I attended the One Day Car Control Clinic at the BMW Performance Center West at the end of October. The following are my views on the class.
Invitation & Reservation
Back in April, I got an email from inviting me to a free one day course. It was in their “under the hood” newsletter of sorts that lists news, benefits and events. I don’t know what their algorithm is but I’m on my second BMW, perhaps that is why I got the invitation (more on this later).
I couldn’t reserve this online, I had to actually call them. Once they told me what the class was and which web site to go to look at openings, I selected a date and booking process was relatively painless. In my case, they picked up the tab for just the class, not accommodation even though I was going to flying down from San Jose to Southern California. Turns out they did pick up the tab for accommodation for several of the other participants in my class but they situation may have been different.
Also, I have to say that this center is way out in the boonies. It took a long time to get there and there is no freeway close by (even the nearest hotels are quite far away).
Checkin was smooth, they had most of my information preloaded.
1 hour “lecture” in classroom talking about safety and basics of car control and objectives of the day (become better drivers, have fun etc). Was good but perhaps could be shortened to half its current length (most interesting to me was a demonstration of weight transfer using a half empty water bottle). They also talked about correct posture: 45 degree angle for the knees, hands at 9-3 (I’m used to 10-2) and setback almost upright (this is closer than I”m used to).
There was one more short talk after lunch but the rest of day (the full day is 8:30-4:30) is spent out in the cars.
There were 11 people in our class (multiple classes were going on concurrently). We were paired up and taken to our cars for the first exercise. The cars were 340i M-Sports and M240is. Appeared to be fairly new (probably 2019 models). Since I have a 340i, I actually liked that.
First up was a slalom, they placed several cones in a straight line and asked to go around them at increasing speeds. Key to to look where you want to go and maintain steady speed without breaking during the turns. Our group did this in the 340s.
Next was a braking demo, break hard enough to trigger ABS, come to a full stop. And turn. At 20 MPH, we could stop before turning but at 50 MPH we were forced to turn. I have to say brakes are good in BMWs. To trigger ABS, you have to slam the brakes, not gently increase pressure. Having the heads up display was good so that we keep our eyes on the road and still be at the right speed before engaging the braking maneuver.
Then we switched to the 240s and did a little circuit, making us comfortable with the cars and the track. That was the most fun for me. I thought the 240s were very enjoyable, I was drifting a little and didn’t end up posting very quick times but boy was it fun. One thing I learned is smoother is faster and it’s better not to brake during turns, rather brake before and power through ‘em (if I braked hard during turns, I found the tail wagging out). My co driver confessed that he thought we would leave the track several times (we never did but it was obvious I wasn’t in full control for the first few rounds).
Then we had lunch. A buffet served upstairs. Salad, pasta, sandwiches, dessert, drinks. Was pretty good, I only wish they had more vegetarian choices. It was on the second floor with a good view of the track.
After lunch was another short lecture and then we headed out in the 340s to the wet skid pad to learn how to do controlled skids. The track surface is slippery and they spray it with water to make it even easier. Cars were sliding at 20 mph. They gave a demo ride and then rode with each of us 1:1 to teach us. I was hopeless. Doing 360s, steering in the wrong direction, not correcting quickly enough. I did manage to do 2-3 reasonable maneuvers but other folks were going around the full circle in a controlled fashion.
Emergency Lane Change
Then they had us do emergency lane changes. Where you have to change lanes as if there is an obstacle in front of you and then stop. You do the lane change without breaking and only brake (hard) once you’ve finished the lane change. So you do a hard left, followed by a hard right, straighten and then full on brake. I hit one of the cones (the same one) almost every time - implying I was right too soon. Like before, we did this at increasing speeds.
Then after a little break, we got into he 240s again to do timed laps on roughly the same circuit as the morning. My co drive had to leave early so I ended up driving solo and hence got twice the rounds that everyone else did. Didn’t particularly help my times though :-( My best was 23.882 and the winning time was 22.865. So not much in it. The best time was the smoothest but not necessarily the most fun. More fun was drifting a little bit (but that slows you down).
For the final driving exercise, we did a “rat race”. This is where two cars are at opposite ends of a circuit and chase each other. If you catch the other person you win. If not, the one that does three laps first wins. Winner stays and loser is replaced by the next person and so on. I came in third. Not bad, methinks.
The piece de resistance was a “hot lap” in an M5 with one of the instructors. I was hanging on for dear life as we were slipping and sliding and going around the circuit at seemingly insane speeds. Absolutely laugh out loud fun.
Finally, they had a debrief, gave the prizes to the winners of the two contests and gave us our loot bags.
As mentioned before, the lunch menu could have had more vegetarian selections. I didn't need to pray there (since I was traveling and combining the mid day and afternoon prayers, I had enough time to get back to the hotel and pray) but I imagine there was plenty of space to do so.
All in all, I learnt some things but most of all had a lot of fun. Well worth it.