I’m entering hour two in the front of the 2012 BMW M5 and a more welcoming environment you’re not likely to find on the surprisingly quiet highway between George and Port Elizabeth. Made even more welcoming considering it’s raining outside with more vigour than a puppy attacking the morning edition of the Star.
Speaking of the Star, my co-driver, Jesse who writes for it, and I have the luxury of the 2012 BMW M5’s cabin to keep us dry and warm and the constant din of a 4.4-litre V8 German engine dishing out a max output of 412 kW and 680 Nm to keep us entertained.
It won’t be long now before we’re turning a lap of the Aldo Scribante race track in a BMW M3 only to be told that the BMW M5 that left just 20 seconds before us hasn’t come back yet, did we see it?
It’s the last day of the launch of the new BMW M5, and all week journalists have been putting this super-machine through its paces on the Port Elizabeth track. Luckily for us, it’s been raining incessantly since day 1, and we’re on the last day of the launch, with no end of the monsoon in sight.
We’ve finished lunch before Edward (the marketing meneer from BMW) and the other two journos with us on the launch and Jesse and I have snuck out so he can have a quick puff before the second session of laps in the M5 start.
A lull in the conversation (there’s only so much two motoring journalists who have just met have in common). And we find ourselves staring down the pit lane, not at the two M5’s parked a few feet away, but instead at a lone M3 that’s come along as a workhorse for the day.
As if we gave each other the idea, Jesse and I exchange a mischievous glare and he turns to me and says “Bru, how sick is that M3?” I smile and push his thoughts to the obvious conclusion, “Screw that bru. How sick would it be to take that M3 around this track right now, in this rain?”
He thinks a minute and both Jesse and I know what that means, it’s a “no” (it’s a PR thing, they don’t want to disappoint the journos, but they also have to bear in mind that they’re the ones responsible for the cars that we’re driving around the track at 200km/h).
We give up on it and start turning towards the M5s again. Life’s a bitch, hey?
Before we can make our peace with this bit of bad news, Edward pops his Coke can open, takes a sip and says instead, “Sure, why not? It’s the last day, go for it” (At this stage it was in fact the last few laps of the launch, not just the last day).
Fast forward 3 minutes and 23 seconds, and Jesse and I are nestled in the cockpit of the M3, completing his second lap. The M5 is sublime and quick and scientifically impossible to explain, but there’s something to be said about the M3 in its natural habitat. It’s much lighter, far less work, a lot more accepting and therefore much more fun to take around the Scribante track. Whenever I do stuff like this, I keep telling myself that driving these speeds should be illegal, and there’s a damn good reason it is.
We pull into the pits for the driver change. My chance to take the most exciting sedan money can buy out on one of SA’s most exciting tracks at whatever speed I can muster in this relentless London weather. The M5 being the second most exciting.
We’re in. At all times second in line to one of the other two journos currently not making the M5 feel left out. It’s them, and then 20 seconds later, it’s us on to the closed circuit race track. (They’ve closed the circuit just at the start of the pit lane so we’re forced to pull the cars into the pits after each lap. Besides ensuring that we don’t overheat the car’s tyres and engine too much, this also serves the function of pulling the plug on us from enjoying the full joy of the longest straight on the track. Unfair, but a damn good idea on BMW’s part.)
So we watch the white BMW M5 take off with Ciro from Overdrive TV behind the wheel. He’s on his own and he’s been pushing it hard since doing a few laps with my partner Jesse and picking up a few tips. One tip too few, as it turns out.
20 seconds. And it’s a go, my first lap in the M3.
What a sublime car. Made selfishly for the track. In fact, if you know a mate who owns one and doesn’t take it to the track to stretch its legs at least as often as he walks his dog, you’re entitled, nah, duty bound to steal it when he isn’t looking and take it there yourself.
Obviously we see little else than the tarmac ahead of us and the occasional clipping cone as I complete my first lap.
“I can do better”, I say to Jesse as we pull in to the pits for my second lap. And Jesse knows a thing or two about speed, so I’m feeling the pressure. Not half as much as Ciro is in the M5 as it turns out.
“Did you see the white car (the M5)?” says Danie as we halt in the pits. Quizzically Jesse and I look at each other and then turn to Danie and say “What? Isn’t it back yet? It should be, it left before us”
Danie gives us a “no-shit-Sherlock” look and trots off to find an empty car with an engine that’s running. We quickly offer up the M3. Everybody here has done this before and we know what it means…the M5 has gone off the track.
Have you ever been in a business meeting when one of the guys gets a call to tell him that his wife has been in accident, she’s ok but is on her way to the hospital? That’s is the only equivalent scenario I can think of to adequately explain to you the level of “uncomfortable” we are all now feeling standing next to Edward as we wait to hear if they’ve found the AWOL M5 and what sort of nick it’s in.
The seconds are excruciating! Where is it?
Finally the M3 comes into sight and pulls into the pits with Ciro in the passenger seat. The M5 is definitely not ok, now we know for sure.
As Ciro gets out of the car the first thing Edward says is “Are you ok?”
The first thing Edward wants to say is “You dumb shit! What have you done to my one million rand car?”, but the first thing he says is “are you ok?”
“Nothing’s hurt but my pride” says Ciro. And the front grill of the M5 and some of Aldo Scribante’s best tyre wall and the grass just off the big s-turn of the track and our chances of doing any more laps that day.
The same story we’ve heard a thousand times before. With each lap Ciro got braver and braver until the tricky wiggle got the better of him. Still, the car could’ve been in worse shape, and us journalists couldn’t pay money to see how a BMW M5 behaves in an accident, we got this one for free.
Not to mention that we all got a great story to tell at future car launches too. And if Ciro ever forgets the details, one of the hordes of motoring journalists who heard about the accident on Twitter before we could even leave the track that day will be more than happy to remind him.
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