As an off-road enthusiast and automotive journalist, I typically write about all sorts of customized four-wheel drive and adventure vehicles. My roads of choice are usually dirt, rock, snow, or sand. Not often do I get to experience racetrack challenges, but my time spent at the BMW Performance Center’s BMW M4 GT4 Experience program proved that adventurers don’t just drive Jeep Wranglers or Toyota Tacomas, they drive all types of vehicles. Especially high-horsepower beauties like the BMW M4 GT4 race car.
The Thermal Club
Nestled in California’s Coachella Valley, The Thermal Club is an exclusive members-only racetrack and facility and it houses six BMW M4 GT4 race cars. I was one of a small group of journalists invited for the event, so I stowed my camping clothes in favor of a full-on race suit—including a full-face helmet, fire-retardant socks, and race gloves, as well as a HANS device and in-car communications.
After arriving on-site, we were greeted by the organization’s expert instructors. We learned of their decorated racing backgrounds and why they chose to do what they do. The classroom instructor even mentioned arriving back from Germany just four days prior: He won a race at the famed Nürburgring racetrack in the exact same vehicle we were about to drive.
We listened to our leader intently; he carefully laid out basic racetrack principles and important features of the BMW M4 GT4. Of the small handful of attendees, I was a novice compared to the others, which had plenty of luxury car and racetrack experience. This was the perfect place to learn!
We hopped into the M4 GT4’s street-legal variant: the BMW M4 and drove our way from the classroom to Thermal’s South Palm racetrack. Whereas the M4 is a sporting on-road luxury vehicle, the M4 GT4 race car needs to be trailered from track to track (it’s not legal to drive on public streets). Although both vehicles showcase the same engine and transmission, the M4 GT4 boasts several race-only features, including silver “power sticks” which tune the race car to particular settings.
BMW M4 GT4 Stats
Showcasing a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine, the BMW M4 GT4 can kick out up to 431 hefty horses (depending on its performance balance). Its transmission boasts a seven-gear dual-clutch setup that includes motorsport software. It is extremely easy and responsive to use (even for someone who has raced few cars on a track).
The M4 GT4’s chassis comprises an FIA-compliant DMSB-certified welded safety roll cage, an air jack system, and plenty of parts made from carbon fiber reinforced polymers, otherwise known as CFRP. This includes the race car’s roof, hood, front splitter and rear adjustable wing, dive planes, and its doors (which opens with little effort but shuts with a mighty thud).
The BMW M4 GT4’s suspension includes front and rear adjustable motorsport stabilizers, springs with three various rates for the front and rear homologated axle, and specifically adapted front and rear shock absorbers. AP Racing brakes don all four corners: six-piston, fixed calipers in the fronts, and four-piston fixed calipers in the rears. Additionally, a double-flow air-cooled brake system ensures they don’t get too hot.
Inside the cockpit, two Recaro race seats and five-point harnesses fill out the Spartan interior. A plethora of buttons, knobs, and comms are at the ready, however, we were directed to be concerned only with the speedometer screen showing what gear we were in, what speed we were going, yellow and red lights to know when to shift, as well as the radio comms button on the steering wheel in case we needed to talk to our lead instructor.
Once situated with our race suits, Simpson shoes and gloves, helmets, and HANS devices, we were helped into each of our BMW M4 GT4 and connected to the system. We’re ready to race!
Our group split into two sections. One instructor, Rick Porter, led both women (fellow journalist Vicki Arkoff and me) while the other instructor took the rest. Rick gave us the low-down on the lead-follow exercise we were about to accomplish. Our jobs were to listen, learn, and follow his line and speed.
Upon start-up, the BMW M4 GT4 shook to life. Its mean and low growl eagerly anticipated the upcoming jaunt. Suited up and strapped in, steady concentration took hold as I was about to drive my first legitimate race car—alone. Although Rick led Vicki and me through the course, I could easily hear his voice through my in-helmet radio. With each directive, Vicki and I were well on our way to becoming high-speed Queens, if only for a few hours!
As Rick expertly watched us, leading both of us in our own M4 GT4s, he showed us how to effectively drive each line: upon approach, through each curve, and with each exit. His voice was calm and informative. Fuel was running through my veins, my heart pumping fast. With each lap, I became more confident. Speed increased and so did the awareness of my surroundings.
The BMW M4 GT4 was planted and quick to respond. Before I knew it, we were racing down the final straightaway doing over 130 miles per hour! A symphony of steadfast proportions, I learned the BMW M4 GT4 race car loves chicanes and straightaways, as well as everything in between.
Focus and Speed
By the final lap, I’ve long forgotten about navigating tricky off-pavement terrain. I was focused solely on my speed and agility while holding Rick’s line. Votes of praise came through my helmet; I was getting the hang of it!
I see why the instructors love their job. They get to coach people of all race levels and are damned good at it. Never once did I feel uncomfortable. They were there for us all, each step of the way. Engineering and manufacturing a high-horsepower machine as well as BMW has with its BMW M4 GT4, I can easily see why this particular race car has won a wide array of accolades across the globe.