BMW 2-Day Performance Driving School Review
Hello all, I promised a review of the 2-day school when I got back....here it is. I had the pleasure of meeting I-Won-Today while I was there. Jonathan, it was a pleasure to meet you this week. Hopefully I'll be back soon! Here goes..........
Missy and I flew down to Charlotte on October 1st to attend the 2-day Performance Driving School in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Before reading any further: If you've never attended a driving school before and think you might be interested..... GO FOR IT! Be warned however, it's as much fun as you can have with your clothes on, and it may lead to financial ruin! But who cares right! You only live once. Neither Missy or I had ever attended any formal driving schools. I had a good idea of what to expect from reading reviews on the web. Missy on the other hand was apprehensive, and not so quietly wondered why I had invested money on such a frivolous endeavour. The 2-day course involves a number of exercises designed to teach basic car dynamics and improve driver skill and comfort level. These exercises include running laps on a road course, panic braking, emergency lane change, skidpad and slalom. In addition participants have the opportunity to drive other BMW vehicles for a number of laps on a road course, and drive an X5 on an off road course. Vehicles.......lot's of them. There must be hundereds of BMW's at the school from M cars to Z4's, if BMW makes them they're here (X6's included) Our instructors were all veteran racers with a number of years of driving instructor experience. Our head instructor was Larry Parmale, he was assisted by Jim Clark, Andy and Steve. All of them were excellent, they pushed all of us to expand our limits while at the same time reminding us we didn't have to push more than we felt comfortable with. There were ten people in our class (8 men, 2 women). Most had never attended any formal driving school (2 in the class were autoX'ers). Ages ranged from late 20's to late 50's. If you attend the school alone, you will most likely be paired with another driver (2 to a car). The facility is located 1.5 miles off I-85 and about a mile down the road from BMW's manufacturing facility. In addition to the driving surfaces, the Performance Center has a number of classrooms, a cafeteria, a gift shop, and areas designed for those doing a Performance Center Delivery (PCD). During the course BMW treats you to a free lunch, or as our instructors teased us, a really expensive lunch with a driving school thrown in. Free lunch isn't a big deal but it's a nice touch, as were the free hats they give out at the end of the course (you can't buy them in the store). Classes start at 0830 and end at 1600 with approximately 1 hour each day for lunch. I was worried that the seat time might be less than ideal, but those fears were unfounded. Except for a 40 minute briefing on day one, and occasional 5 minute breaks, you spend the entire time in the car.
Our day started with a briefing on car dynamics, the theories of oversteer, understeer, and brief introduction to cornering. After a short break we went outside to our assigned cars. Our ride for the course was the #3 car, a Crimson Red 335i Sedan (11/06 production Steptronic with retrofitted oil cooler). For the purposes of this course the step was perfect, as it allowed you to concentrate without having to worry about shifting. For those of you that are curious, the highest oil temp I ever saw was 260 degrees on an 85 degree day.
The first exercise was a warm-up on a road course with a small slalom section at the beginning. All cars are equipped with a radio, and as you progress through the exercises instructors are constantly offering you feedback on your performance. During this exercise the concepts introduced in the briefing (turn-in point, apex, track-out point) are reinforced and worked on. After a number of laps, you switch places with your partner and they take their turn. If you're concerned about getting carsick as a passenger, you can observe your partner from alongside the track if you prefer.
The second exercise was a panic braking exercise. You take a number of runs at a specified speed, and learn to control the car during emergency braking. Speeds started at 35mph and increased to 45mph at the end of the exercise. These speeds don't sound impressive, but the power of the 335i's brakes are. The stops are quick and violent, and as the speeds increase steering is required. It sounds simple, but one unlucky participant did end up in the dirt earning the nickname "Dusty" for the remainder of the course. As in every exercise, the 2nd driver repeats each manouver when it is their turn. There's quite a bit you can learn by riding in the passenger seat. You're much more aware the finer points when you can sit back and see the big picture as an observer.
After a short break we returned to the cars for an emergency lane change exercise (our least favorite). As in the braking exercise, the pace starts slow (30 mph) and increases steadily (45mph). The concept is, as you are driving along someone pulls out in front of you requiring you to change lanes immediately. The space you have to make this lane change is roughly the length of a car and is marked by cones. Suffice to say early attempts by the group resulted in a number of cone "kills." It's unatural to turn the wheel so abruptly (about 150 degrees) left and then back right in short succession. By the end of the exercise you feel much more confident in your ability should the need ever arrise for such a procedure. By this point we were hungry and we were treated to lunch.
Emergency Lane Change
The second half of the day was spent on the skidpad, and on two friendly competitions. The skidpad exercise is designed to teach recognition and recovery from oversteer and understeer. It also is used as an opportunity to demonstrate the Traction Control and stability Control common to all new BMW's. To facilitate this learning the skidpad is moistened by sprinklers...........nice! This was the exercise I was most looking forward to, and I wasn't disappointed. Round and round you go, progressing from understeer to throttle induced oversteer.....correct and recover. Two cars are on the skidpad at the same time, when one of you invariably ends up pointing in the opposite direction your instructor calls out "we're around" on the radio and the other car pauses briefly. You will spin.......guaranteed! A little known tidbit, when the car is in a forward gear and senses backward motion, it will shutdown. Hmmmmm.........got to like the push button starter. Most of the time you get the car pointed in the right direction and away you go again. One person managed to get their car into the infield, and had to be rescued (pulled out) by an X5. After a number of laps with the DTC off, the instructor turns it back on. It's amazing what a difference it makes........night and day! Not as much fun of course, but impressive how much easier it is to control the car in the slippery conditions. Did I mention how hard this school is on tires! They burn through a set a week, I can't say I'm surprised given how much abuse they take.
The last two exercises of Day 1 were friendly competitions amongst classmates. The first was called the "Rat Race" and the other is a timed lap followed by a stop in a marked box. The "Rat Race" is performed on a wet oval, and the timed lap is down on a dry road course. Both made use of the lessons learned earlier in the day and were a ton of fun!!! Before we left for the day we spent a few minutes debriefing the days events. We were promised our performance would be better in the morning (it was), and that we would revisit some of the days events, only at a much higher speed! Yikes!!!! We left the Performance Center emotionally and physically drained. We stayed at a Hampton Inn close to the Performance Center, great hotel with lot's of restaurants nearby. The intructors suggested we visit downtown Greenville for dinner, we decided a beer at the Blue Ridge Brewery was called for. Great beer and good food to boot! We left for the hotel, and were asleep within minutes. Who'd a thunk driving could be so tiring.
After a short briefing we went straight to the cars. First up were a few warm-up laps on the same course we had driven the previous night. True to their word, our performance was significantly better in the morning. The instructors took this opportunity to build on the skills we had learned the day before. Things they didn't comment on before were now scrutenized much more closely.
Our second exercise of the day was another panic braking session. Where we had left off at 45mph on Day 1, we started at 55mph and worked our way up to 75mph. As I mentioned before, the 335i's brakes are really powerful and as the speed increased this was even more evident. Repeated high velocity stops, and zero fade. It also provided the opportunity to view the extra brake light that come on in panic stops (don't usually get to see those).
After our necks recovered from the fast acceleration followed by faster deceleration, we headed for the next exercise. Similar to the first emergency lane change session, this one involved two lane changes. It made the first lane change seem simple. Needless to say, the cones in this exercise got abused far more than in the single lane change. That said, our performance would have been abyssmal had we not built our skills the day prior. After being humbled here, we took our lunch break.
After stuffing our bellies, we split into two groups. One would head to the skidpad for some more intensive one-on-one training, while the other would participate in the "Performance Drive" where you get to sample other BMW's on the road course. I convinced Missy we should choose the test drive first since a shiny new M5 was on the list of cars we's have the opportunity to sample. She agreed and off we went. The group sensed how excited I was to drive the M5, and graciously allowed me to drive it first. The other car were a 550i, an X5, a 335i Coupe, and a 750Li Sedan. My thoughts on these after driving a number of laps in each is as follows:
M5 - Amazing machine, monster brakes, great chassis, and oh that V10 sound! The SMG would take a while to get used to however.
550i - Big surprise, quite agile aroungd the course. In fact it was almost as fast around as the M5 on the short track.
X5 - Biggest surprise, despite it's big size it's really well balanced and quick o the track. As much BMW as SUV.
335i - Consensus favorite car in the group. Most fun to toss around, even more so than the larger M5.
750Li - Consensus least favorite, described by one as a "Tuna Boat"..... my first thought was Buick. Very comfy though!
Discussion after test drive
After our test drive we headed out to the skidpad for some more drifting practice.....errr......car control skills. As before, much time was spent sideways and backwards. Since we live in CO, we get a buch of experience in slippery surfaces. It was truly beneficial to have a professional improve our skills in this area. After 20+ laps in each direction, we headed back to the staging area to begin our final exercise: the "Other Roads" experience.
Most people think of the X5 as a "soft roader," this course is designed to dispell this notion. Now, whilst I can't personally envision taking my $70K SUV someplace where I might destroy it, it is amazingly capable. The "Other Roads" course consists of a number of obstacles inteded to demonstrate the X5's off road capability. At various spots in the course the vehicle is placed at some pretty extreme angles, driven through 18" of water to simulate river fording, driven on two or three wheels, and generally exercised far more than the average driver will ever experience. As I said I can't imagine doing it myself, but as demonstrated the X5 is certainly capable of some amazing things.
"Other Roads" Course
With that our course was over. Was it worth it, without a doubt as far as I'm concerned. In fact I plan on sending the kids to the teen school when they're old enough. What did the skeptic think.........based on the smiles, and hootin' and hollerin' I heard from the driver seat OH YEAH!!!!!
Skeptic no more!
If you're looking for a racing school, this ain't it......you want the M school. The 2-day school is a place to improve your skills in a safe environment, with excellent instructors, and a fleet of vehicles at your disposal. About that M school.............yeah I'm hooked, where do I sign up!
Erik and Missy
Last edited by guppyflyer; 10-06-2007 at 07:09 PM.