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MOTORING with Jerry Clayton BMW

Taking up the BMW Driving Experience Challenge!

 Channel Mag's Aidan Bennett reports on a fun driving day recently at Hampton Downs, courtesy of Jerry Clayton BMW

As a sponsor and supporter of the Takapuna Beach Business Association, in early September members of the Benefitz and Channel Magazine crew had the opportunity to join fellow sponsors for a BMW Driving Experience Day at Hampton Downs, hosted by principal sponsor Jerry Clayton BMW.

It was with a little bit of trepidation that Benefitz team member Blake Douglas and myself set off for the Hampton Downs track at Meremere, south of Auckland. Neither of us are petrol heads, have very little interest in motor sport, and really didn't know what we were in for.

We were obviously keen to discover what an Ultimate Driving Machine (aka a BMW) was truly capable of but the trepidation was that our lack of driving skills would be exposed. But we had been assured that we would acquire essential driving techniques and safety skills in a fun and rewarding environment.

At Hampton Downs we were joined by others representing TBBA sponsors, to make up the quota of 20 drivers to take part in 10 vehicles. In truth, most were probably as nervous as we were, although a handful had attended previously, or were quite clearly into driving fast cars.

The day started with a 20-30 minute briefing, when we were told that BMW Driving Experience would cover everything from the everyday driving skills to advanced competency levels – whether it’s avoiding an obstacle on a wet road, gaining valuable off-road experience away from the open road or perfecting the ideal line on a racing circuit.

The pre-event literature explained that the instructors were trained to the most rigorous international BMW standards and are highly successful motorsport champions as well as experienced driver trainers. This proved to be true. Instructors Mike Eady and Martin Collins made us feel very comfortable right from the start – giving us a good run down on techniques for driving and what the day was all about.

Once briefed, two drivers were allocated to each car. Blake and I hopped into the BMW 320d Motorsport. I took the wheel, with Blake as my co-driver for the first exercise. The group was split into two groups of five vehicles, with Mike Eady leading our group, and Martin Collins the other.

Every vehicle was equipped with a two-way radio, so the instructor could be in touch with all drivers at any time. 

The first session saw us take to the track. The instructor led the group of five vehicles around the track, getting up to some fairly quick speeds. Each driver had the opportunity to drive, while sitting in behind the instructor's vehicle following the lines he was taking on the track and getting some valuable driver coaching around steering technique and seating position. Cones were strategically placed on each corner as a guide for where the vehicles should be cornering.

This initial session was exhilarating as it gave both Blake and I the first real opportunity we had ever had to really just let a vehicle go and throw it into some corners. We surprised ourselves at how quickly we learnt how to throw these vehicles into the corners and drive through them, getting up to speeds of 130 to 140 kilometres per hour.

Once we had each had a go at around 10 laps we moved on to the second part of the experience which was Vehicle Dynamics, including braking exercises, difference in stopping distances and manoeuvrability between ABS and non-ABS.

This session really threw us way outside of our comfort zones. Essentially braking at speed to really understand how these vehicles handle with their ABS. We started off braking (slamming on the brakes) at 60 kilometres per hour. Then 70 kilometres and finally braking at 80 kilometres per hour while manoeuvring around a cone. It really is quite staggering what these high performance motor cars are capable of, but just as important was getting an understanding of why we shouldn't follow too close – particularly in the wet.

Lunch was followed by a fun slalom event, where each driver got to do three speed runs around cones and back, slamming on the brakes to finish without knocking over the finishing cone. Points were deducted for any cones that were hit. Blake and I each knocked a second off our time each run we had, but the young fellow couldn't match my speed, missing out on the title by around a second each time – a sore point!

Then it was back on the track for a second session of laps. After having done quite a bit of driving during the day, it was amazing how the speeds increased in our group. Each driver had much more confidence knowing what the vehicle was capable of. It was a bigger challenge second time round just to keep up with the group. Loads of fun at some pretty significant speeds for novice motor sport drivers.

The day finished off with Mike Eady taking every attendee on some 'hot-laps' in the BMW M3. Unbelievable what the vehicle and driver are capable of.

What a fantastic day! We were each presented with a certificate as having passed BMW Advanced 1 Driving Experience. I would highly recommend any driver taking part in this type of driver training. It really does improve knowledge around the capability of the car and safety.

For more information contact Jerry Clayton BMW, 

by Aidan Bennett