Living in a big city, I get to see my fair share of fast cars on a daily basis. I’ve driven plenty of sports cars and sports sedans in the city, but to get a real good feel for these powerful machines, they need to be taken to a track, where you can really feel their power. Taking it to the track, rather than racing on the streets, is also the responsible thing to do and you don’t have to worry about getting speeding tickets, hitting a pole, or hurting someone else.
Taking a fast car to the track is all good but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it could turn really ugly real fast. I have to admit, as many cars as I’ve driven over the years, when it comes to track time, I’m not very fast and I don’t really know the proper racing lines (yes, I’m awesome at Gran Turismo, but real life is a little different).
Thankfully there are programs, like the BMW Performance Driving Center, that teach skills that make you a better driver on and off the track. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to the BMW Performance Driving School at the Thermal Club in Palm Springs, California to spend half a day learning and enjoying some very fun BMW vehicles. BMW’s slogan is “The ultimate driving machine” and if you want to find out how good these machines are, I highly recommend spending a day or two at the BMW Performance Driving School. You don’t need to be a BMW owner to go.
I have written about the four cars we drove on our half day here, in the full day (and longer) programs, you get to drive a few more cars than we did.
Like any proper racing school, the morning starts out with a quick briefing in the class room, where the instructors go over safety information and answer any questions you may have. The instructors were very easy to talk to and treated us with respect.
The morning started out with driving the four cars on the smaller track, which was great to get us a little familiar with the cars and the environment. The small track was a good appetizer for the rest of the day, I found driving the BMW M2 Competition was my favorite around this track, it’s a lightweight and nimble car that’s meant for tracks like these and the twisty country roads. After driving the M2 around this track, driving the larger 540i and X5 were a bit of a handful to drive around the small track, it also didn’t help that my speed was still based on the M2 while not taking into consideration the extra mass of these significantly bigger vehicles. They did perform well on their own, I would’ve enjoyed them a lot more if I hadn’t driven the M2 and M3 before these two. Tip: Drive the X5 first, then the M540i, then the M3 and leave the M2 for last.
Next, we went to a bit of a bigger track layout, where we drove around in the M3. The M3 is the bigger sibling to the M2 and is just as fun, some people might even prefer it over the M2 because of the engine’s higher output. We had timed runs on this track and unfortunately, I wasn’t in the top 3 and there were only 5 of us… Yes, I was very disappointed in my performance, I was overthinking it and should’ve just had fun. I would have liked to have a go at this track with the M2 Competition.
Next, we went to the large (proper) track, where the instructor took us around in the M3. That was a lot of fun, as we experienced firsthand what the world-famous BMW M3 was like to drive on the track at the hands of a professional racing driver. After the initial few laps with the instructor, we were let loose on the track with our very own personal M3s. Now this was really fun, I did a lot better on this track than the shorter track, I wish they would’ve had timed these laps, I think I might have been at the top of the list.
I have possibly seen hundreds of videos, over the years, of the world-famous BMW M3 and here I was driving it in a closed-circuit. It was an amazing feeling and the M3 performed just as advertised, I loved the power of the engine and the amazing stopping power of the brakes, you cannot possibly experience what this car can actually do on the street, you need to take it to a track.
Things I learned
I may not have performed great on the timed lap, but I have been to a few race track events over the years and I’ve learned stuff from watching videos and playing videos games, yes video games do teach you a thing or two, but below are a few things that particularly stood out to me from what the instructors taught us at the BMW Performance Center.
- Proper hand and foot placement: Placing your hands at the 9 and 3 o’clock position is very important and most car enthusiast know that, but having the proper distance between you and the steering wheel is also important. Having a 45-degree bend in the arms and even the leg is very important. The left leg position is very important for braking, as you brake hard going into a corner, all your weight is shifted forward, you need your leg to support your weight rather than your arms, which you’ll need to steer the car.
- Looking far ahead: During my motorcycling days, I was taught to look far ahead and look at the corner exist before you’re even in the corner. What I learned this time was that looking far ahead, in a straight, helps take away the feeling of speed, when you’re looking far ahead, you don’t see boards etc. whizzing by you, giving you less of a feeling of speed. Which helps with taking away the nauseating feeling of speed and also helps you concentrate on racing.
- Brake hard into the corner and as you approach the corner ease off the brake.
Wrapping Up The Experience
After having fun at the different courses on the track, visitors can pick up some cool BMW clothing and gear at the little store inside the facility. I picked up a couple of shirts for the kids, I’m sure they’ll be the coolest kids in school.
I had a great time at the BMW Performance Driving School, I just wish I had even more time to spend with these finely tuned German-engineered machines, maybe in the near future I’ll get to do the full day or even the two-day course. For more information on the BMW Performance Center and to book a class, click here.
The BMW Performance Center is located at The Thermal Club (86-050 Jasper Lane, Thermal, California 92274), reservations can be made using the above link or by calling 888-345-4269.
Parts of this trip were paid for BMW; however, BMW had no influence on what I write in this post, everything I’ve written above is coming from me as a person who just had an amazing time at the BMW Performance Driving School. I would’ve written the same article if I had paid for this trip myself.