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Tuning Up Driving Skills

It’s Spring- that time of year where we’re reminded to get our cars polished and tuned up for motoring fun. But what about polishing up our driving skills? Great idea! And there’s a far better way to learn driving technique than a day of corner carving on public roads. I got my tune up recently at BMW’s Performance Center West with a full day of seat time beginning in production M4 coupes, then fully suited up to drive the GT4 racecar. Even if you routinely zip into Nomex race gear, it’s a great experience. And after our COVID lockdowns, I was reminded of how rusty one can become.

BMW’s Performance Driving School is a short jaunt from Palm Springs at the Thermal Club, a country club for driving enthusiasts with beautifully designed racetracks. No golf clubs required. In fact, BMW provides everything needed and if you’re enrolled in the GT4 school, even the fire suit, shoes and helmet, all sparkling clean, are provided.

BMW’s instructors are all winning professional drivers, many still competing in major events. And all are serious but fun, after all this isn’t boot camp. The morning started with coffee and a brief chalk talk, then into M3 coupes at the autocross course. Next we took BMW’s M4 to the track for quick familiarization laps before lunch. A friendly autocross competition followed before suiting up for the race cars.

After climbing through the roll cage, sitting in the fixed racing seat and strapping into the five-point harness, you pull the foot box toward you into position and a technician installs the steering wheel. It was a warm afternoon, but this endurance racecar has air conditioning, delivered from a big flex-pipe behind the seat, so I didn’t cook at all. Even shifting is clutch free these days and I was surprised at how civilized the gearbox was. A few years ago, I drove another brand’s racecar at Laguna Seca and the transmission sounded like farm machinery. BMW explained that they use the same powertrain as the production M4 and it holds up just fine.

BMW’s driving adventure is available beginning at a very reasonable $299 for a morning or afternoon session in production cars and it’s free to BMW M buyers. My M and GT4 experience was $2,795 and unless you happen to own a racecar with spares and a crew, is also a solid value. Learn more at bmwperformancecenter.com

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