Lapping up BMW icons at Mondello
At the BMW Driving Experience day you can unleash some serious horsepower without getting penalty points, writes Geraldine Herbert
No speed limits, no traffic lights, no congestion, just you and an accelerator firmly pinned to the floor. At our national track in Mondello, I was learning how to brake, steer and accelerate along the track's racing line in an M2 and an M4 as part of the BMW Driving Experience day.
Contrary to what you may expect, track days are not the domain of boy racers but rather are a real opportunity to become a better driver, explore the limits of a car and understand safety equipment.
Our day on track starts well, with sunshine and a balmy 18°C but the risk of a cloudburst looms large as the sky darkens. Worry about rain is quickly forgotten when we're greeted by an impressive line-up of cars: Mini Cooper S, M2 coupe and M4 Halo model.
So after a short briefing session, my fellow speed demons and I were unleashed on the track. First up is the Cooper S, and these laps are designed as a learning experience; a chance to familiarise yourself with the track and to learn the art of smooth cornering with just the right blend of acceleration, braking and steering. To get the most out of these experiences it's essential that you trust the experience and the wisdom of your instructor. Focusing on smooth steering and driving translates into faster lap times. Plus you quickly realise you need to take advantage of the whole width of the track - turn in from out wide into a corner then drift out to the edge again when coming out of it.
Then it was on to the M2. Just one lap in and it's becoming clear that the M2 is one of the easiest cars to throw about on a track. Put your foot to the floor and it's just a blur from zero to triple digits. The power is courtesy of a six-cylinder 3.0-litre turbo petrol engine that's good for 0-100kph in 4.3 seconds with a limited top speed of 250kph.
Around the track it is so composed but still makes up ground with a pace that rivals much more potent and significantly more expensive cars.
It is not only fast but there a real sense of connection to the car and it feels significantly different to the regular 2 Series. The M2's racing pedigree is obvious and the light weight and agility inspires so much confidence, while the reassuring M4-derived brakes certainly help put a stop to speed when necessary.
No time to catch your breath and then it's into the M4. Everything steps up, with more power and more torque - 431hp with 550Nm of torque, to be precise. I daren't take my eyes off the track ahead to check the speedometer, but the rate at which corners are flashing past confirms we are not hanging around. All the time my instructor calmly coaxing me to speed into a hairpin turn, only to brake just a whisper away from the curve. The most impressive aspect of the M4 is not the speed or the performance but the sheer the control it allows you have.
Very rarely, if ever, will you get a chance to drive a car to near its limits and that is what makes a track session just so much fun, but it also serves to highlight just how little you may know about driving. Anyone can drive fast in a straight line - all it takes is a heavy foot - but controlling a car at speed takes real skill.
There are several good experience days offered in Mondello for beginner or advanced racer, from the Supercar Experience where you can sample the thrill of driving a Porsche 911, or get a taste of the speed of a Formula One-like driving experience in a Formula Sheane, an open-topped, single seater.
The BMW Driving Experience day is your chance to see what all the fuss is about the iconic M cars and prices range from €179 to €299.
So if you fancy driving a fast car fast, then can I recommend an experience day in Mondello. After a couple of hours with a driving instructor, all of whom have professional race-car-driving experience, you will not only see what a car can do but you will also improve your driving skills.