Now for the BMW M3 GTS
Sunday lunchtime, Ascari circuit near Malaga, Spain. Welcome back to a 93-degree summer day, but at least this time the heat is Death Valley-dry, and there's a stiff mistral blowing from the sea. BMW has chosen the Spanish location to celebrate twenty-five years of the M3, an event highlighted by the launch of the brand-new limited-edition GTS coupe. The demanding Ascari racetrack is a great mix of fast and not so fast, up and down, mirror-smooth and rippled. The quickest corner is good for about 135 mph, and the slowest kink is perfect for second-gear slides. There are two chicanes, a couple of third-gear bends sporting a challenging switch from positive to negative camber, three climbs and three according descents, a long start/finish straightaway, and a wide pit lane. I counted twenty-five bends, most of them left-handers. Although there are five generations of M3s to choose from here today, we quickly filter through to the brand-new GTS, which is painted fire orange -- the same color used by the long-defunct Jagermeister racing team that fielded all kinds of fast BMWs from the 2002 to the 3.2CSL. Predictably, five days were not enough to let my body recover from the Porsche 911 GT2 RS experience. The Recaros installed in the M3 GTS also looked like items out of a brochure for bondage aficionados, but they were thankfully a full size wider, more thoughtfully padded, and quite generously adjustable. Although both cars come with a six-point harness free of charge, inertia-reel belts are fitted for predominant road use. A/C and music cost extra in the BMW, and since chassis number 003 tested here will probably end up as an enthusiast's track day toy, cool air once again remained a pipe dream. Neither the GT2 RS nor the ultimate M3 need a radio. After all, what you hear is the best music in town, the goose-pimple-growing sound track of true hard-core street racers, beautiful mechanical noise, a luscious and loud concert of high-strung automobiles at work. First, we're due to run a couple warm-up laps behind an E46-chassis pace car. After that, the rarest, dearest, and fastest-ever M3 begs to be put to the real test.
With a tarmac temperature of well over 120 degrees, the slow-in, fast-out rule is absolutely critical to the BMW's cornering performance. Over-drive it, and the front tires will heat up in no time at all, first provoking terminal understeer and then shredding themselves to pieces in a smelly hara-kiri farewell. That's why a smooth sequence of motions is so important for the well being of both car and driver. Since we're not here to set a new lap record, I brake relatively early at the end of the two fast straights. And although turn-in can be quick and energetic, you don't want to fully load the car's front end until the change of direction is about two-thirds complete. It takes a while to learn and understand this track, to get the line right for the double-apex corners, to eliminate unnecessary gear changes, to settle on the best compromise through the chicanes, and to zoom in on the correct brake and turn-in points. After ten laps, I take a break to discuss the setup with chief project engineer Rolf Scheibner.