Plenty of manufacturers invite folks out to play with their cars. The usual experience typically involves a driver briefing, a product walk-around, then a few lead follow laps before cutting loose with an instructor in the right seat — with a bit of babysitting and not a lot of truly hard laps. BMW does things a little differently, as I learned on a recent track day at Circuit of The Americas.
(Full Disclosure: BMW M wanted me to test out a fine selection of their M toys and their new M Performance Parts offerings for M cars so badly that they invited me to COTA for the afternoon, let me go nuts around the track in 15 different cars, and then fed me a massive steak dinner after it was all done. If not for living in downtown Austin, they would have also put me up at a swanky hotel with the rest of the invited press members. I should have taken that too.)
BMW offers owners a complex day at the track, including autocross courses, product demos, and even time on track for the low, low price of $250. If you are an owner, let personally tell you that you would be crazy not to take advantage of this program.
For this BMW M Track Day, product folks walked us around a variety of setups to the M2, M3, M4, and 340i models. Some were stock, but some had a selection of M Performance Parts added to them, stuff that ranged from stiffer suspensions, bigger front and rear wing treatments, stickier tires, lighter wheels, beefier brakes to interior trim personalizations.
Yes, we got the mandatory driver briefing from the stack of instructors sent over from BMW’s driving school in South Carolina, but they made quick work of it, and got us set up in our first car of choice. With more cars on hand than invited guests, there wasn’t the worry of waiting around for an open seat, nor were we forced to wait for a car we really wanted to drive.
After a quick lead follow lap—just one—the instructors got a quick sense of how we handled ourselves, offered check rides before they jumped out of the car. They let us loose without anyone else in the car, but did so by reminding us that Circuit of The Americas is not your typical club track, and that F1 circuits have race control hawks with several cameras per corner. Do something stupid, and they’ll know it was you. Behave yourself, but have a good time, and try to learn something.
Track temps were over 130 degrees because Texas is nightmarish this time of year, so I knew the tires were going to take a beating, and all parties agreed that it was smart to test each car with just three hot laps in addition to the usual in and out laps.
My initial assessment was quick and predictable, in a stock M3 sedan with the DCT. I wanted to get a good baseline feel for the car before testing out one with more parts. I instruct at COTA pretty regularly, I know my way around in a variety of fast cars, and the BMW crew trusted me to go out on track by myself. The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires got hot quickly, and felt a bit greasy by turn 16 of the third flying lap. Also tested were a pair of M2s with a good list of options, an M4 with my favorite “cocaine” color combination, and a 340i with a power upgrade and a factory LSD(!).
From the plethora of fast toys at my disposal, my favorite was the M3 that had every BMW M Performance Parts upgrade available. Equipped with a six-speed manual, wheels which dropped eight pounds of unsprung weight wrapped in stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, bigger brakes, stiffer springs, a 17-pound reduction in exhaust weight from the upgraded titanium sport exhaust, and a moderately bigger rear wing, this car was a blast around COTA’s 20 turns. Immediately noticeable was the extra grip from the Cup 2 rubber, especially as I hit turn 3 at the start of the esses.
On my first flying lap, I went in a bit hot, but it quickly recovered with a hint of lift. The upgraded suspension definitely got me through that section much faster than the standard M3, and I was grinning throughout all of those hot laps.
When we wrapped up the day, everyone was smiling and agreeing that this was a great day. All in all, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better manufacturer-hosted track day value.
It’s a good approach. They trust you to enjoy yourself on track, and encourage drivers to get a comprehensive understanding of the available options from the BMW M garage with a helpful staff filled with track enthusiasts. More manufacturers should do this.
To sign up for one of these things, go here. They have two left this year at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Washington State and Thermal Club in California.
There are far stupider things to blow $250 on.