I pose the question: Which is the better platform for building a racecar?
"The E46," Otoupalik answers. "For all the following reasons: cost, weight, less complicated electronics, and the fact that all the aftermarket R&D has already been performed for this car. We've got an established recipe to work from."
I had a chance to take a squirt around a road course at the now-defunct El Toro airbase in Irvine, Calif., first in a bone-stock E92 M3. Then, while Rune was occupied with a TV crew, I snuck into his racecar and took a couple squirts in it.
The new M3 is an amazing car, easily one of my favorites, but much more refined than any of its predecessors. It keeps its driver more insulated, and thereby somewhat detached, from the driving experience. Like any car driven off the showroom floor, its potential performance edge has been dulled in order to appeal to the largest possible demographic. But for the street, it still makes a pretty good all-around package. Maybe even the best this side of a Porsche 911.
The raced-out E46, on the other hand, is now hardwired to the pavement and its driver in a way a showroom car never will be. Simply put, it is now a real racecar and must be treated as such. Coming off a 90-degree downhill turn, I underestimate the newly sharpened turn-in, cranking the wheel too hard toward the apex with probably a little bit too much throttle. The rear end comes around as I try, too late, to correct my mistake. I'm successful in straightening her out-but not before the ends swap places and I'm left gazing back at the corner that just kicked my ass. It's then that it registers: stability control on this car is completely disabled. As it should be.
Subsequent laps see me going a lot less cavalier and exercising a lot more patience-less testosterone in the throttle, more thoughtful, measured steering inputs. The rear end remains squirrelly, indicating I've been spoiled by DSC for far too long. When you anticipate the squirrels, they're easily corrected, and seat time makes all the difference. When you get really comfortable-which will still take me a couple hundred more laps in this car-it's possible to maintain tire-shredding drifts around some of the more extreme-angle bends on the course.
It's liable to bite you in the ass, as I quickly learned. But horsing it around the road course, it also becomes clear this car has been made into an exceptional learning tool. It asks a lot more from its driver than a stock car would, but that's kind of the point.
After I'm done bombing the circuit and killing cones, I jump in the passenger seat for some hot laps with Rune. He's quick to offer a disclaimer: "It's been a while since I drove this course and they changed the layout today." But his confidence with the car is evident, and it's immediately clear he's going seconds faster than I was.
It looks like the hard work is starting to pay off.-KF.