If you’re a die-hard racing enthusiast like me, there’s a good chance you’ve ventured out for a few laps around your local race track, perhaps even at the helm of a high-performance supercar or modified hot rod. Yet rarely can the dream of driving a bona fide race car at one of the country’s premier motorsports clubs become a reality. Until now. Introducing the BMW M4 GT4 Experience at the highly-acclaimed BMW Performance Driving Center located at the Thermal Club just outside of Palm Springs, California. If track days and high-performance driving events are the stuff your adrenaline dreams are made of, the M4 GT4 Experience is an absolute bucket list item.
My interest was instantly piqued when I first heard about the M4 GT4 program in 2020, and as a proud owner of an M4, this was one opportunity I couldn’t wait to experience firsthand. Following some initial scheduling delays (thanks to the pandemic), the program was officially launched to the public and Jetset was one of the few media outlets chosen to take a deep dive into this cutting-edge racing experience.
Each M4 GT4 Experience is limited to a maximum of 15 drivers, ensuring every participant receives ample seat time and the chance to discover the true rush of being behind the wheel of a race-spec GT4 vehicle. A staff of award-winning drivers from multiple disciplines offer world-class instruction and insightful tips in preparation for a full day of high-octane activities.
Upon arrival at the gorgeous Thermal Club, guests of the school are presented with an array of colorful BMW M vehicles as they make their way into the classroom for an initial briefing. After splitting into groups, participants are fitted for FIA-approved racing suits, gloves, shoes, and a Stilo helmet before tackling a variety of events in preparation for time at the helm of the brand’s race-winning M4 GT4. The school’s autocross course was the first objective for my group, with each driver spending time in a BMW M2 Competition as we were given a chance to learn the line in a lead-follow session with two of the program’s lead instructors. The session provided a valuable opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the short course and understand how the vehicle would perform during our later time trial session, with each guest driver vying for bragging rights.
Next up was time in a certified GT4 race car at the Club’s South Palm course, with our program’s schedule being slightly altered to avoid the inevitable fatigue from the area’s relentless desert heat during the sweltering summer months. The school’s pro drivers helped each guest get properly positioned behind the wheel before exiting the pits in smaller groups for even further personalized coaching. Lead-follow laps quickly increased in speed with each pass of the finish line, while coaches provided expert-level advice and feedback throughout the session. While the M4 GT4’s racing controls might seem overwhelming at first glance, the intuitive race car proved to be an easy-to-use platform for even novice drivers. And the “push to talk” button makes any driver feel like a true professional as they communicate with the school’s racing experts through the helmet’s built-in headset.
After a quick break for lunch and some time getting to know the event’s other attendees, we headed back to BMW’s autocross course for our time trials in the M2 Competition. Next was a return to the South Palm course for sessions in the M4 Competition street car, providing the perfect opportunity to put our new track knowledge to the test at triple digit speeds down the straights. Having spent time on track in my own M4, I found the session to be a great complement to our time spent driving the GT4 model and was able to quickly push my assigned M4 vehicle to the limit before taking part in our final lapping session in the brand new M5 Competition LCI.
Recent updates to the BMW line were on full display in the new M5 model, and it wasn’t long before the test drive convinced me to add a new M5 to the collection. While certainly a much larger (and heavier) sedan, the exceptional comfort and luxury in the new M5 were seamlessly complemented by the twin-turbo-powered V8 beneath the hood. Impressive performance and surprisingly responsive handling made for the perfect way to end a day filled with high-speed straights and tight turning radii. A final hot lap with the pros gave attendees the chance to see just how well the ultimate driving machines could perform as we drifted sideways around each corner.
As the event wrapped up with cocktails and hors d’ouevres in the BMW Performance Center’s lounge, the buzz in the room was electric and it was obvious how much each guest had enjoyed themselves. Even though I was exhausted from the day’s driving and the summer sizzle, all I wanted to do was climb back into the M4 GT4 to work on my line and push my own skills to the next level. A day of training at the Thermal Club provides a fantastic introduction into the world of BMW racing, albeit one that will almost certainly leave you yearning for more. For those who consider themselves one step above novice, we suggest you sign up for the M4 GT4 private coaching course with a full 250 miles of high-performance lapping. It’s the ultimate opportunity to experience the thrill of driving a true BMW race car at one of the nation’s premier performance racing schools.