FROM THE PASSENGER SEAT DTM RIDE #BMW-M4-DTM
From the Passenger Seat We strap in for a wild ride around the Circuit de Catalunya in an M4 #DTM
They call this work? Who’s luckier? The journalist who gets a passenger ride in a #BMW-DTM
car or the Works driver behind the wheel? We strap in for a hot lap of the Circuit de Catalunya. Words: Kyle Fortune. Photography: BMW.
Damn racing drivers. Their ‘work’ consists of strapping themselves into the world’s fastest, most exotic machinery and flinging it about with the sole intention of winning.
They’re unerringly attractive to the opposite sex; they all wear impossibly expensive watches; and are generally pretty good at any other sport they turn their hand to. That they can pull off wearing a race suit doesn’t help, the slim hips and zero body fat working brilliantly with a sponsorsplattered Nomex romper. That’s in complete contrast to an over-lunched journalist, who’s lucky to be married, has an ordinary timepiece and looks like a badly stuffed Weisswurst in the white race suit. Still, with the HANS device fitted and a full-face helmet, nobody can really see me, and the pay-off for looking like a berk is being ballast in a DTM car.
Usually, additional weight in a DTM car comes following a win, as the 35kg difference that covers the DTM grid from front to back is entirely based on success. Today, BMW Works driver Dirk Werner, who’s currently racing in USCC for BMW, has been exceptionally ‘successful’, as he’s carrying 90kg of biological ballast. He doesn’t seem to be complaining, giving me a thumbs up as I scramble inside the carbon tub. Getting in is like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube: possible, but messy.
The sill is as wide as any I’ve ever seen, and a protective guard is positioned before I clamber over it because of the hot exhaust running through it. I’ve just driven the M4 GTS on track, the most physical BMW I’ve yet to drive, but saying it has a roll-cage like the DTM car is like comparing a lock box to Fort Knox: the DTM version feels and looks more like a spaceship than a car. That cage criss-crosses the compartment and Werner sits slightly behind me, as close to the centre as is possible. It’s not built for passengers, and the interior is about as far removed from what I might call a car as anything I’ve ever sat in. Sure, there’s a steering ‘wheel’ (really little more than a two-handled, many buttoned grip like KITT’s), but there’s just about enough space for me, the sixpoint harness securely holding me in place. Once in, there’s the usual safety chat about how to get out, in a hurry if need be, though I’m hoping Werner’s handy enough not to have to worry about that.
Visually it might externally resemble an M4, but in the interests of keeping the racing close, under that many-winged M4 body is a carbon fibre tub with an integrated fuel tank and steel roll-cage that’s shared across the entire grid. This BMW has more in common with its Audi and Mercedes-Benz competition than it does the road car that wears the same badge. The engine’s wrong, too, a bespoke P66 unit, of which BMW is allowed just ten for its eight-car line-up over the entire season. It’s a 4.0-litre 90- degree naturally aspirated V8 running with air restrictors, its power around the 480hp mark, torque at approximately 500Nm. The engine runs a sealed Bosch MS 5.1 control unit and drives through a pneumatically actuated, paddle-shifted six-speed transmission (standard to all DTM cars irrespective of brand) with a four-plate ZF carbon clutch and adjustable limited-slip diff. Thanks in part to the 1120kg kerb weight it will reach 62mph in just three seconds and the top speed is just shy of 190mph.
The battery man plugs in the power and the silence is broken by the sound of the starter whirring, the 4.0- litre V8 firing up with the glorious mechanical, metallic rasp and clatter that defines racing engines. You feel it as much as hear it; the vibrations from the engine (mounted just in front of my feet almost under the windscreen) resonate through the M4 DTM’s entire structure. There’s a clunk as Werner pulls the paddle for first, before he guns it up to pit-lane speed. It’s the intensity that’s so rich; as the M4 DTM pulls out of the pit lane onto the track the performance isn’t really other-worldly as the fastest road cars can accelerate with just as much alacrity. Then Werner brakes (some 50 or so metres later than I’d have suggested as prudent), his stamp on the pedal revealing those Schroth Racing belts aren’t as tight as I’d imagined, the ridiculous force the brakes generate making me thankful for the HANS device that helps me keep the chin of my helmet from hitting the top of my chest.
Apparently braking is tricky; Werner needs to ease off the pedal as he slows as the reduction in speed results in less aerodynamic grip. Even so, the stopping forces are incredible, the combination of massive AP discs (the team is allowed just three sets of carbon discs for the front, and two for the rear per season) and the Hankook racing slicks – again limited in numbers to four sets per two qualifying and two races over a weekend – being the most shocking element of the car’s performance. That and the way it turns in, the speed at which it can carry though the bends is mesmerising, Werner regularly carrying many multiples more mph than you’d think was possible in the faster bends. Here, speed helps, giving more aerodynamic grip. That’s obvious in the slower left hander about four turns from the main straight, which sees Werner winding on a bit of corrective lock, his reaction so quick that it’s barely noticeable.
Two intense laps later he backs off, the M4 chuntering in that recalcitrant way race cars do when they’re not being driven as fast as they can be. It’s difficult to comprehend all that’s just flashed by, even more so when you consider Werner’ and his contemporaries do this with 23 other cars around them trying to get to the front. Must be good fun! It really is a tough gig being a racing driver…
M4 DTM’s cockpit is about as far removed from a road-going M4 as it’s possible to get; steering ‘wheel’ is a tiny device Below: Exhaust runs straight through the sills.