I had the opportunity to attend the 2 Day M School last week. I will share my thoughts but don't have much video since the M5s and M6s were not equipped with video cameras, and I didn't bring a go-pro.
The M School is a first class program - truly top notch in every way - the instructors, the cars, the facility, the meals. Everything. The instructors - Andy, Donny, Jim, Tommy to name a few were all superb.
There is a famous Pirelli slogan which says "Power is nothing without control". Control is what the M School teaches you. Control at the limits, control in the wet, control under acceleration and braking, control of the racing line. We learned to control M Cars at the limits, and it is astonishing what these cars can do - every one of them M3, M5 and M6 - are capable of superb speeds and mind blowing cornering speeds with the right control. They say a car is nothing without its driver. The school put me on the path to be the driver worthy of an M Car, and I'm not there yet.
This is a must attend program in my opinion and I would highly encourage people to do the 2 day M School and not the 1 Day - in the first day you learn a lot. But the extensive track time on the second day, and the more complex track layout helps you really pull it all together. On the first day I kept thinking about every maneuver, on the second day it started to become second nature. That's why 2 days are important.
I will cover three things in this write-up: Skills learned, perspectives on the cars, and what I thought of the program.
What I Learned
1) A strong understanding of the mechanics of driving.
Anyone who has done PCD understands the mechanics of traction, however at the M School you learn to apply that in a variety of settings - different types of corners, chicanes, etc.
2) Instinctive rapid car control.
Most M owners know how to deal with oversteer or understeer, and how to correct. But on a track at the limits, you need to correct very quickly otherwise you're in the barrier. My car control skills went to a much higher level during this school. I could drive the car on the edge, and rapidly correct oversteer and understeer. It enabled me to establish a much more dynamic driving style. Nowhere near the level of the M Taxi drivers, but up there. Rapid arm movement just becomes second nature, you correct powerslides without knowing that you're doing it.
3) Braking and accelerating - managing traction with MDM and DSC Off.
On the first day in the morning, one of the first things I did was spin an M6 by going full throttle with MDM on while accelerating out of a corner. I also clipped a barrier in an M5 (it had to be repaired) because of aggressive exit throttle. I'm glad this happened at the M School and not in my own car! I learned a lot about how to manage throttle through corners and accelerating out of corners in MDM mode, and I really believe it saved me an accident at some point in the future.
4) Choosing the right line.
We learnt a lot about the right line. It is not always obvious.
5) Problem solving the lap times.
This is what I enjoyed most. Seeing the laptimes of my peers, figuring out where they were faster and I was slower. Leveraging the knowledge the school provided to problem solve the gap, putting it into practice and then lowering my times. I really enjoyed this process and my lap times tumbled.
The wet skidpad session with Donnie was awesome, and for a short moment I was able to establish a drift. However not for long. Needs more time to practice.
7) Wet weather driving.
We did a race on a wet figure 8 with DSC fully off. Its so easy to spin the M5 in this setting, so it gives you a sense of how well we learned to control the car at the limits. I was able to set the second fastest time in my group without a single spin, although with some need for oversteer corrections here and there.
8) Eyes up and look where you want to go.
I think I could have avoided clipping the barrier during the M5 time trial if I had not started to look at the barrier. The instructors really drilled this home, and with that exception, it really helped me to drive better lap times and precision.
Here is a video of me doing a reverse turn using skills Donnie taught me.
Impressions on the cars
1) All three of these are ultimate M Cars
. The M3 is lighter, but I was amazed that the M5 and M6 were up there in terms of cornering speed and actually in many ways much more forgiving on the track. I found the M6 and M5 easier to control on a wet skidpad than the M3 - which really surprised me - and I think gives you a sense of how well balanced these cars are and also how good the Michelin PSS are. At their full potential the M5 and M6 are among the best M cars ever made.
2) M5 and M6 require much more patience with the throttle
as indicated above, and will leave a less experienced driver spinning out.
3) The M6 was a great drive and much more balanced than the E62 M6
- you notice the lower center of gravity when cornering. It just seems very easy to drive. However the M6 is noticeable less comfortable than the M5. The M6 seats are pretty poor being narrower and firmer - you don't get the cradled feeling of the M5 seats. However the M6 cabin is gorgeous.
4) M5 most impressive of the three
. I was the only M5 owner in the class, but the other guys seemed to be most impressed by the M5 because it seems to match the M3 and M6 in performance while delivering substantially more comfort. It was the car that you felt like you could go longest in on the track.
On the M5 we mostly ran Sport Plus, Sport, Sport with MDM mode. In the wet we set shocks to comfort which gave more stability. The instructors seemed to only put steering in Comfort mode because they felt that offered the best feedback. However I found feedback to be optimal in Sport Plus, however found Sport easier for rapid movement. I think Sport Plus steering is best suited when driving a Corniche or a Hill Climb, but Sport is best for track. I asked what PSI they were running on the tires but they didn't know.
6) M3 is the best sounding car
. I am finally coming round to the fact that the Turbos may be too quiet in terms of engine sound. The M3 sounds superb under WOT.
Thoughts on the program
1) Awesome track.
Its a fantastic track. Awesome 70mph high speed corner, couple of really nice chicanes, a corkscrew, great elevation changes. It is quite technical, but also fast. Just exhilarating.
2) There is a lot of classroom education but its good.
We probably spent about 90 minutes in the classroom on the first day, and 60 on the second. This is good because it seems to enhanced your understanding of what you should be doing.
3) The instructors give instruction over the radio.
It would have been nice if they spent more time with you in the car - maybe they do this at the Advanced school. However you do feel you get feedback lap after lap, and you do see your lap times getting progressively better, so the coaching model is working well.
4) The insurance is comprehensive.
When I clipped the barrier in the M5, they asked me if I was okay. They asked a few questions on what happened. Then they put me in another car. There was no paperwork, no hassle, and no deductible. I felt bad for the faculty because I'm sure the instructors had to do the paperwork.
5) It is very safe
- at no point was I worried about my safety. There is a lot of space on the track for mistakes, and the one area where a barrier exists, it is necessary. They also watch you closely and guide you over radio if you are about to make a mistake. They also space the cars very carefully so there is no danger of collision.
6) Lots of gifts
- a helmet, a fleece, a t-shirt, a polo and a cap. All with the BMW M Performance School badging.
7) Superb instructors.
Really good guys. Enjoyed having lunch and dinner with them. They are very thoughtful, good coaches and good people. Andy also did my PCD on my previous car, the 550i, and he remembered me.
8) Value for money.
The program was a bargain. After 15% BMWCCA discount, it's $3050. For that you get a 2 days of school, 2 days of hotel and all meals, no damage liability, using up the tires on 3 cars, and a race helmet worth $600 and other goodies worth around $100.