For the majority of us the opportunity to drive an M4 won’t come along very often, and the possibility of finding someone who’s generous enough to chuck you the keys to their M4 with the instruction to go and give it a good thrashing around Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit… well, let’s face it, that’s just not going to happen. Even if you’re fortunate enough to own a new M4, chances are you might not be willing to risk your pride and joy on track, especially if you’ve not ventured out onto a circuit before. And that’s where Motorsport Vision (MSV) comes in with its range of driving experiences it offers at some of the UK’s premier circuits like Brands Hatch, Bedford Autodrome and Oulton Park.
MSV has been using BMWs for many of its driving experiences for a number of years now and when it decided to replace its fleet of E92 M3 Coupés with a fleet of F82 M4s I couldn’t wait to have a go. Which is how I find myself at Brands Hatch on a grey, but thankfully dry, morning in October with a group of mainly track novices itching to slip behind the wheel of an M4 on one of MSV’s M4 Master events.
Venturing on to the track for the first time can be a slightly daunting prospect. There are a few nervous faces among our group and I must admit to a few butterflies even though I’ve spent a fair bit of time on circuits over the years. Our MSV host, Alan Wilshire, who’s looking after us for the event does a good job of allying people’s fears during the safety briefing where he also covers vital information such as the various different flags that may be seen and where and when to overtake etcetera. Alan also explains that the M4s we will be using are all equipped with the M DCT transmission and as the vast majority of those taking part won’t have used steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear before we’re advised to use the gear lever for our first session on track.
We head down to the pits to equip ourselves with a crash helmet and to find the M4 that’s been allocated to each of us along with out instructor for the day. For our first foray onto the track our instructor takes the wheel and shows us the ideal line and points out the cones that have been placed around the circuit to indicate where the perfect turn-in, braking and clipping points are and which are the best gears for each part of the track. What with Brands Indy being a pretty short piece of Tarmac it’s over all too rapidly and it’s my turn to strap in while trying to remember where the circuit goes.
My instructor, Steve, is calmness personified as we accelerate hard out of the pits, moving over to the left of the track once we’ve established there’s nothing coming down the start finish straight, and despite having driven around Brands numerous times it still takes a little bit of a leap of faith to commit to Paddock Hill bend as it drops down steeply to the right to such an extent that taller drivers simply cannot see where they’re aiming for as the car’s roof gets in the way. As we’ve only just exited the pits we’re not fully up to speed and Paddock holds no terrors for the moment, but such is the pace of the M4 that we seem to be travelling pretty rapidly as we rush up Hailwood Hill to Druids, the 180 degree right-hander that’s often the location for late-lunge carnage when the Touring Cars are here.
Fortunately there are no such worries on a day like this so you can concentrate on hitting the brakes at the right spot and heading for what seems like a very late turn-in to the corner as you take a late apex and then allow the car to drift back out to the left as you exit the corner and head down the short straight to Graham Hill bend, carrying as much speed as possible onto the Cooper Straight. Initially carrying plenty of speed into the tricky jink to the left at Surtees followed by the long right-hander that’s actually split into the corners McLaren, Clearways and the Clarke Curve isn’t actually what’s needed as this section is the most technical and the hardest to get right. Travelling quickly isn’t always ideal in this learning situation. No matter that I’ve just made a complete pig’s ear of those three corners (strictly speaking four, as things started to go wrong at Surtees…) my instructor calmly sets me on the right line of approach down the Brabham straight while quickly talking me through what went wrong at the end of the lap.
At just 1.2 miles long a lap of Brands doesn’t take long and we’re soon heading into Paddock Hill bend again, but this time we’re travelling considerably faster than we were on the out lap. I’m heading straight for the cone on the outside of the circuit, braking hard before turning-in and dropping down the hill again. It’s a far more satisfying experience when you’re carrying more speed, but I know there’s more to come and my instructor guides me through the best process for taking the corner faster yet safely. It doesn’t take long for the 15-minute session to finish, but by the time it does I’m far more confident in my ability to circulate Brands at what seems like a pretty decent lick without putting anyone in danger. After a quick debrief in the car it’s time for a chill out in the pits while the cars are used by another group of drivers.
The other attendees in my group have lost those apprehensive looks that were on their faces prior to our first session on track and are now animatedly recounting how they nailed the apex at Druids or how they cocked up the last corner. Safe to say that everyone’s clearly thoroughly enjoying themselves. After a 15 minute break that’s designed to not let us budding Lewis Hamiltons get too carried away it’s time for us to get back into our M4s and enjoy the second 15-minute session. As we settle in we’re told that for this session it’s fine to use the steering wheel paddles if we feel comfortable doing so and soon enough we’re heading in a snake of M4s out onto the circuit again and growing in confidence in our abilities. In my mind I’ve more or less got the circuit nailed by this point and every other lap or so I manage to almost get the tricky McLaren/Clearways/ Clarke sequence right and it’s satisfying, especially as you’re gently encouraged to push a little harder each time by my seemingly unflappable instructor.
Or almost unflappable. As often happens to me when on track days that confidence soon turns to over-confidence and sure enough on my last lap I get carried away on the Brabham straight which means I’m late on the brakes for Paddock and consequently try to carry too much speed though the corner leading to sweaty palms and nervous laughter in the cabin – I think my final assessment form says something like ‘well done catching it at Paddock’, but let’s be honest, the responsibility for not visiting the gravel trap was more down to the car than the driver!
As we return to the pits I can’t help but feel that the day’s outing has been a huge amount of fun, and just perfect for someone who fancies dipping their toe into finding out what driving a car on track is all about, or perhaps for someone who has always hankered after having a go in an M4. Once we’re back in the pits it’s time for my instructor to show me how it should have been done as I strap in for a hot passenger ride… turns out that I probably hadn’t got the circuit quite so nailed as I thought I had!
Courses start at £89 for the M4 Ignition course which gives you 15 minutes of track time plus a hot lap, or £189 for the M4 Master which gives you two 15-minute sessions plus a hot lap plus free entry to a BTCC or BSB event at an MSV circuit in 2106. Initially I thought that the two 15-minute sessions wouldn’t really give you enough wheel time, but in the end it feels just about right – enough time to get a good feel for the car and track yet not long enough to get hugely over-confident and have a trip into the scenery. All-in-all it was a great morning out, and as you can choose from either Brands Hatch, Oulton Park or Bedford Autodrome more or less everyone is catered for no matter where they’re located. Give it a whirl, we reckon you’ll enjoy it!
CONTACT: MSV Website: msvdrivinggifts.com