Loud, Powerful and Slow
The F10 generation BMW M5 Competition package has aluminum doors.
This is had never occurred to me. I'd used the same set of home made, magnetic "73" numbers for five years of occasional track days in BMW products. When I pulled them off the side of my refrigerator, "these will not stick to my doors at all," was not a thought that crossed my mind. But, there I was, standing in the middle of a field outside Savannah, Georgia slapping a non sticking circle at a door that I'm sure was laughing at me.
The superstitious among you would call this "an omen." I called it an "oh, come on."
I hadn't done a track day in a little over a year. On that day, at Atlanta Motorsports Park, I tried to initiate some lift throttle oversteer in order to nail a missed apex at turn 6. Instead of finding some mild, dorifto action, I found the limits of my suspension as the widest, stickiest tires I could fit under my Mini Clubman S won in the battle with my control arms. It was my first ever "on track incident" and it required $200 to tow me back to civilization, or at least my dealer, where upgraded control arms were installed at great personal cost.
Had I gotten directly back on the horse after that four digit learning experience ( lesson: don't beef up one part of a system and then test it without beefing up the rest of the system) I'd have been ok, but I didn't. I sat around for 13 months, during which I developed a decent amount of track fear. I also got a new car, an F10 M5, the conclusion of a - frankly insane - personal horsepower war.
Bloomingdale, Georgia's Roebling Road Raceway is best known as Motorweek's test track. Nestled in the back of a working class neighborhood, it started life as a drag strip, then had 9 corners grafted onto it in roughly the shape of a gummy bear.
It has no elevation changes but some off camber turns that can catch you out. It is my wife's favorite track because the tricky corners are all next to football field size patches of grass, there are no blind corners and it's 15 minutes from her favorite vacation city.
I'd driven Roebling twice before. Once in the Mini, when it was my wife's (186hp). Once in my wife's 435i, before she tuned it (300hp) and now I was going to do it in my new ,to me, M5 (600+hp).
I was nervous. This was the biggest, fastest car I had ever driven on track. Ok, I had driven an M5 Competition Package car at the BMW Experience at the South Carolina factory, but that was like a permanent autocross course. Roebling is kind of a big boy track, 150mph + on the front straight was not out of the question. Also, did I mention that this is the most money I've ever spent on a car?
"They say track days are 7/10ths driving, but 7/10ths in this thing is, what, 14 - 15/10ths of my ability?" I had said to my wife on the trip from Atlanta to Savannah.
"You'll be fine, as soon as a coach gets in it and shows you what the car can do you'll be comfortable knowing how much safety net you have," my wife had replied. She was right, of course. We both always started track days the same way and always were much more comfortable after coaches got involved.
"We didn't have a big sign-up for this one. But my loss is your gain. Lots of open track. Also, there are only two coaches, so you're driving solo." This is not a direct quote from the organizer, but it is close enough.
"Fuck." This is a direct quote from me after hearing the above.
I hadn't driven Roebling in three years. The forecast called for rain and the track was soaked from thunderstorms the night before. I was driving solo for my first time ever and in a car that made twice the power of the last car I drove there. What could go wrong?
One thing about me is, I'm naturally pretty risk averse, so I decided early on, "I'm just gonna be slow and see if I can remember the line around this thing. Something you learn if you drive the same track with different instructors is that "the racing line" is really an average of infinite number of similar, but very different ways to get around the track. That is to say, I'd had four coaches in my car on Roebling, and I've had four different ways explained to me as "the fastest" way around the track. Some I was much better at than others, so I tried to pick and choose the best parts of all of them. The result?
I was slow as balls.
I've never been the fastest guy on track, but I'd never been lapped before, until I drove the most powerful car in the group. I'm 100% blaming the brakes, also lack of skill, but the brakes definitely played a big part in it.
See, here's the thing: I'm not the best corner taker. I’m pretty smooth, but I’m kinda slow. Also, I'm not the most aggressive guy out there, I'm not constantly pushing the hardest, but I'm pretty good at finding and following the line. What I, however, am is really, really good at breaking. I will brake later and harder than most people at my level. I trail brake when needed. I rarely over or under brake. I nail braking.
So, coming down the front straight at an exploratory 137mph I hit the brakes at 500ft. Again, this was exploratory. My wife's 435i easily braked from 134mph at 250ft, on stock, non-M brakes and pads, so this should be, oh my God that's what Hawk HPS pads smell like right before they are probably catch fire.
To be fair to the HPSes; that car plus my fat, American self probably weigh in the neighborhood of 5000 pounds. I do need more aggressive pads if I do this again, but, you know, physics exist.
So, I couldn't brake as hard or as late as I wanted and that kind of played with my head. Not only did it limit my front straight speed to around 120mph, a speed where the brakes did NOT smell like impending doom, but it kind of sapped my confidence in them around the track in general.
So I got lapped. By everyone. My bruised ego aside, it was good though, because I did get smoother and faster and put up a personal best time. It is possible that I had a faster lap than the one I recorded as a personal best, but also Harry's Laptimer has a terrible habit of just not working sometimes so I didn't get times from my last session (It also didn’t record the entirety of my fastest lap as seen below).
The session with the coach who helped me fine tune some of my line. I was doing things about 90% right. He suggested a different line for turn 9 (five coaches, five lines!), which is the fastest turn on the track. I, picked up 10mph in that turn doing nothing different, but taking a slightly later turn in. Little things like that add up.
Even though they managed to squeeze in another 3 sessions that afternoon, I decided to just take some pictures during the late sessions. Nobody likes being a rolling chicane and I was, also, driving hard for eight hours hurts the next day. Still, I was left wondering, would I solo at Roebling again? Possibly, but I think I have a long way to go before I've exhausted a coach's brain.
That being said, the most important thing I learned that weekend was that you can rent Roebling Road Raceway for a group of under a dozen people for about $5000. I'm not saying that I've figured out the details for my 50th birthday party. I'm saying that I've largely figured out the details for my 50th birthday party. Invitations are $500 a pop, reserve your spot now.