I recently took up an invitation from BMW to join them for M range driving experience, held at MSV’s Bedford Autordrome circuit and in association with Shell V-Power, who provided their fuel for all of the cars on the day.
Apparently there were a total of £4M of cars for us to play with on the day, the most expensive of which were examples of the i8 hybrid supercar.
BMW celebrated their centenary last year and are now one of only three makes still taking part in the struggling DTM championship.
There were a few familiar figures from the world of motorsport there: ITV’s BTCC pitlane commentator Alan Hyde was master of ceremonies and the hot laps were provided by BTCC driver Andrew Jordan and Alexander Sims who races BMWs in the US. Photography was being done by Jakob Ebrey, who has until recently also raced a Porsche 924, albeit in a different series from myself.
The day started, for our group of 12, with a chance to drive all of the M range of saloons, namely the M2, M4, M6 and i8. I started with the M6, which really felt the accomplished GT car it is, then moved into the i8, which was being demonstrated by UK GT race driver Abbey Eaton; this particular car was a little flat so the petrol engine was doing a lot of the work. I then tried the M4, but couldn’t push this car too much as one of the other guests had nearly binned it earlier in the morning. Last up was the little M2, which actually proved the most fun. This part of the day was concluded by hot laps in a race M235i, driven by either Andrew or Alex. I shared the car with Alex and he really pushed it on its racing slicks, despite the track still being wet in places.
The second group experience was driving the M3 on a wet handling course, with the driver aids turned off, around cones including doughnuts, against the clock. Driving beyond the limit of grip isn’t something I’ve done a lot of but I did surprisingly well, only once losing control completely. I never did find out how well I’d done against the other drivers though.
The final – and for me most exciting – part of the experience was to drive one of the MSV Palmersport race-prepared M4s around Bedford’s South circuit, again against the clock, with a race instructor encouraging all drivers to improve on each lap. These cars are about 150kg heavier than the Boxster I started my racing in but at the same time have around 100 extra HP. My driving got a bit ragged in the second session but I did knock another second off my best lap. The instructor’s best lap on the day was 1:05.33; Martin Brundle does this circuit in 1:05; my best was 1:07.81.
My thanks to BMW UK for the invite, and the BMW and MSV instructors and staff for providing such a brilliant experience.