2014 BMW M235i - The Summer’s Best Track Day Is in Fall
Miles to date: 7,504
It's usually around dawn on the first day of fall when I realize that between drinking rum-filled beverages and sleeping in the sand at the lake, I didn't make nearly as many track days during the summer as I'd planned. And now I open the window and find dark clouds, high winds, and the threat of cold rain. Damn it.
Good thing that GingerMan Raceway's traditional end-of-the-season track day always saves me. Just one last driving day before winter arrives.
And that's how photographer Patrick Hoey, associate Web editor Jake Holmes, videographer Sandon Voelker, and I came to GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, for the last track day of the season. We have the Four Seasons 2014 Honda Accord coupe, Four Seasons 2015 Subaru WRX, and Four Seasons 2014 BMW M235i with us, plus a 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe.
Darkness in the paddock
I arrived at sunrise, or at least when sunrise should've been. Everything had a hazy shade of winter, a stark reminder that a track day like this wouldn't be happening for another five or six months here in Michigan.
I parked the 2015 F-Type coupe and headed to the drivers meeting, saying hello along the way to Dan O'Donnell of Professional Awesome Racing, who was running a newly built Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Mark Stielow, Chevy's chief engineer for the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 who had brought his 1969 "Red Devil" Camaro.
Afterward, I wired up the F-Type with Racelogic's VBOX LapTimer, a new 20-Hz data-logger that not only tracks vehicle telemetry through GPS but also predicts lap time. This means that the $1,050 device's little digital display makes you drive harder every lap, like an F1 race engineer sending evil radio messages to you from over the pit wall.
Things didn't go well on the first lap of my last track day of the season. In Turn 7, I found myself pushing toward the weeds in the Jaguar, flicked the back of the car around to get the car pointed toward the apex, and slid the rear tires in the grass. The car stayed on the pavement, so things ended happily, but this proved to be only the first round in a wrestling match that lasted all morning.
The Jaguar F-Type R Coupe is a sensationally sexy hot rod that's nearly perfect on the street but a bit much on a road course. Every time I thought that I'd struck a good balance with the car, it'd fight me. Too little throttle and understeer here. Too much throttle and oversteer there. The car went like hell, lapping GingerMan's long course in 1:47, but it took a heck of a lot of work to keep it out of the grass. I gripped the steering wheel so hard that I couldn't fully unfurl my hands back in the pits.
Take a break and enjoy yourself
Lunch came -- a welcome break. After the track went cold, I bought a bowl of homemade chili and ate next to the crackling fire in the pit that's set into the deck outside the main building. Then the clouds blew away, the sun shined, and I made a good decision. For the afternoon, I would drive the 2015 BMW M235i that joined our fleet of Four Seasons cars this summer.
Easily one of the best decisions I'd made in months. The BMW M235i is the most enjoyable and predictable car I've ever put around a road course. Its turbocharged engine revs freely and revs high. Its gearing is ideal for the variety of corners at GingerMan, and I used third almost the entire way around. Its chassis is a very drivable mixture of supple, docile, and precise, so you can make it do anything without feeling you're dancing on a razor's edge.
That afternoon, I put down a best lap time of 1:49 in the M235i, just 2 seconds shy of the Jaguar F-Type R even though the British coupe has lots more tire and 230 hp more.
Enough to last the winter
As the day ended, all of us parked in the grassy paddock. I parked myself in the grass, too. I wanted to kick myself in the ass for missing all of the track days I had planned for this year, a little moment of self-loathing for being distracted all summer by rum drinks and sleeping on the sand. But, hey, there hadn't been dark clouds, high winds, or cold rain today.
This is how I like to end every track-day season. A few moments in a great car when you feel like you've learned a few things about driving. Some regrets about not being better in the past, but some hopes about being better in the future. It adds up to being enough to get me through the winter. That's why the last day of the track-driving season at GingerMan Raceway is always the best one.
- Body style 2-door coupe
- Accommodation 4-passenger
- Construction Steel unibody
- Base price (with dest. ) $44,050
- As tested $47,290
- 3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6
- Displacement 3.0 liters (183 cu in)
- Power 320 hp @ 5,800 rpm
- Torque 330 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed manual
- Drive Rear-wheel
- EPA Fuel Economy 19/28 mpg city/highway
- Steering Electrically assisted
- Lock-to-lock 2.2 turns
- Turning circle 35.8 ft
- Suspension, Front Strut-type, coil springs, anti-roll bar
- Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
- Brakes F/R Vented discs
- Wheels 18-inch aluminum
- Tires Michelin Pilot Super Sport
- Tire size 225/40ZR-18 88Y, 245/35R-18 92Y
- Headroom F/R 40.1/36.5 in
- Legroom F/R 41.5/33.0 in
- Shoulder room F/R 54.4/53.4 in
- Wheelbase 105.9 in
- Track F/R 69.7/60.4 in
- L x W x H 175.9 x 69.8 x 55.4 in
- Cargo capacity 13.8 cu ft
- Weight 3,505 lb
- Weight dist. F/R 51.9/48.1 %
- Fuel capacity 13.7 gal
- Est. fuel range 438 miles
- Fuel grade 91 octane (premium unleaded)
- Adaptive M suspension
- M Sport brakes
- M Sport steering wheel
- Variable sport steering
- 18-inch aluminum wheels with performance tires
- Automatic stop-start
- Black SensaTec seats
- 60/40-split folding rear seats
- 10-way power front seats w/ adjustable bolsters and lumbar
- Retractable headlight washers
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Xenon headlights
- Automatic climate control
- Hands-free Bluetooth and USB
- Hi-Fi sound system
- 6.5-inch iDrive display system
options for this vehicle:
- M Performance limited-slip differential- $2,895