This past weekend, BMW CCA members from across the country convened in Palm Springs for a memorable weekend of spirited driving at the BMW Performance Center in Thermal, and plush accommodations at the famous La Quinta Resort and Club. It was a rough couple of days for those in attendance, with a full-day M Driving School held on Saturday, and a half-day sampler event on Sunday, events which were punctuated by an excellent car show put on by the Club on Main Street in La Quinta—yes, we had the entire street blocked-off and lined with BMWs both new and old.
Beyond the white-knuckle driving and the world-class amenities of the historical La Quinta Resort and Club, those who made the trip out to Palm Springs were also treated to excellent food at a myriad of different local restaurants, while live entertainment was also present during the car show, with Barry Minniefield of The Voice fame serenading us into the evening. While some were clearly left in a state of ecstasy after spending a day thrashing brand-new BMWs on the private pavement of the Thermal Club—home of the BMW Performance Center—the evening car show in downtown La Quinta provided a picturesque environment for catching up with Club friends both new and old.
Arriving at the La Quinta Resort and Club on Friday afternoon and driving down the tree-lined entryway, it was immediately obvious that the BMW CCA had established a presence at the desert oasis which is tucked up against the Santa Rosa Mountains. A fleet of a dozen brand-new BMW press cars (transportation for the International Council of BMW Clubs, also in town during the weekend) lined the curbs outside the lobby, immediately welcoming the enthusiast.
Although luxury resorts and hotels are by no means in short supply in Palm Springs, La Quinta Resort and Club is a special place to stay because of its history. Set on over 45 acres of land, the opulent getaway boasts more than 40 (yes, 40) pools for guests, and has nearly 800 rooms (or casitas, as they are referred). Built in the 1920s, La Quinta quickly became a destination for Hollywood celebrities of the era, and the feeling of yesteryear is strong on the expansive grounds, with narrow concrete walkways splitting grass that separates the countless adobe bungalows. Maintained to a high standard over the last century, the resort also contains three nicely varied restaurants, and guests can book tee times at five different world-class, PGA-quality golf courses designed by some of the most famous names in the game.
While the resort provided an excellent staging area for guests to recharge at the end of the day, most of the action was taking place at the BMW Performance Center, located at the Thermal Club. Construction of the BMW Performance Center West, as it is officially called, was completed within the last few years, after BMW had initially set up shop in temporary buildings on Thermal Club grounds. The facilities are nothing short of excellent, with the main two-story BMW Performance Driving School building offering everything one might need during a day at the track, like cold air conditioning and refreshments—it also holds two full-size classrooms, a gift shop full of tempting BMW apparel and accessories, and a spacious dining area where members enjoyed a catered lunch both days.
On Saturday, a full-day M-School was held at the Performance Center, which meant that nearly every sector of the facility saw continuous activity, with the exception of during lunch. Attendees are broken into separate groups, with some heading for the skidpad—more on the later—and others for the autocross tracks, or the drag-race area which includes a stop box.
All of these events, which enthusiasts use different BMW M models to participate in, are designed to give participants a rudimentary understanding of dynamic driving techniques that can be applied in real time. While your first few experiences behind the wheel are always with an instructor, it isn’t long before you’re tuned loose on the pavement to see how well you can apply your newly learned skills.
At the autocross tracks, two of which are actual tracks, the latter being a cone-delineated course on a large parking lot, important techniques such as corner entry, braking, and general handling tactics are taught, and as the day progresses, drivers are allowed numerous practice laps to hone things in before timed sessions are held prior to and after lunch.
There’s also the skidpad, where enthusiasts can take part in one of the most challenging activities of the day; attempting to keep a circular drift going around the wet polished concrete surface where even the best new tires find themselves worthless when it comes to making traction. Making things even more difficult is the fact that the cars used here are all F90 M5 sedans with their M xDrive system set to deliver power exclusively to the rear wheels. It’s definitely a good idea to pay attention and to dial in your throttle-modulation dexterity, as at the end of the day, the skills can be put to use in the rat race, where two vehicles run on the skid pad simultaneously, trying to catch one another.
The drag race, typically run using four new X3 M Competition SAVs, is another great opportunity to learn how a BMW M model behaves at the limit. Lining up in parallel with another X3 M Competition, it’s a simple straight-line sprint to the stop box which acts as the finish line. With the S58 M inline-six engines at full-tilt, routing motivation to the pavement through M xDrive, there isn’t much in the way of smokey burnouts, but it’s still a unique experience to see and feel the performance all-wheel drive system scrabbling for traction on the hot pavement. As with all others, this event is another great opportunity to learn the intricacies of how a modern, turbocharged BMW M engine develops power, and how to modulate stopping force through a set of carbon ceramic brakes, over and over again.
Before the day draws to a close, it’s time to take everything you’ve learned in the previous events and apply it during lead-follow laps on the South Palm Circuit of the Thermal Club. Located away from the BMW Performance Center grounds and in the actual Thermal Club, the South Palm Circuit is a full racetrack, where some of BMWs faster models can reach and exceed 150 MPH on the back straight.
For this exercise, drivers are given a choice between M3s and M4s, which are driven in groups around the circuit. It’s called a lead-follow because instructors initially demonstrate the proper line for the course, before trading places in the order to let attendees find their own personal threshold around the track. Although all other events are compelling, adrenaline-fueled experiences, the lead-follow is where it all comes together, and where BMW M cars can truly stretch their legs.
After a full day at the Performance Center, it was time for members to enjoy the car show held on Main Street in La Quinta. The machines on display weren’t only cars though, as BMW Motorcycle Owners of America were also present, as part of the International Council of BMW Clubs. This meant that, in addition to the street being lined with a variety of BMW models including brand new models, Individual M cars in great colors, and a handful of classics, there was also an array of bikes on display in the main courtyard.
Listening to live music, enjoying dinner at a choice of restaurants, and mingling in the evening air beneath string lights among an array of incredible cars and bikes made for what was a truly enchanting night. Of course, as we often say in the Club, the experiences are more about the people than the cars themselves, and that couldn’t be more true of the Pazifik Eskapade weekend in Palm Springs. Beyond melting expensive Michelin (or Continental) tires at the limit of traction and grip, or soaking in the sun at the La Quinta Resort and Club, it’s the sum of the parts that makes experiences like this so incredible and compelling, and a goal for many to make it entire lifestyle. We can’t wait for the next one.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy Alex Tock.]