8 Days, 87 Hours and 5000 Miles
Covering the One Lap of America in the BMW M6 Gran Coupe
Written by: Solomon A. Rosenthal
“Slow down, that kid is trying to take a picture.” This phrase became the motto for our time in the BMW M6 Gran Coupe. Just replace “kid” with “he”, “she” or “they” and it becomes immediately apparent that lots and lots of people were taking pictures of our official media vehicle. This most likely attributed to our slow pace at times but we never worried much because we knew our vehicle could pick up the pace with the slightest flexing of the rightmost phalange.
First a bit of backstory. Bryan and I are the media crew for the Tire Rack One Lap of America. For the uninitiated the One Lap of America is what the Cannonball Run turned into. We do not race on public roads, rather we drive road legal vehicles from racetrack to racetrack all around the country. It’s very straightforward from that point on; competitors are allowed a single set of tires, no support vehicles and you only get one lap to learn the track before having to set 3 fast laps of which you are scored from the cumulative.
It is our job to collect video, photos and content for sponsors and for promotion of the event throughout the year. We are also tasked with updating the fans of our event with live streams and by managing our social media presence. Doing this means being the first to the track and the last to leave. It means throwing lots of gear into a car and knowing that it will start every time and get us where we need to go. It means throwing professional drivers behind the wheel and filming them as they blister around some of this country’s finest racetracks while knowing the vehicle has the performance to impress them. It means taking VIP’s and media on track to give them a taste of the One Lap while they coddling them in luxury, comfort and style. It means we needed a BMW.
Luckily for us we know a few people. You see the BMW Performance Driving School has been providing vehicles for the One Lap staff for many years now and MINI USA has been working with our photographer, Steve Rossini at Highland Design Studios for quite some time as well. Last year we completed the BMW family by partnering with BMW North America to provide the official media vehicle for the 30th anniversary of the One Lap.
With a single phone call “Oleg” enthusiastically was on board for another year and the media crew was smiling ear to ear. We were grinning like Cheshire Cats because after filling “Oleg” in
on our plans for the 2014 event he suggested the M6 Gran Coupe as our vehicle to which I tried to contain myself in responding “That’ll work.” Over the course of the week we learned more about our ride. We learned that our M6 Gran Coupe was fitted with just about every option imaginable save for the Night Vision and the Bang & Olufsen sound system. What our vehicle did have was the competition package that bumped the Horsepower from the Twin Turbo, 4.4 litre V8 to 590 from
the time 575 it comes with while removing the top speed limiter. We learned that we would be
papered in comfort via the executive package which included heated and ventilated seats along with the massage function. As we continued to learn about the vehicle our smile continued to grow.
Listing all of the features on the car would take an eternity but I will highlight some of the ones we found particularly helpful along our trip and a short description as to why (they are listed in order of importance):
1) Heated/Cooled/Massaging Seats.
a. You don’t realize how essential these are until you are in the seat for more than 4 hours at a time. The ability to regulate the temperature and get the blood circulating in the oft overlooked posterior helps a great deal in keeping the driver awake and alert for longer periods of time and allows the co-driver to sleep soundly (sometimes TOO Soundly)((WAKE UP, IT’S YOUR SHIFT)). 2) Power.
a. Let’s be honest, we all love powerful cars and this thing has it in droves. Dropping down a gear nets startling acceleration and dropping down a couple becomes addictive. Combine the power and rush of acceleration with a decent soundtrack and it’s clear why we fell in love with the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore and a certain
10 mile stretch along the PA Turnpike. 3) Comfort.
a. I’ll be the first person to congratulate the brave gentlemen who ran this year’s event in an Ariel Atom and the last person to want to try that adventure. I have had my fill of bare bones, raw, loud, visceral cars. I am older now and I want to put myself through the masochism that is the One Lap with maximum comfort. The M6 Gran Coupe is a Jekyll/Hyde machine that we will talk more about later. All you need to know for now is that the ride can be uncompromisingly good when you want it to be. 4) The Color.
a. Many reviews seem to overlook this element when it really is so very important.
Our M6 Gran Coupe was finished in Sakhir Orange Metallic. Combined with the Carbon Fiber accents the color made our car a supermodel. Part of the reason I think so many people insisted on snapping pictures was because of how daring this car looked. The best analogy I can use would be to imagine the brutal businesslike nature of Donald Trump imbued in Michael Phelps at the Top his game dressed in Dutch team colors. Serious performance yet knows how to relax and get noticed while doing both. 5) The Brakes.
a. The M6 Gran Coupe is a heavy car and capable of tremendously high speeds.
While those speeds and acceleration are addictive at some point you will have to slow down for one reason or another. The Carbon Ceramic brakes fitted to our car did a downright amazing job when it came to shrugging off speed. Every Pro and Joe who took this car out remarked on how well the cars braking system was. Lap after lap we never felt the slightest hint of fade even when the brakes were
smoking after some heavy breaking courtesy of Leh Keen and Charles Espenlaub. This was a major factor in the car being described as “feeling like you are driving an M3 when you know it’s almost twice the size.”
Now that you are familiar with the most important elements of the car let’s get on with the story.
My co-driver picked up the car from the BMW plant in Spartanburg and drove it to Philadelphia a few days before the One Lap so we could start prepping the car. Simply put that means installing the CB Radio (yes they are still used), putting the decals on the car (each one adds 10 BHP) and generally making sure the car is ready for the task ahead of it.
I also like to use that time to get to know the personality of the car. Using the vehicle to commute to work for a day or two accomplishes a couple of things. First it lets me know how comfortable I will be while being stuck in ungodly traffic and secondly it’s just plain cool. Right from the start the M6 Gran Coupe began to impress. When I first pulled up to my office I noticed a good deal of co-workers pressed up against the glass which eventually turned into a steady stream of them coming out to examine and take pictures of our ride. Perfunctory rides were given.
The next day offered the first inkling as to just how much of a honey badger the M6 Gran Coupe really is. It was raining. By raining I mean to say Moses was seen causing major traffic jams as he loaded animals 2×2 in his ark. On that day Philadelphia received more than 5 inches of rain in less than 24 hours and yours truly had to be at a major donor event that afternoon. The heavy rains caused even heavier traffic which led to the taxi we had called for never arriving.
With no time left to call another car service I offered to drive the four of us to the event. After sprinting to the garage where the M6 Gran Coupe was waiting I dumped my umbrella in the trunk and thought to myself, “Am I really going to take a $140k+ vehicle out in this mess and allow wet people inside?” I quickly answered the question with a “You betcha!”
My reasoning for this was that any car that commanded such a premium should not only be able to handle the extraordinary things such top speeds of nearly 200mph, pampering its occupants in unrivaled comfort and showcasing an ability to use exotic materials. The car needs to be able to hold up to ordinary tasks as well and in my mind this was one of them.
As I pulled to the back of the building and picked up my co-workers they too were amazed that I was picking them up in this exquisite machine. Once they were all comfortably inside and were drying off comfortably thanks to the 4 zone climate control I explained the aforementioned reasoning to them. At this point I received some astonished looks from them, especially as we were wading through streets that had nearly 2 feet of water in places.
Safely making it to our destination we climbed out and a few more hours later I made it home. The car was completely unfazed. The interior was dry and spotless, the car itself never
hiccupping or showing any sign at all that it didn’t like being treated like a submarine, it just soldered on.
The next day saw us leave for South Bend Indiana for the start of the One Lap. Leaving midafternoon from Philadelphia we arrived shortly before 11pm unfatigued and amazed that we averaged 26MPG throughout the 647 mile trip. I happily recalculated our expected fuel costs for the week and realized we would save more than $200.00. After hearing this my co-driver insisted the first round was on me.
Our first leg of the One Lap took us from the Tire Racks
Headquarters to Grissom Air Force Base for an autocross to Bowling Green Kentucky for a stop at the famous National Corvette Museum. Yes we did see the sinkhole, it is rather large. Following the museum stop we made our way to Memphis where we would finally stop for the night. Total mileage the media team covered on the first day: 670 Miles.
The start of the second day gave me the opportunity to finally see what the M6 Gran Coupe would be like on the track. The plan for the day was to sit at the back of one of the slower run groups and film one car, pass while staying out of the way, catch up to the next car, film, pass and continue until the end of the session. We figured between the outright speed of the M6 Gran Coupe and my moderate talent we should be able to pull this off while gathering some great footage.
Sitting at the start line I put the car into M2 mode which I had programmed through the IDrive system to put the cars suspension into Sport Plus along with the shift mapping and the steering while turning the traction control off. All was well until I realized that the flagger forgot that I was to take off at the same time as the car in front of me rather than after he cleared the Drag Strip long front straight.
Slightly worried because I had not seen nor studied the track save for the sight-in lap I experienced on the way to the start line I took off as soon as the green flag dropped. This was true One Lap fashion because I now found myself searching the limits of the car while getting to know an unfamiliar track. It was here that I was reminded just how challenging the One Lap is and quietly reveled at the chance to be a participant again while chasing down my prey.
By the last corner of the first lap I had caught the car that headed out 15 seconds before me in large part due to the phenomenal attributes of the car I was driving. I have no doubt in my mind that the car made up for many of my shortcomings. Not
once did the M6 Gran Coupe get out of sorts when I overdrove a corner, had to use instant power to correct a line with a slight kick of the tail or had to grab all of the carbon ceramics when I overshot a brake zone.
When it came to the end of the run session and I parked alongside the other cars that had just been out on track I noticed something very surprising. While the other cars made all sorts of noises while they cooled there was nothing coming from my car. It was silent. I took a hard look at the car and waited to hear something, anything. All I got in return was the aggressive fascia looking back at me taunting me to go and do it again. Honey Badger points continued to accumulate.
After packing up our gear we made the trek to Avondale, Louisiana with a total daily mileage of 448 Miles. Throughout the trip to Louisiana we found ourselves in a convoy with a Nissan GTR and the SpeedConcepts SLS AMG, two show stopping cars in their own right. That drive quickly became one of the most memorable I have had in the 8 years of working with the One Lap. As our trio of speed, power and design made the journey countless photos were taken, smiles were shared and children young and old were delighted. With the sky matching our cars color the visceral sensation of understanding what we were doing and the car we were doing it in took hold. I smiled unrelentingly.
Waking up the next morning and heading to the track I noticed one thing. It was hot. 7am and the temperature was already in the mid 80’s. This was a big departure from the temperatures the cars and competitors had seen so far. While I wondered how the rest of the cars, especially the heavily modified ones, would fare with the high temperatures I pushed the button activating the seat ventilation and adjusted the driver’s temperature to a pleasant 68 degrees.
Arriving at the track we knew we had quite a lot to accomplish and had very little doubt at this point that the car was up to task. Gov. Jindal was slated to be at the track along with a heavy media presence to cover the announcement of NOLA being added to the IRL calendar. In a very short timeframe we had to set up all of the sponsor banners, get the car outfitted with cameras, position our photographers on track and make sure we met with the various media throughout the morning.
As we ran from one thing to the other in the brutal heat the car was utilized as a workhorse. True to its honey badger nature the car never hiccupped as we loaded and unloaded gear, took out dignitaries and news media for laps around NOLA, stopped at various places around the paddock for impromptu interviews with the car running and then put Charles Espenlaub behind the wheel and told him to “have a go.”
Charles, fresh from his race at Laguna Seca, had flown in to drive for the Brock Yates Tribute Fund entry. Having arrived late in the day he missed the run group that he would have gone out in but not wanting to miss the chance to get in the same car with a Pro Driver and see how he got around I offered the keys to the M6 Gran Coupe. With no hesitation on his part Charles and I donned our helmets, turned on the cameras and took to the track.
Let it be said straight away that Charles is an amazing driver. On a track and in a car he had never seen before he managed to set a time 2 seconds slower than a Porsche Cup car. This is both a testament to his driving ability and the nature of the M6 Gran Coupe. With all of the really late braking, hard acceleration and heat the car never once was bothered. Sitting in the passenger seat with the belt tensioners tightening and loosening depending on how brave Charles was I was amazed how well this car got around. When it was time for us to return to the paddock after 5 laps of thrashing about we parked the car and once more it was silent. No ticking cool, no noises whatsoever. The car was taunting again but this time it was taunting a Pro Driver. As we both stood in amazement staring at the car Charles remarked “that thing is amazing.”
That would not be the end of the M6 Gran Coupes trial by Pro Driver. The next day Leh Keen stopped by to catch up with the event as we tackled Atlanta Motorsports Park. Once more not wanting to pass on the opportunity to get behind the wheel with a pro (especially a multiple winner of the One Lap) I asked Leh if he would like to take the car out for some hot laps on camera. Always one to help out any way he can Leh was more than happy to.
Truth be told I was very excited to ride with Leh after watching his “Rain Dance” video on YouTube. For those that may be unaware I strongly suggest watching it but in short it is Leh flying around the Nurburgring during the 24 hour race, passing everything in the wet. The race was black flagged a lap after the video ends.
To say that Leh is talented is like saying Picasso was good at painting. Leh is a virtuoso and a true talent behind the wheel while being tall and a great human being everywhere else. Rolling onto the track for the sight-in lap Leh began testing the limits of the car straight away. I had felt comfortable because I figured he knew this track especially given the way he was flying around. At least I did until he told me he had only been there once before. After reassuring myself of who was behind the steering wheel I mustered up my confidence, put on my game face and hit record as we took off for our laps and interview.
There was no disappointment as Leh proceeded to showboat for the crowd and the cameras. He used every bit of grip the car had to offer and then somehow manufactured some more when it ran out. Being fully sideways in the M6 Gran Coupe at 120MPH as we crested the hill to the front straight is a memory that will stay with me for a long time (and with my dry cleaner I suspect.) Pulling into pit lane with the brakes smoking we could not help but remark at how well the car handled. We continued discussing the cars virtues as it once more silently taunted another pro driver.
Following our stop at AMP the event headed to the BMW Performance Driving School located in South Carolina. Here the participants would tackle the course at the school while allowing the throngs of fans the opportunity to get close to the drivers and vehicles. You would figure that with all of the exciting machinery on display and with hundreds of other BMW’s around I assumed that our car would get lost in the shuffle. That assumption could not have been more wrong. From the moment we pulled in until the moment we left the car was surrounded by people posing with the car for photos, peering
inside to examine the finely appointed interior and asking us tons of questions which we were happy to answer (the most oft asked question is still “how fast have you gone”)? Satisfied that we had done the sponsors justice we began the long trek to New Jersey.
The next morning found us at New Jersey Motorsports Park after a delightful 2 hours of sleep. Today was another big day for the car, it had its close up. We had a camera crew meet us at NJMP to film the event as well as to film some segments for an upcoming One Lap project. We decked out the M6 Gran Coupe in cameras and did some lead-follow chase scenes with a 2014 Shelby GT-500. The only problem we encountered while filming was after I passed the Shelby on the straight he was supposed to pull up to my bumper for a dramatic effect. The problem arose when he couldn’t seem to catch me after the pass and was nowhere close after turn 1. We realized that between the power of the M6 Gran Coupe and the unreal stopping power the Carbon Ceramics provided I was not only pulling away but braking far later than the Shelby could. After adjusting my speed and brake zones we were good to go.
After the rest of the One Lappers headed out for Mid-Ohio we stayed behind to film some precision driving (burnouts and drifts) in the parking lot. In front of a crowd, as the M6 Gran Coupe defied the laws of Physics we received many thumbs up and delighted smiles. Pulling away from NJMP we were slightly downtrodden because we knew we were going to miss the adventure at Mid-Ohio due to a family commitment I had the next evening. We also knew that the M6 Gran Coupe would be up for its harshest road test yet, nearly 2000 miles, a race track and dry skid pad in just 36 hours.
Our plan was simple yet torturous. We would leave Philadelphia immediately after the event I had to attend at nearly 11pm on Thursday night we would have to drive through the night to get to Gingerman Raceway in Michigan by 9am Friday Morning. Once there we would cover the event, run the track and gather the needed content. Following Gingerman we would drive back to South Bend to celebrate with the One Lappers as we celebrated making it around one more time and the graduation of the “Lap Puppies” into full-fledged “Lap Dogs.” The next morning after the late night revelry and a couple of hours sleep we would cover the Dry Skid pad, the awards banquet, tie up loose ends and then mosey on back to Philadelphia in time for Mother’s Day.
Accomplishing the above seems like an immense challenge and it is. The M6 Gran Coupe once more proved to be the perfect tool for the job. Easily and efficiently digesting the road miles on the way to Gingerman Raceway we made it in time for the first run session of the day. Once arriving the car didn’t have a moment to rest. It was raining and that meant that much of the filming and work would be done from inside of the car while it was running since we had to almost constantly be on the move. Our Honey Badger did not mind a bit. It became apparent to me that BMW had built this vehicle out of NO-DOZE since it never needed to rest.
Finally, toward the end of the day the skies cleared and the last run group pulled off the track. It is a One Lap tradition to open up the track for people to play around on and do hot laps after the final event. I was excited
for the opportunity to take out my co-driver to show him just what the M6 Gran Coupe was capable of. Since the ground was still wet and we had to hurry back to South Bend after our playtime we did not bother unloading the car for the few minutes we anticipated being on track.
Nearly 45 minutes later we pulled off and headed for South Bend. Driving the M6 Gran Coupe on track is an addictive experience. The raw power and brutal stopping power combined with its Honey Badger nature mean that you can turn lap after lap without any diminishing of performance. It also means that you had better know where the closest fuel is because you will find yourself running into the vehicles only real flaw, the finite amount of fuel it can hold (I understand BMW is developing a perpetual fuel system to quell this issue).
Arriving back in South Bend with a guest who had broken down along the way we began celebrating. We celebrated the
aforementioned making it around one more time, the newly crowned “Lap Dogs,” the work that we had done and most of all my co-driver and I celebrated the car that had become an integral part of our Media Crew.
Following the Dry Skid pad and awards banquet it was time to turn around and head home. A bittersweet trip indeed Bryan and I could not stop talking about all we had accomplished and the tool that had helped us along the way. Every mile marker that brought is closer to home was another reminder that our time in this special vehicle was coming to a close. Pulling into the driveway in front of my house we sat in silence as did the car. We pulled up the vehicle information with the statistics from our adventure. From the time we had pulled out of my
driveway the previous Friday at 12:38pm we had driven for 87 hours and 27 minutes covered 5027 miles at an average MPG of 19.3 (including track time) at an average speed of 60.3mph.
During that that time we had not only grown to appreciate the BMW
M6 Gran Coupe but love it. Throughout our 8 days with “Bertha” (named because of the car’s sheer size) we had the time of our lives. I decided makes a car truly special is not just that it can go quickly and stop well. It isn’t that it looks daring and is painted in a color seemingly concocted by Hot Wheels. It isn’t that it has the reliability and quality to thrash day after day for nearly 24 hours at a time (although it sure helps).
What makes a car special are the memories you create with it. In my case the M6 Gran Coupe helped create the memories of overcoming long road miles with ease and countless hilarious moments inside the cabin with one of my best friends. Bertha helped create the indelible memory of our supercar trio cruising into the sunset as we entered Louisiana. Mostly, it created the memory of the thousands of smiling faces we witnessed as we travelled throughout the country in a car everyone recognized as being truly special.