Pleasure is guaranteed, when you are part of the BMW Driving Experience for a single day. We could have chosen for a full track experience, but our day included a mix of low- and high-speed driving exercises in a challenging training program that helped us maximize our skills in the driver’s seat. In total five different challenges were awaiting us during a full day on an official test track.
On an early Friday morning we headed to a local restaurant close to the test track. We parked our personal project car, the BMW 135i MR Edition, in front of the place and were welcomed by the local BMW loyalty manager and a group of enthusiastic professional trainers of Prodrive Training. The beginning of the day included a coffee, a snack and a basic overview of the day’s activities, safety measures, test track instructions and some performance driving basics.
Following the pack of thirty BMW cars we hit the inner test section of the major test complex. Portable radios were handed to us and selected groups were established fitting each car type. Ours included a small pack of 1 and 3-Series. The first exercise was all about braking on a wet surface, stopping distances and diverting from a dangerous incident while braking. Apex cones and brake zone signs marked the road. The idea was to look where you want to go and to experience different stopping distances from various speeds up to 60km/h. This sounded easier than it was and the differences in speed influenced your possibility to react immensely!
The second exercise followed on from the first and included a wet slippery track with a wall of water. The beams appeared in front of the car (left, right or moving from left to right) and while driving on the surface you had to divert and miss the water wall. The combination of braking and steering made the exercise quite hard, even though the speed was quite low up to a maximum of 35 to 40km/h.
After the second exercise it was lunch. Multiple drivers and co-drivers jumped in smaller groups of cars and headed for food and drinks in the restaurant nearby.
The second half of the day included the highlights of the day. At first the skid pad, a wet slippery oval, with two cars on the opposite sides intended to show us the capabilities of the stability control, oversteer, understeer and drifting. First a few laps with the stability control on, experiencing understeer in a BMW. Followed by a disengaged stability control, learning the art of drifting by looking where you want to go and modulating the throttle to keep the car under control. This was an excellent exercise to learn the behavior of your car and the first true experience of drifting the BMW 135i MR Edition around the circle.
We moved from the oval to a single straight piece of track where we had to ‘save’ our car when one or two wheels went off road. Lowering your speed and using the correct amount of steering was the only successful option rescuing yourself from the banked road. The exercise proved the capabilities of the tires. Rather small differences in speed made a huge impact on your abilities to save the car. Our maximum speed was 38km/h. Crossing 40km/h meant loosing the car completely, unable to save it from grass or gravel next to any type of road.
The final exercise was a track which included a slalom course. A white BMW 125i with automatic gearbox was outfitted with a timing system and you had one training lap and two official laps. Penalties were assigned for hitting cones or not stopping in the box at the end. A second round of two laps gave you the option to set a better time. In the end we managed the fourth best time, with a remark from the instructor that we were unlucky to hit a single cone on our best timed lap, which would have guaranteed first place.
While waiting for our turn on the slalom course, a professional racing car driver offered us a choice; drive on the surrounding test track with two banked turns by yourself at a vmax of 140km/h or let him drive your car and take it to the max. We choose the first, drove it up to 160 in the banked turns and experienced something quite unique.
In the end it was an excellent day, one mandatory for any petrol head and car enthusiast. Whether you’ve been driving for decades, have just received your learner’s permit, or just out to push a vehicle to its limits, these kind of driving programs are a great help when you want to experience the boundaries of your car, feel the major differences when speeds increase just a little bit or just want to become a safer, stronger and more confident driver.
BMW offers numerous driving experiences across the world. Check out your local BMW program via this link and experience it!
[Pictures via Willem de Zeeuw]