Palmer Motorsport Park has become one of New England’s premier circuits. Set on the side of a mountain in western Massachusetts, its fifteen picturesque turns wind their way through nearly 200 feet of elevation change. The unique layout provides attraction for all types of drivers, from tōge-style mountain hairpins, to a massive curved front “straight” for top speed.
Despite living less than two hours from Palmer, the BMW CCA Boston Chapter program in late June 2020 was my first track event at the facility. Despite pandemic restrictions in place specifying no spectators, I went with a friend who was driving, to support and to check the place out (the wagon isn’t quite ready for track duty yet).
Carved, literally, out of the mountainside, Palmer is one of the more beautiful tracks I’ve ever visited. The tarmac continues to switch back on itself as it makes its way through the rugged cliffside, only to fall away, downhill, looping back to that epic front straight. Running in reverse, as they did on this visit, was also a challenge that provided added learning opportunities for attendees.
As with most Boston Chapter track events, vehicle variety did not disappoint: home-built grassroots beaters and Ferrari Challenge cars alike graced the stalls along pit road. With the adverse effects of the current situation forcing many drivers to stay home, turnout was lower than is typical—but, for those that made it out, lap counts were high.
However, after observing the wide variety of track builds that made it out, I couldn’t help but wonder: what of BMW’s current lineup, is going to be the next great track platform?
With a long history of Spec BMW racing, current grids on-track are dominated by the E36 and E46 chassis (and to a lesser extent, the E30 as well). But based on my observations, BMW’s current entry level M car seems ripe for picking.
I genuinely had never seen as many M2s in one place as I did that Saturday at Palmer. Of the nearly 70 cars that made it, 15% of them were various iterations of BMW’s quick coupe. Whether DCT or stick, N55 or Competition, every notable variation of the sports car was in attendance. This makes sense; the combination of an attainable list price out of the box capability make the BMW M2 the perfect choice for anyone looking to get out on track in a daily driver.
From a distance, most of them seemed bone stock. However, with its growing popularity, the F87 has begun to garner serious aftermarket support. Tuners make it relatively easy to boost power from the now famous N55 and S55 motors. Having learned from the E90 series of N54s, BMW has improved on an already great engine, ironing out reliability issues related to delicate turbos and direct fuel injection. Some have even gone as far as to compare it to the very best of 3.0-liter straight-sixes (yes, that includes a certain 1990s Toyota straight-six).
The F87 chassis to which that the drivetrain is bolted isn’t bad either. Its compact design harkens back to proper M cars of old, and more aftermarket support is offered here as well. Coilovers, swaybars, bushings, aero—any track day hero’s dream.
With the physical DNA of a future track rat, the M2 even holds up in the value department. Considering how many BMW made, the entry price for an M2 is sure to become even more friendly as time goes on.
Throughout the day, I watched as the little coupes competed with GT Porsches of various ages, swapping back and forth as lap counts began to climb. While some came in for a breather, the ability of the M2 (and, to be fair, their drivers) to go lap after lap felt like a testament to its durability.
As the day wore on, the M2 owners’ growing confidence saw their personal best lap times fall as they beat the crap out of their Ultimate Driving Machines on track. It’s no secret amongst enthusiasts, but this dual-sided charm is what makes this little car unique in the age of the modern sports car, an ethos that aligns with that of its M predecessors and its loyal following.
That, in itself, is what makes the F87 M2 the next choice for grassroots drivers everywhere; it’s a car for pure driving pleasure, above all else.—Tucker Beatty
[Photos courtesy Ticket Beatty.]