The Ultimate BMW M Experience at Thermal Club in Palm Springs

All photos by John Walker

Did you know Canada is the second largest BMW M market in the world? Canadians love fast cars!

Since the 2016 launch, the BMW M2 has lived up to the M badge winning Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s 2017 Canadian Car of the Year for Best New Premium Sports / Performance Car.

The fun-to-drive 2018 BMW M2 coupe is powered by a 3.0 litre TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder engine producing 365 horsepower and 343 lb. ft. of torque. When paired with a seven speed dual clutch automatic, it can sprint the M2 from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds.

Recently, BMW Canada invited 30 lucky BMW M2 owners to go to M school at The Thermal Club. Located 45 minutes south of Palm Springs, The Thermal Club is an exclusive 30 acre motorsport heaven with three circuits.

Inside the compound is BMW Performance Center West, a BMW and MINI driving school, where students learn about finding the proper driving line, braking into a corner, panic braking and controlled drifting.

Over time, we develop bad driving habits like driving with one hand or slouching sitting position. First was an one hour classroom workshop led by Christopher Hill, a veteran of over 18 years teaching racing and high-performance driving, who taught us the proper steering wheel and seating position and fundamental racing techniques like braking, cornering and handling.

After the classroom lesson, we were divided into small groups and ready to put what we learned into practice. The first exercise was slalom with the 2018 BMW M4 Competition.

With the Competition package, the BMW M4 TwinPower Turbo six-cylinder engine is tuned to 444 horsepower. In addition, it gets an upgraded Adaptive M suspension, new calibration of the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), the Active M differential and 20″ M light alloy wheels.

The second exercise was emergency braking, which is accelerating the vehicle from 0 to 100 km/h then slamming on the brake for a complete stop.

Once you apply full pressure on the brake, the vehicle’s Anti-lock Brake System is activated. It prevents the wheels from locking up and allows you to maintain steering control.

As part of the Competition package, the BMW M4 gets an upgraded M Carbon ceramic brake. Ceramic brakes are more powerful, lightweight and have a longer lifespan than traditional brakes. It is also non-corrosive, very resistant to abrasion and tolerates more heat. More importantly, it will stop the vehicle quicker and for a shorter distance to avoid any obstacles.

The third exercise was drifting on the skid pad with the 2018 BMW M3. On a special polished cement, it was pretty easy to lose control of the vehicle.

After a few donuts, I got the hang of it. Drifting is all about throttle control and counter-steering at the same time.

By the way, the 2018 BMW M5 set two Guinness World Record for the longest drift of eight hour, 374.2 km (232.5 mile) and longest twin vehicle drift of one hour, 79.3 km (49.25 mile).

After lunch, we applied what we learned in the morning on the track. The first track activity was a timed lap on the autocross course with the 2018 BMW M2.

The BMW M2 is one of most fun M cars. It’s light and nimble on the track.

Even though it’s the smallest M car in the lineup, it’s powered by the same engine as the M3. It’s the perfect balance of rigid chassis, great steering response and power-to-weight ratio which makes it a fun car to drive on and off the track.

On that day, the fastest lap was 27 seconds. I was pretty happy with my solid 30 second lap.

The second track activity was lead follow at the South Palm Track with the 2018 BMW M3. We followed the lead of the instructor going through the race line. It’s the fastest line through a corner so the vehicle can travel in a straighter line while losing as little speed as possible.

The BMW M3 is powered by a 3.0 litre TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder producing 425 horsepower and 406 lb. ft. of torque. The M3 on track performance is impressive with excellent handling, good steering feedback and plenty of power.

We ended the day with hot laps with the 2018 BMW M3. It was thrilling ride as the instructor pushed the limits of the M3 drifting around the corners and zipping down the straightaways.

Even though, it was fun drifting and burning tires on the track. All of these Active M systems create a safer vehicle on the road.

For example, Active M differential optimizes traction and driving stability when changing lanes or accelerating out of curves. It prevents excess wheel spin in a turn or when one wheel is on an uneven surface.

In addition, new BMW vehicles feature Active Driving Assistant which includes forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning.

Want to experience M power? You can sign up for 1 or 2 Day M School at BMW Performance Center.

James Chung

Vancouver Lifestyle, Cool Tech & Travel Adventure. Email:

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