"Hell yeah!" I blurt down the phone before editor Charris has stopped speaking. I’m not normally prone to Tourette’s outbursts but Chris has just asked if I’d be available to head down to Phillip Island to see what BMW’s latest ‘M Meets Motorrad’ experience is all about. Apparently, some BMW exec, having seen one too many Old El Paso ads, has said “Why not have both?”, and launched an event where Beemer-philes get to flog some of the marque’s best sportscars and motorcycles under expert tuition at the Phillip Island GP circuit – on the same day. The experience was dreamt up to showcase the M Sport brand finally including the German giant’s motorcycle division, which will see the red, blue and white stripes adorning some of BMW’s hottest two-wheeled weapons, like the ballistic new S 1000 RR M. As a K 1300 R owner and track-day goer, I was naturally keen to compare BMW’s best cars and bikes on the island’s scintillating sweepers.
As always, the butterflies begin when I spy Turns 11 and 12 through the mesh fencing on the way to Phillip Island’s main gates. It’s the most daunting racetrack I’ve ever lapped – and I’ve never driven it in a car of any sort – so there’s a healthy dose of trepidation accompanying my excitement when I see the white BMW M4 coupe crouched in pit lane for the first session.
Helmet on and ‘Sport’ mode selected, I take a moment to breathe it all in before driving the 331kW (444hp) coupe, but there’s little time to enjoy the coastal scenery as the instructor in the lead car begins to crank up the pace.
I’ve been lucky enough to drive an M4 on the road a few times but, on track, it’s a revelation. The M4 lunges onto Phillip Island’s bends like a hungry tiger, its Michelin rubber clawing for grip over ripple strips as the straight-six snarls under the bonnet. I’d wondered how something with four wheels would compare to the intense thrill of riding something with two around the Island, but the M4 is incredible, gobbling up corners and then blasting out of them with an intoxicating growl. I know I’m not getting anywhere near the lap times I’ve done here on a bike yet, but I can already feel how much faster the M4 is from corner entry to exit. I’m hitting the anchors later and later but the M4 just squirms slightly as the massive calipers haul up its 1500kg mass, allowing me to scythe hard back to the apex where the gas can be applied ridiculously early. From there, I suspect a modern sportsbike gets off the turn faster, but even that’s a questionable assumption given how hard the car fires out of the tricky Turn 11, the 550Nm of turbo torque between 1850 and 5550rpm slinging me to Turn 12. All too soon it’s time to return to pit lane. What a car. What a track.
The final course on the M-car menu is the part I’ve secretly been looking forward to the most: drifting the M2 Competition. I choose the sinister black one at the rear of the queue this time so I can see how everybody else goes, but first the skidpan instructor shows us how it’s done, performing a beautifully executed circular drift on the soaking-wet pavement. Looks easy enough. When it’s my turn, I set off down the line of orange cones and stab the gas hard mid-corner, sending the M2’s rear end sideways before sliding to an embarrassing halt 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The concrete is fairly slick then. I come around for another pass, this time dialling in slightly less throttle and more opposite lock when the tail steps out, and the M2 obediently powers out of the slide with a feral roar while I laugh like a maniac. After several more passes with varying degrees of success, I’m just starting to get a feel for the steering wheel/rear wheel spin ratio when the instructor informs the riders among us to move on to the Motorrad portion of the day.
A row of sparkling BMW metal greets us in pitlane, from S 1000 RRs to R NineTs and even a K 1600 police bike.
Before we go out, former Aussie California Superbike School boss and now Phillip Island Ride Days operator Steve Brouggy gives us some tips and a reminder it’s not a race out there. We nod sagely, knowing full well we’ll be racing each other at the first opportunity.
I head out on the S 1000 RR first, which feels like a 190hp engine with handlebars and wheels bolted to it, so compact are its dimensions. And to think the new model is said to be even smaller.
The feeling of speed is raw as the RR howls down the straight, the wind blast threatening to tear off any limbs not tucked into its shark-like curves. Easing into the blindingly fast Turn 1, the Brembo brakes bite hard enough that care needs to be exercised not to upset the bike’s balance and, as always, I exit Doohan corner suspecting I could’ve gone faster before pitching the RR onto its side for Southern Loop. Turns are much harder to finish off compared with the M4 I drove earlier, the relative lack of visibility and grip forcing me to delay winding the throttle open for what feels like an eternity.
Back in the pits, Brouggy suggests I sacrifice some mid-corner speed for a sharper line off the turn, which immediately helps. By letting the RR drift slightly deeper into the corner for a later apex I can get onto the fat part of the tyre sooner, using the RR’s berserk power-to-weight ratio to cannon me into the next turn.
Apart from accelerating like it’s compressing space and time, the biggest impression the RR makes is in its rideability, the clever electronics and crisp fuelling which unobtrusively ensure the chassis is never overwhelmed by the inline four’s enormous power – important when you’re entering some turns with not much change from 200km/h.
The adrenaline hit of attempting to ride a motorcycle quickly at Phillip Island is hard to match, but it’s also mentally and physically draining. Where I got out of the cars with slightly sweaty palms, by the time I climb off the S 1000 RR’s saddle every pore of my skin is leaking with the effort of stopping, turning and hanging off the no-compromise machine.
AND THE REST
For the last session I sample a couple of BMW’s less track-focussed bikes: the four-cylinder S 1000 R and the boxer-powered R 1250 R.
The S 1000 R immediately impresses with its two-way quickshifter, which takes some getting used to but makes corner entries a doddle. The naked R might be slower over the course of a lap than its RR sibling, but the way its muscular midrange gets the front wheel pawing the air on exits means it’s no less entertaining. The R 1250 R is my first taste of BMW’s new ShiftCam variable-valve technology, which does exactly what it says on the box: boosting low-down power without sacrificing top-end. It makes the big boxer feel like it’s been on a diet of steroids, and a hoot to fire out of slower turns.
When it’s finally time to peel off the sweat-soaked leathers and bask in the afterglow of another track day done and dusted without damaging myself or any vehicles, I take a moment to reflect on the variety of machinery I’ve piloted over the past eight hours. It’s enough to leave your head spinning a bit, and the sessions sometimes felt a bit abbreviated in order to pack so much in.
Driving the M cars was probably the highlight of the day, but to be able to frap the Motorrad bikes immediately after with expert tuition was an experience I won’t soon forget. Future ‘M meets Motorrad’ dates are yet to be announced so keep an eye on the BMW events page on the Motorrad website if you’re keen to have a go. Why not have both indeed!