Though I’ve been to Sydney Motorsport Park quite a few times, I’d never driven on the track until I took part in the BMW Intensive Driving Experience.
Heading out to the former Eastern Creek racetrack, the sun was shining and I was excited to be able to finally get my chance to see what it’s all about – and in BMWs no less.
This is the second part of my journey to improve my driving skills and experience, having recently completed the Audi Advanced Driving Experience.
Many manufacturers run driving courses, and all are a little different. The basic skills taught in the entry-level training are very similar, but the layout of the exercises and the time on track can differ.
After a safety briefing we’re sent down to the track to get our helmets on and prepare for a few paced circuit laps in M3s and M4s.
Driving around the track in convoy, our instructor communicates via radio talking us through braking ahead of a corner, finding the apex and accelerating out of the turn.
I finish the exercise having learned a few valuable tips:
Gradually I build up speed, until, on my last lap, I manage to hit 190km/h on the straight. That’s fast enough for me at this point!
My group then heads to the motorkhana; a timed run through traffic cones comprising a slalom and sharp turns.
Penalties are dished out for knocking over cones, missing turns and not stopping in the marked out zone at the end – the ‘garage’.
We’re in the M235i for this challenge, and my first run is less than impressive. It’s cone carnage and a relatively slow time of 0:37.35 seconds.
But the M235i is great fun to drive and it sounds fantastic. My second run is clean and I earn back a bit of dignity clocking a decent 0:32.75.
Celebration turns to trepidation as a dark shadow moves across the skid pan. A big storm moves in fast. The rain begins to bucket down as we head to the ABS braking exercise. This is getting exciting…
After doing an emergency brake and swerve in the 428i, it’s a relief to have experienced ABS in very wet conditions. As you’d expect, the car retains full control in this scenario.
We work our way up from engaging the ABS when braking in a straight line, through to 80km/h swerving around an imaginary obstacle.
I manage to get a cone wedged firmly under the front of the car. The instructor comes over to pry it out from under the vehicle – an entertaining faux pas for my fellow group members.
With the rain still pouring down, we head to what ended up being my favourite training exercise; oversteer and understeer in an M3/M4.
As well as teaching valuable driving skills and confidence, this one is the most fun in my opinion, though it’s still a little scary, particularly given the weather was not calming my nerves.
With traction control on, driving the car around the circle of cones doesn’t feel any different to turning a corner at touring speed on a wet road anywhere. Turn traction control off however, and it’s a completely different story.
I plant my foot and turn the wheel and next thing I know, I’m stopped and not facing the direction I was headed. I’ve spun three times and not realised what happened. That is an eye-opening moment. Don’t ever turn traction control off.
Gradually I start to get more control over the car as it spins out, but it’s not an easy thing to master! And it’s certainly going to take me a lot of time and practice before I’ll be able to drift!
It really was an intensive driving experience – the weather helping to highlight just how impressive the car’s traction control and ABS systems are. And wouldn’t you know it, the sun started to peek through the clouds just as we’re preparing to head home.
I certainly felt more confident behind the wheel this time, and pushed my boundaries a little bit more again. It’s blatantly obvious though, these types of courses should be mandatory for all drivers.
Having some level of training, and having experienced a few of the many things that can go badly wrong on the road (in controlled conditions), is such a valuable thing to do.
The BMW Intensive Driving Experience costs $1395. For more information visit the website.
Photography and video by Glen Sullivan.