Taking a spin on BMW's driver training track day

By Noelle Faulkner, December 20 2018

The lightning speed down Gardner’s Straight. The tight hairpin on turn four. The sweeping backside over 'Siberia'. It’s enough to give you goosebumps.

For Australian racing enthusiasts, myself included, Phillip Island is a bucket list destination. It holds a sacred place deep in our adrenaline-addicted hearts, and I've spent a day zooming around this historic track in what must be the coolest driving lesson I'll ever have.

You see, there are two types of people who visit Victoria’s Phillip Island. Most come to coo over the koalas and queue for the famous Penguin Parade.

Some, however, take a left turn off the main drag. They're the speed enthusiasts seeking an adrenal hit at one of Australia’s fastest tracks.

Let it be known, I’ve never seen the penguins.

Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit plays host to many high-speed events – the Australian Moto GP, Supercar Championship, Australian Superbike Championship and the Phillip Island Car Classic.

But the track is also home to another way to get the heart racing: the BMW Driving Experience, which allows motoring enthusiasts to get their hands a little dirty while sharpening their driving skills.

I've seen plenty of professionals take on the challenging 12-turn racetrack, and now it's my turn.

On arrival we're split into groups, handed chic BMW M-performance helmets and briefed on safety before taking out racy M240i and M4 coupes.

After a drive-through familiarisation on the lines, braking zones and apexes of the track, it’s go time.

The M-cars pop and growl with each downshift and tires squeal as we abuse the rumble strips to get the best position. Particularly on the intimidatingly fast turn one, double apex of turn two and the long, off-camber turn nine, which also ends with a crest. Easy, right?

Wrong. Phillip Island doesn’t suffer fools gladly, in fact it doesn't tolerate them at all. Some of us learn our fate of breaking too early, too late or taking the wrong line. Not to mention, what happens when you let yourself get distracted by the beauty of the panoramic ocean views, or the enormous geese that congregate on the runoff, threatening to wander onto the road at any moment.

Fortunately the M cars are highly responsive and incredibly well balanced, making them excellent models to be learning in, even when each of us is taken out for an insanely fast hot lap with one of the instructors.

After the pure, unadulterated joy of pushing the needle beyond 200km/h down one of the most infamous straights in Australia, next comes the slalom, where we whip John Cooper Works Minis around a skid pan.

Not just designed for the huge grin factor (though there is that!), these exercises tune up the everyday skills required for safer driving. There is method to the madness.

“The BMW Driving Experience gives participants the opportunity to truly test and develop their driving capabilities,” says Derek Walls, BMW Driving Experience chief instructor.

“Our courses go beyond vehicle experience and focus on delivering essential skills and techniques to improve vehicle handling and your safety on the road," Walls explains. "It’s also incredibly fun exploring your limits, and that of the vehicles’.”

With three courses on offer – from a half-day of highly-focused driving to an action-packed day-long 'professional masterclass' – these driving experiences cater to all levels, so you don’t need to be a pro or a GTA champion, or even own a BMW for that matter. In fact, many participants in my group had never even driven a performance car.

If I’ve learned anything, it's that the benefits of driver training courses massively outweigh the thrills. Sure, being strapped in for a heart-pumping hot lap is a rush. As is learning how to tackle the iconic track corner-to-corner in a highly capable M240i, M3 and M4. But when you can walk away knowing that you’ve just become a safer, smarter driver – that’s a skill you can use everyday.

After all, motoring has come a long way since pretty much everyone’s first car and courses like this, which are offered by many other manufacturers, provide a new and exciting way to learn how to move with the times.

But then again, being able to say I can powerslide a rear-wheel-drive M car is also pretty cool...

Noelle Faulkner attended the BMW Driving Experience at Phillip Island as a media guest of BMW. The program is also available at Queensland's Norwell Motoplex and Sydney's Motorsport Park.

aggie57

aggie57

QF

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 152

I’ve done far too many laps around the island than I care to count, as I’m sure others here have also done. If you’ve never experienced it take any chance you can. It truly is one if the worlds great tracks.

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