BMW Performance Driving School: Class is in Session
- Written by Geoff Reeves
In the northwest part of South Carolina, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is a town called Greenville whose history dates back to the French and Indian War. Since then the city, now South Carolina’s 6th largest, has participated in much of America’s history. Over the years Greenville has served as a training camp for Army recruits in World War I, became home to Donaldson Air Force Base during World War II and was in front of the Supreme Court in the 1960’s, Peterson v. Greenville, after a young Jesse Jackson led a sit-in at the S.H. Kress store in a non-violent fight for equal rights. Today, the town is gleaming after a major renovation has installed upscale shopping and restaurants, family friendly landmarks, and is or has even been home to a variety of minor league sports. But lately, the screams of elation and non-stop smiles are coming from a different part of town.
Here you won’t be yelled at by drill instructors, told to disperse by law enforcement in riot gear, or even to stay off a monument. The only thing you will be told is to buckle up and HANG ON! Said to be “One of the most fun things you can do with your clothes on!” Greer, South Carolina is home to the 64,000 acre BMW Performance Driving School. The German Manufacturer invested 12 Million dollars creating a state of the art facility that incorporates a skid pad, almost 2 miles of paved road, 5 instructor controlled waterfalls, decreasing and increasing radius turns, elevation changes, straightaways and of course a fleet of current BMW vehicles. Just a taste of this will want you begging for more! If you are new or a veteran behind the wheel, BMW’s Performance Driving School instructors, all with a NASCAR, Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) or International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) background, guide participants through different programs helping them become a more confident and safe driver.
Those wanting to learn about vehicle dynamics and car control to develop performance-driving skills are perfect for the 1 to 2 day Drivers Program. Experienced drivers who want to revel in high performance activities and experience the true power of BMW’s M lineup should go to the 1 or 2 day M School. When the petrol courses through your veins and you look for the apex and track out of every corner on your way to and from work, it is time for the Advanced M School. Held at 1 of 2 different professional racetracks in North America, you will refine your skills and be able to tell your kids you don’t need to play Gran Tourismo 5, because you did it for real. For the new driver that needs to focus on safety and caution, a variety of conditions are presented at the Teen School giving them confidence for the real world. Lastly, for those who want to live free and be in the elements on only 2 wheels, a variety of BMW Motorcycle Rider Training Programs are offered. You can choose between 1 to 3 days of riding with one of the best-built and most versatile brands on the market. Your BMW motorcycle experience can cover on and/or off-road training for the beginners while the intermediate to advanced riders are encouraged to participate in the fun 3-day motorcycle tour.
My colleague, AR Publisher Kimatni Rawlins, and I experienced 2 days at this “playground for adults” in some of the best vehicles to hit the streets. Both having affection for power, we went straight to the Ms. Having previously owned a 330i, and hearing all about how the M3 is a car enthusiast’s dream, I chose it to see what all the fuss is about. Kimatni is soon to be looking for a new SUV in his life, so he took the all-wheel drive X5 M. Under the guidance of Chief Driving Instructor Matt Mullins, Kimatni and I pushed each vehicle to their capabilities proving to us why BMW is deserving of the slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
The 2011 M3 Coupe (3,704 lbs.), fitted with a 4.0 liter V8, creating 414 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, held me in place as I raced through an autocross course featuring a slalom, sweeping and tight turns, chicanes, and the need for powerful braking. I was impressed how tight the suspension, shocks and steering were as I sped my way through cones. Combined with a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, the vehicle’s handling was amazing! It was then that I learned that BMW was one of the first auto companies to test their cars on Germany’s famous Nurburgring and has been the key to obtaining the perfect handling setup, which has won over car enthusiasts worldwide. The M3’s throttle responsiveness is quick and can be quite powerful if you mash the pedal to the floor with or without launch control. When I did, all I accomplished was leaving the tread of my tires on the ground behind me, and a cloud of smoke a group of Marines could have used for concealment had they needed to cross the road unnoticed. That is cool if you want to impress high school girls, but doesn’t help you win a race. I attribute the lack of grip to the imperfect conditions between tires, track and temperature. Simply rolling on the gas achieved my fastest results. Once moving, press the pedal to the floor and watch your tachometer race to the other side of the dial. Yellow tach lights quickly flash red as you hit 8,000 rpm, prompting you to upshift. A quick squeeze of the sturdy metal paddle with your right finger tips changes gears and the process repeats as your speed exponentially increases. I was very impressed with the M3’s acceleration.
Kimatni took the all-wheel drive, 4.4 liter V8, 555 hp twin-turbocharged X5 M (5,368 lbs.) and proved that even though it is an M – geared for performance, it can still crawl off road. Forging through water, traversing over rough terrain, climbing rocky inclines and creeping down slowly were only a few of the challenges the SUV took on effortlessly. I was impressed with the strength and rigidity of the frame when Kimatni had a wheel uncomfortably high off the ground, and started opening and closing the X5 M’s doors. A true test for those vehicles meant to go off road. With xDrive, power was shared between wheels enabling those with traction to pull the vehicle up “Sky Mountain.” On the way down, Hill Descent Control (HDC) engages ABS and self brakes, keeping the vehicle at a controlled speed. But none of this impressed me as much as the X5 M’s acceleration off the line in a drag race with the M3. The flag dropped and all of its 4 wheels obtained grip, rocketing it from the start. I didn’t even blink and I was already looking at its tailgate! Kimatni used its launch control to take over the vehicle’s torque. Shift points and optimal traction. The onboard computer shifted gears angrily when the rpm maxed out and it never looked back. I was gaining ground in my M3 and my only hope was that the race was long enough for my vehicle to eventually overtake. Unfortunately, I ran out of track. Kimatni and his X5 M must have beaten me five times!
Fun on 2 wheels was next for us. Kimatni and I have street bike backgrounds so we were anxious to go off road with BMW’s R 1200 GS dual sport bike. Its sales combined with the slightly more courageous R 1200 GS Adventure is their most popular motorcycle. Wearing BMW rugged, remarkably functional and comfortable protective equipment (Rallye 3 suit, pro touring boots, Rallye 3 gloves and C3 helmet), we followed Lead Motorcycle Instructor Bill Cogner off track. A quick and easy session on riding position, turn techniques and how to manipulate the bike’s 110 hp and 88 lb-ft of torque through sand, gravel and over hills was given once in the elements. After a brief lead-follow I got a bit daring and was quickly tossed off the bike. After a quick laugh and pat down making sure I was all right, I felt like I was doing a dead lift to get the 500 lb bike upright. Even though the GS could handle being on its side, my street bike background didn’t like it. Thank goodness it happened off road. Kimatni had a good chuckle at my expense, but the favor was returned when his bike’s front wheel bogged down in the sand sending him flying through the air like a stunt man. It was a learning day for both of us and by its end we were going over and through just about everything, getting our speeds up and performing controlled skids sending a small rooster tail of dirt into the air.
Designed to teach the general populace about the incredible engineering behind the blue, white and black roundel stamped with the letters B-M-W, their Performance Driving School is beneficial for everyone with a driver’s license or permit who wants to drive 4 wheels or ride 2. It is so effective that over 30% of the people that attend buy a BMW as their next vehicle. My only complaint is that I had to leave so soon. You can even take delivery of your brand new BMW here and receive an unforgettable roller coaster ride in one of the school’s vehicles, demonstrating your Bimmer’s capabilities. Whoever said school isn’t for them, obviously didn’t take the right courses.
For class information, prices and questions, visit bmwusa.com/performancecenter or call 1-888-345-4BMW.