Recently while in Palm Springs, Marc and I got up really early to head out to Thermal, California (about 45 minutes from Palm Springs) to the BMW Performance Driving School to spend the morning learning to drive on their track.
I have to say, I was a little nervous when we arrived. There was a fleet of shiny BMWs and it’s been a long while since I’ve driven a stick. Fortunately, these cars have multiple driving modes including automatic and manual paddle shifting mode so you can drive however you prefer. Our instructor suggested that we all stay in automatic mode so we can focus on the instructions rather than shifting. Still, there was a lot of initial instructions about track driving to digest and then we got into the cars. We’d choose our initial car and then after a few laps, trade with the person/vehicle behind us so we got to work our way through the full range of M class vehicles and even an X5 SUV.
I was a little anxious until it was my turn to get behind the wheel and go. Once I was behind the wheel, our instructor, Adam, who was watching from beside the track would talk to us via radios we all had in the cars. I don’t know if I was at ease because I was finally driving or because of Adam’s instructions.
One thing we hadn’t considered is how hard it is to be a passenger in a car while someone else is driving at these speeds…add to that we were trying to document the experience while being slammed around the track. Watch this video where Marc does his first lap and I try to keep the camera steady as he puts his pedal to the metal – you can hear Adam on the radio giving directions to us and the other drivers (identified by vehicle model):
After getting a feel for the track it was on to the time trials. Onboard and track side sensors would accurately record our lap start/stop times. The hardest thing wasn’t ripping around the track as fast as possible without losing control, it was stopping literally on a dime at the finish line in the ‘box’ of cones. Penalties would be given if you weren’t perfectly inside the finish cones. Halfway through the time trials, Marc had to get out of the car…I don’t blame him as I was driving pretty aggressively to beat my own time. Translation: I was fishtailing a lot, braking really hard and having an absolute blast.
After six laps, shockingly I ended up in 2nd place overall…I had accrued a lot of penalties for just missing the stop box but my lap times were solid. It was amazing how much adrenaline was flowing at this point…we all were raring to even faster.
Once we finished the timed trials, our final session was a chance for Adam to show us how it’s done. He took us a few at a time on a hot lap around the track we had spent the morning driving on, although it was about double the length we had been running. Since he’s a champion drift car driver, he really put on a show for us.
Here’s a realtime video of Adam doing a lap with me on the sidelines:
He even let me mount my Ricoh Theta S 360 camera onto the hood so you can experience the hotlap in all it’s 360 video glory – you can just see me in the passenger seat giggling like a little girl as we whip around the track:
It’s hard for me to pick a favourite activity in all my years of being fortunate enough to get to do these kinds of things as a blogger, but this is easily in the top three ‘most fun’ things I’ve ever done. The combination of crazy speeds, g-forces and stomach butterflies mixed with a lot of adrenaline made for a truly amazing experience. We only got a small taste of the programs they offer at the Performance Center too…so if you’re even remotely interested in racing or just driving high performance vehicles, check it out next time you’re in the Palm Springs area.
Check out Marc’s take on the event as well.