BOWMANVILLE, Ontario – It’s not very often that you see the entire Canadian Tire Motorsport complex taken over by a single auto brand. Even the annual Grand Prix – an international racing event attracting thousands of fans to a variety of race series – is relegated to the GP circuit only. But on July 13-14, CTMP (formerly known as Mosport) became “M Town”, as the very first North American site to host the BMW M Festival – an annual celebration of the Bavarian automaker’s motorsport division. More than just a spectator event, the sold-out festival offered a variety of experiences and exhibitions across the sprawling complex, ranging from 200+ km/hr hot laps with BMW Factory race drivers, off-road courses, autocross exercises, drifting displays – and even drag-racing. The inaugural Canadian event drew more than 4,300 fans from as far away as Vancouver, making it the third largest M festival yet.
Launched five years ago during Germany’s 24-Hours of Nurburgring race, the BMW M Festival has since spread to other countries, including South Africa and Japan. For the uninitiated, “M” stands for “motorsport” and was created as a division supporting BMW’s very successful racing program of the 1960s and 70s. Eventually, the M designation became a sub-brand of BMW’s high-performance models, with specially modified engines, transmissions, suspension, and aerodynamics; and all cars are test-tuned at BMW’s Nurburgring facility.
Surprisingly, Canada is the fourth-largest market for M vehicles after the U.S., Germany and the U.K. Addressing media at the event’s preview, Markus Flasch, CEO BMW M Germany, credited Canada’s “affection” for the M badge and the “community that you’ve built up, a very strong community for performance in general” in their decision to bring the festival to us. “We hear that Canada’s on fire” said Flasch, “and that’s why we decided that Canada would be the right spot.”
Invited media attending the preview the day before the Festival’s opening participated in a compressed version of the weekend’s attractions. Our day began not on track, but in the back-woods surrounding the GP circuit, climbing rutted hills and navigating sandy moguls in X2 and X3 badged crossovers.
Next on the agenda was an autocross course, a.k.a. a “cone-killer” exercise which entailed navigating a winding course defined by cones, in a large parking lot. With a fleet of cars ranging from an X2 M35i, an M340i, to a z4 M40i, it was a showcase of the range and versatility of the M portfolio as well as the drivers.
Probably the most exhilarating hands-on experience was a lapping session in M2 Competition Coupes on the Driver Development track. The lead cars, driven by a pair of Mont Tremblant’s Jim Russell School instructors, set a brisk pace that gave us ample opportunity to experience the car’s brilliant handling.
For our next exercise, we went from the proverbial sublime to the ridiculous, flogging a pair of M850i xDrive Coupes down the drag strip. While there were no “Christmas Tree” lights, nor 1/4 mile timing slips for bragging rights, there was something ludicrously satisfying about launching a $132,300 sports car–complete with crystal shifter – on someone else’s tires. Speaking of which, BMW Canada apparently went through some 186 performance tires for the 75 M cars used in the event.
Racecar drivers Tom Blomqvist and Jesse Krohn, who’d just competed here during the Mobil 1 Grand Prix, then treated us to “taxi rides”; sitting shotgun over the Grand Prix circuit in M5 sedans at speeds up to 240 km/hr. Hot laps on a renowned international circuit with world-class racing drivers is a thrilling experience for any performance driving fan. Although I’ve driven, and ridden along over hundreds of laps on this track it’s still challenging to remember every line and turn. And yet Blomqvist, who is the son of rally driver Stig Blomqvist, told me that until racing here last week, he’d never even seen the circuit before. With 1200 hot laps completed over the weekend, they can probably consider themselves CTMP veterans.
Our day culminated in a sneak preview of two upcoming BMW M models, the X6 M50i, and the M8 Gran Coupe Competition. Though information was scant, and pictures were forbidden, we can tell you that each car will boast a twin turbo V8, with 617 horsepower for the M8 Gran Coupe, and 523 for the X6 M crossover.
Show-goers were also treated to a display of precision drifting, a “Best of the Fest” design competition between BMW retailers, a display of rare vintage BMW race cars, and for the smaller fans, a Kid’s Lounge where they could ride scaled down BMW i8 racers. Over Saturday and Sunday, 394 customers took part in a parade lap, and 371 in the Show and Shine. The day’s activities wrapped-up with evening performances by Serena Ryder (who originally hails from Millbrook), Felix Cartal, and Dear Rouge and Jane’s Party.
Clearly, BMW’s M Festival has put M Town, Ontario on the map for any performance-car loving Canadian.