THE ULTIMATE PLAYGROUND
WELCOME TO THE DESERT OASIS IN CALIFORNIA KNOWN AS BMW PERFORMANCE CENTER WEST
There are plenty of race schools scattered around the nation, but many aren’t located in the most attractive places, and, in addition, you don’t want to be driving a Ford Mustang. While we’d prefer to hop into a GT-R or STI for a day, we’re afraid there just isn’t an affordable school out there with many new Japanese sports cars readily trackable. However, if you don’t mind high performance Euros (and we definitely don’t!), the new BMW Performance Center West in Thermal, CA is the answer to your prayers.
As the name suggests, Thermal is a hot place. About 30 minutes from Palm Springs (2.5 hours from LA or Orange County), triple-digit temps are the norm from May to September; however, it’s also its offseason so it was the perfect time for us to check out and trust us when we say the experience was nothing short of amazing.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by a massive facility. This ain’t no winky dink parking lot autocross, but there’s 5.1 miles of expansive track layouts, and four different tracks in all. There are 30 pro instructors on the roster and 130 BMWS in the stable, regularly maintained and all a blast to drive. No base models here, but we’re talking vehicles like brand new M3s and M4s with more than 400hp for you to play with.
BMW Performance Center tells us more than 10,000 people went through their program in ’17, and it’s no mystery why. After a quick classroom session, we were powersliding around on a 330 ft. wet skid pad in a pair of new M3s. After what felt like 100 revolutions, we headed to a 1.1-mile course that featured plenty of different corners, some manmade elevation changes, a long enough straight where you’ll be kissing 120mph, and hairpins tight enough to get the carbon ceramic brakes smoking hot. We managed to convince our instructor to allow a 40-minute hot session–not the usual schedule of events but an example of the flexibility the facility offers.
Programs can be catered to accommodate anywhere from one to a couple hundred people. Advanced M schools dive deeper into things like mastering weight transfers with full traction off, while beginner classes teach more of the basic fundamentals. Private coaching is also available, in fact, during our visit, there was a 60-year old lady getting one-on-one coaching. Needless to say, she was powersliding as good as we were, and just goes to show that BMW Performance Center West is open to all ages and all skill levels.
Besides the thrill of being out on the track all day, its two-story facility/office is becoming quite the venue for corporate meetings and private parties. Imagine having to go to the BMW Performance Center for a conference, while the rest of the afternoon is spent doing hot laps. Or how about organizing your buddy’s bachelor party there next year before the Coachella Music Festival only a few miles away… Anything is possible, there’s a lot you can learn from just a day out there, and we’re stoked there’s finally something like this in L.A.’S own backyard.