Sunday, February 12, 2006


The BMW M3, wonderfully designed by a team of brilliant Bavarian engineers, is a finely tuned driver’s machine capable of threading through corners while efficiently laying down its cache of horsepower. The car is a balanced, proven race winner that has been used by professional drivers to tame race tracks like the infamous Green Hell, the Nurburgring in Germany. Sporting the Semi-Manual Gearbox, or SMG, the Formula One paddle shifter equipped street variant is a DTM racecar with license plates.

At an autocross, in the hands of a couple of amateur drivers, the BMW M3 can be used to decisively render a set of tires completely obsolete. Not only that, but given the proper amount of testosterone and boastful optimism in one’s ability to control such a beast, the M3 can do so in a single, smokey one minute and thirty second run. With one innocent phrase and the push of a single button the M3 can be transformed from all-conquering king of performance sedans into a laugh a minute, donut-wielding court jester with a very poor disposition.

Having debriefed the small group of friends attending their first autocross I am now riding with Edward in an effort to give him 1) a little helpful input and 2) directions through a confusing sea of orange traffic cones. I am also riding with another friend, and splitting driving duties, in a brilliant little Mini Cooper S. My first run with Edward has gone smoothly enough for a first time auto crosser and he seems to grasp the concept of pointing the car between the gates as we make our way around a very fast and open course. To facilitate his learning of the track I have been pointing him through the gates like a World Rally navigator by keeping my open hand –pointing left or right- in his peripheral vision, I calmly provided directions during his runs.

Somehow, perhaps as a result of the confidence inspired by a successful first timed run, his second lap of the day begins with the phrase,
“Let’s turn off the DSC, I want to see what kind of guts this thing actually has…”

DSC stands for Dynamic Stability Control, BMW’s version of traction control that limits throttle application and helps stabilize the car during hard cornering and quick lane change situations. With the system enabled the car also becomes a gutless pig at an autocross. Even though you think you want to accelerate hard from a corner the car seems to know better and refuses your request with a gentle slap of the wrist and refusal to do anything but act civil.

With the DSC turned off and his run ready to begin Edward winds up the motor and clicks the M3’s SMG into first gear. Turning to the right he negotiates the first corner and immediately enters a slalom that opens and becomes faster with each passing cone. The first goes by and now the second, but as we approach the third cone he is getting in the power too hard. Too hard as in full throttle, too hard. His optimism in available traction and throttle response, now unimpeded by traction control, sends the revs soaring and the back end makes a successful attempt to take the lead. Not one to back down, Edward stays in the throttle -full throttle- and we are instantly engulfed in a blue-white cloud of what was formerly a set of Michelin tires. Sitting in the passenger seat I see nothing but rotating scenery as I feel myself thrown into the door and thousands of little bits of rubber, pebbles and grains of asphalt pelt us inside the cabin. My eyes are now watering for two reasons: The tire smoke stings like mad and I am laughing uncontrollably. One glance from Edward in my direction reveals my red, teary-eyed laughter and this is enough to set off his own fit of the giggles, the car violently liquefying a set of tires all the while.

Laughing like a pair of 12 year old school girls at Justin Timberlake’s birthday party we careen through the course trying to regain composure. I’m still overwhelmed with laughter, which apparently does not inspire much confidence, when Edward hits a tricky, slightly gravel coated section of the course. Suddenly, we are producing more than enough smoke to conceal a Special Forces unit on a mission in Berlin. Now in the midst of our second donut of the run my gut aches from the strain of g forces and my uncontrollable laughter at Edward’s insistence on application of full throttle every time the car starts to get a little sideways. Again I am pelted with rubber and our eyes redden with the influx of more thick smoke into the cabin of the Bimmer. With the throttle still open he accelerates out of the donut and we continue the run without losing much momentum, trailing the sounds of laughter along with two thick strips of spent rubber. Four corners later the M3 exits a tight right hander and enters a section of quick switchbacks. Still feeding him directions, things begin to get a bit sketchy.

“Remember, keep your eyes on the next gate, it tightens and is back to the right-… ok, now its on your lef-… back to the righ-… no, no its on the left now… oh man, punch it straight ahead!”

As I say this we are looking first through the windscreen, then through the driver’s window, then through the passenger window, then again through the driver’s window… The M3’s amazing lock-to-lock fishtail is being fed energy by Edward’s heavy right foot and massive lack of steering compensation each time the car tries to swap ends in a new direction. The sound of tires being cooked in a bath of more blue and white smoke only adds to the spectacle and I glimpse a heavy trail of mosquito killer following us through the gates. Adding to the confusion and my own doomed sense of immediacy, a corner station full of cone chasers looms 15 yards in front of us.

Keenly aware of the vehicle swapping ends and careening towards them, the cone chasers probably wanted to run, screaming like extras in a Godzilla movie, but somehow they stood their ground. Was it their misplaced confidence in my driver’s ability to regain control of the car, or perhaps complete dismay and confusion about the direction we were going to take next? I’m sure the M3 looked more like a giant silver squirrel trying to cross a busy freeway, but our demented path of travel somehow cleared every gate in that section without hitting a single cone.

Our run, ending with the sound of our still uncontrollable laughter and the stench of roasted tire seeping from every pore of the BMW, was now accompanied by a new sound. Every driver, family member and course volunteer in the place was applauding and cheering as we rolled through the paddock looking for a place to park the poor beast and fall from it in spasms of teary laughter. Following that fateful run, everybody wanted to ride as a passenger with the psychotic M3 driver.

As the day progresses we get first hand accounts from nearly everyone in the place, the best coming from two friends of ours. According to Sean and Tony, who were working a corner about 50 yards away from the first tire destroying donut, they could hear us laughing in the car over the sound of everything else as we spun around!

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At 10:11 AM, Anonymous BMW M3 said...

nice post..


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