Here's how a BMW driving experience showed me that I could never be an F1 driver
You know the childhood dream where you're a racing driver? BMW experience days give you a chance to indulge that fantasy, pushing you to your limits!
There's no denying the fact that I'm a petrol head, since I was young enough to grasp the concept of cars I've been obsessed. The thrill of driving fast has also been one of those dreams, however track driving (and the German Autobahn) are about as close to 'driving fast' as you can get unless you're reckless on public roads (I don't mean doing 71 in a 70).
BMW driving experiences are made to make you find out more about your driving capabilities... oh and to showcase epic 'M' cars too! I do a hefty amount of miles a year in a multitude of cars, have multiple driver qualifications and come from an automotive (ish) family - I like to think I am a pretty good driver, quick when I needed to be and with good understanding of track driving too. Oh... I was so wrong.
Would you just look at that composure?
A pro driver will make you question your ability!
The first thing I discovered going out with BTCC champion Andrew Jordan is that going fast in a straight line doesn't really mean a thing, keeping that speed in the corners is what really impresses. The M240i we went out in was definitely a track weapon, however in a straight line it wasn't too much faster than a standard M240i (but it did sound epic). Where it showed the true level of performance was in corners, gripping without question, being about as composed as you could ever want - allowing Mr BTCC to push through at speeds I couldn't even comprehend.
His approach was always perfect, calculated, braking points exact on every lap. The stopping capacity of the adapted M240i alongside slick tyres meant your face literally warped itself on every single corner, however the car rarely let go - never squealing, always planted. If it did ever let go, well his obscenely quick reactions put the car back in line. This was truly mind melting stuff for me, he had balls of absolute steel and yet his driving style was relaxed... calm even!
Bit of oppo lock for a slightly hot entry...
The correct approach isn't exactly what I was doing!
I've done a multitude of track days, however a majority of my track driving approach has been self taught or learned from games like Forza. Most of what I was doing was right... but I needed to do everything faster and much smoother. Quickly discovering new and faster approaches than what I was doing before - I started to feel smoother. The instructor I was with managed to correct most of my issues, made me push harder and I knocked a serious amount of time off in the end. Below is an example of my 'fastest' lap, and a normal lap by a racing driver. I'm only a couple of seconds off his lap, but it would take me a while to take those 2 seconds off...
I'm not that bad... but I'm a bit off a pro driver...
Normal BMW's are epic fun too!
Having driven a tonne of M240's over the last couple of years, they're a vehicle I feel comfortable pushing harder than a 'normal' car. The new Z4 was the only new one to me, however it has the character of the M240i but with a softer response - as such throwing them both around a track whilst chasing down a M2 was pretty awesome. Really putting the M240i close to the limit was what showed me just how capable it is - over engineered, perfectly balanced with an epic soundtrack.
The Z4 was a different drive, less savage - more grand tourer, but equally capable on a track. The ZF box is what's used in most BMW vehicles, so it's über quick to respond and shifts in a split-second. Between the M240i and Z4, the M240i was a clear favourite for me - not just because I 'knew it' before hand, but on track it has something extra special about how it responds. I couldn't fault either, both stuck to the tarmac like glue, gliding round corners with ease. If anything, it made me question ever needing to buy an M2... but that's for another day.
I'd never drifted a car until that day!
Perhaps because I didn't have the confidence, perhaps because I was scared of binning my car - before this 'BMW day' I'd never drifted a car. Peeling off from a standing start was about as far as it went, so to be thrown in the driving seat of an M4 Comp with all traction aids off and told to slide it round some cones... yeah the first time didn't go to plan. Looking like a rabbit in headlights, smoke pouring off the rear tyres and onlookers giggling - I was having the time of my life. By the third attempt I nailed it, my instructor said my first attempt was a 0/10, my third was a 9/10. The M4 felt composed, easy to control, a real drift machine. By the end I thought I was in Initial D.
After feeling confident in sliding the M4, they then turned all the driver aids back on and said "if you manage to spin the car now, you can take it home". Needless to say I did not drive away in a 2019 BMW M4 Comp, rather a Peugeot 508. The computers behind the savage M4 are so clever they physically wouldn't let me oversteer - instead understeering and looking like a real rookie.
Slidy slidy... the M4 loves doing this!
The stunning realisation that I'll never be an F1 driver quickly loomed on me
Leaving the driving day I was contemplating my driving level, I felt like I'd discovered so much but also felt like I had taken a massive step back. My confidence was shot, my eyes were desperately trying to keep open, my body felt exhausted. Not what I'd ever had before on a track day, even after multiple 1 hour sessions. Was I truly a rubbish driver?
Then it dawned on me, "don't be stupid... you're comparing yourself to BTCC racing drivers and pro drivers". As normal driving level went, I'd done absolutely fine - I pushed my boundaries and learned so much that even on normal road driving I was now quicker through bends and reading considerably further ahead. My reactions were quicker, the way I reacted to the car was better - I was leaving a better driver than when I arrived.
No, I'll never be a Lewis Hamilton level driver. That's not a problem though, as the likelihood of me getting into F1 is about as possible as Tony Blair being Prime Minister again in the UK. BMW showed me safe limits, analysed my driving style and let me leave knowing more than any track day would ever teach me. Bang for buck, the track day is the worth the money - oh and now I really really want an M4 Comp.