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We spent a rainy afternoon in Maisach, Germany, to learn a thing or two about drifting. Or mostly, just spinning around in circles.

08 Oct 2019


It's nine degrees, rain is absolutely pissing down, and even in my down jacket I am freezing my balls off. Oh, and my head is also starting to spin and my stomach a little queasy. Not sure if that's the after effect of the previous night at Oktoberfest, or the fact that I've basically spent 30 mins doing unintentional high-speed doughnuts around a flooded air strip.

Our weapon of choice for this Drifting Training is the BMW M4 Competition
I'm in Maisach, Germany, home to the BMW and MINI Driving Academy. We're here to take part in Drifting Training, although I think it would be much more accurate to call it 'Let's see how many times we can spin out' Training.

Okay, time to get back behind the wheel of the M4 Competition and give this another go. Come on now. 

Turn and slide

The science of drifting seems simple enough, at least when we're seated in a classroom learning the basic techniques off a powerpoint presentation.

"Then, you will execute a Scandinavian flick". Yeah, sounds easy enough... 
Hard on the power, let the rear break loose, counter steer, come off the power, catch the slide, back on the power. Sounds simple enough, right?

Wrong. Out on the circuit, it's proving frustratingly futile. Hard on the power, let the rear break loose, whoops, I've already spun. This pattern repeats itself for the best part of 10 minutes, and we're only on lesson one.

Drifting is much more of an art than a science. Learning to feel when the rear wheels break traction, understanding just how much counter steering to enact, and finding just the right amount of throttle to deploy, it's all a little overwhelming. For us beginners, it's always a case of too much, too late.

'Drifting Training' involves a lot of time spent spinning around in circles... 
After 20 minutes to trying to do a simple drifting exercise in a circle, I think I am starting to get it. "Do less, react early", I keep telling myself. And miraculously, it starts to come together - I manage to hold a slide for maybe two thirds of a circle. Then, inevitably, the car spins out.

"Okay, beautiful. We're moving on to the next stage now," hollers our instructor, who is absolutely drenched having been standing out in the pouring rain. 

Twist and shout

In the right hands, the car can be gracefully drifted around our instructor standing in the middle
The next stage is to combine this half circle drift with some slalom-style directional change, all while trying to go sideways. Absolutely no chance, then.

Here on out it's all just a great big mess. Doesn't help that I have basically no clue what I am doing, either. I give it my best shot, but it's mostly just a combination of hapless flailing and frustrated shouting - I probably spend more time going backwards than I do sideways.

In the right hands, these Bimmers are capable of gloriously graceful slides - a quality that is especially admired in these M cars. One of our fellow journalists, himself a drifting instructor, makes this abundantly clear by drifting non-stop for three minutes.

Maisach is a testing ground for BMW to push the limits of its vehicles
There is, however, no denying the adrenaline rush that comes from successfully managing a slide, no matter how brief. And I guess, that's sort of the point of such driving programmes. It offers participants a safe environment in which to push the limits - not just of these cars, but of ourselves, too. (There was a big corporate group from Siemens doing the session just before ours). And it offers you just a brief taste of what is possible in such cars, given much more skill, time and training. 

Sweet sound and silence

Even the moment of holding a brief slide elicits a genuine adrenaline rush
The Drifitng Training is one among many programmes offered at the BMW and MINI Driving Academy, each highlighting the varying capabilities of a wide range of BMW models. Maisach is also a testing and proving ground for developing new BMW models, with a 4+km air strip and various obstacle courses allowing BMW to test its vehicles in a multitude of ways.  

My brief time here has given me a greater appreciation of the work that goes into developing these cars. Yes, most of us many never get the chance to put a car sideways or up a 20 degree incline, but just the knowledge that BMW has pushed their vehicles to such capabilities is invigorating.

The brief training session gave me a greater appreciation for the immense capability of these BMWs
As we end the session by taking a drive down the air strip of the Furstenfeldbruck Air Base, two deer trot right across the road in front of us. They casually trot towards a still-standing warehouse that has a pretty bloody history - it was exactly here that the 'Munich Massacre' took place in 1972, where a shootout between German snipers and Palestinian terrorists left nine Israeli hostages and one German police officer dead.

And yet, right now it's serenely peaceful. Located quite literally in the middle of nowhere, the only high-octane activity taking place at Maisach these days come from the roar of BMWs. And as the sun fades from the sky, the only sounds we can hear are the rain sploshing down, the backfiring of our car's exhaust, and the soothing song from the in-line six engine under the bonnet.

But, my head is still spinning. I think I need to lie down.
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