loader image
25 August 2023
On The Ground: BMW Buriram Driving Challenge 2023

Held at the Chang International Circuit (CIC), we got to savour some of BMW’s finest in the BMW Buriram Driving Challenge.

Greetings, fellow speed enthusiasts. Let me paint for you a vivid picture of an experience that transcends the ordinary, where BMW’s finest machines come alive in a symphony of power and elegance.

Now, I know that the mention of Buriram (which is in Thailand, for those not in the know) might conjure images of a remote haven, far removed from bustling urban life, and you’d be quite right.

While merely around 400 km away from Bangkok, this tranquil gem holds an air of isolation that seems to transport you to another realm. This small town holds a rich historical tapestry through its captivating sandstone temples, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities.

So why would BMW send us here? Well, Buriram also plays host to the Chang International Circuit, a track that is devoid of excessive technical intricacies, and welcomes both novices and seasoned racers to run on its tarmac. With an official FIA Grade 1 approval, it’s a track that extends itself generously, providing the perfect backdrop for BMW’s vehicles to truly shine.

Now, allow me to delve into why I was there; the enigmatic “BMW Buriram Driving Challenge”. This event isn’t merely about driving; it’s about pushing boundaries, embracing a series of challenges, and discovering the zenith of performance.

The day is a meticulously curated blend of on-track and off-track activities and grants us a privileged glimpse into BMW’s iconic lineup, featuring gems like the 3 Series (including the M340i and 330e), formidable SUVs (such as the iX xDrive 40 and the X4M), and the showstopper and main reason why we’re here – the brand-new M2 Coupe. Who wouldn’t agree to a day of wringing this beauty on the track, right?

So, how did we get on?

Sun’s out, and the fun begins

As journalists and customers alike stepped onto the hallowed grounds of CIC, the spirit of racing engulfed us. Helmets donned, heartbeats racing – the BMW iX, with its electric pulse, stands ready for the dance.

As I’ve driven the iX before, a familiarity drive on half the track with the iX precedes the real spectacle, yet even as we navigate the curves, the thrill is palpable. It’s a peculiar blend of seriousness and exhilaration that comes with sitting in a car on a dedicated track.

Surprisingly, the iX proves its mettle on the tighter segments of the track, its robust carbon fibre chassis embracing the twists and turns, a testament to its engineering brilliance.

The only thing that threw fellow journalist James Wong (Oneshift) and me off course were the plush seats. As we tackled the corners, we found ourselves swaying within them due to the lack of bolstering. But, that didn’t stop us from properly giving the iX some beans on the straight, a charming paradox to a seemingly understated EV.

A quick swap between groups, and we’re onto the more palatable part of the circuit, featuring the M2 and X4M. These vehicles were condoned to the long straights of the circuit for the morning, and the iX’s elegance was left behind, traded for these powerhouses.

The M2, in particular, emerges as a thoroughbred athlete, muscles flexed and roaring with power. The ZF 8-speed gearbox feels like a conjurer’s wand, effortlessly ushering us through each gear. Flick its steering wheel, and the car darts into any corner you’d fancy, much like an attack bird with eyes set on its prey.

Even though it is an SUV, the X4M wasn’t a slouch either. I was thoroughly impressed by how it was able to keep pace with the M2, even in the twisties. The weight and increased centre of gravity is certainly noticeable, but you’ll be deep into a corner with a grin on your face before you start to complain.

Cones out, track on full display

As the sun slowly rolls over the horizon on our exhilarating day, we set out on full laps of the CIC – first in a convoy of the M340i and 330e, followed by the awe-inspiring M2 and X4M. 

The varying skill levels in our group prompted cautious instructors, but even their restraint could not dim the excitement. The raw capabilities of these machines only hint at their full potential, our exploration feeling like a mere scratch on the surface of what they can achieve.

The 330e really impressed James and me on track. Its handling mirrors that of a sports car, a revelation that defies its four-door stature. As we navigate the track, the rhythmic intervention of the traction control at tight corners adds an intriguing layer to the experience. It’s a brief pause, a subtle reminder that even the most exhilarating dance requires moments of restraint.

The battery pack residing underneath does not damper its playful nature too. Kudos to the BMW designers who kept the 3 series spirit alive in this hybrid Swiss army knife.

Of course, with all-wheel drive, the M340i is a fitting partner for this orchestration of speed. It feels like an agile dancer, effortlessly swaying through the challenges. Its elegance is matched only by its precision. You can have fun and still head home in a comfortable sedan. What more could you ask for?

Well, the M2 of course. It stole the spotlight, a virtuoso performer who commanded the track. Now that the whole track was open to us, the M2’s handling really shines through, a waltz of high-speed corners executed with finesse.

I wished I could have given it a proper wringing, as the car was more than capable of doing so whilst remaining as composed as someone relaxing on a beach.

Fast laps done, it was time to head off for some of the other challenges in store.

Gymkana dance with the BMW 3 Series

Remember when I said in the beginning that this was a driving challenge? Well, BMW staff were keeping score on both an on-road and off-road gymkhana, and whoever had the best times at the end of the day could walk home with attractive prizes. 

First up, it was the on-road dance, and what better machine to tackle it than the M340i sedan, ready to demonstrate its prowess. Clicked it into sport+, hunkered down on the brakes, and with a radio cue from the announcer, the 3 series was unleashed onto the track.

Despite being softer in terms of suspension compared to an M3, the M340i held its ground on the dry course, offering a delicate balance between intervention and controlled slides. As I manoeuvred the tight gymkhana course, the M340i exhibited a grace that defies its executive sedan classification.

With xDrive traction at its command, agility becomes its greatest asset. Although it wasn’t allowed, I would have loved to turn off the traction control; the tight corners triggered TC, momentarily interrupting its otherwise rhythmic flow.

Why not drift the 3 Series too?

Let’s pivot from the intense to the whimsical, and embrace the art of drifting. The stage is set, and the PHEV 3 Series 330e M Sport stands ready, a rear-wheel-drive masterpiece awaiting its moment of glory.

With a flick of the wheel, the car gets into a slide. The dance of oversteer and controlled chaos unfolds, a ballet of power and finesse. The rules are simple: turn off Dynamic Traction Control (DSC), hit the throttle, and let the magic ensue. Countersteering gently to maintain the slide, we revel in the freedom of controlled drifts; a moment of unadulterated joy and playful abandon.

The 3 Series has always been regarded as one of the best performance sedans in the world, and this G20 generation doesn’t miss its mark. You’ll be hard-pressed not to have fun in a car like this, and it goes to show that even “non-M3” 3 series models can have their own bit of fun as well.

Just for fun, we also engaged DSC for one round, giving the car a chance to catch its own slide. What’s remarkable is the seamless balance it maintains – preventing excessive slides yet adhering to the intended trajectory, sticking to the tarmac like glue. It’s reminiscent of a safety net, an ode to technology that enhances the thrill.

Offroad fun with the… BMW iX?

I’ll be honest, this station caught me completely off guard when we arrived. So much so, that I’ve even dedicated an article that goes into more detail here.

A shift in ambience takes us from the polished track to an unconventional playground – an offroad gymkhana with the iX EV. Picture this: a hulking luxury BMW racing its heart out on a circuit more accustomed to rally cars. The incongruity is certainly charming.

As I navigated the electric giant on this offroad arena, the unexpected became my ally. The iX was an absolute thrill to command, revealing a side that’s rarely seen on urban streets. Thank stars for the dual motor setup too, with power transfers that rescued me from low-traction situations. The iX’s dynamism was certainly not lost in a terrain it’s not accustomed to.

While the iX’s turning radius occasionally impeded the 360 donut section of the circuit, the experience remained undeniably cool, and the iX met the challenge with admirable tenacity.

If your respect for the BMW iX has not peaked yet, it should be by the time you’ve read this section.

An M day to remember

My journey to the Chang International Circuit was akin to embarking on a quest. The track, though distant, resonates as a home for speed aficionados.

While Sepang might bear the honour of being our “home track”, since it’s closest to Singapore, CIC radiates its own charm. Its simplicity and absence of altitude changes embrace drivers of all skill levels, extending an invitation to be part of its legacy.

Through this event, we uncovered the symphony that BMW orchestrates – a symphony of elegance, power, and refined engineering. The 3-Series, the SUVs, the M2 – each played a unique note, creating a harmonious ensemble that resonated through the circuit.

The event was not merely a day of driving; it was a testament to the artistry of BMW and the exhilarating journey that lies ahead.

In the grand narrative of speed and elegance, the BMW Buriram Driving Challenge carved a chapter that will remain etched in my memory. As the sun dipped below the horizon, leaving behind an indigo canvas, the symphony of speed echoed in our hearts, a reminder that the thrill of the track continues to beckon.

Photo Credits: Sean Loo (@auto.driven) & BMW Asia

Read more automotive news at AutoApp, or check out our latest videos on Ignition Labs TV!