As many of you know, I recently participated in BMW's 2 day M School at their performance facility in Greenville, South Carolina. It has been a long time dream of mine to attend this program, and my experience was beyond expectations. The service, facilities, instructors, and of course, the cars
, are without equal. We were met with great hospitality upon our arrival, given M-school jackets, hats, shirts, etc. Even got to keep our M racing helmets when everything was all said and done, which is just awesome in my opinion.
We alternated between the M6, M5, and E92 M3. I'll do my best to highlight what we covered with the instructors follow by some photos and a couple videos. One is from my GoPro....(one huge complaint I have about this camera is the battery display....it will go from 3 bars, to 2 bars, and then die within minutes. It's extremely frustrating, as you'll see when it dies 3/4 of the way through my first lap out
Not to mention it was probably the worst lap I put down all day.)
What's really cool is that every car is fitted with on board cameras and telemetry data recorders, so in a couple weeks I'll receive mine in the mail and be able to upload some really cool videos and prove I'm not as bad as the GoPro clip might suggest.
Without further ado...
Here's a shot of the circuit, each exercise would utilize a section of the track to get us familiar with the layout and to focus on certain techniques. The second half of day two was devoted to full circuit lapping in the M5 and M3.
Before we began, we were all given a number that would assign us to our vehicles. I was #3...here were my cars for day one. Not a fan of the color on my M6, but really liked the color the M5, (not sure which red this is?) and also the ///M stripes on my M3. All the others were basic colors w/o stripes.
Skid Pad (M5) - I should mention that we were rained on for the entirety of our first day. However, our first lesson covered under-steer and over-steer on the concrete skid pad. We initiated under-steer and over-steer and learned to properly correct each. While correcting over-steer was pretty easy for me due to prior...umm...practice
...I did learn some things I never new about under-steer and the dynamics of a cars handling in corners which greatly improved my speed, confidence and control while entering and exiting turns.
Proper Braking (M6) - One of the first things the instructors told us in the classroom before getting in our cars was that if we wanted to learn how to go fast, we had to learn how to use our brakes. A seemingly counter intuitive approach, but over the course of the two days it became abundantly clear, as proper braking and turn in allowed for proper, and much faster, track out.
In our first exercise we did a standing start up to red-line in second gear and then back to zero. This was the first taste of just how much pressure they were demanding we apply to the brakes, and it took some getting used to for me as I'd never driven on a track prior to M school and to my recollection have never had to use my brakes that hard in 12 years of licensed road driving. Once I got over the initial concern of being mean to the car I was able to properly put it into practice.
Oval/Rat Race (M6) - We continued onto the secondary skid pad that is basically a big open wet tarmac. Two coned rings were placed about 50 yards apart from each other, both about 30' in diameter. The goal was to do 5 laps around both circles with the quickest overall time and without spinning out. (Standard vehicle settings for the entire 2 days is M dynamic mode, but DSC is completely disabled for this exercise to increase difficulty) Once we had some solo runs under our belt, we were lined up two at a time on opposite ends of each circle. We did another 5 laps and whoever crossed their finish line first won. The loser was eliminated and the winner stayed in to challenge the next driver in line. I proudly took top podium for this event out of our class of six drivers.
Auto-X (M3) - After a quick review of proper braking and corner entry, we set out to our first short auto-x. A section of the track was coned off and we went from a standing start, through a slalom, then a long decreasing radius right hand turn into another sharp right followed by an s-curve and a short straight before having to stop as quickly as possible inside a box squared off by red cones. If you hit a cone in the slalom or left any part of your car outside of the box at the end of the course, you were given a two second penalty. Wheels off the track at any point on the course meant the run was thrown out. I had the second fastest time here with a 27.63. The fast time was a 27.0.
Road Course (M5/M3) - The last event of day one was an extended road course that utilized that back stretch and allowed speeds of 110mph in the M5....followed by heavy braking and a sharp 90degree left hand turn onto the skid pad, then a series of short straights and tight turns on the in-field portion of the track. I really enjoyed this road course, especially in the M5, as the power is just endless. The M3 is still undoubtedly the most nimble in the corners, and the shift time with the sequential gearbox is just incredible, especially when compared to the very aggressive up-shifts in the M5 and M6.
With that, day one sadly came to a close and we returned to the hotel for dinner with our classmates and instructors. I should note that we got very lucky with our class size, as they commonly have upwards of 15 people in a class, and we had just six, allowing for a lot more seat time and more focused hands on instruction.
- (DIFFERENT CARS, SUNNY SKIES AND DRY TRACK!
Figure 8 (M6) - We started the second day back on the open tarmac with the same cone setup as Day 1, however this time we performed figure 8's through the sections. Pretty basic, but was a great warm-up practicing looking deep into our track-out, controlling corner speed, under/over steer, and throttle control. All in the wet with DSC disabled again. We did 10 laps each. We ended up doing this exercise twice, both starting and ending our day here. This video is a clip of my timed run at the end of day two. We did 10 passes, although this only shows the second half. I had the second fastest over-all time here...while it was probably the least exciting of anything we did, it was also one of the most challenging.
Road Course 1 (M5/M3) - For almost every road course segment we would start in the M5 and then move to the M3. On this particular road course, we were introduced to the fastest corner on the track, rightfully dubbed "The Mans Corner", it's a double apex turn with an entry speed of 70-80mph (depending on who's driving
) that dumps you out onto the back stretch. This turn gave me a lot of trouble in the M3, mostly because of my lack of confidence to enter the corner fast enough in order to get the right line coming out of the turn. (As you'll see in my gopro video posted below, I hugged the inside line way too close and the proper line squares off the turn on the far outside of the turn. You can see the blue cone if you look closely. (Blue cones are turn in / track out points, yellow cones are apex, 3/2/1 red cones are braking points)
Later in the day during the full circuit session I took it wide and won the battle against 5 or 6 cones
Here's a clip of the section with one of our instructors driving in an M5:
Road Course 2 (M3) - After getting comfortable with the mans corner, we moved onto the other half of the long circuit which incorporated my favorite section of the track; a blind hump leading into a downward sloping S curve. If you hit the proper apex entering the corner you could just barely straighten out the line and catch a WOT third gear at the bottom of the corkscrew that emptied into a short straight followed by a decreasing radius right hand turn. After that was a steady uphill climb with a left turn that had an apex right at the top of another hump. This entire end of the course was a blast as I really love the elevation changes.
Here's a clip from my iphone. (For those of you that haven't experienced the sequential gearbox in an E92 M3, take note of the reduced shift time compared to the M5)
Full Circuit (M5/M3) - And so we reach the holy grail. The full circuit session. As I stated before, my GoPro clip shows about 3/4 of the full lap. Our initial start was from inside our pit zone. When the video cuts out, the track follows the back straight up into third gear, followed by a sharp right hand turn immediately leading into a sharp left. Another short straight up to red line in second gear, then a very tight left hand turn (the slowest on the course) followed by another right hander that dumped back onto the straight where we started the run. Basically the only part missing from my video is the infield portion of the track. Full runs with telemetry data will be posted as soon as they are mailed to me!
Be sure to watch this one in HD. Listen to my instructor on the radio just before the camera dies; "Jonathan, what kind of line was that?!"
All in all, I really can't say enough about this experience. I've done my best to highlight what I remember best. I plan to attend the Advanced M School within the next year. I know the price tag on these courses isn't small, but I gained more experience and helpful knowledge over the last couple days than I could have ever hoped to achieve on my own, still, as my videos will show, I still have a long way to go in the way of consistency and smoothness. For anyone that is considering doing this or has an opportunity to attend, do it
. You will not regret it. It's a lot to take in and despite the ample seat time I was obviously left wanting more, but I can't remember that last time I had so much fun. My review here does little justice to illustrate the true experience.
These M cars that we drive are really amazing pieces of engineering. I was never drawn to the E60 M5 or M6 the way I am drawn to my beast, but after experiencing them both at the limit of their capabilities I am blown away. The dominance of the M3 is easily understood as well, as this car is like puddy in your hands on the track. Going from the M5 to the M3 really gives you an idea of just how quick and nimble these E92's are. We drove the hell out of all of the cars and it's amazing to realize that when the day is done you could stop for groceries on the way home and park it in your garage like it's just another family car.
M cars. Modestly dominant.
Here's a few more shots from around the facility: