Learn to Drive Like a Pro with BMW
If you’ve been secretly seeking self-improvement on your daily drives, weaving in and out of lanes and trying to avoid those red lights, BMW Performance Center West at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs (and its second location on the East Coast in Spartanburg, SC) can unlock a wealth of tricks and techniques you didn’t know about going fast—safely.
Despite the intimidating bits—powerful cars, helmets, race suits, and instructors with nearly 150 years of combined competition experience—the school’s goals are simple: Optimize and enhance your car-control skills to make you a better driver. It starts simply enough, with drills in the BMW M2 Competition through a coned-off course. Follow the leaders on a slow reconnaissance lap as they deliver pointers over the walkie-talkies, and you’ll become familiarized with the subtleties of the turn-in points, apexes, and exit points.
As the pace builds, so does the adrenaline, spiked by blood-rushing G forces and the strains of BMW’s turbocharged engine. The M2’s inherent nimbleness makes it agile in corners, juking around cones with surprising precision. It’s also a superior learning tool because its lightweight construction telegraphs clear signals of how the driver’s steering, throttle, and brake inputs alter its behavior.
Flinging an M2 across a closed course is a safe place to flirt with the edges of its limits. But switching to other road cars—an M4, M5 Competition, or an M8 Competition—not only reveals their remarkably different dynamics, it avoids comfort and encourages learning. And so the process continues, exploring how cars behave as they approach (and often surpass) their limits, bolstering the confidence to drive quickly and effectively, all while sharpening the ability to maintain control of the car.
While the courses start with friendly familiarization, offering instruction for teens or new drivers simply seeking to sharpen their skills, the M School dives deeper into high-performance principles, culminating in courses that include the BMW M4 GT4, a bona fide race car. Based on BMW’s M4, the GT4 holds nothing back: the racer has been stripped of some 700 pounds of weight for maximum agility, and features weapons-grade suspension and brakes that demand a significantly different technique than the road car.
Even the process of getting set up in the driver’s seat is demanding: A pit-crew technician straps you into a race harness and hooks up your in-helmet communication system, while another adjusts the steering column and pedals to your body, since the seat is bolted into place. The exhilaration of driving the M4 GT4 opens an entirely different sensation, delivering a gratifying level of precision and power that marks a quantum leap over the capabilities of the street-legal M4.
After a day of high-speed maneuvering on Thermal’s race circuits, the chaos of workaday traffic makes these newfound skills all the more valuable. From $299 for a 1-hour M Track Drive or 2-hour Performance Center Drive; bmwperformancecenter.com