careful management of extreme throttle and steering inputs. For many, riding sideways on a track was a highlight of the day. The Performance Center managed the inevitable tire destruction by having 3 more M3s parked in reserve. As Brian wasted one pair of tires, he’d just hop into the next M3!
Another driving station was the Drag Race, including a U-turn at the end and a drag race back to stop precisely inside a tight box. As last year, the AWD straight-line specials included the X5M, X6M and M550i. Those heavy SUVs are uncanny in their ability to accelerate, corner and stop so quickly. You can’t break the laws of physics, but these X5s and X6s surely bend them. With full throttle and full braking runs all day long, the cars never got hot and the brakes never faded on a nearly 80 degree day. Good thermal management indeed. A surprise treat was that BMW included two of their exclusive M760i’s, with 600 hp twin turbo V12s! Never before has a sub 4-second 0-60 been so stately. Where else would you get to drag race two V12 sedans side by side?
To learn how to manage momentum on a slick surface, our experience included a “Rat Race.” Using their polished concrete skidpad and a tight oval layout, two drivers would start on opposite sides, then chase each other round and round while trying to close the distance. This rewarded deft throttle and steering skills to control a drift that was just sideways enough to keep the car moving forward without being at an angle that cost momentum. “When you’re going sideways, you’re not going forward.” Last year, we used 340i sedans with traction control off, which required miniscule throttle and steering inputs to win. This year was different. BMW gave us new M5s to drive, with 600 hp and all wheel drive. Having AWD was controversial when the M5 was introduced, but in this application, it was brilliant! Instead of tip-toeing around to avoid a spin in the 340i, the AWD Sport setting enabled heroic slides with lots of power that could be easily recovered with the pull of the front tires. The M5s allowed sideways AND forward to coexist, and boy was that fun! BMW generated a lot of AWD converts that day, which is good since the next-generation M3 will have the same system.
Those with a competitive streak reveled in the timed autocross event. Nimble M2s and a challenging, tight course combined to bring out the Beast Mode in all of us. Each driver got to be a passenger first, learning the layout of the turns, why “Patience Corner” earned its name, and when to apply full ABS to stop within a tight box at the end. We were required to leave DSC engaged, so there was no option for the throttle steering that many of us have used at Chapter autocrosses to point our cars tighter. Each driver had two timed runs, and when the red mist cleared, the clock told us that our third place finisher was Serhan Emre, second went to Greg Uhler, and our champion in the Autocross was Joey Cipponeri. Congratulations guys!
The main draw for many at the Performance Center experience was a chance to drive on one of their 3 race tracks. Only members of the Thermal Club, credentialed journalists at manufacturers’ press events (the new 911 was being introduced while we were there), or Performance Center participants are allowed to drive at this facility. We were able to learn the most challenging layout, the Desert Palm Circuit, in a lead-follow format. Three groups of Instructors would lead 3 drivers each around on the correct “line” while in constant radio contact. It was a great way to learn how to manage straight-line braking, precise turn-in, accurately hitting the apex, progressive throttle application, and unwinding to the exit in each turn. The layout had everything from a second-gear hairpin to a 115 mph straight, and the M4 Competition coupes never missed a beat all day. To provide the maximum driving time, 2 reserve M4s were parked in the paddock to save us time when refueling was needed.
When the day in Thermal was over, we had managed our driving time, the BMWs managed continuous hard use without strain, and all of us managed to have a big smile on our faces. If you missed it, we have already reserved January 25th, 2020 for our next Performance Center experience.