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      03-31-2007, 06:50 PM   #1
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Performance Center Two-Day Driving School--Long

Here's a report about my two-day Performance Center driving school experience, along with some photos. My daughter, her sister-in-law, and I went March 7-8. This was my daughter's and my second trip to the P.C.--we took deliver of my 328 sedan there last October. P.C. Delivery gives you a taste of the driving school, but just scratches the surface of what you learn in the longer sessions.

Please take a look at edspilot's excellent write-up about his experience at the two-day school, here: http://www.e90post.com/forums/showth...408#post682408 (He's a fellow member of the D.C. Metro Crew.) We had much the same experience, so I'll try to supplement, not repeat, Dean's article and relate my impressions of the experience.

Our principal instructors were Matt Mullins and Allison Duncan. Both were excellent instructors, combining humor, insights into “civilian” driving behavior, and drawing on their experience as professional race drivers. It's the instructors who make the school, so here's some info about Allison and Matt.

Allison, a mechanical engineer, currently races in the NASCAR Weekly Series, after a very successful road racing career. She finished fifth at the Daytona 24 hour in 2000 and was three-time West Coast Road Racing champion. For more detail, here's her website: http://www.allisonduncan.com/index.htm

Matt, too, raced both on the road and on NASCAR tracks. He ran Formula Mazda and NASCAR Winston Late Model, Sportsman, and Craftsman Truck series. He also does stunt driving for movies. Both Matt and Allison are the real deal.

Our first lesson was about seating position. Before you say, “D'oh,” this was one of the most important things we learned. Many of our exercises involved full ABS stops, not to mention braking on the road courses. So you've got to position your seat close enough to the brake pedal so you can STOMP on it. No “toe braking” allowed. There has to be a bend in the knee even after you push the brake pedal fully to the floor. Matt told us, “the brake pedal is the most underused control in the car. We'll teach you how to use it.” And they did.

Allison showed us a neat way to determine how to adjust the steering wheel. Get close enough to the steering wheel so you can extend your arms over the top of the wheel so your wrists break over the top of the wheel without pulling your shoulders/back away from the seat. It will take some back and forth to get both brake pedal and steering wheel distance right, but it's worth it once you get to the lane change, ABS, and road course exercises.

Approved steering techniques include the familiar 9 and 3 hand position and turning until your arms cross. This is usable on most road course turns. But when you need more turning, such as on the skid pad, “shuttle steering” is the way to go. Shuttle steering involves feeding the wheel with one hand through the other rapidly. One hand is always in contact with the wheel, which slides through the other.

Last, but not least, look where you want the car to go, not where you are going. If you look at a cone, you will hit it. Easy to say, harder to do when you are going fast through a slalom. You autocross guys know all about this.

Edspilot's report includes a thorough chronology of driving exercises, which I didn't keep. But I have a couple of photos I can add to his. I haven't figured out how to add captions after each photo, so here they are.

1. Our 335s. The “don't forget to breath” signs are right. Pretty intense two days.

2. Z4 on skid pad.

3. Rat race.

4. 335 on skid pad.

5. Single lane change. This and the double lane change were very challenging—even at 45 mph!!

6. “My” 335. Our classroom is on left through the windows. The garage doors open into the Technology Center, where BMW personnel learn how it all works and how to fix it.

7. Full ABS stop, steer to the right through a column of cones.

8. Recon lap on the new road course, where the M school is held. This course was my favorite. Three laps around, balls to the wall, ending in a full ABS stop into a rectangular box defined by four cones. The box was at the end of the straight and was barely two car-lengths long. The new M course has elevation changes, unlike much of the original course adjacent to the main building. We started on a hill, accelerated into a sweeping right turn, through some shallow “S” turns (taken in a straight line by going over low curbs at both edges of the track, hard on the brakes, hard left, through a chicane, hard on brakes, left turn onto the straight, on the throttle as early as you dare, down the straight, REALLY HARD on the brakes, sweeping turn to left, into the “S” turns again. Repeat until you've sweat through your undies. Into the stop box at the end of the last lap. What a thrill.


9. “My” M5. Instructor Matt Mullins on the left; M Coupe on right. They had to call security to get me out of the M5.

10. Just a bit sideways.

BMW Smorgasboard

As our second day drew to a close, we drove a variety of BMWs—M5, M6, 650, 760, M Coupe, and the now familiar 335 as a point of comparison. We got three laps around the original course; standing start to left turn into a slalom, left turn (tricky cone placement at the end of slalom forced you to inside of track, but you had to get to the outside to negotiate properly the next left turn), chicane, left turn to straight, haul ass, brake to slightly uphill and off-camber turn, back to slalom. We rotated through the cars, starting our drives at intervals of about 200 yards. Here are my impressions of the cars. Keep in mind that I'm new to this kind of stuff, so I'm certainly no expert. All the BMWs we drove were great fun.

M Coupe—My first and favorite car around this track. It was absolutely glued to the track and I felt comfortable in it from the first lap, maybe because it reminded me of my S2000. The shifter wasn't as smooth as the S2000, but the throws were short. We used second through the slalom, turns, and chicane and third on the straight. Matt kept telling us to use the 8000 rpm redline...and we did. You could apply power pretty early coming out of the last turn onto the straight and the rear end didn't do anything scary.

M5 and M6 Coupe—Better than sex? No, but a thrill nonetheless. It took me a bit to get used to the SMG. I don't have to tell you that these cars really go, stop, and handle. I wasn't as comfortable in these as I was in the M Coupe, perhaps because I was worried about stuffing $100,000 cars into the wall. The thrust of the V-10 coming out of the last turn in second and down the straight was unbelievable. And it kept going after I “clicked” into third. The braking point came up way too fast. I have no idea how fast we were going—but I used all of the 8000 rpm limit. Matt enabled what he called “M” features before we took our laps. I don't know what many of them are, but one was very useful—these M cars had auto-inflate seat back bolsters, which would inflate when the car sensed you were cornering hard. This gadget was actually useful.

650 Convertible—the V8 really pulled down low and the car was surprisingly competent on the twisty stuff. If you like convertibles and have the dough, don't overlook this one.

760—My first V-12 drive. Compared to the other cars, this one felt huge and not very responsive. I'm sure that compared to other cars in its class, it is quite good. Just not my kind of car.

335 Sedan—I can't say enough good things about this car. It's the one I know best, having driven it for most of our two-day sessions (and I own a 328/sports/steptronic sedan, which handles very much like the 335), and it felt very comfortable to drive quickly on this demo course. But it was on the “M” road course and in the braking exercises that I experienced all of its virtues. The brakes are fantastic. In any sane situation, they will stop you before you have a bad day. The 335 handled better than any 4-door sedan has a right to. During my two days, the car felt solid, predictable, and responsive to both steering and throttle inputs. As I said before, I'm just a newbie at performance driving and I won't pretend to have stretched the car anywhere near its limits. But we drove them harder than I've ever driven before and they were absolutely solid. The motor was something else. On a short course like this it's torque that counts and the 335 has plenty of that. It would pull hard from the bottom to third gear on the straight. It was also responsive; no turbo “surprise.” You could apply just the right amount of throttle (or at least what I thought was the right amount!) and power came on smoothly. I've always liked the idea of a “Q-ship.” And this car is it. Our cars had Steptronic and we used them in “sport” mode. I was very satisfied with how that worked on the road course.

The icing on the cake was a hot lap in an M5 with an instructor. Before our turn came up, we watched three instructors take others around the skid pad. It was like synchronized swimming or ballet. They hung the rear ends of the cars out and held it all the way around the pad.

Four up in an M5 with Matt on the same course as the smorgasboard. I was riding shotgun. Words fail me. Matt was able to do things with that car that left me breathless. Exiting the left turn onto the straight, I though Matt had lost it. Not. He swung the rear end counterclockwise, made an "impossible" hard left turn onto a connector road, and pressed on. Wow.

So there you have it. Oh, almost forgot. The performance center has a teen driving school. If you have teenage drivers, SEND THEM TO THIS SCHOOL. It could save their lives. They'll learn things that high school drivers ed just doesn't teach. I plan to send my grandchildren to the teen school, when they are old enough.

Next up—M school.
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      03-31-2007, 06:52 PM   #2
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Great write-up. I'll be doing the M School in May with a friend and we're looking forward to it a lot.
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      03-31-2007, 06:53 PM   #3
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Excellent! Thanks for sharing!
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      03-31-2007, 07:09 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JSpira View Post
Great write-up. I'll be doing the M School in May with a friend and we're looking forward to it a lot.
Thanks. Please let us all know about your M School experience. I'd like a preview of what's in store for my next visit.
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      03-31-2007, 07:20 PM   #5
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Thanks for taking the time to share your experience!
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      03-31-2007, 07:50 PM   #6
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Gotta to love the Sepang Bronze on the M5
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      03-31-2007, 08:09 PM   #7
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Thanks for sharing!
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      03-31-2007, 08:14 PM   #8
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Nice write-up. Attending the school is on my to-do list, and it's good to hear you get to test some ///Ms... I was thinking of attending the M-school directly (and skipping this, if possible) but maybe not
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      04-01-2007, 07:27 AM   #9
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Great writeup and thanks. Agree on teen school for kids. Sent our grandaughter to Audi's two-day school in Sebring and think it might save her life some day (Sebring is a lot closer than Spartanburg, plus we had just put her in a new Rabbit, which is on the same platform as the Audis she drove at Sebring - she says the base Rabbit is more car than the TT, BTW.)

Questions. You said: "Our cars had Steptronic and we used them in “sport” mode." Did you have any use of the paddle shifters? Why/why not? How would you compare the 335i Step in DS to the MT in the M-coupe, other things equal? Tks.
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      04-01-2007, 07:25 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rubber Ducky View Post
Questions. You said: "Our cars had Steptronic and we used them in “sport” mode." Did you have any use of the paddle shifters? Why/why not? How would you compare the 335i Step in DS to the MT in the M-coupe, other things equal? Tks.
We used the paddle shifters in the M5 and M6. We were instructed to use DS on the Steptronic, so I did.

I do not feel that I missed anything by staying in DS. The power was so plentiful and came on so smoothly, I don't think I would have had more "oomph" using the paddles or a manual in the 335.

It's hard to compare DS in the 335i with the 6-speed in the M coupe. I believe that DS gave me all the go I needed on the courses I drove in the 335 and not having to shift let me concentrate more on the driving than I imagine an MT might have. The 6-speed was a natural in the M coupe, which I drove only on the original road course. We used mostly second gear on that course, shifting into third only on the straight. The M coupe felt as if it responded to the throttle more quickly than did the 335, but that probably resulted from the combination of the manual and the M engine.

The limiting factor in both cars was me, not which transmission was employed.

Hope this is helpful.
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