As part of my New Year’s resolution, I said that I would try to be more organized. I set out in my quest by clearing the clutter off of my computer’s imaginary desktop and shuttling files into various folders with the hope that I can find them later down the road.The usual result is that I come across some folder that I hid away long ago and my productivity jumps off the proverbial cliff in a nostalgic haze.
Today’s efforts resulted landed me within a folder containing pictures from my first winter in the Land of Lincoln. That winter, in an effort to soothe my inner gear head, I registered for a BMWCCA autocross. Let it be known, I have a bad habit of autocrossing cars that have absolutely no place slicing and dicing through bright orange cones at speed, let alone in a competitive manner. My Saab 9000 does one of four things when driven on one of these tortuous parking lot courses: List to port, list to starboard, plow gravel with its front bumper, or frivolously spin away 400Nm of torque through its open differential and one 205 section tire when the turbo comes on cue. Then there is the other car currently in my garage.
Behold! A BMW!
My E34 535i definitely has the makings of a good autocross car. Its burly straight six develops plenty of oomph, which makes its way to the rear wheels through a five speed box and limited slip differential.To top things off, it has nice fat 245 section tires to glue it to the road. While it’s too bad that it’s classed with the likes of its newer M5 siblings and Coyote powered Mustangs, this doesn’t usually stop me from throwing its 3600 pounds of Bavarian heft at the twists and turns reserved for the automotive equivalent of a surgeon’s scalpel.
This day would be no different.
At 6am, I was already up and dusting off the light snow from the night, torquing the wheels, and checking tire pressures. I locked up my apartment, plopped my helmet onto the passenger seat, and headed out to grab some breakfast. Dating back to a ritual formed during my first days autocrossing, only McDonald’s felt right. After all, it was at the McDonalds in Terre Haute that my school friends always met up before caravanning to Rantoul Aviation Center in Illinois for autocrosses. After a quick bite, I coaxed the big six up an on ramp and immediately noticed something wasn’t quite right. My rearview mirror had turned into a blur – had I lost a tire? I pulled onto the shoulder and scoped over the car. Nothing looked out of the ordinary; the only guess I had was a bit of snow lodged in the mesh of my wheels. I tried to clear out as much snow as I could and proceeded on my way. Better, but still there. Content that it was just snow, I slowly bummed along to the Studio 29 parking lot where the autocross would take place. I registered, got the Bimmer teched and began walking the course while I waited for more competition to show up.
My first walk revealed some interesting things: The lane between the grid and the starting line was nearly a skating rink. The second thing was how much loose gravel was on course. The course was relatively tight and definitely favored the Mini’s and Miatas that started filling in the parking lot. As I rounded the third turn, I noticed another little gem, a patch of black ice. Forging on, I found it wasn’t the only one. Inside my head, I was giggling away at all the tail happy drifts that were about to ensue. This was gonna be fun.
A Mini lined up for a test run to check the timing gear. It spun up through first gear and shifted into second for the first kink in the course. It was at that moment that, just like running over a banana in Mario Kart, the Mini twirled around, spun a 360, and continued on its way down the course a bit shaken from the ordeal. I now thought the BMW might be a bit precarious.
For my first run and third timed run that day, I lined up and took off nice and easy to get a feel for things. I got off the line with a slight chirp from the rear tires and shifted nice and early into second to see if I could make it through the first turn. Unlike the Mini, I suffered no ill consequences for taking it easy. The second turn was a double apex sweeper and around the second apex, the rear end squirmed a bit as the rear tires lost grip. I caught it nicely and then hurdled the big ol’ Clydesdale down the main straight to the icy third corner. This was a Scandinavian flick-like jobbie, with a slight right followed by a left through the ice patch. I slowed way down for it and in turn understeered horribly as I accelerated to the fourth turn, a right hand sweeper. The course finished with a tight decreasing slalom that caused a flurry of arm waving to keep the wheels pointed in the right direction. I made it.
My next runs I let everything go. The first kink was held in the upper regions of 1st gear instead of loping along in second. The exit of the second turn consistently resulted in a nicely executed drift. But, that icy third turn was the highlight (of the course). Instead of holding back, I kept the go pedal down and caught the car as the rear ran over the ice patch and started coming around. Once the fronts did their thing, the pendulum effect of catching the drift got the car perfectly lined up for the fourth sweeper. Nothing fixed that blasted decreasing slalom, though.
After my runs, it was my turn to work corners and stand out in the frigid twenty five degree weather. Anyone that has ever autocrossed knows working corners is the bane of any driver, and winter doesn’t help matters. But, to make up for it, we were provided lunch of BBQ sandwiches and chili from a local restaurant at the end of the event.
As the day wrapped up, it became evident that while I didn’t set fastest time of the day, there was no doubt in my mind the BMW was the most choice car that day. Somedays you just have to go along for the slide.
Thanks to Jordan Calpus and Zach McGovern for the photos.