Driving school

How BMW’s Performance Driving School Accelerates Your Race Car Dreams – Robb Report

It is often said that the best way to modify a car is to modify the driver first. You can throw in superchargers, turbochargers, and ECU tunes that add 5hp until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re green behind the wheel, all your mods are basically money out the window. The same goes for those who spend a lot of money on something that can lap the Nürburgring in less than 7 minutes. Yes, you might look good rolling down Rodeo Drive in your supercar, but can you make your rocket ship look good when its tires meet the race track? Really, what’s the use if you can’t flex your car’s real muscle?

This is where racing education comes in, and the BMW Performance Driving School is one of the best around. I recently spent a day at BMW’s Performance Center West at Thermal Club in Thermal, Calif., near Palm Springs, to reconnect with its racing school, and I was not disappointed. I say “rediscovered” because this was my second encounter with BMW’s performance program. In 2018, during a first drive of the X4 M40i, BMW dropped me on the tarmac at its Performance Center East in Greer, South Carolina. My favorite part of the day was doing two hours of drift training on the wet, polished concrete skid of this facility. buffer.

BMW Performance Center West.

Photo: Courtesy of BMW Performance Driving School.

Time spent at Performance Center West will take anyone’s racing experience to the next level, as you’re able to burn rubber in a wide range of BMW M cars, including the M2 Competition, F82 (first generation) M4, the M5 Competition and the $210,995 M4 GT4 Customer Race Car.

The recipe for the GT4 is enticing: a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged S55 inline six-cylinder engine that produces over 430 hp and powers a stripped-down body adorned with a reinforced plastic roof, bonnet and doors carbon fibers (CFRP). , front splitter and rear wing. Add a roll cage, racing seats and a set of slicks, and you’re literally off to the races. It all adds up to a pretty winning combination.

The BMW M4 GT4 at the private Thermal Club track in Thermal, California.

The BMW M4 GT4 at the private Thermal Club track in Thermal, California.

Photo: Courtesy of BMW Performance Driving School.

Recent M4 GT4 victories include three IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge GS class races, nine SRO Pirelli GT4 SprintX races and the SRO Intercontinental GT Indianapolis 8 Hours (GT4 class). So it must be exciting to drive, right? Well, not for me. At the wheel, I felt too far removed from the action on the tarmac; it felt like I was driving a racing simulator rather than a race car. Approaching 140 mph on the back straight of Thermal’s South Palm track, I felt far removed from any sense of speed. My brake foot was begging to differ, though. Losing speed is a constraint as the brake pedal requires over 200 pounds of force for full stopping power. I almost wanted to stick my foot out the door to slow that sucker down. It was hard to imagine having to deal with this repetitive effort during an endurance race.

The Thermal Club, home to BMW's Performance Center West, offers more than eight kilometers of track.

The Thermal Club, home to BMW’s Performance Center West, offers more than eight kilometers of track.

Photo: Courtesy of BMW Performance Driving School.

In the corners, the GT4’s Recaro bucket did a fantastic job of holding me tight as the racing slicks sank hard into the asphalt. Unfortunately, the best racing seats tend to tone down the g-forces that signal your behind that fun things are happening. Overall, then, my M4 GT4 experience was more of a Sunday ride than “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” That said, the M4 GT4 is part of a new SCCA-certified racing license program that can help kick-start a professional motorsport career, if that’s your ambition.

The M trams were more to my liking. On a smaller road course, the M2 competition timed laps provided practice in hitting the correct braking points, as well as balancing braking and throttle through entry, apex and exit turns. Admittedly, I am not the best racing driver, and my second place among six entries in the time trials proves it. Although I couldn’t claim victory that day, the M2 is still an exciting instrument for honing your speed skills.

BMWs on the track at the Thermal Club in Thermal, California.

The students follow the fiery example of the instructor.

Photo: Courtesy of BMW Performance Driving School.

Back on South Palm, a trail following session took place on the M4 street. Although more satisfying to drive than the racing version, the F82 M4 still left me a bit empty inside. Numb steering was the main culprit here. After several laps, we jumped into the 617hp M5 competition. This barnstormer, coupled with the wider track setting, ended up being my favorite car/track combo of the day.

Pack a punch practically hard enough to release the never given Suez Canal freighter, the M5’s 4.4-liter S63 twin-turbo V8 is one of my favorite engines in production today. With that kind of power, the M5’s 4,400-pound curb weight didn’t seem to bother the power plant. Same for the brakes. On the South Palm backstretch, 125 mph was achieved with minimal effort, all from a cockpit defined by luxury. In the corners, the prodigious weight of the car manifests itself a bit of body roll, but it adds to the drama of going fast, which was ultimately what I aspired to in the M4 GT4.

A meeting room at BMW's Performance Center West in Thermal, California.

A classroom at BMW’s Performance Center West.

Photo: Courtesy of BMW Performance Driving School.

To end my day, I was able to be a passenger in the M5 as one of the instructors took me for a drift ride. I aspired to master drifting at some point in my life, so while sitting at the shotgun I became a complete fanboy, yelling and yelling at my instructor’s opposite lock skills. There’s nothing quite like seeing what these cars can really do when a master gets into the driver’s seat.

Although the racing M4 is now the latest attraction at the BMW Performance Driving School, I would only recommend driving it if you want to brag to your friends that you have driven a racing car or if you want to get your driving license. race. Otherwise, I’ll stick to programs that involve trams only. There’s a lot to learn and heaps of excitement to be had on this fleet alone.

BMWs on the track at the Thermal Club in Thermal, California.

Fish the best line around turn 3.

Photo: Courtesy of BMW Performance Driving School.

No matter which program you choose, at the end of the day you will leave the track a better rider, but most importantly, a better and safer driver. The BMW M and M4 GT4 program costs $2,795, but the Performance Driving School offers a variety of experiences ranging from free, for people buying a new BMW in 2021, up to almost $10,000.

BMW rivals Mercedes-Benz and Porsche offer the AMG Driving Academy and Porsche Driving Experience programs respectively, and if you can sign up for those too, do yourself a favor. You can’t overdose on education. But if you’re a BMW fanatic, the Roundel Performance Driving School is a treat that just keeps on giving. There really is nothing quite like honing a skill set that can last a lifetime.


Learn more about Robb Report‘s 2022 Car of the Year at the Napa Valley event here and Boca Raton here.