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Here I am sitting in my car waiting to pull out on Sebring International Speedway with my instructor by my side. Nervous, you bet!

This is a Suncoast Porsche Club of America (PCA) HPDE (High Performance Driver Education) event.  So why is a Porsche guy writing a BMW article?  Well I’m not a Porsche guy and I’m sitting in my 2011 BMW M3.   The driving experience on a track like Sebring with your Ultimate Driving Machine is by far worth any ribbing you may get for showing up at a Porsche event in your BMW.  You definitely will have a large grin on your face after experiencing your cars capabilities on this 3.7-mile track.

Kudos to the PCA.  They are very gracious in permitting others to join in the fun.  This is something you might think about since we (Suncoast BMW) don’t currently have anything quite like this.

So here I am getting ready to pull out onto the track and see if I can remember everything I learned at the last HPDE I attended here at Sebring in May of this year.

This is how it works, if it’s your first time you start off in the Green group (Novice student).  First you attend a class at the track where they teach you the flag meanings what the different hand signals are and basically the safety aspects you will need to know to participate. You then get introduced to your instructor and everyone lines up for a parade lap just to see what the track looks like and let your instructor learn your goals and the car you will be driving.  You will get a schedule for which color classes go out and at what time. You are wired to your instructor with a mike and ear bud (under your helmet) so your instructor can give you inputs as you go.  By the way your instructor will usually never have to tell you to slow down, usually the opposite.  Here is where you learn the track racing line; braking points; how to hit the turns apex exactly right; and when to power up exiting turns and the fastest way to lap the 17 turns of Sebring.  At 3.7 miles, Sebring is a big track and the 17 turns make it technically a challenge.  After my first outing I was moved into the Blue group (Advanced student) and hopefully will soon get solo qualified.

Later in the afternoon, I drove the ½ mile or so to the Performance Center for the Alpina-Schnitzer Race Demo where four of the race cars on display in the museum took to the track and did several laps for the grateful crowd. A highlight for me was hearing the owners of the cars describe some of their car’s history before they fired them for the laps. Andreas Bovensiepen, the CEO of Alpina and one of the featured speakers at the closing ceremony on Saturday, drove the Alpina built by his family’s company. Additionally, Mike Renner, the head of the BMW Performance Driving Center, arranged for interested participants to take rides in M3s around the track with his instructors doing the chauffeuring. Renner also introduced to the crowd the original Stig, a character on the British motoring television show Top Gear, as well as the latest Stig.

One after thought I want to leave with you is that it’s extremely important to have an instructor that is somewhat familiar with the car you’re driving. It’s important that they know what kind of tires, brake pads, size of the rotors, HP, and suspension, your car is equipped with.

The instructors in this setting will be more familiar with Porsche 911’s, Cayman’s, and Boxster’s.  They don’t know the capabilities of a E92 M3. Their tendency is to have you brake to early; they just don’t know what the outstanding characteristics the M3 has to offer.  After the first session they begin to understand, and you will start to drive closer to the potential of the car without the instructor getting all white knuckled.  This is basically why it is important that Florida Suncoast BMW CCA should try to develop our own track days, with BMW instructors. To do this we will probably have to team with other Florida area clubs to successfully make this work.

One question that I have is “How much interest is there for participating is some type of track event?”  I think that for our leadership to take this seriously it would be important to know the level of interest.   If this is of interest to you please contact the leadership at Florida Suncoast BMW CCA with your thoughts.

Following the plant tour, I headed back to the Foundation Museum so that I could snap some additional photos of the 2002s and 1 Neue Klasse sedan on display.  During this time, Rob Siegel was repairing “Louie”, his 2002 he picked up in Louisville, KY, and wrote a book about repairing it there so he could drive it to his home in Massachusetts.  To fix a clutch issue he replaced the clutch slave cylinder and master cylinder.  It was good to meet Rob, he and I have corresponded back and forth for many years, including discussions about BMWs and Lotuses (I had a Lotus Elan, he is building a Europa).

About the Author

Al Halpern is an FSC BMW CCA member.  Al lives in St Pete Beach, Fla.  Al has been a BMW CCA member since March, 1991.  He drives a 2011 M3.

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