When you spend around six figures on a car these days, manufacturers tend to do something nice for you, for instance: flowers, shirts, watches, chocolate, new transmission, ipods, umbrellas, key chains, etc. It varies by the price of the car, how much of a pain you were to deal with, and how much you’ve actually over-paid for the car itself. However, when you buy or lease a new BMW M5 or M6, you get something very different…
When you buy a new M5 or M6, BMW will send you and a friend to their Performance Driving School near their factory in South Carolina. There you get to do something they call the “BMW M Driving Experience”. Basically they want to make sure that when you buy a 500hp V10 car you don’t kill yourself. Secondly, they want to show you the limits of the M cars, as well as get you to participate in more BMW Driving Schools. I happen to by lucky by having a friend (Mike) who recently bought an M5, and he invited me to go with him.
BMW puts you in a nice Marriott and provides you with a equally nice dinner. First off, there’s absolutely nothing to do in that part of SC, so there is no reason to get there early; there is a small museum near the factory, but it was closed on Sunday, and a gentleman’s establishment near the hotel (sorry, no pics), and that’s it.
After a nice breakfast at the hotel you get shuttled to the Performance School. The day begins in a class room with an introductions, basic overview of the day’s activities and some performance driving basics: oversteer, understeer, trail-braking, weight transfer, stopping distances, etc.
Following that we hit the track for the first time, braking exercises in an M6: stopping from 30mph, 40mph, 50mph and 60mph on a wet surface while approaching a curve. The idea is too look where you want to go and understand stopping distances from various speeds. Sounds easy, but the most difficult part was judging the speed… the M6 is a monster and not being familiar with it, I always ended up going a little faster than I should have. Oops.
Second, small track in an M3. Top speed we hit was probably around 60mph, the track included a slalom course, so this more of an autocross course than a track, except much smoother. There were apex cones on each curve. Each lap was in an order of 25 seconds or so. Woah, the M3 is awesome in this, feels a lot more compact and nimble than the M6, I really like it.
Wet 200′ skidpad in the M5. Idea is to go as fast as you can without losing control. First we did it without stability control; everyone span out at some point. Idea is to keep looking where you want to go and modulate the throttle to keep the car in control and hopefully drift around the circle. We also did a few laps in the car with stability control on, to show you the awesomeness of that system.
Lunch! Yummy grilled chicken, veggies and rice, as much as you can eat. Dessert and starbucks coffee.
More class room stuff, but here they mentioned weird stuff like highway following distances, use of radar detector, keeping right, use of stability control on the road, etc., very common sense stuff. I guess they don’t want the M5/M6 owners to be the stereotypical BMW pricks.
Big track in the M5. Hell yeah! Approximately 40-second laps, but at a much higher speed, approaching 90mph on main straight. Awesome and self explanatory. Apex cones and brake zone signs were present. However we had a problem, two actually. First, in the car in front of us was an older couple; the slowest drivers ever. Few times everyone had to stop on the track to give them room and then we’d catch within a lap or two. Horribly frustrating. Second, in the middle of Mike’s session, the power steering on our M5 went out. Completely. We were promptly given a different M5. The M5 is a flippin monster, to put in perspective the power of this car – you approach 90mph at the top of third gear… and you still have fours left in the SMG transmission!!
Timed laps in M6 on small track. Six laps per person, fast laps wins… uhmm… something. Our M6 had very soft brake pedal feel and really worn rear tires, while that’s not an excuse, neither Mike nor I got the fastest time. Penalties were assigned for hitting cones or not stopping in the box at the end.
Skidpad battle in the M3. Two cars on the opposite sides of a wet oval skidpad, five laps, whoever gets closer to their opponent’s car wins. Eh, that was ok. The instructors made a mistake as Mike and I were suppose to battle each other and the winner go into the finals, but instead they just gave the other guy the win. Oops. Whatever, this wasn’t that much fun anway.
Instructor laps. Two or three people at a time in M5s, the instructors took us around the really big lap (we didn’t drive on it) to show what the car is really capable of; drifting around big bends, perfect apexes, it needs to be experienced as I lack the words to describe it.
Hors d’oeuvres and beer at the gift shop, ride back to the hotel. I chatted with the instructors and they’re all very cool guys; just about all of them had racing experience, some did stunt driving for movies.
The cars. All cars were equipped with either SMG or DSG transmissions. Except for the skidpad, we were driving in what’s known as “M-Mode”, which keeps the stability control on, but allows for some sliding. The DSG on the E90 M3 is so nice; very smooth, very quick. Actually, I totally fell in love with the M3, it’s just so perfect. Even with the iDrive, big nav screen and adjustable shocks, things that to me seem gimmicky, it all worked so perfectly together. I want one.
The M5 and the M6 have stupid power. Acceleration from, say 40 to 60mph is almost instant. On the track you wouldn’t know that these 4000lb+ 4/5 passenger cars with a real trunk; they just seem to shrink.
The place. The performance school was also a training ground for BMW techs and an auto body school, so there was a ton of cars there of varying ages in various states of assembly. There was also an off-road track for the X5 and motorcycle school. Cool stuff everywhere you went. I managed to get these pics at lunch, otherwise there was no time to take picS.
Thanks for reading and enjoy te gallery below.