AS THE MOST ENTHUSIAST-ORIENTED BMW SINCE THE E92 M3, the 1 M Coupe has been the subject of more track tests than any other car in the lineup. BMW NA launched the car at Willow Springs, and plenty of journalists —including a few of us here at Bimmer—have taken it to tracks around the country for high-quality, high-speed seat time.
For this track test, we wanted to do something different, so we called up professional race car driver Nick Longhi and asked him to drive the 1 M Coupe and give his impressions.
Longhi currently races the Rum Bum Racing M3 with co-driver Matt Plumb in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge’s GS class, but he’s competed in everything from formula cars to vintage Ferraris. No matter what he’s driving, Longhi is well respected not only for his speed but also for his ability to set up a car for optimum performance.
“Nick is on the top of the list of drivers who are very fast and can also give direct and concise feedback on the car,” says Plumb. “He has a ‘seat of the pants’ feel that allows him to diagnose issues quickly, which is essential in our sport where time on track is limited.”
Longhi put that skill to work to finish fifth with Plumb in the BMW Performance 200 at Daytona this year, and to qualify the Rum Bum M3 on pole three times in 2011, when he and Plumb drove the car to five podium finishes including wins at Daytona, Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio—results that were instrumental in winning the second GS-class manufacturer’s championship in a row for BMW. Who better, then, to assess the 1 M Coupe’s prowess on the race track?
An acute assessment
We invited Longhi to join us in the 1 M Coupe at Monticello Motor Club (MMC), a private motorsport club in Monticello, New York. The circuit has a little bit of everything: low- and high-speed corners, long straights and plenty of elevation changes. It’s a great place to assess a car, and many pro racing teams test here, including Turner Motorsport and Dyson Racing.
By the time I got to MMC, I’d already been driving the 1 M Coupe for a few days and liked it a great deal, as I have all E82 1 Series coupes. By borrowing much of its chassis hardware from the M3, the 1 M takes both performance and driver engagement to another level altogether compared to the 128i or 135i—at least for those of us with the skills of mere mortals. Pro drivers of Longhi’s caliber operate on a much higher level when it comes to pushing a car to its limits, however. And beyond their sheer speed, they can discern a car’s characteristics more acutely, finding strengths and weaknesses that might elude less sensitive or less skilled drivers.