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      10-02-2014, 12:21 AM   #1
SEWELLGT
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BMW M Track Day - The Thermal Club

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I'm always appreciative of the members who take the time to sit down and write up trip summaries, event summaries, etc. Typically, I read those posts and enjoy living vicariously through them. I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the BMW M Track Day being hosted out at The Thermal Club in Thermal, CA and took a day off of work to attend on Monday. I'm definitely no automotive journalist but thought some of you might enjoy a trip report with a description of the event and some pics/vids. The event really was first class and I can assure you my brand loyalty was strengthened. The timing was perfect as I just sold my '13 M5 and will be deciding over the next few months what to go with next. On to the details...

Event Overview
I got an invite to the event through my CA (Greg Poland @ Pacific BMW). From what I gathered talking with others at the event, it looks like dealers in the region were allotted a certain number of spots which they used to invite customers. No idea how the invitation process worked but thankful my CA thought of me and I was able to attend. The event was hosted by BMW NA as part of their M Track Days program. Honestly, I wasn't even aware they did this sort of thing. During the intro, we were told that the event in Thermal was going to be the longest event they have run and that it would be 8 consecutive days. I believe we were day 1 and I was impressed by the representation from BMW NA leadership there on-site. They also had a representative from BMW M who traveled in from Munich to support the event, answer questions, etc. The driving instructors were mostly all from the Performance Center and they supplemented that staff with a few local instructors from the area. Overall, I believe I was one of 50 participants that day. The participant to staff ratio was pretty impressive. Between the instructors, NA and M reps, there had to be about 25 of them if not more.

The Facility
The event was hosted at The Thermal Club in Thermal, CA. If you're not familiar with this development, it's the stuff dreams are made of. While they have only completed one of three tracks so far (The South Palm Circuit, a 1.8 mile road course), driving in you can tell that this is going to be a very special place. Think ultra high-end country club but instead of a 27 hole golf course, you've got three race tracks that can be run in multiple configurations. For all you high rollers, I would suggest ponying up for a lot and planning your garage, when this place is done it's going to be one-of-a-kind. Check out there site for all the details.

http://www.thethermalclub.com/

The Cars
The current full M lineup. M3, M4, M5, M6 (coupe, vert, GC)

Pulling through the gates and around the corner to the parking lot, I don't think there's a more amazing site than 40+ M cars lined up, ready to be thrashed all day. 90%+ were outfitted with carbon ceramics, most of the colors were represented, wheel combos, etc. If there were ever a place to conduct a side by side comparison for any reason (color decision, model comparison, etc) this was it. The cars were staged and organized in a way that they could be easily grouped up before they headed out to their respective event (described below). I'm not sure there's a more beautiful site on a Monday morning, correct that, ANY morning.



















The Event
I'll run through the timeline of how the day was organized and then I'll give a description of the various events: Day started at 8am. Having two little ones at home who don't sleep well yet and needing to maintain my relationship with my wife, I was stuck with driving out the morning of. A number of people did the same but it would have been great to book a room for a couple nights (one on each end) and make a proper retreat out of it.

BMW had an amazing setup waiting for us when I arrived. We'll call it a temporary building considering that's technically what it was, but it was quite the base camp to run the day out of. Walk in the doors to a carpeted room full of M eye candy, a reception desk, a buffet table, flat screen TVs all around and a wall of glass looking out onto the track. Once we were checked in, signed all the liability forms, and were given our credentials we were asked to enjoy some breakfast, browse the static displays inside and out, and mingle while we waited for the intro and drivers meeting.

Inside, the room was staged around the centerpiece which was a black M4 convertible. Around the room were various displays including a cutaway S55 engine, the carbon fiber composite driveshaft, strut bar, etc. On the flat screens they had all the BMW M commercials playing, many of which I had never seen. You get the picture, a BMW M enthusiast dream room which included a full wait staff. Outside, there were multiple static displays including a frozen blue M5, mineral white M4 and my favorites, the E36 and E46 M3 GT race cars, all unlocked and ready to explore. I think at this point I was on sensory overload.

Around 8:45 we all gathered up inside and were introduced to the BMW NA team who was there to support the event. As mentioned, this included 10 or so instructors from the Performance Center, a BMW M representative from Munich and some BMW NA senior management, an impressive group. We were given an overview of the event, what they hoped we would take away from the day (i.e. "I want to buy an M car") and reiterated that they were there for us and to fire away with the questions, comments, etc. Once through the intro, they handed it over to Matt Mullins, the Chief Driving Instructor at the Performance Center. Matt gave us a detailed overview of the events we would be participating as well as a brief driver instruction presentation (Eyes where you want to go, weight transfer, driving line, etc). After that, it was time to head out to the cars.

























The participants were broken into 4 groups of ~12 and we were all given the schedule for the rotation through the 4 events. I was happy with the order my group was given and really considered it to be the ideal progression through the day. I'll describe the events in detail in the order I did them, and will take the liberty of interjecting some of my own opinions and observations:

Event 1 - The Performance Street Drive

I honestly don't remember what the exact title was that they used but I think it was close to that. This was my least favorite of the 4 events which is why I'm glad we started with it. The premise here was to get a feel for the cars (M5 and all M6 variants) in what they called a brisk street drive. They setup a circular autocross style course that ran the perimeter of one of the large open paved areas. They asked us to drive like we would on the street if we were late for work and their measure of "that’s too much" was tire noise. So basically, drive the car, play with the radio, put the top down, etc, and drive as fast as you can without making any tire noise. I think this was the point in time where most of us turned into 1st graders with a listening problem, the entire session was excessive tire noise followed by a stern reminder on the radio to dial it back in. It was actually pretty comical. We would run three cars on the course at once for 4-5 laps, return to the staging area, change drivers, repeat, change cars, repeat. Everyone was given the chance to rotate through all the cars at least once and we had a little extra time at the end so they let us hop in whatever we wanted and go back out.

For the hardcore M enthusiats, this was an exercise in restraint. Like I said, I'm glad I got this out of the way first, I can't imagine coming straight from a lapping session on the big track to this. Either way, I did recognize that there were people (less hardcore) that were enjoying this session so I think there may have been some value there for others, it just happened to be at the bottom of my list.





Event 2 - M3 Autocross
This was my second favorite event of the day. The name pretty much says it all, they had a relatively short, very technical autocross course setup complete with timing equipment. As it was a timed event, this was one of the two competitive events that would produce winners at the end of the day. We were told during the intro that the top three times of the day would be rewarded with a prize of immeasurable value (this proved to be true). Being the ultra-competitive person that I am, my heart rate instantly ramped up when we hopped in the M3s and headed over to the course. The rules for this event were pretty simple: drive the course in two lap sets, rotate out of the car and get back in line, repeat, set the fastest lap time you can. Before we started, the instructors gave us some reference points regarding what constituted a good lap time. The best instructor time, which was essentially the course record, was a 24.8xx. We were told good student times were sub 27 and the closer you got to the CR the more impressive it was.

They had us run the first few laps with traction control fully on. I took this time to learn the line and establish reference points. Once they allowed us to head out in MDM, I started pushing the car a bit harder each time and worked on shaving off time. The timing blocks were setup a few feet away from the starting cone which gave you a bit of a rolling start, and the blocks at the finish were at the beginning of a stop box. I’ve done autocrosses like this in the past and it definitely requires a bit of strategy at the end to carry as much speed as you can across the blocks while at the same time getting the car stopped in the box.

As I got more and more comfortable with the car (which was awesome by the way) my times started creeping down. Soon, I was setting repeated 25.9xx times and was having trouble shaving more off. I had a good idea of where I was leaving time out there but I’d improve on an early section and then carry too much speed into the next section, I was essentially running out of time to string together a perfect lap since I was having to run two laps and then sit out for a bit. I was the fastest in our group and the instructors were really trying to watch me and point out areas on the course to focus on. We were the second group of the day to run the course and my 25.9xx time was good enough for second at that point behind a 25.4xx from the first group. As the session was winding down and they were about to have us head back to the paddock, I asked if I could get one bonus lap. They needed a little encouragement but when the rest of the group seemed fine with waiting on me to run one more lap they said hop in. One lap, not another set of two. My heart rate ramped back up as I essentially had an audience at this point and was running one lap for all the marbles. Got a good start of the line, short shifted into second to avoid wheel spin, nailed the first section of the course, let the car track all the way out to the cones coming out of the hairpin, took a little bit too much speed into the right handed sweeper and I could feel that I was giving away a little time, realigned for the final section and hit the final left hand sweeper pretty much how I wanted to with a full, tail out ABS stop into the box, 25.5xx. Fun stuff! I shaved an extra 4/10ths off with the last lap but was still 1/10th off the fast time of the day. Either way, I was happy with the outcome and could only hope it held up through the next two groups to keep me on the podium.

Due to the intensity of the session and my focus on improving time, I only managed to get one video clip of the M4 heading off the line. The car sounds great in person.



Lunch
Very nice Mexican lunch back in “base camp”: fish tacos, chicken, sides galore, dessert, etc. Good stuff…

Event 3 – Drag Race
The third event of the day was the drag race. I’m more of an autocross and full course lapping kind of guy, but this was still a fun little event that really showed the off-the-line power and braking capabilities of the M5 and M6. In this event, which was the second competitive event of the day for our group, we took turns driving the M5 and M6 (vert and GC) on a ~1/8 mile drag strip they had setup on the straight of one of the unfinished circuits. This was a “Pinks” style setup were the instructor would have us line up, stage, arms would go up and we were to go on the drop. The twist was that at the end of the course, similar to the autox, there was a stop box. The winner of each race was the driver who got their car stopped inside the box first. If any part of the car was out of the box, front or back, the other driver would win by default (assuming they were in). We ran a rotation through the cars during the “practice” runs and then went head to head, single elimination style to crown a winner of the group. The winner of this event, from each group, would also be awarded prizes at the end of the day.

My biggest takeaway from this event was how amazing the Carbon Ceramic brakes are. Having driven an M5 for the last couple years, I was used to the power and was relatively proficient at getting the car off the line (no launch control allowed). The true challenge with this event was establishing the proper braking point that allowed you to carry the most speed down the strip before going into a full ABS stop into the box. All the cars were outfitted with Carbon Ceramics and gave zero fade, the entire day, impressive stuff. While I wasn’t watching the actual speeds we were hitting before braking, a proper launch would allow you to get into 3rd gear before you got off the throttle and onto the brakes, a pretty substantial repeat demand on the brakes. I won’t go into all the details of the competition, let’s just say I got knocked out early and I didn’t necessarily agree with the judgement at the end of the strip haha. I was forced to watch the rest of the competition unfold from my leather chair in the shade. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that each event was setup with shade tents, coolers full of bottled water, sunscreen and leather seating for those waiting a turn. Ridiculous! Haha.




Event 4 – Full Course Lapping in the M3/M4

The highlight of the day. Full course lapping in a lead/follow configuration on the 1.8 mile South Palm Circuit. Did I mention this is an impressive facility? What a fun, safe, rewarding track. You can tell that the course was designed under the premise that very wealthy drivers in very expensive cars who may not have the most track experience want a fun place to open things up with low risk of putting it into a wall. The runoff areas are plentiful, the course is wide, smooth, fun, etc, what a great track to call home if you’re fortunate enough to afford a place in there one day.

The session was run very similar to how BMW runs its schools at the Performance Center or the advanced schools at the track. An instructor leads and shows the proper line while the other cars in the group follow. Students have radios in the door pockets and the instructor provides feedback from the front as he sees things you should or shouldn’t be doing. This was the one event during the day where it was necessary for them to break out our groups of 12 into groups based on experience. Of the 12, myself and 3 others had done a fair amount of driving events, HPDEs, etc so we headed out with an instructor of our own. Instructor car followed by our two cars, we rode shotgun with another driver for the first session and then did a driver swap in the pits and headed back out for another session.
I’m a big fan of the lead/follow setup. While it’s not the ideal one-on-one instruction, it’s really nice to follow a professional as he sets the line and ramps up his speed. The first half of the session I ran as the third car. Midway through, we switched positions so I had a chance to follow the instructor directly. As your pace increased, the instructor would increase his pace as well. Essentially, he was willing to go as fast as you could push. The only requirement was that we kept the car in MDM mode, no DSC completely off. While I’ve got quite a bit of experience with MDM mode and think it’s an excellent mode to run in, I think being the last session of the day had an impact on being able to put the power down out of the corners. I had good performance from the tires through the corners but on corner exit I had issues. The instructor was running DSC off and I think this is one of the main reasons he was able to pull on me as we headed out of the tighter stuff. I talked with him for a bit after the session and he basically agreed that I was probably being hampered a bit by MDM on corner exit considering the ambient temps were in the upper 90s (track temps had to be way up there) and the car had been driven pretty hard three sessions already. Anyway, I’m making excuses for not being faster but that really isn’t what this event was meant for. It was meant to experience the M3 and the M4 at home on the track, and I can say, it was a very good experience. Here are a few pictures and a couple videos, first is a one lap clip, the second is a longer chunk of my session. My iphone was overheating which I think led to some problems with the Lap Timer app in the second video but at least the video itself came out alright.















Awards and Closing
Following the last session of the day, it was time to circle back up for awards and closing. We met under the tent by the track and they thanked everyone for attending. They then moved into the part some of us had been waiting for, announcing the podium from the Autocross and the winners from each group in the Drag Race. Following the third session of the day, I checked back in to see if my time was holding. Unfortunately, someone had edged me out by 4/100ths and I was sitting in third going into the last session, not where I wanted to be. I was really hoping to hang on to the third spot, but quickly learned that someone in the last group set the fast time of the day with a 24.3xx, and I was relegated to 4th, the first big loser, by only a few hundredths! The other four winners weren’t surprises as each group already knew who took top honors in the drag race, so as they announced the final name and reminded everyone that there was a substantial prize to be had the attention quickly turned to the backside of the tent where two E92 M3 GT2 race cars fired up and pulled around the corner. The winners were about to gear up for hot laps around the circuit in ALMS GT2 race cars, 4th place never hurt so bad.

The rest of us losers headed back over to the “regular” M3’s and went out for hot laps with the instructors. I’ve been on plenty of hot lap rides at the Performance Center but on a full course you’re quickly reminded that they are professionals and you are amateurs. We blasted out of the pits with 4 M3s all nose to tail. We lapped the circuit three times in what was basically no passing wheel to wheel racing, that’s the best I can explain it. Oh yeah, with 3 passengers in each car haha. Awesome ride and very thrilling, particularly considering how tight the group stayed around the track and how hard the drivers were throwing the cars into the corners, trying to out-brake each other, etc. very cool.







Following the hot laps, we headed back into the “M room” where they had more food waiting along with wine and some German beer. I was exhausted at this point and was only able to stay for a short time as I had to hit the road and get back home to the family. The whole day was first class, the cars were great, the staff was awesome, couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Monday.

The biggest question I went in with was what car was going to be my favorite. I knew it was probably going to come down to the M3 and the M5 and that’s exactly how it turned out. I’m a sedan guy, love the looks and the practicality and my last two cars have been an E90 M3 and an F10 M5. I would have loved to tracked the M5 back to back with the M3/4 but that will have to wait for next year when I hope to make time for the advanced M school. The new M3 is very impressive, the engine is excellent, loads of torque, and the sound is quite good. The M5 is still probably my favorite all around monster sedan for a DD with limited expected track time but the M3 has definitely closed the gap on the creature comforts and is the obvious winner if you plan to spend a lot of time on the track. I need to consider what I’ll use the car for over the next few years and decide which is a better fit. Bottom line, you can’t go wrong either way, they’re both excellent cars and have more capability than 95% of owners will ever experience.

I can’t thank BMW enough for hosting the event, showing us such a great time and allowing us to experience the M cars the way they’re meant to be driven. Hope that I can attend another event like this in the future.

Chris

Last edited by SEWELLGT; 10-06-2014 at 10:36 AM.
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      10-02-2014, 01:15 AM   #2
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Fantastic. Wish I had been there.
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      10-02-2014, 01:18 AM   #3
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I was there also. Have some videos that I took from my google glass. It's an awesome track and a very nice event with the exception of that "drive like you are late for work session"
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      10-02-2014, 01:44 AM   #4
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Sounds like a pretty amazing day... Thanks for a fantastic write up.
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      10-02-2014, 03:13 AM   #5
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Awesome writeup Chris! You provided a perfect representation of a truly great event. BMW went all out.

I was there yesterday and did things in the same order which as you already pointed out was the best order you can go through.

Wanted to point out a few more things:
- you're pretty much buddied up with someone for the whole day constantly swapping driver and passenger seats. Had a great time with my co driver.
- the drive it like you're late to work event is really meant for folks that are new to the cars and want to try out all the different settings, auto vs manual using paddles, comfort vs sport plus etc. We tried out the B&O sound system 😃
- don't feel bad on missing out on the autocross time. Yesterday the top 3 were 25.0x, 25.2x and 25.2x
- I'd like to get in on the bulk tire order they must have to place frequently. The cars and brakes kept performing very well, but they are going through tires really quickly. Wouldn't mind getting their discount on 4 Michelin PSS tires for my M5.
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      10-02-2014, 03:47 AM   #6
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This event rocks, I was the guy who did 25.4 in first group, but unfortunately I can't get better becuz others members in my group asked to give them a ride tho.

And M3 GT2 is totally a wild animal that I never imagine I would feel that kind of g force in a non open wheel type of race car, it's must be my best three laps in my track days life so far
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      10-02-2014, 08:52 AM   #7
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Great write up. Wish bmw did this in the uk.
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      10-02-2014, 10:26 AM   #8
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great write up, thanks for posting!

One of the things I remember from the 2 day M school autocross was that the E90 M3s really bogged down and suffered from coming out of the really sharp (120 degree) turns. I imagine the F80 felt much better... any lag?
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      10-02-2014, 11:42 AM   #9
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Thanks Chris, off down south today. I feel like I've done it already and going for my 2nd time now. Great write up. Maybe you should consider journalism.......?
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      10-02-2014, 12:35 PM   #10
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Chris, you definitely conveyed the event highlights on paper and with your eye behind the lens. Really appreciate you sharing one of the best write ups I have seen! Glad you had a great time!
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      10-02-2014, 01:36 PM   #11
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Thanks for the write-up.
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      10-02-2014, 02:45 PM   #12
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SEWELLGT,
Nice recap. I too attended the event on Monday and agree. Your session schedule was perfect. My day started with the South Palm Circuit. As much as I loved being on the track first thing in the morning I was bummed when I learned it was to be our only time out there and I spent the rest of the day pining for another lap. Regardless, I walked away impressed with the event even more excited to take delivery of my vehicle.

Considering the all day abuse combined with extreme weather conditions, the Drag Race event did give me greater appreciation for the CCB's.
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      10-02-2014, 04:04 PM   #13
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Thanks for all the kind words. This was the first time I actually took the time to sit down and document everything when it was over. It'll be nice to look back on later and I'm happy you guys are enjoying it as well.

I double posted it originally, once here and once in the F80 forum. Looks like that thread just got bumped to the front page, sweet!
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      10-02-2014, 05:21 PM   #14
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Awesome write-up , videos and pictures, thanks for sharing
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      10-02-2014, 06:18 PM   #15
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Fabulous! Looks like a great track.
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      10-02-2014, 07:38 PM   #16
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Thanks for the write up.
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      10-02-2014, 09:49 PM   #17
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This is a cool thread. Wish they would do that stuff over here on the right, er I mean wrong coast.
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      10-03-2014, 03:15 PM   #18
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So this facility is going to be the New BMW Performance Center West?
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      10-03-2014, 03:18 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by mwlmd View Post
So this facility is going to be the New BMW Performance Center West?
http://f30.bimmerpost.com/forums/sho...61&postcount=1
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