The BMW Performance Center Driving Schools are the premier performance driving schools in the country, offering a wide range of behind-the-wheel courses to make better drivers out of everyone with a driver’s license and $2,500-10,000 in fun money to spend.
But now the BMW Performance Center West in Thermal, California has topped itself by adding the pinnacle of authentic racetrack driving to its course curriculum: the BMW M and M4 GT4 Experience, plus M4 GT4 Private Coaching with Data and Video Session (including 125 or 250 miles of lapping) and the Race Licensing School to make your racing dreams come true.
Simply put, BMW’s M cars are the zenith of the BMW line. More horsepower. More performance. More driving exhilaration. The BMW ads calling their cars “The ultimate driving machine” are talking about the M vehicles, the cherry-on-the-top being the BMW M4 GT4 customer race car which retails for $210,000.
The facility also offers special programs for private and corporate groups, so Pursuitist joined a an impressively car-savvy group and braved a Palm Springs-area heatwave to find out, first-hand, if the M4 GT4 Experience lived up to its growing reputation.
The Performance Center’s M curriculum allows deep-pocketed enthusiasts to experience the customer racing BMW M4 GT4 first-hand as well as receive one-on-one race driving instruction. M Class courses are taught on with a combo of indoor instruction followed by hours of driving time on 5.1 miles of FIA-certified race tracks plus three exclusive tracks at The Thermal Club where supercar manufacturers test and wealthy members race. It’s so exclusive, that members are required to buy track-adjacent homes with private garages for their race cars, ranging from $3-6 million. Not only does the BMW M Experience give us access to the Thermal track, we got to speed by members homes with our engines roaring and our tires screaming.
Our cars were equipped with communication devices so we could hear live coaching from our instructor. We quickly discovered that our BMW professional driving instructors didn’t just teach: they win races and set world records. So when they insisted we use the foot rest as a body-position tool, not an ottoman, we listened. When they told us that half of driving well is attacking the brake, we stomped on the brakes at 75 mph to let the ABS do its thing. And amusingly, instructor Bryan Randall introduced us to the German driving concept of “milking the cow,” a translated phrase for the 10 and 2 hand-hold frowned upon for its short turning radius. “Grip with your fingertips, not your palm,” Randall said. “It’s more athletic.”
Not sure which M course to take first? Here are the options.
M School is a one-day or two-day course behind the wheel of a high-performance BMW M vehicle to learn how to accelerate, corner and brake faster than you ever have before. Then you have a blast learning to maintain control of a 400-horsepower stallion in low traction conditions on a wet skid pad. The lessons end with a white-knuckle hot lap in the passenger seat while an instructor shows you how it’s really supposed to be done. Personal tip: take the two-day course to enjoy the full experience including transfers, meals, and a relaxing two-night stay at the chic new Hotel Paseo in Rancho Mirage, the Beverly Hills of Greater Palm Springs. The property is equally in love with cars and features the owner’s big, red 1950s Cadillac in the lobby, and a beautiful vintage Airstream parked near the pool.
Advanced M School is a two-day course held on Thermal Club tracks for elite graduates of the Two-Day Control School where students conquer emergency double lane changes, interstate braking at 70 mph, and Tokyo drifting on the skid pad. Just when you think you can do it all as a speed-demon racer, the final thrill is riding shotgun on a dizzying hot lap with a pro BMW instructor.
M Track Drive at Thermal focuses on BMW’s most powerful vehicles, putting you behind the wheel of an M car for six exhilarating laps on an FIA Certified racetrack. Follow an instructor’s car for a warm-up lap with live radio coaching to learn the proper line for achieving the best time. Then, try to keep their car in your sights as speeds and g-forces increase, see how close you can push your M car to its considerable limits.
All the above deserve a place on your bucket-list, especially the BMW M and M4 GT4 Experience, introduced in 2021. It’s the closest thing to a true racetrack experience in a genuine built-for-racing MG GT4 customer race car, which was introduced for the 2018 racing season and quickly became a proven winner in a dozen races in one season alone. The BMW M and M4 GT4 Experience is a $2,795 full-day program driving various BMW M cars and that sexy beast, the M4 GT4 – the exact customer race car offered by BMW Motorsport.
The BMW M4 GT4 is pure muscle, powered by the same 3.0-liter S55 inline 6-cylinder engine found in the BMW M4 streetcar. It delivers more than 430 hp and has a 7-speed dual clutch transmission with motorsport software that transfers power to the 18-inch wheels via a mechanical limited-slip differential with cooling. Six-piston fixed front and four-piston fixed rear AP brakes are controlled by a cockpit adjustable AP racing pedal box and manually adjustable brake bias.
Students start with a classroom session that reviews proper driving technique. After an overview of the car, they are outfitted with a pro racing suit and helmet. Then it’s time to experience the driving machine on a world-class Thermal Club racetrack. Students run guided laps behind a BMW instructor to experience the M4 GT4 at speeds exceeding 140 mph.
The verdict? The BMW Performance Center’s M School and M4 GT4 Experience is a million-dollar dream come true, for a four-figure price tag.
Based in Los Angeles, Vicki Arkoff is Editor at Large for Pursuitist and a founding editor for Holiday Goddess, the online destination for chic women travelers from the editors of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Conde Nast Traveler, and BBC. Her travel and lifestyle reports can also be been seen in Atlas Obscura, The Awesomer, DaySpa, The Chicago Tribune, CNN Travel, JustLuxe, Lonely Planet, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Toronto Star, WellSpa 360, WestJet Magazine, Where Traveler, Where Guestbook, Yahoo News, and dozens more. She's co-author of the bestselling Holiday Goddess books (HarperCollins and iTunes) including 'The Holiday Goddess Guide to Paris, London, New York, Rome,' a travel Top 10 staple. As editor, Vicki's other books include 'Sinatra' (DK), 'Inside Mad' (Time-Life) and 'Virgin Los Angeles' (Virgin Books). She is one of the Usual Gang of Idiots for MAD Magazine, an entertainment reporter (Daily Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, CREEM), and authorized biographer for pop culture icons from the Beach Boys to Beastie Boys, Paul McCartney to MC Hammer.