BMW was cool enough to invite us out to California for their 2013 Preview last week. It consisted of a swanky dinner with talk about their current projects and one awesome day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. We’ll skip the dinner talk (we may have had a bit too much Woodford Reserve anyhow) and give you the run down on what it was like on the track. (Hint: It was awesome!)
Photography by Chris Tedesco
On a hazy, overcast Wednesday morning, while most people are wiping crust from their eyes and pouring their first cup of coffee, I stand in front of a row of $100,000 BMWs. For the next eight hours, it will be my privilege – nay, my responsibility – to push everyone of them to their limit. And it’s all on BMW’s dime.
I gather with other members of the press – some of whom I know and some of whom are reporters for hardcore BMW blogs I’ve never met – on a breezy hump day in Monterey, California for BMW’s 2013 Preview. A standard event for those in the auto industry, but something folks outside of the Motor Trend staff don’t always get to attend.
Before we’re handed any keys, we get a briefing on the cars we’ll be checking out: The 2013 M5, the 2013 M6 and the 2013 BMW Alpina B7 which starts at a cool $128k. I own a Ford Focus. We consume cups of coffee as we listen to the specs on the cars and get introduced to people we should know, including professional driver Bill Auberlen who relaxes on a couch in the back. Bill will be offering rides to anyone who really wants to see what it’s like to race around Laguna Seca. The guy I’m sitting with leans over and says, “Seriously, you’ve got to ride with him.” It’s the first thing I’ll do after I finish breakfast. It’s also a huge mistake.
After wrapping up the briefing and some morning munchies, we head out to the track slathering on sunscreen and donning racing helmets. We’re also offered a free head sock in the event we happened to leave ours at home. I left mine at the store along with other things I’ve never purchased. Putting it on, I’m aware it will come in very handy if I ever holdup a convenience store.
I should mention, this is my first time ever on a racetrack. I’ve been on the Autobahn and I’ve certainly done my fair share of unsafe driving, but those things don’t really prepare you for driving high-performance vehicles around curves with barely a tap of the brakes.
First up is an easy once around with everybody in an M5 or M6 as we get instructions on how to take each turn. This includes a thorough tutorial on navigating Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s infamous corkscrew which is tricky even at speeds allowed in school zones. At a comfortable pace, a race track is a fairly simple thing – a curve here, a straightaway there, and an overall pleasant ride. No sweat.
We finish the practice lap and everyone takes off their helmets to make idle chit-chat through head socks like a bunch of wannabe criminals from a Guy Ritchie film before going on their first run. I figure it’s as good a time as any to see if Bill is up for a ride. Perhaps whether I am would be a better question.
We head over and hop in a burnt orange M6. After getting buckled in, adjusting my seat and checking out the slick black interior, Bill asks if I’m all set. This is the third time he’s asked me this and I’m beginning to think perhaps I’m not. My response, “Yup!”
I’m immediately thrown back in my seat.
I think it’s around the corkscrew that I retaste my breakfast frittata. Luckily for the stylish floor mats, I hold everything in while we take turns at speeds I don’t think my speedometer reaches. The thing about driving this fast is everything comes at you instantly. There’s a turn in the distance and then you’re on it. You see a sign and it’s gone. You bounce and shake in your seat and unknowingly grab the door’s armrest like it’s someone’s hand and you’re a woman giving birth to large-headed baby. And it’s awesome.
You can’t capture this kind of speed on a camera. All you get is a sense of it from the engine noise, but the intensity is lost in translation. The iPhone video I capture of about 20 seconds of the ride with Bill is loud and wobbly, but ultimately makes me look like a scared little school girl. I delete it and keep my manhood intact. (Then decide to include that in this post. Well played.)
I thank Bill for the ride and feel prepared to tackle the track myself. A charcoal colored M5 is the first available ride I spot. I floor it leaving the sweet sound of skid marks in my wake as I speed up to merge onto the track. It’s an incredible feeling pegging a luxury car because the ride is still smooth like you’re listening to some Coltrane amidst a world of chaos. I complete one lap and feel as if I’m getting the hang of this whole “racing” thing. I’m then quickly passed by two other M5s in the span of five seconds. All of a sudden I’m the student driver on the freeway. I feel like a grandma. (A grandma doing 90.)
It takes a few rides before you can really understand how to maintain speed around turns along with the lines you have to take, and I kinda get it after taking the M6 Coupe for a couple of trips around the track. Oddly, I feel as if my experience playing hours of Gran Turismo has actually benefitted me in this situation. My highlight being a controlled tail whip accompanied by a whiff of delicious burnt rubber. Whether it was purposely controlled or luckily controlled is up for debate (it was the latter), all I know is it looked sweet and I didn’t spin out. Chicks dig that stuff.
As it turns out, racing is a solid ab workout. Forget crunches or planks, just go out and take turns at 80. Not sure if this is always the case or if I was just bracing myself too much, but earning a 6-pack while driving at high speeds is a workout they really should feature in Men’s Health.
After a lunch break that mostly consists of chatter about carbon fiber and start/stop, we are back to the cars and I opt for taking the Alpina B7 out on the streets of Monterey. This is one of our other options. The kind folks at BMW basically gave you the key to an amazing vehicle and just said, “Be back here by 4.”
The Alpina B7 is a stunning sedan that, while far from light, boasts a 0-60 time that clocks in at just over four seconds. I plan on confirming that along with the quality of the Bang & Olufsen sound system onboard and the function of every single button I can press.
Here’s what you realize while driving a beautiful $130k car through a crowded street: Women look. Not just a few women; every single one. You feel like the ice cream man and every woman is a kid with an aching sweet tooth. Closing the deal is up to you, but a pricey bimmer is a wonderful wingman. Especially if you can snag one with 540hp and boatload of torque.
The details on the B7 are fun and stylish. Little touches like the colorful stitching on the soft leather steering wheel and the illuminated B7 logos you’ll see when stepping in and out really add a bit of extra personality.
Yeah, I took the B7 out for two hours. Why the hell wouldn’t I? I’m not exactly able to move funds around to get one in my garage at the current time. Unless, that is, BMW or Alpina wanted to give me one *winky face* . . . okay, okay, that was pushing it and what dude uses a “winky face”? Am I right? Hahaha! (But seriously, shoot me an email and I’ll get you guys the shipping address.)
Back at the track, I take the B7 out to see how it does on there. Amazingly well, obviously. It handles whatever amatuer mistakes I throw at it. I mix in a few more runs in the M6 (its pickup and handling makes it the most fun to drive out of the bunch) along with one more street session with an M6 droptop to take it all in before heading back to Laguna Seca to wrap up the afternoon.
At the end of the day, I’ve had a surprisingly strong ab workout and an insane amount of fun that I would have gladly paid for (don’t tell BMW). I also really, really want an M6 or Alpina B7, and for a split second, I understand why people rob banks. Maybe BMW recoups some of their money by selling cars to the press after events like these seeing as how we can’t resist.
Damn, now I gotta go acquire some cash. Has anyone seen my head sock?