VIDEO: Get a feel for driving a BMW M3 around the test track at the Thermal Club.
Channeling my inner Earnhardt, I punch the BMW M3 in a straight line through the tight S-curves, drift a bit through a hard left, and then brake a little loose when I hit the small rectangular parking space marking the time trial’s finish.
Less than 50 feet away, Adam Seaman, the senior driving instructor at the BMW Performance Driving Center West here at the Thermal Club, sits in a white BMW X7, timing the competing drivers.
Though Seaman’s voice gets muffled by my M3’s closed windows and blasting air-conditioning, I just make out the words “ … no time … did not finish … still moving … ”
“%&@#$%#!” I yell and stomp firmly on the brakes. In my eagerness to hear my time, I have committed the unpardonable sin of a rolling stop. Drivers get five chances at this course.
This was round number 3. I am not doing so hot. There are only five drivers competing, but I don’t think I’m even in the top 10.
Seaman, a tall, jovial Carolinian who spent 11 years in the motor sport of drifting (where nearly the entire race is spent by drivers in a sideways, tire-smoking drift), is giving us a two-hour taste of high-performance driving school. There are also full, one- and two-day classes in real-world skills such as emergency land, lane changing, and skid control. Our goals this morning are more superficial. We all just want to drive really fast.
“Any time someone tells you to hop in a brand-new BMW,” says Seaman, “and drive that thing in anger, it’s going to be exciting.”
I redeem myself on my fourth trip around the track. I hit every corner, stay on the track, and come to a complete and legal stop at the end. Still, I am sitting quite securely and alone in fifth place.
I do everything right on my last try. By now, I’m used to the paddle shifters on the wheel and go smoothly from second to third as I take my first turn. I don’t need to downshift. What I need is speed. I hit the next couple of turns without lifting my foot from the pedal and hear a satisfying squeal from my rear tires, and then only let up slightly when it feels like I might oversteer the next turn. I accelerate out of it, hit the S-curves, and the next thing I know, I’m skidding to a full stop.
Seaman barks my time encouragingly over the loudspeaker. I’ve missed moving up to fourth, but only by a couple tenths of a second. I don’t much care. Seaman was right. Driving 60 grand worth of car in anger is a very happy sensation.