Report: M Track Days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) — 6/11 (kinda long, FYI)
My wife and I did this on Saturday. Figured I’d post some thoughts/info in case anyone else was considering doing one of these in the future. I realize there’s probably other, similar posts about these types of things but figured I’d offer my prospective as a first-timer. Overall we had an absolute blast.
They only offered the 1/2 days sessions at IMS, and we were in the second group that was scheduled from 12:15 to 4:15. We got there around 10:30 or so, because it was mentioned there was a few other things you could do beforehand.
Once we checked in, we were told that street drives opened at 11. If you’ve been to a UDE event you’re familiar with these. They had various models that you could take out on what’s basically a test drive. They had mapped out route you could take that took about 10-15 minutes if you followed it. Of course no one was holding you to the route (and in fact, the maps they gave out were incorrect and if you followed them you’d never make it back to the Speedway). Good thing they had saved the address in the “1” preset on all the cars, so it was easy to find your way back.
They had a decent selection of models to choose from. I can’t remember them all, but they for sure had a X4 M40i (in a cool purple color, which I’ll post a picture of below – was my wife’s favorite), a Z4 M40i (my favorite), an M550i, iX, i4, X7, and M440i Gran Coupe. I know they had another couple cars, but unfortunately we only had time to do 3 drives. If this is something you’d be really interested in, book the morning session because then you’d have all afternoon to do these where as we only had an hour or so before our session started.
Going backwards here, but we had 1/2 hour between the time we checked in and the time the street drives started. During this time we walked around and viewed some various models on display, including some of their race cars and the M4 CSL. Some of these were open and you could sit in them and such, and some were not.
They also told us there were two cars they had on display that had not been seen by the public yet. These were located in a separate area. In order to get in there they took our phones and my wife’s Apple watch, then wanded us down with metal detectors. We were then escorted to see the new M2 and the XM.
The M2 is really sharp. The one they had on display was a light baby blue color (the guy who was showing us the car told me the name of the color, but I of course forgot). It had a manual transmission and the dash is the large screen set-up seen in some of the newer models/refreshes. The one thing I remember him really mentioning was the headlight set-up, and how it uses one beam per lense as opposed to the usual two beams seen in most BMWs. Overall it is was very good looking. The one they were showing was RWD and I asked him if they were going to also have an xDrive version. He said he couldn’t tell me that directly, but kinda hinted at it when he said, “but everything comes in xDrive nowadays.”
The XM on the other hand, well, it’s not my jam. The interior was nice, but the car overall is just huge and really in your face. The one they had on display was a green-ish color called “South African something.” The guy showing us the car mentioned that the original plan was to introduce it to the South Africa market first, hence the name. Also had matte gold accents everywhere, such as the grill, window frames and wheels. The one thing he mentioned that I remember is that there are only 3 roundels on the entire car. The badge on the hood, and there are two etched in the rear window glass in the top right and left corner respectively. There’s no actual badge on the back and even the center caps on the wheels just say “BMW.”
Ok, now on to the main event! Everyone gathered in garage right off the pits for a brief instructional overview. Took about 1/2 hour, where they gave everyone some basic pointers on racing lines and braking instructions and also what to do and not to do. Nothing crazy, just some common sense stuff. Our group had a few people (3-4) that had done one of these before, but 90% had never even driven on a track (myself and wife included in this group). I think there were 50 people or so in each session, which they then further split us out into smaller sub-groups for the individual events. There were also some people that attended with their spouses/significant others but didn’t actually do the driving events and just watched. They had different color wrist bands, but I’m not sure how that works as far as what you have to pay.
After the instructional portion they split us up to do the three main events; track time, drag races and autocross. My wife and I started with the track time. In retrospect, I wish we had this portion last as I think it my have made us a little more comfortable out there, but I’ll get to that below.
For this portion, there was a 2.X mile course where you followed the instructor doing laps. You were driving your own car but were also partnered up (so if you were driving you had a passenger and vice versa). I obviously partnered with my wife, but if you come solo you’ll get partnered up randomly with someone in the group. You’d drive 4 laps then get out and switch to the passenger seat while your partner did their 4 laps. You did this twice, so you got 8 laps total driving time. They did mention that if you were prone to motion-sickness you may want to not ride as a passenger, so if that’s the case you could just stand and watch in the pit lane when it was your turn as a passenger. If you do choose to ride as a passenger, you’re allowed to take photos/videos inside the car. I have some videos of my wife doing this portion and the autocross and can post to YouTube or something if you’d like to see them.
Instructors drove M5 Competitions for this part, and we got either M3 or M4 Competitions (my first 4 laps were in the M3, last 4 in the M4). The groups consist of 1 instructor car and 4 participants cars. You follow each other in a line and at the end of every lap would switch your position in the line so you followed directly behind the instructor once in each 4 lap session.
You can only go as fast as the slowest driver in your group, because the instructor would slow the group down if someone fell too far behind and he/she couldn’t see them in their rear-view mirror. Each car had a walkie in it so you could hear the instructor, who would give guidance and such as to when you should start braking, when to get on the gas, etc. You could obviously also see them and the cars in front of you, so the idea was to kinda play the telephone game and follow the line of the cars in front as far when to brake, what line to take and when to hit the gas.
The course itself was a good mix of turns and two longer straights. On the longer of the two straights I hit 142 mph in the M4. I’m sure there was a lot more there if you have experience.
So remember that part above where I mentioned you could only go as fast as the slowest person in the group? Well, that was us. As mentioned, my wife and I have both never done anything like this before. The quickest car either of us have ever driven is my M340i, and on top of that my wife was really, really nervous (as an FYI she defends insurance liability claims for a living, so you get the idea here).
We were falling way behind the group and as a result they kept having to slow down. She was feeling bad, but was obviously afraid to really push it to try and keep up. I wasn’t much better to be honest. And this is where I really became impressed with the instructors and the event as a whole. Rather than keep us from slowing down the group and making us feel bad and uncomfortable, they had us pull in the pit lane and breakout from the group. Another instructor took us out 1:1 (so no group, we just followed him) for our second round of 4 laps. I’m sure we still sucked, but this helped. For one, we obviously didn’t have to worry about holding up the group. The big thing here though was we were directly behind the instructor the entire time, so you could see the line he was taking, where he was braking, etc. much more clear than when you were in the group.
Again, this was awesome. I realize we were terrible at this, but as mentioned we’ve never done anything like this before and you gotta start somewhere. I’m glad they broke us out from the group because I’d also feel terrible if someone missed out on their experience or had to go slow because of us. I wish I could remember the instructors name (there were probably 15 of them), because he was great. Never made us feel bad or dumb. If someone who’s affiliated with this program reads this, thanks again for the way you handled this. I’m sure we’re not the first people and won’t be the last, but this left a really good impression on us. Also, if you attended this event with me and were in the dark blue group, we’re truly sorry if we slowed you down the first 8-lap session.
Even though we weren’t the quickest on this part, we had a blast. The M3 and M4 are amazing cars, so for those of you that own them, congrats! The engine pulls for an eternity and the cars had the carbon ceramic brakes which are UNBELIEVABLE. As we went on I was getting a little more comfortable each lap. My only regret (which I mentioned above) is I wish we had this session last as we would have been a little more familiar with the braking, power and handling of these cars had we started with the autocross and drag races.
After the track time, we were shuttled over to the drag race section (was my wife’s favorite part). This is exactly as you’d expect, with one little twist. They line you up so you’re racing against the exact same model of car. Guy drops his arms and you’re off. The twist here is at the end. There’s a small area where you have to stop the car. In order to win the race, you have to be completely stopped inside this area or you automatically lost. So the challenge was getting off the line quick and then knowing when and how hard to brake so you’d end up inside this box. They had a judge at the end, and obviously if both cars ended up in the stopping area, it was whoever came to a stop first that was declared the winner.
The structure was the same as the track drive with a partner, and they had 4 different models. Each person got to do one race as a driver and one as a passenger in each model (so 8 races total). However, since my group had an odd number of people my wife and I lucked out and didn’t have to partner up so we each got to do all 8 races as a driver. The cars for this were the X3M Competition, the X4M Competition and the M5 and M8 Competition. The M8 was a convertible. As you’d expect (or know if you own one of these), all these are crazy fast. The SUV’s are impressive just due to the size, but the M5 and M8 are absolute rockets.
Once this section was done, we did the autocross. This was done in the M240i. Pretty self explanatory if you’ve ever done autocross, but they also did the stop box here again at the end of the course. If you didn’t end up completely in the box you got a 2 second penalty added to your time. Same thing for each cone that you hit, +2 seconds. Each person got 3 runs. Same as above, you also rode along as a passenger for your partner’s 3 runs. The course was short, and the best time of the day happened to be a guy in my group, who posted a 12.717. This was the only event where they crowned winners and tracked time (2 out of the 3 best times for the day were in my group).
To demonstrate my terrible driving skill, the best time I posted was a 15.326 and my wife’s was a 15.601. The good news is those weren’t the worst times in our group. Also, neither of us hit a cone.
After the autocross they took us back to the pit area to put on a bit of a show for us. They had one of the instructors in an M5 Competition go up against one of their bikes. The pit area faces the longest straight of the track we were on, so we got to watch these two come flying down the straight. After doing the track drive, I have even more respect for what these instructors and professional race car drivers do. With this being said, the guy on the bike is the craziest (in a good way), biggest-balled person I’ve ever met in my life.
In probably the most impressive and scariest thing I’ve ever seen in person, this guy comes screaming down the straightaway and blows the doors of the M5. I believe they mentioned he would hit over 180 mph. On his second time around, he did the same thing. On one wheel… And his third time around I can’t even describe. I took a video of him coming down the straight. He is moving so fast you can’t tell what it is. Just an absolute unbelievable display of talent, nerves and skill.
To wrap things up, they shuttled us over to a new building on the track-site that BMW just built. Here, they went over the winners of the auto-cross (top 3 won some M Motorsport hats) and served us a boxed meal. They had 4-5 different ones you could choose from, and they were really good and high quality for a boxed meal. Also should add here that they had plenty of water available through the day, so don’t worry about that. Also, it did not help me go faster (see the picture below). From here they wrapped things up, thanked us and we were all done for the day.
They also offer you the opportunity to purchase gift certificates to do future events like this. The certificates were 20% off the regular price, don’t expire and you don’t have to pick dates/locations or anything when you buy them. Think of them as almost like forever stamps, but for driving events.
Oh, and I should mention, that shuttle to the building at the end? Well, the shuttle just happens to be an M5 Competition, and your shuttle driver is one of the instructors. And let’s just say they take the long way, around the track, to get you to the building .
I’ve posted some (bad) pictures below. These are all from the street drives and pre-event stuff. The one with the line of colorful M3’s was at the pit, and those were what we used for the track time. Again, I do have some videos of my wife doing the autocross and track time that I can post to YouTube or something if people would like.
Overall we both had a fantastic time and would 100% do one of these again in the future. The instructors were friendly, funny, patient and incredibly knowledgable and talented. As far as the participants, there was a wide range of ages and a good mix of male/female. Everyone I talked to was friendly and enjoyed it, and no one judged anyone else for their lack of skill. It was cool to spend some time with people who share a common enthusiasm and passion.
If you’re on the fence about doing one of these because you’re nervous or don’t have experience, I can’t encourage you enough to just sign up. We were both in that boat. You gotta start somewhere. You will love it, I promise. I’m hoping now that I know what to expect I’ll get a little more comfortable and better the next time.
If someone affiliated with BMW stumbles upon this, I don’t have anything negative to say. I can’t thank the instructors enough for their kindness and patients with some newbies. Every single individual I interacted with was helpful and friendly, and I just think it’s awesome you put these events on to give people an opportunity to do this stuff.
Sorry for the long post. If anyone has any questions or wants more specifics I’d be happy to try and answer!