Pistons and Planes | We jet to the BMW Performance Driving School in Thermal, CA - Acquire
We visit the exclusive Thermal Club for the Ultimate BMW Experience.
Photos: John Pangilinan

Photos: John Pangilinan

There are plenty of things on our bucket list and we were able to check one off recently as BMW Encinitas and the Targa Trophy invited us to check out their new Fly and Drive event in collaboration with Wheels Up.

The event experience began at Palomar Airport, where we boarded a private plane courtesy of Wheels Up. Fair warning once you fly private it is hard to go back to commercial. The convenience of walking directly on the tarmac with no security, no wait, and no middle seat will definitely spoil you. 

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The short flight brought us above Palm Springs as we landed in Thermal, CA. We landed and deplaned as two 2015 BMW 750Li’s pulled onto the tarmac and loaded us up to bring us to The Thermal Club. The Thermal Club is a private motorsports facility with several acres of land nestled in the heart of the Coachella Valley and includes a 4.5 mile members only race track. It is the ultimate playground for any amateur or professional driver and motorsport enthusiast and home of BMW’s Performance Driving School.

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After a brief introduction by our instructors of the BMW Performance Driving School and an overview of the day’s events ahead we made our way to the first set of vehicles, a lovely line-up of M3’s. The bases were covered from proper seating position to showing the proper line on the road course. The driving portion began with an autocross in the M3. The fun began as each driver was put to the test to best his own time to beat the competition. Speed and precision became a factor as penalties were in place for knocking over cones or stopping outside of the “stop box” finish line. The M3 felt nimble and powerful, hugging each corner and accelerating past each turn towards the next apex through the tight confines of the autocross course.

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We then made our way to another marked course to test a collection of BMW vehicles in a lead and follow scenario with precision being the key. Drivers took turns getting behind the wheel of an X3, X6, M4, M5, and M235i. The X3 and X6 handled surprisingly well through the turns with minimal body roll. The M4 was solid and with the perfect balance of power and agility. The M5 was a beast with more horsepower than needed on the small course. The M235i was possibly the most fun seemingly made for this course with rapid acceleration, responsiveness, and plenty of lateral grip.

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The next event was a head to head competition between drivers in an M3. In an Oval Match Race also known as a “Rat Race,” drivers were placed in position in an oval track with the goal to catch the other driver or get further ahead within 3 laps. The challenge was keeping the vehicle in control as the ground was given a fresh coating of water creating a slick track while the vehicle’s traction control was turned off. A single elimination tournament would determine a winner. With the traction control off, the M3 got a bit squirrely in the backend on turns but was still manageable with driver control and counter steering. Consistency was key and yours truly ended up winning this challenge.

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We then stayed behind the wheel of the M3 and took to one of the many road courses where we would follow the ideal line chasing the instructor in his M5 with the goal to progressively get faster with each lap. This was the ultimate proving ground as we pushed each vehicle to the limit and tested our own skillset and comfortability as a driver. Through the turns, even at speed, the M3 handled like a champion often with tires screeching towards the verge of losing traction then the rubber would grip and the car would maintain speed to the next portion of the track. Spending time on a track under these ideal conditions gave each driver a reason to smile from ear to ear.

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The final experience had the participants wear helmets before taking a few hot laps inside the M5 with the instructor as he showcased his skills and what the BMW M Performance vehicle was capable of. The M5 shot through the course with power and as we came through each corner the instructor broke the rear wheels loose to drift sideways through each turn providing a thrilling ride and leaving quite a lasting impression to end the day.

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Overall, the experience was fantastic and we recommend it for any enthusiast that wants more seat time and to learn the fundamentals of racing, but don’t blame us if you leave with the urge to purchase a new BMW.

$2500 per person, for more information visit targatrophy.com, bmwencinitas.com, and wheelsup.com

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