Fight or Flight

One M3 GT4, one Z4 GT3 and a wide-open race track makes for one happy driver...at least until the aerodynamics come into play and his ego is irreparably bruised.

February 24, 2012

Also from Issue 106

  • 205-hp hot-rod 1600
  • Comparison: F30 335i vs. 328i
  • Not for U.S.: F10 528i Touring
  • Market update: E39 M5—The first supersedan
  • E1: An electric BMW from 1991
  • Sonic MS street-and-track-ready E92 M3
  • Dinan twin-turbo: E32 750iL & E31 850Ci
  • 1960s BMW 1800 TiSA sports racers
  • Tips to improve your driving
  • Dorkfest V.2: E36/8 gathering in NorCal
  • Ice racing in a BMW
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When the call came from Munich asking if I would be interested in driving a race-ready Z4 GT3 in Spain, on Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo race track, to be precise, I suppressed the impulse to ask what they wanted in return. My right arm, perhaps? Firstborn son?

Instead, I replied coolly that I’d need to check my schedule.

There would also be a M3 GT4 for me to drive on the track—for comparison purposes, so to speak—added the man from Munich.

Um, yes, I said, I think I can make it.

Jolly, he replied, hanging up the phone.

That was the moment I fainted. Well, not really, but I did fist-pump so hard that I nearly dislocated my shoulder.

Driving a Z4 GT3 at Valencia? And an M3 GT4? Talk about a bucket list item!

GT3 vs. GT4

If you haven’t been following European sports car racing over the last few years, you might want a bit of explanation about the cars in question. Both are designed for production racing, which means they’re based on BMW’s M3 and Z4 road cars. How closely they correspond to those cars, however, depends on the class they’re designed to run in.

Intended for amateur racers, the GT4 class permits the fewest modifications. GT4 cars get a roll cage, of course, and they’re stripped of all the superfluous luxuries that make street cars more comfortable and/or practical but which have no purpose on a race car, like rear seats and carpeting. They also get a few modifications, like better brakes, that improve their suitability for racing. In the GT4 European Cup, the M3 GT4 races against Ford Mustangs, Chevy Camaros, C6 Corvettes and Nissan Z-cars, and it’s done fairly well: Ekris BMW won the team title last year, and its drivers Ricardo van der Ende and Duncan Huisman finished 1-2 in the driver’s chase.

GT3 cars also begin as series production vehicles, albeit of a higher specification than the GT4s. They’re faster and more powerful, more like purpose-built race cars than the lower-spec GT4s. The Z4 sheds its usual six-cylinder engine for the M3’s V8, allowing it to compete against cars like the Audi R8 LMS, Ferrari 458 GT3 and Porsche 911 GT3 R, to name a few. Despite such stiff competition, the Z4 GT3 has been one of BMW’s most reliably successful racers over the last two years—at least in Europe. Customers who wanted to race one in the U.S. haven’t been so lucky, though BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt says the car is slated to arrive here in 2013, once Motorsport can develop a version that meets the regulations for a series like the ALMS or Grand-Am.

It’ll be worth the wait, believe me.

Valencia: Built for motorcycles, challenging for cars

I’m standing in the pit lane of Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo racetrack—the one used for MotoGP racing and Formula One testing but not racing, which takes place instead on a street course along Valencia’s harbor—looking at the Z4 GT3, a magnificent racing machine that won the 24-hour races in Dubai and Barcelona and finished second at Spa-Francorchamps in 2011.

Even sitting still, the Z4 is sending my adrenal glands into overdrive, and I’m having a kind of “fight or flight” attack in response. I settle on fight, keeping the flight option open in case I put the car into a guardrail.

Video by BMW

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