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      05-08-2009, 02:13 PM   #1
dcstep
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Advanced M-School at VIR

I just got back from two-days of advanced M-school at VIR. There were 15 in the class, 8 or 9 of which were verterans and 6 of us were rookies to VIR and Advanced M-school. We ran bone stock M3s (with DCT), M5s and M6s with SMG. BMW provided six or so world class instructors, all with multiple championship credentials and years of teaching experience.

The first day was almost all in the rain, but the extra car control development was good for me. The was a little bit of chalk talk, but instruction was mainly lead-follow with two to four cars behind an instructor on the radio, each taking turns directly behind the instructor. There's car control on the skid pad and some technical work on the Patriot Course, but most the full course was opened up for the last session of the first day and stayed open.

I moved up to a the second group on day two, when we did five sessions on the full course and one session on the Patriot and a timed event to conclude at Patriot in M3s.

Once I learned how to attack the uphill esses, then I was totally comfortable (well, as comfortable as you can get at those speeds). All the cars were easily doing 140+ on the two long straights. The M3 charmed everyone and not one person reported a missed shift with any DCT. (I bought the 6MT for autocross and street driving and don't regret that, but, without a doubt, DCT is the way to go on the track). It was real music standing by the start-finish line as a train of M3s blasted by, upshifting in .004 second at 8,000+rpm.

The cars all had new Continentals, which were just hunky-dory with me and everyone else. One guy wanted Michelins, but none of the rest of us had complaints about the tires and stock pads. We drove hard, but the braking was probably around 90% in deference to the pads. (They replaced pads and rotors on a few cars). Another problem is the power steering box on the M3s. It's too near the header and overheats some plastic parts inside. If I tracked the M3 I'd add a heat shield between the header and steering box.

I don't have any pictures yet, but I'll post some next week. I'll have some video in four to six weeks, so I may post a lap or two from my in-car when I get it.

I did the Skip Barber 3-day racing school, long ago, in Formula Fords. My instructors then were Brian Till and Duck Waddle and I received very good instruction. The instruction with BMW was just as good, but you need to have attended the other M-schools first (or something like Skippy), because the chalkboard and one on one is more limited, under the assumption that you've met the prerequisite training in high performance driving. I prefer lead-follow style instruction over someone in the right seat because you quickly get a feel for what can be done. As you start keeping up with the instructor he starts going faster and faster, talking you along all the way, reminding you of key places to settle the car and where to be looking and chastising you if you miss an apex.

The first half of my first day had me slightly worried because a couple in my group were not up to speed; however, the instructors quickly broke us into sub-groups and I matched up well with my partner and we both learned a lot, fast.

BTW, this is NOT a money maker for BMW. We received a lavish meal, open bar, first rate track, first class cars and several highly seasoned instructors. One of the execs told me that the track is $10,000 per day and the two transporters for the cars were another $20,000. That's $40,000 before they pay the instructors, buy fuel, tires and brakes and pay the support crew. Fees for 15 of us were roughly $60,000, so there's not much left over, if anything. The objective is for Performance Center activities to pay for themselves and simply help BMW's image as a high performance car company, which this program certainly does.

BTW, there were some exciting offs by others, but no car was significantly damaged. I'm certain that's not always the case.

I highly recommend this course. Pictures to come...

Dave
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      05-08-2009, 02:33 PM   #2
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Curious how they handle car damage, at Skippy they offered insurance with a substantial deductible, but from my experience at the one day M school there was no talk of clients paying for damage, but rather "drive it as hard as you like."

Thanks for the report, how much experience would you say you have before you went? Were the better students club racer level or below, wondering to what level they'll teach to.
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      05-08-2009, 03:26 PM   #3
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Curious how they handle car damage, at Skippy they offered insurance with a substantial deductible, but from my experience at the one day M school there was no talk of clients paying for damage, but rather "drive it as hard as you like."

Thanks for the report, how much experience would you say you have before you went? Were the better students club racer level or below, wondering to what level they'll teach to.
BMW covers damage. You sign a waiver for bodily damage to yourself, but not a single mention of the cars.

I've personally got 40+ years of autocross, including several years in the very competive Texas Region of SCCA in ESP class. I've also done the Skip Barber three-day racing school and a couple of Dick Turner autocross schools. The AX experience, combined with Skippy really gave me a solid foundation to rebuild on after several years away from performance driving. Four had less experience than me, with two having only the M-schools and one having those and some carting. One seemed totally clueless, though she said that she'd been to M-school. They treated her nice, but she was out of her element and learned little.

One of the second group racers was Formula Atlantic level, and he wasn't the fastest. One of the top drivers in the group owns his own race car, but he was one of three or four that could beat each other on a given day. So, yes, it was a pretty high level of driving. In fact, when we wrapped up on Wednesday some SCCA or NASA guys showed up with GT3s, 'vettes, etc. They looked like they were standing still vs. our BMW class. The track manager actually came in at the end of our two-days and said something like, "that was very impressive driving."

That said, our bottom group had people below club racer level. I started there and moved up. Had there been another instructor, then one other guy in that group would have moved up and three stayed in the group. All but one was lapping comfortably by midday the second day.

Patriot is 1.1 miles and very technical and there were probably eight or nine of us in the 52 to 55 second range in the last session of the school. The rest of the class was just another second or two back, except for the one that didn't "get it." BTW, it took instructors away from the rest of us, but they had enough to give her one-on-one for 1-1/2 days. (They don't won't to do that, but they were prepared and I didn't feel shortchanged, even though it meant slightly fewer laps directly behind the instructor).

Dave
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      05-08-2009, 06:37 PM   #4
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Great report! Thanks for taking the time, and looking forward to some pics/vids.

I need to sign-up for the 2-day M school before the 20% BMW CCA rebate drops down to 15%.
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      05-09-2009, 09:43 AM   #5
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Thanks for the reply, very informative and a higher level of drivers than I thought would be there. I hope to do this event later this year.
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      05-09-2009, 11:38 AM   #6
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Thanks for the reply, very informative and a higher level of drivers than I thought would be there. I hope to do this event later this year.
Yeah, it's best to be ready for the deep end of the pool. My group may have been particularly aggressive, since eight or so of them had been five times or more.

If in doubt, call the Performance Center and talk to Donnie Isley or Jim Davis (to of the most veteran instructors) about your qualifications.

Dave
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      05-13-2009, 02:50 PM   #7
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Some pictures:

First is a group of us ferrying some of the M5s and M6s from the Performance Center in Spartanburg to VIR. I took this while driving an Interlagos Blue M5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It took me more than a few tries to get both the scenic beauty and the cars behind me in the mirror as I drove. That's through the window glass.

Second is most of the cars that we used, M5s to the right, M3s in the middle and M6s in the background.

Last is a red M3 in the final turn of the Patriot Course. The line is not right because this driver just had a little "off", but he recovered to record a very respectable 53-second lap. (He shall remain un-named). Still, the car looks good as he's taking the final sweeper before the start/finish line.

Dave
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      07-27-2009, 03:25 PM   #8
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Great pictures Dave!! I am ready to return!

All the best,
Donnie Isley
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      07-27-2009, 03:40 PM   #9
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Great pictures Dave!! I am ready to return!

All the best,
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BMW Driving Instructor
Hey Donnie, me too.

Did you decide if you're going to Nationals this year? I was toying with trying to go see you. It makes all the difference when you know someone that's competing.

Dave
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      07-27-2009, 11:28 PM   #10
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Great write up, great photos. I think the instructor walking between the cars is Matt Mullins (sp?) he was one of the great instructors I remember from the 2 day M school in January this year.

I had a blast and have been wanting to do the advanced school ever since.

I had no prior experience prior to the M School, learned a whole lot with their help. I have done several autox events this year and figured I would wait till next year for the advance school.
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      07-28-2009, 03:54 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SF-M3 View Post
Great write up, great photos. I think the instructor walking between the cars is Matt Mullins (sp?) he was one of the great instructors I remember from the 2 day M school in January this year.

I had a blast and have been wanting to do the advanced school ever since.

I had no prior experience prior to the M School, learned a whole lot with their help. I have done several autox events this year and figured I would wait till next year for the advance school.
Yes, that is Matt Mullins. He was my favorite instructor at my 2 day M School in June.

Thanks for the great review. I think I may take the 2 day M School again before taking the advanced school.
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      07-28-2009, 08:56 AM   #12
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Great write up, great photos. I think the instructor walking between the cars is Matt Mullins (sp?) he was one of the great instructors I remember from the 2 day M school in January this year.

I had a blast and have been wanting to do the advanced school ever since.

I had no prior experience prior to the M School, learned a whole lot with their help. I have done several autox events this year and figured I would wait till next year for the advance school.

That is Matt and he served as our head instructor at VIR in May (they rotate the duty around). The whole crew is great and really reacted to the various students' needs, ability and differing safety requirements.

They weren't sure about me since I hadn't been to a prior M-School either (Donnie had seen me drive at PC Delivery, but no more). So, they started me in the "beginner" group and then quickly moved up until I reached my limit before the end of the second day. In contrast, several were returning for their nth visit and were storming past the start-finish line at 145 mph before the end of their first track session.

I plan to go back next May.

Dave
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      08-02-2009, 08:11 PM   #13
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Dave, this is probably an apples to oranges type of comparison question, but how would you rate the M-School against the 3-day Skip Barber racing school?

Also, do you get more seat time in the 2-day advanced Skip Barber racing school than the 3-day racing school? And, is the 3-day racing school a requirement for the 2-day advanced racing school? They don't really specify on their website as far as I can tell.
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      08-02-2009, 10:17 PM   #14
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Dave, this is probably an apples to oranges type of comparison question, but how would you rate the M-School against the 3-day Skip Barber racing school?

Also, do you get more seat time in the 2-day advanced Skip Barber racing school than the 3-day racing school? And, is the 3-day racing school a requirement for the 2-day advanced racing school? They don't really specify on their website as far as I can tell.
It is indeed a bit of apples vs. oranges and my Skip Barber 3-day racing school was when Brian Till was teaching, before Speed TV.

Skippy was FF and BMW, of course, was big sedans and coupes, which are VERY different dynamically. A small rise in the road was hard to see over in the FF and a rabit running across the track looks more like a deer. If we ignore that, the track time per day was roughly equivalent.

With Skippy we'd have classroom, then watch the instructor and then drive ourselves. Skippy mixed low speed exercises with track speed. They set the telltale and gave us an rpm limit that was raised a little, session after session.

BMW's Advanced M-School was classroom (brief actually) and then trail the instructor. When you're ready to go faster you move up on the instructor's tail and he speeds up, if he thinks you're ready, all the while critiquing your line and performance. They do an amazingly good job of driving at speed while looking in the mirror and talking on the walkie-talkie. I found this was quick learning.

My experience with Skippy was at Hallett in Oklahoma. I learned two skills there that really weren't that useful at VIR. One was trail braking at the end of Hallett's straight, which is followed by a long, neutral corner. Another corner, called The Bitch" is a decreasing radius at 100+ in the FF, leading to a short straight, where we learned to use trailing throttle oversteer to rotate the car at speed. BMW wanted us to keep the MDM on which would make TTO kind of hard to do.

Now that I think of it, even though it was slow, we could have used TTO at The Oak to rotate onto the longest straight. Trail braking could have been used at the end of the start/finish straight. So, maybe we should think of it as an advanced M-School, not an advanced racing school.

I was extremely lucky at Skippy in that there were only five of us there, so I may have gotten more advanced training than is typcial; however, Brian and Duck (Waddle) had an agenda in mind to get us graduated. I probably just got extra track time due to the small class size.

Oh, I'm far out of date about Skippy prerequisits. You'll probably need to call. (Send a video maybe).

Dave
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      08-03-2009, 07:55 AM   #15
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Sound like a lot of fun. Great report. Thanks for sharing this experience.
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      08-03-2009, 08:00 AM   #16
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Thanks Dave. That was informative. It is interesting to hear that you got about the same amount of seat time. I am surprised that BMW made you keep MDM on. That would get in the way of picking up some of the key advanced skills IMO, but I guess that is how they "insure" the cars. In terms of the comparison, if you could do only one, which one would you do? (I realize that is a highly subjective question and depends on the specifics of the motivation of the individual, but I'll ask anyway).
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      08-03-2009, 09:30 AM   #17
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Thanks Dave. That was informative. It is interesting to hear that you got about the same amount of seat time. I am surprised that BMW made you keep MDM on. That would get in the way of picking up some of the key advanced skills IMO, but I guess that is how they "insure" the cars. In terms of the comparison, if you could do only one, which one would you do? (I realize that is a highly subjective question and depends on the specifics of the motivation of the individual, but I'll ask anyway).
I learned the most at Skippy, but I had the most to learn at that time. Still, BMW did NOT teach me trail braking or using trailing throttle oversteer, both of which are keys to my success in autocross. Next time I go to BMW I plan to use both more, but I was really in refresher mode this year, after years off the track. Next time I'll be focused on refining my skills rather than restoring.

As for going back, now that I Know what I know and I'm not driving FFs at the track, I'll be returning to BMW for the fun of driving street cars on fast tracks with other good drivers. Even though I make that choice today, I'd recommend Skippy as superior for learning racing skills.

Oh, all thought the Skippy cars are specialized full race cars, the skills do easily transfer to big, heavy street cars.

Dave
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      08-03-2009, 10:18 AM   #18
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Quote:
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I learned the most at Skippy, but I had the most to learn at that time. Still, BMW did NOT teach me trail braking or using trailing throttle oversteer, both of which are keys to my success in autocross. Next time I go to BMW I plan to use both more, but I was really in refresher mode this year, after years off the track. Next time I'll be focused on refining my skills rather than restoring.

As for going back, now that I Know what I know and I'm not driving FFs at the track, I'll be returning to BMW for the fun of driving street cars on fast tracks with other good drivers. Even though I make that choice today, I'd recommend Skippy as superior for learning racing skills.

Oh, all thought the Skippy cars are specialized full race cars, the skills do easily transfer to big, heavy street cars.

Dave
Thanks for the response.
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      08-26-2009, 02:19 PM   #19
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Thanks for the write up and details I just returned from the 2 day M school and had such a great time that I wanted to sign up for the advanced M school right away. Unfortunately, the Sept. class is already filled and they canceled the one they were planning down in Homestead, so I will have to wait for the next one.

I totally agree with you... no way they are making money off these programs. It is truly something every M owner should experience.
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