If you don’t want to read the novel, the aerial drone video is at the end of the post.
All picture courtesy of Steve Clark, full album is HERE.
The Rocky Mountain BMW Car Club of America puts on an ice-driving Gymkhana on Georgetown Lake every winter. I’ve wanted to go ever since I became a CCA member, but something has always come up. This winter, my attendance was as tenuous as ever. I had just had my wisdom teeth pulled, along with 3 cavities filled the previous week. I decided to keep my registration and just sit out the driving if I was in too much pain.
BMW’s are more suited to ice and snow than one might think. I’ve always been a staunch advocate of the superiority of rear wheel drive with proper snow tires over all-wheel drive vehicles with all season tires. The well-balanced and communicative chassis inherent to BMW’s (especially older BMW’s) provide the driver with the information and the ability to drive competently, safely, and quickly in the snow. With every winter storm my E30 is transformed to a shark weaving through schools of slow moving jellyfish made up mostly of crossovers. In fact the conventional wisdom that a crossover is somehow safer or a better winter vehicle is completely flawed. A top heavy, AWD crossover, riddled with stylish blind spots, and festooned with safety “technology” to compensate for its inherit deficiencies does nothing but disconnect the driver from the system. The automobile design trend away from sporty sedans and wagons to bloated crossovers is a sad (yet profitable) shift in modern automobiles. What does any of this have to do with the Ice Gymkhana? There wasn’t a single crossover in attendance. It was bliss!
The Schultz family, along with several volunteers, ran the event and set up a short, but challenging triangular course. Their hard work defined the experience for everyone in attendance. The course started with a tight slalom that ended in a 150-degree right hand turn into a series of gates. The gates formed a wider slalom over grippy snow-covered sections of previous courses (the Porsche club was there the day before). This ended in another turn that led to a single cone. You had to do a 360 drift around the cone in either direction. From there it was straight line into a braking box. Your wheels had to come to a complete stop before the last cone or you got a 5 second penalty. I misunderstood this, thinking you had to stop as close as possible to the line of cones that formed the very end of the braking box.
RWD with snow tires are better than AWD with all seasons, but a rear-biased AWD with studded snow tires is the best option. Jonny V’s 1989 325ix (E30 generation) was the obvious weapon of choice. We prepared his car by getting a set of fresh Hankook i-Pike studded snow tires, replacing one blown out control arm bushing, and doing absolutely nothing to clean up the clutter of food remnants in varying states of decay, ice climbing gear, car tools, work clothes, winter coats, boots, helmets (which we didn’t use), and other random bits that populated his trunk and cabin. If we somehow got stranded on a mountain pass en-route we could survive for weeks using the contents of his E30.
Jonny V’s 1989 325ix
After breakfast and a briefing we got a couple hours of practice runs before getting two timed runs. There was also a skid pad we could practice on between runs. The grip on course reminded me of the wet track at the Summit Point Kart 24 Hour Enduro I raced last year. In an ideal world, the shortest distance would be the quickest, but there were small patches of snow off the racing line that were havens of grip. I decided that a strategy of “diamonding” the curves by using the grippy patches would be the fastest. Rather than drive a curved racing line, connecting the dots with straight lines between the grippy bits was key — even if it meant traveling a greater distance. It went like this: gas it, turn in, nothing happens, wait, unload slightly to test the grip, wait some more, trust it will hook up, it hooks up, gas it again, repeat. The 360-degree drift was the hardest part of the course. I would enter ridiculously wide, pitch the car on turn in, close the radius, apply throttle to drift the last half with the cone as close to the front bumper as possible. The braking box had a patch of snow on the left side. For all but the last timed run I tried to stop as close as possible to the end of the box, which was incorrect (costing me a 5 second penalty). Jonny V’s and my times were close all day. We whittled them down from the 1:30 range to the low 1:20′s. My best time of 1:18 was on a near perfect first timed run, but the 5 second penalty of braking at the wrong target put me up to a 1:23. Even my incorrect stop was perfect. The bumper came to rest inches before the back of the braking box. I made some mistakes on the second timed run, but still managed to edge out the rest of the field with a 1:22 for the fastest time of the day. Certainly the E30 IX with studded snows had something to do with this!
There was a mix of other vehicles in attendance ranging from a brand new F10 5 series and an F30 3 series to a virtual wolf pack of E30′s. A first gen Toyota MR2, Mini JCW, Dodge Charger, and a few E36, E46, and E90 3 series made up the rest of the field. We gathered all the E30′s for a group shot near an island in the ice. It was a highlight of the day.
The second highlight of the day was flying the drone. The winds were gusting to over 40mph out of the west with chunky pockets of lift and sink. The lightweight quad-copter would gain and lose 10 feet in seconds in the churning air currents. The cold reduced my battery run times to about 4 minutes. It required full power to fly upwind back to the start / finish. The result was pretty choppy footage, but with gobs of stabilization it is only partly nauseating to watch. I’ve filmed literally all over the world with my drone and I’d have to say the dynamic conditions at Georgetown Lake were some of the hardest. I opted to fly without GPS position hold to increase battery life and smoothness. On the last battery as I was transitioning from FPV goggles to line of sight, a rouge wind gust blew the drone behind the observation building. In a panic I added full power and climbed hard to clear trees and power lines by the road. I got the drone on the ground without incident, but when I was reviewing the footage I saw I actually clipped the very tip of the pine tree! Literally 2 inches lower and it would have crashed. The footage is at the end of the video.