The idea of manufacturers using circuits for customer driving experience days is nothing new, but then that doesn't mean they hold any less appeal. Great cars and great circuits don't become less entertaining, do they?
Get used to seeing the traction control light
The USP of BMW's M Power days is that they're on offer at all the MSV circuits, which now includes Donington
. So there's a huge variety of circuits to try M cars on, from Snetterton to Cadwell and Brands Hatch to Bedford. Not something that's always on offer elsewhere.
It's a short, sharp hit of excitement as well, with two programmes a day running and very little dead time spent without driving something. Which is good. Nice though the batak test and the simulators are, you're paying the money to drive cars - thankfully you're not kept from a chubby BMW steering wheel for long.
If anything the day reached its peak early for me, with a 'handling course' in M3s. Essentially said course was a car park with cones and strategically applied water, but since when has oversteering M3s required a glamorous location? There isn't much coaching and it isn't all serious, though it's hard to care particularly when there's smoke coming from tyres - back on the dry bits for that - and the M3 is showing off its very best party trick. Good car, that. If you're an oik.
You want to go fast? Get an M6
Things get a little more serious with the MSV-prepped M4s, which feature some instruction and V-Box data to fully assess how good (or otherwise) your driving is. Oulton Park is a good place for this, as the Fosters circuit is short (meaning plenty of laps) but sufficiently challenging (meaning there is enough to learn). Without wishing to sound like a complete hoodlum, the M4 is a little frustrating with all driver modes left on. It's an entirely understandable approach but, with the cars little altered from standard (half cage, uprated pads, new tyres), the M4's caged animal persona isn't hard to find. As in traction control intervention in fourth gear. On part throttle. Exiting slower corners therefore becomes a little frustrating!
That being said, it's a very useful exercise for learning the course and your own abilities. The instructor will help you experiment with brake and turning points so that you're so in a rhythm that suits you. The V-Box data will then show you room for improvement - as will a video lap from a pro that makes yours appear in slow motion - and then you're out again for a second run. With some slightly tweaked lines, later braking and a tad more throttle in places, I trimmed five seconds off a best lap.
Oulton Park the perfect setting
And all this by 11 o'clock. There are a brief few laps each in M2, M4 and M6 road cars too, ideal for identifying similarities and differences between the two. The M2 is still a right hoot on track, though the M4 does feel rather more serious: stiffer, sharper, more aggressive than the smaller car. The Comp Pack seemed more at home on circuit than the MSV-prepped car too. And the M6? What a monster! It feels huge and a tad ponderous around Oulton, yet outrageously fast. I always think you can tell a really quick car when it still feels so on a track, and the M6 absolutely qualifies for that. What on earth will they do for the next one?
Finally, the M Power Driving Experience includes a passenger ride in an M235i Racing. Now normally these aren't all that, but special mention must go here to Paul O'Neill for the most committed, exciting and hilarious passenger lap I've ever had. Four wheels entirely off the road at Oldhall exit? Go on then. Sideways out of Lodge? Yep, fine. Really, really, really close to the M235i on the approach to Druids? Of course, all part of the service. It was absolutely brilliant. Thank you Paul!
There's even a good passenger ride too!
Then it's lunch already. Four M cars driven, many circuit tips absorbed and drift king dreams lived, all in a morning. Food wasn't bad either. In all serious though, having such a jam-packed schedule means that so much is achieved in a few hours and you're left feeling like it's time and money well spent. We were fortunate enough to be invited by BMW, but anyone can go along (not just M car owners) for £600
. For half a day that sounds like a lot of money, though for the amount of driving involved it seems like pretty good value actually. It goes to Knockhill as well...
[Source: Donington Park]