Friday, September 30, 2011

1-Mazing Ride at Watkins Glen (UPDATED)

A few weeks back I posted a couple of innocent blurbs on driving the 1M for the first time here and many readers liked it. But a few weren't satisfied and demanded I take it to the track for some real testing. Not one to upset our readership here on OneHotLap, I did just that at a recent BMW CCA driving event at Watkins Glen International. My friend John C. was brave enough to graciously offer his barely broken-in Valencia Orange 1M for a fast session in the instructor group. The car was bone stock. In other words, no grabby track pads or tweaked alignment specs here to conflate my take on how this rare BMW handles the track in factory trim. Though it was fitted with Michelin PS2 tires from the factory and if you're a BMW enthusiast, you know that BMW's tire selection can sometimes be haphazard.

The video captures my first laps ever in the 1M. It starts out at 8/10ths during the warm-up lap and speeds up from there. It was far easier to drive the first time out on track when compared to my Z4 M Coupe and, unlike that car, after a lap or two I was confident the 1M would not do anything wicked like launch me into the wall. It felt very planted and stable at any speed. Top speed indicated on the speedometer was a respectable 137 mph on the back straight. Note, in my experience all recent BMW models have the speedo overstated by 5% so actual GPS-verified speed may be lower. Nonetheless, the key takeaway is that I was comfortable putting the power down through the Esses, which allowed me to exit onto the straight at a good clip.

The M button was engaged for the entire session. I did not feel any electronics interfere with my chosen trajectory and the limited slip differential did a commendable job pulling the car up through the Toe of the Boot. The brakes held up reasonably well for the session, however, they do not pull the skin off your cheeks under threshold braking. There was slight brake pad fade over a 15-minutes session, however, and the brake pedal felt a bit soft from the get-go. In general, I like a firm brake pedal.

The best part about the car was that, as mentioned, it felt very predictable at any speed. You can throttle steer it, you can trail brake, you can power out of turns easily, and it does not dance under heavy braking. The turbo lag was not a factor for the track; however, you have be judicious with the throttle because the power comes rushing in so fast with the twin turbo engine. The car exhibited moderate understeer throughout and you can really hear the front tires working hard in the later laps of the video.

In stock trim and without modifications, I think the 1M is the best BMW I have driven at the track. It does not need significant modifications but that's not to say I could resist temptation to perform a few tweaks. One “mod” I would absolutely do is swapping in a set of race pads like the Hawk DTC-60 or DTC-70. Doing so may cut at least 2 seconds a lap and give you a much more consistent brake feel through a session. Beyond this must-do mod, I would look for ways to get more negative camber up front. If the strut tower pins can be pulled out, and most are, that should be good for half a degree. I'm sure tuners will soon have camber plates for the car if the offerings for the 128i and 135i are not compatible and that route will obviously give you much more adjustability. Lowering it by an inch would also give you quarter degree or more extra camber. While the Michelin PS2's are the best tire option BMWs roll off the factory floor with, I would consider better tires as the PS2's technology is somewhat dated. The Dunlop Star Spec Z1 Direzza's have been the best street tires for the past few years. Nitto NT-01's would also work well for a more focused track approach. And with a rear seat and respectable trunk, you can certainly fit a set of r-comp tires for even more on-track fun. I think the simple combination of pads, camber, and tires will be good for 5-6 seconds around the Glen and make the car one of the fastest BMW's around a racetrack that’s also a pleasure to live with every day.

10/4/ UPDATE: Adding comparable footage from a prepared 135i, same track, same weekend:


  1. Awesome read Christo. You are one lucky guy to be able to drive the 1 M on a track.
    Have you driven that E90/92 M3 on a track. How does it compare in your opinion?

  2. Wish you had time to go out with me in my car, for a comparo between a stock 1M and a prepared 135i. Next time, bro!

  3. Good idea. And coincidentally, I have a video of you driving the 135i on the same weekend. And we know form 10 years of driving experience that we run neck and neck. Well, my neck might be a bit longer, hehe...

  4. You mean this footage, after I left you and your student?

    I had to lift somewhat going up the Esses. Under full throttle, the 245/265 Yoko AD08's kept sliding me towards the right armco between the 2nd & 3rd "Ess", at 115mph.. which didn't feel too good. :)

    Coincidentally, I didn't have that issue with 255/275 Star Specs, and could hammer all the way from turn 1 to the bus stop.

  5. Christo, Great line through out the course, curious what was the max speed?

    High five to the site it's coming together VERY nicely, Job well done!

    Larry, it's' the Fat Ballerina (645ci), Can't leave out excellent line too. It would be fun watch the 2 of you on the track ripping it up side by side.

    One Hot Lap to all. . . Be safe, J

  6. Larry, I have footage from another session and you are running 2:23 in clean air. The stock 1M is at 2:25-2:26 and it could probably be a couple of seconds quicker with more seat time in it.

    The Direzzas are insanely good for a street tire. I was running 2:19 with them in the M Coupe and the Nitto NT01s were only a second quicker on average.

    1. I ran stock/unmodifyed 2010 135i with Carbotech XP-12 pads and Direzza Star Spec 225/40/18 x 255/35/18 and posted 2:18 with NARRA time trial in 2012.

    2. That's moving! No other mods at all - camber, susp?

    3. no. stock suspension. Factory camber bolts on top were removed though, and camber set at -1.5 for better tire preservation.
      135i should run 2:15 in a good hands. With Hoosiers R6 on - 2:09-ish.
      1M stock - 2:15 should be easy IMO.

    4. rallyogre, it would be great; I'd have to see it to believe it, though. A VERY experienced and FAST instructor in an extensively lightened 135i (~2,700 lbs was running 2:16s on r-comps in cool, sunny weather last Fall. I don't think the 135i is anywhere close to a 2:09 potential in stock trim...

    5. I just run 2:16 with NARRA time trials in Watkins Glen in stock 135i with Hoosers R6, so 2 seconds improvement over last year Dunlop Direzza Star Spec:

  7. Fat Ballerina, where have you been? Glad to hear that you like the site.

    Yeah, me and Larry on the track in the same session is TOO much fun. A few years ago, we were driving in the same session at Tremblant when my 325i caught a little 20-degree drift going down into Turn 3 ~ oh, 110 mph or so. Still remember praying to God and asking to forgive me just that one time. Luckily he listened.

  8. Great article Christo! How does the 1 sound in comparison to your M coupe?

  9. Mark, I love the 1M sound when it fires up. It will wake you right up ;o) It is much quieter at speed, though.

  10. Larry, awesome video. Very smooth driving.

    Any E90/92 M3 at the event for comparison?

  11. Nicolas, there were 3 or 4 E90/92 M3s but mostly in the less experienced groups so it's hard to compare. You've got to bring yours to the Glen and run with us ;o)

  12. Hi Nicholas, I had the pleasure of driving this same 1M for nearly an hour back to back with my e90 ZCP M3 on the trip to the glen. Its suprisingly good! The torque surge is silly once the overboost hits - felt really fast. Being a bit lighter meant directional changes were faster, though the shorter wheel base may have had much to do with that sensation. The engine is quiet and does not sound special like the M3. I loved the car and would highly recomend it for people who don't need the sedan space or practicallity. It was sharper but also somehow less confident. I bet it will be a good auto X car. Getting back in the M3 I realized how comfordable the seats are, how great the v8 sounds, how much I love DCT.

    Christo was passing nearly every instructor with the stock 1M including mine in a well preped e46 M3 on R compounds.

    I love it!

  13. Haha, thanks, Christian. The 1M was easy to drive. Very composed!