Normally, people go on a vacation with the intention of enjoying peace and quiet with their loved ones, pampering themselves, and perhaps taking it easy poolside. As a car enthusiast, my idea of vacationing is a little different. While I’ll never object to some R&R, I believe every vacation needs a little excitement, in some form or another. Screaming exhausts, the adrenaline that comes with the track, and a fast pace is what makes a good vacation to me—because who doesn’t think a race track is the ideal weekend destination?
My recent Pazifik Eskapades vacation made my enthusiast dreams come true—and for once I didn’t mind leaving my beloved E46 at home.
When I arrived at the historic La Quinta Resort and Club Saturday morning, I was greeted with a valet lot full of beautiful Bavarians, including the likes of a Tanzanite Blue Metallic G20 M340i and a brigade of X3 M40i SAVs and 740i sedans, a reminder of the BMW takeover of Old Town La Quinta that would follow in the evening.
As dusk started to approach, my family and I made our way to Old Town La Quinta, where we enjoyed a nice dinner out on the patio—a spot I had strategically chosen to get the best view of the Bimmers both new and old rumbling through the eclectic street.
Milling about the quaint town after dinner, I immediately gravitated beneath the warm glow of the courtyard to a beautiful, mint-condition white 3.0CSL and a stunning display of BMW’s finest motorcycles. Although the automotive art lining the streets in front of me was enough to make my trip worthwhile, I was still eager for morning to come, when I could finally get behind the wheel of a BMW.
I’ll admit that I was restless on Sunday morning—the expected side effect of feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. After a short ride with my dad into the neighboring city of Thermal, the blue-and-white marquee of the BMW Performance Center came into plain view, and after a quick chat with some friends, both new and old, I wandered around the grounds to see what gems I could find. Almost on cue, instructor Christopher Hill rolled up in perhaps the most beautifully specced M car I had ever seen: a BMW Individual Silk Purple Metallic M4, complete with almost every carbon M Performance part in existence. Stunning is an understatement, as there were no bad angles for this M.
I found it hard to leave the M4, but I had to go check out the lineup of some of the BMW CCA member and enthusiast-owned E46 and E92 M3s parked alongside the main building, with this super-clean Silbergrau E46 catching my eye the most.
Following a thorough safety presentation and outline of the day with the instructors, it was finally time to burn some rubber.
Although it hurts my wannabe Ken Block alter ego to admit, I by no means have any track or drift experience—that is, if we’re excluding my K1 Speed kart adventures. So, you can imagine my shock upon leaving the classroom when I was presented with a lineup of idling F90 M5 Competitions and was told to pick whichever one I liked the most; to say it was surreal was an understatement—it’s not every day you’re given the keys to an over-$100,000 600-horsepower all-wheel-drive beast.
After finding a proper seating position as the instructors recommended, we were ready to race. I could go on and on about the insane technology and comfort of the M5, but the performance is what really made me smile. Lined up on the drift track, with my dad as my competitor, I knew that this was going to be quite a show.
What I wasn’t aware of, however, was how easy the M5 puts power down and throws the back end around, especially for a full-size sedan. At “go,” I gave it light gas to keep some traction, forgetting that I was driving a 600-horsepower DSC-limited now-rear-wheel-drive monster, not my 235-horsepower E46 ZHP. Glancing in my rear-view mirror, I was greeted by a billow of smoke and a now-sideways M5, prompting the instructor to chuckle and comment over the radio how I just did a great impression of NHRA drag racer John Force leaving the starting line.
To my surprise, my agressive start didn’t cost me too many of my races, and after getting used to modulating the throttle and reining in the M5’s power, I managed to hold a few solid drifts, something that was not only incredibly fun but also made me respect the M5’s performance capabilities even more, making the so-called Rat Race event one of my favorite events of the day.
A quick jaunt over to the drag race saw me retain my John Force nickname, with one of the instructors making a comical remark regarding my aggressive launch, and despite winning a few races, my inability to stop completely in the box; clearly, I was having too much fun to brake early.
With my confidence in my own driving skills now boosted from the previous events, I took to the autocross track to push the limits of a brand-new 340i, and after a timid practice lap, I picked up the pace and managed a 29-second lap time. Although not fast by most people’s standards, this still made me content, knowing that I would never have pushed a car this hard had I not been given incredible advice by the instructors at the Performance Center, who gave me the confidence I needed to drive safely and aggressively my first time on track.
The day came to a close with my favorite and most highly-anticipated event: lead-follow laps in either an F80 M3 or F82 M4. With my experiences from the day under my belt, I was ready to finally live my dream of driving on track for the first time, and hopped into a beautiful 425-horsepower M4 to conquer the South Palm Circuit. With the instructor on radio guiding us through every braking zone, apex, and straight, we tore up the track, with my M4 reaching upwards of 120 mph on the back straight, an exhilarating moment that I’ll never forget.
It’s worth mentioning that every one of these cars wasleft idling in between events with the A/C on, where the temperature was stable at over 90ºF, and then was driven at full throttle at max performance for hours on end. Although I am a Michelin fan myself, the Continental tires that each model were equipped with were incredibly durable, surviving smoky hot laps on the M3 and extreme wear from the tire-shredding M5s at the drag race and drift events.
In all the vehicles I drove, not once did any of the engines overheat or reduce power, nor did stopping power fade on track, a major testament to the craftsmanship and build quality of BMW vehicles—and carbon-ceramic brakes. I had full confidence in the car at all times, something that strengthened my driving abilities and allowed me to control launches, drifts, and high-speed cornering—an important quality that makes a BMW a BMW.
The awesome instructors, who were not all allowed the luxury of sitting in air-conditioned vehicles like ours, still gave incredible instruction and make comic remarks every now and then, despite baking in the sun for hours on end. Their years of racing experience and instruction allowed them to coach me to my limit, and I feel as though I have gained a new level of confidence in my performance driving because of this experience.
I will definitely be going to the next one—and I can now confidently say that a race track is indeed one of my top vacation destinations.—Malia Murphy
[Photos by Malia Murphy.]