Just been out to the Nurburgring and back in a BMW 1-series M Coupe, partly for the 24-hour race but mostly to join the festivities at the M Festival, a gathering of fans of M division’s mostly fine products (obviously I’m not including the X5M and X6M in that category).
I have to confess that I’m besotted by the 1M; the little coupe is a proper, old-school hooligan of a car and a potential classic like the E30 M3 that it so obviously aspires to be like. It’s the car I’ve most wanted to drive this year – over and above even the McLaren MP4-12C – and when the time came it more than lived up to my expectations.
The chance to put a thousand miles under the wheels of Steve Sutcliffe’s new long-term 1M, with the prospect of a lap of the Nordschleife thrown in, was too good too miss.
In Valencia Orange, the 1M attracts attention like you wouldn't believe. The occupants of British-registered hot hatches, obviously on their way to the ’Ring as well, kept coming up beside me on the motorway and doing ‘floor it’ gestures. Normally I’d rise above such juvenile behaviour, but not in a 1M. It’s got the torque to accelerate pretty swiftly at motorway speeds even if you leave it in top gear, but dropping a gear or two and flooring the throttle for a few seconds is so much more fun…
I’d failed to look properly at the address of the hotel where we were supposed to rendezvous and turned up (on time) at the Dorint in Nurburg, adjacent to the GP circuit’s start/finish straight, only to find that there was no BMW GB party there and that I was supposed to be 30-odd miles away at the Dorint in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. But it hardly mattered, because it meant I was already where I needed to be a little later for the first of the M Festival events: the unveiling of the limited-edition M3 CRT and the new M5.
The CRT – a lighter, more powerful version of the M3 saloon with the 444bhp V8 from the ultra-expensive GTS – was introduced first, but to be honest it left me cold. Much as I like the idea of a CSL-style version of the current M3, the CRT’s red detailing looked rather tacky to me, the bonnet vents most of all, and the CSL wheels don't look half as good when they’re painted black. The news that the CRT isn’t coming to the UK was therefore not upsetting in the least.
The M5, on the other hand, looked the business. When it drove onto the stage it sounded so loud and so tasty that I wondered for a brief moment whether M division had drilled some holes in the exhaust or piped in some fake noise through the sound system. On the assumption that it was real, it filled me with confidence that the M5 will be quite a weapon.
The only thing that worried me about the M5 was the seemingly ridiculous number of different choices it gives the driver to adjust the drivetrain, suspension and steering parameters. But when I was chatting with one of the BMW M guys afterwards, he pointed out that, with two ‘M’ buttons on the steering wheel, you can simply programme one with all your preferred settings for press-on driving and the other with settings for cruising and you’re covered. Much better than forever fiddling with different settings.
The conversation turned to the prospect of M division doing a CSL version of the 1M, which may have a beefy power-to-weight ratio of 213bhp per tonne but still feels quite porky. Interestingly, it turned out that I wasn’t the first person to suggest just such a car, although it might be hard to justify from a cost point of view. But if BMW does eventually bring out a 1M CSL, remember that you heard it here first…
The next day we were back at the circuit bright and early to have a sneak peek at the Mini Coupe JCW Endurance racer, which was due to make its debut in the 24-hour race the following day. Two cars had been built specifically for the N24, using all the experience gained from the Mini Challenge series, with their 1.6 turbo engines wound up to 265bhp and the kerb weight reduced to 960kg, the class minimum. Sadly, it’s unlikely to lead to a more hardcore road version…
Next up was a BMW M ‘Corso’ track event. In the car park by the entrance to the Nordschleife, I counted seven orange 1Ms and one black one (which looked very inconspicuous by comparison). Lined up behind the barriers across the entrance to the circuit were the 1M MotoGP safety car, the new M5 ’Ring taxi, the M3 CRT we’d seen the previous night and an M1 Procar, which were due to lead us on a parade lap. Typically, the heavens opened just as we were queuing up to set off, but it was never going to be a flat-out lap anyway, so the fact that the circuit was awash hardly made any difference. The reception to the parade of M-cars was gratifying, though; all the marshals waved as we went by and the spectators blew their klaxons for all they were worth.
The plan that evening was to stay in the M Festival campsite at the top of the hill where the new circuit joins the Nordschleife. After a couple of hours of discomfort and sleeplessness in my tent, I gave up and walked down to the field where the 1M was parked and spent the remainder of the night sleeping in the car. It was considerably more comfortable than the tent.
Up to that point we hadn’t actually ventured up to the M Festival pavilion that had been set up on the hilltop on the other side of the circuit from our campsite, but we’d heard that an AC/DC tribute band was due to play on the Saturday night during the race, so we went to take a look. The band turned out to be an all-girl affair called Hells Belles – so nothing like the real thing – but the view from the hilltop of the cars coming up the hill on the GP circuit, turning left onto the old circuit and blasting back down to Hatzenbach made the trip worthwhile.
The weather may have been a bit fickle and the sleeping arrangements less than comfortable at times, but the 1M was a star. Nothing attracted more attention from race-goers and M-car fans during the four days we were there, and I loved every minute of the hours spent behind the wheel. I’m now desperate to take it back to the ’Ring for a few unfettered laps to see what it can really do. If I can ever prise it away from Sutcliffe again…